A.E. Wood Coliseum – Mississippi College Choctaws
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If you drive from Jackson to Vicksburg on I-20 chances are you’ve seen it, a large, very non-descript structure that resembles a giant golf ball. As you take exit 35 it greets you just off the exit ramp and you’ll think you’re pulling up into the parking lot at Epcot. But this isn’t Disney World – this is the A.E. Wood Coliseum, home of Mississippi College Choctaws Basketball.
Situated about 15 minutes west of Jackson, Mississippi is the nice quaint, picturesque town of Clinton, home of the Mississippi College Choctaws. MC, as locals call it, opened its doors in 1826 and is Mississippi’s oldest college, along with being the second-oldest Baptist affiliated college in the world. A.E. Wood Coliseum opened its doors in 1977 and currently seats 3,400. The Choctaws currently compete in Division II as part of the Gulf South Conference.
Food & Beverage 1
There is one small stand located to the right as soon as you enter on the south side of the building. The concessions are limited to hamburgers, hot dogs, and nachos ($3 each), as well as bottled soft drinks (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Dr Pepper at $2 each) and bottled water ($1). Be prepared to have cash ready, as the stand does not take cards and there is not an ATM in the arena.
The atmosphere is interesting to say the least. The first thing you notice when entering the seating bowl is its impressive roof. The roof is made of thousands of glass octagon-shaped tiles, so it looks like you’re sitting under a giant golf ball – it’s quite visually impressive to say the least and is the most distinctive feature of the building. In addition, the way the roof is made with the white tiles illuminates the court very well, making the building seem very well lit. In fact, during night games you may forget it is dark outside – after sitting in A.E. Wood Coliseum for several hours your body becomes accustomed to the light, so you may think it is daylight outside.
The venue is octagon-shaped with the court facing southwest to northeast. There is one main entrance on the west side of the building with a small concessions stand located right next to it. There is also a small concourse on the southwest side of the building near the concessions stand which has four entrances up to the seating bowl. The stairs leading up to the seating area are basically a spiral staircase that has a neat retro feel to it, and the seating bowl itself is set up with wooden bleacher-style seats in an octagon-shaped configuration, with the first few rows featuring chair back seating.
The northeast end of the court consists of the athletic department offices and a giant (for D2 standards) scoreboard. The board measures 16 ft. tall by 26 ft. wide and reaches across nearly the entire right side of the wall behind the basket. It is quite impressive to see this size scoreboard in this small of a facility, although it would be nice if the video showed something besides just the MC logo moving around at the center of the screen. There is also a smaller sized scoreboard on the southwest side of the building, but it just shows the basic information.
Along the back side of the east end court are 12 banners representing conference championships and tournament appearances by Mississippi College. There is one set of restrooms in the arena with the women’s restroom on the southeast corner and the men’s on the west side. All in all A.E. Wood Coliseum is very nice and the court is well lit, though the acoustics in the building seem off – the speaker went in and out several times and there is an obvious echo that drifts throughout the arena.
The town of Clinton was founded in 1823 with Mississippi College being founded three years later. The town was overrun with Union officers during the Civil War which destroyed much of the town, however, in the years after the war the college and the town underwent a massive reconstruction phase that resulted in hundreds of new antebellum homes, most of which are still standing. Most of the buildings on campus were built in the years following the war, and they are made with beautiful white marble columns. Perhaps the most historic building on campus is the Provine Chapel; opened in 1860 it is the only building on campus that predates the war, and was used as a Union hospital as well as the first floor being used as a stable to house future president Ulysess S. Grant’s horses. I recommend getting to the game early and giving yourself ample time to walk around the campus – it is very small, but scenic.
Historic Olde Town Clinton is just a couple blocks north of campus, and is Clinton’s downtown area. I suggest walking from campus to the downtown area, as it is just a couple of blocks north along Jefferson Street. This street is lined with many antebellum homes, and with its brick-lined streets provides a very picturesque setting. In addition, there are numerous mom and pop shops and small art galleries in the downtown area; a majority of the shops are closed on Saturday nights but there is one sit-down restaurant called 303 Jefferson (the name is the same as its address) which would be a good place to get a drink or get a meal. There is also a large bookstore with a café attached to, but that is also closed on Saturday nights – it would be nice if more of these shops and eateries were open later.
However, the road headed into campus (Highway 80) has all the regular fast food chains, so you should be able to find plenty to eat. For lodging, the area south of campus has several hotels (Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, etc.) and you are only a short 15-minute drive from Jackson where additional lodging and restaurants can be found.
For something to visit while in the area I recommend making the 30-minute drive to Vicksburg, which is also a very historic town, so history buffs can spend a whole weekend walking around the downtown area and the Vicksburg National Military Park, which was the site of the one of the most important battles in the Civil War. You pay per vehicle and can drive around all the different historical areas of the park, so one could spend hours here and I highly recommend it.
Due to the fact that school was out for Christmas break there were not a lot of students present at the most recent game I attended. The Choctaws are averaging just a little over 400 fans per home contest this 2018-19 season, and the announced attendance at the most recent game I saw was 302. With the majority of the players from Mississippi, it seemed like most of the fans in attendance were either related to the players on the team or had some sort of relation to the university. The lower sections were pretty full while the upper wooden style bleacher seating was rather empty, with fans scattered throughout. On the most recent night I attended MC played in state rival Delta State from nearby Cleveland, Mississippi – a lot of Delta State’s fans made the trip although I didn’t see a lot of college-aged students.
You will not a find a more accessible college anywhere in the state than Mississippi College. Conveniently located in the center of the state you are within a 3 or 4-hour drive to anywhere in Mississippi. The main road into Clinton is I-20, and you would take this road if traveling east or west. I-20 can have bad traffic especially at the I-55 junction, so if you take 1-20 around 5 pm on a weekday you are going to be stuck in traffic.
Mississippi College’s campus is located on the far west side of town, so take Exit 35 and you will see the giant golf ball-shaped dome ahead of you, right next to the football and baseball stadium. Highway 80 runs from Jackson right into campus, but it takes you through a rough section of town in the south Jackson area, but if you want to take the scenic route the historic Natchez Trace Parkway also runs right through Clinton. This two-lane road is very peaceful and void of red lights and any commercial traffic. The Trace has tons of areas you can pull off the road and visit such as Indian mounds, old cemeteries, historic houses, nature trails, campgrounds, etc., so if you have time I suggest just driving down The Trace just for its scenic beauty. Just make sure you go the speed limit though – the whole parkway is administered by the National Park Service and the speed limit is between 40 and 50, and you will have to pay a pretty hefty fine if you are caught speeding.
Return on Investment 3
I was pleasantly surprised to see that A.E. Wood Coliseum has a small ticket office set up selling tickets as you enter. A lot of smaller colleges do not require purchase of a ticket to attend a game, but the prices here are reasonable ($5 admission) so it will not break the bank. Combining the ticket and the low concessions prices you are looking at spending $10 to $15 tops, but my recommendation would be to get something to eat before you come to the game and just pay for the ticket.
Located right under the large Mississippi College banner on the south concourse is a small kiosk which serves as the Mississippi College Athletics Hall of Fame – this interactive display is a touch screen where you can view all the different athletes in the Hall. For a school as small as Mississippi College it is nice to see that they have a nice setup where fans can familiarize themselves with some of the athletes that came from the school. Before visiting A.E. Wood Coliseum the only notable athlete I knew of who attended Mississippi College was former New Orleans Saints pro bowl kick returner Fred McAfee, but after leaving the arena I knew about some of the other athletes who attended the school, so one extra point for that.
Another extra point goes to the campus itself – I recommend just walking around the campus and the town of Clinton before the game as the area is very pretty. The campus and downtown area cover just a couple of blocks, so you could easily walk around for 30 minutes or so before the game.
Another extra goes to for accessibility; Mississippi College’s campus is one of the most convenient campuses I’ve ever visited. You could go from driving on the interstate to parking to sitting down in your seat in less than 10 minutes, as A.E. Wood Coliseum and the parking lot are located literally less than 100 feet from the interstate.
There are tons of elaborate basketball venues in the country these days and most of them, with all their bells and whistles, are more to just experience the atmosphere of attending the game. At A.E. Wood Coliseum you will not find any Cameron Crazies or Bleacher Creatures, but instead you get to see a basketball game in its purest form, the way it was meant to be played. There are no t-shirt tosses during timeouts, there’s no halftime show, no cheerleaders, no promotional contests, etc., so as long as you understand that going in you will be satisfied.
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200 W College St
Clinton, MS 39058
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Jackson Clinton
105 Hampstead Blvd
Clinton, MS 39056
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