Stabler Arena – Lehigh Mountain Hawks
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Safe & Sound at the Stabler Arena
While attending a Lehigh University basketball game at the Stabler Arena, I was told a story from one of the ushers about an alumnus who claimed to have attended every game since he graduated high school in 1934. I assume that this had been some time ago since this man would be close to 110-years-old, but he swore up and down that all the games had been played in the same exact building since he was an undergrad. The only problem, the Stabler Arena opened in 1979–45 years after he had graduated college.
The 6,200 multi-purpose arena was dedicated on May 26 of that year with commencement ceremonies and became home to Lehigh basketball the following season. The building is named after Donald, a 1930 Lehigh graduate, and Dorothy Stabler who were primary donors of the facility. The arena replaced Taylor Gymnasium that had been home to the basketball program since 1914 and where the former alumni probably saw a majority of his games–it still exists on campus as a fitness center.
The Mountain Hawks are members of the Patriot League and have a strong rivalry with nearby Lafayette College in Easton–just 13 miles down the road. The program has made five NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournaments and in 2012 gained national prominence by knocking out the #2 Duke Blue Devils 75-70 in the opening round of the tournament.
The Stabler Arena defines what a basketball arena of the 1970s represents, rectangular shaped with plenty of 90-degree angles in the seating bowl. The aesthetics are not as welcoming as say The Palestra down the turnpike in Philadelphia or the plush and modern PPL Center in nearby Allentown, but the facility does not pretend to be anything it isn’t. The fan can expect a comfortable seat that is up close to the action on the court.
Food & Beverage 3
There is a food court with various concessions that include tabletop seating next to a set of windows that add a touch of natural lighting to the concourse level. The options are limited but are rather inexpensive and include pretzels, hot dogs, french fries, nachos, and chicken fingers and fries. There are also deli wrap sandwiches and pizza slices available during the game. If you are feeding a group or family, a whole pizza sells for $17 to $20 a pie. The arena offers a line of Pepsi products and there are no alcoholic beverages sold on its property.
The Stabler Arena features a main lobby with a set of two staircases that lead to a wraparound concourse that provides entrances to the seating area. The lobby wall is painted with the Stabler name and two portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Stabler. Fans can pick up tickets inside at tables or outside in the ticket booth. There is also room for more tables from local business advertising services and consulting.
The school colors of brown and yellow are prominent inside the seating bowl that also includes championship banners and retired jersey numbers, LED video boards in two corners, and a court-level area behind one of the baskets that features high-top tables. The popular area is a welcome addition and offers tabletop seating at close proximity behind the basket. Fans socialize with one another enjoying food and drink while watching the game.
The atmosphere was a little tepid since our visit took place between sessions; a school band, student section, or official mascot were not present at the game. Their presence does add a little life to the proceedings. The game itself was against arch-rivals Lafayette and a spirited crowd was at hand to cheer on their Hawks to victory.
The Stabler Arena is located on the Murray H. Goodman campus, down the mountain from the Mountaintop campus. It is a few miles away from the town of Hellertown that has a quaint main street featuring stores, restaurants, and bars. Bella’s Ristorante, Hellertown Crossroads Hotel, and Lost Tavern Brewery are three establishments worth checking out before or after the game.
Bethlehem is just over the mountain and displays decorative holiday lights during Christmas time along with an array of restaurants that include The Brick (pizza), Apollo Grill (cozy, refined restaurant), The People’s Kitchen (neighborhood vibe), and The Bayou Southern Kitchen (Cajun and Southern cuisine).
Bethlehem also features the National Museum of Industrial History, Moravian Museum, and the American on Wheels Museum.
Fans are energetic and supportive of the Mountain Hawks. As with any program, winning cures a lot of ailments and the basketball team has posted ten winning seasons over the better part of the decade. There are no visible traditions witnessed in the game.
The Stabler Arena is extremely easy to get access once inside. There is one main concourse that houses concessions, bathrooms, and entrances for easy access to and from your seats. The entrances are clearly marked with oversized numbers that appear to date from the arena’s first year. The building is also easy to access off I-78 via the Hellertown exit. A large parking lot is adjacent to the building
Return on Investment 4
The price of a ticket to a game is either $5 or $26.50 plus a service fee. The $5 ticket price point is almost a steal for basketball at this level and one of the best bargains you will find in the Patriot League. The price of concessions are also extremely reasonable and there is no fee for parking in the arena’s lot.
Stabler Arena earns a point for the oversized numbers that mark each entrance to the seating section. The number font reminds me of the ones at old Giant Stadium that captured my fancy as a youth.
Stabler Arena earns a second point for $5 tickets, a price almost unheard of at this level of basketball. If you are with someone who isn’t the biggest basketball fan, it is not a bad way of getting them to the game without hurting your wallet.
I am somewhat perplexed by the Stabler Arena. The building is an example of 1970s architect and aesthetics that have not aged as well as other arenas built before it; then again, the ticket and concession prices are extremely affordable and the vantage points from the seats are top notch. Add to the scenic mountain view and the quaint main street of Hellertown and you have a top destination that offers a lot of bang for your buck.
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