The Hangar Dome – Millsaps College Majors
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Basketball in an Airplane Hangar
Millsaps College is small private Methodist college located north of downtown Jackson in the Historic Belhaven Neighborhood. The college is small by most standards with an enrollment of just over 900 students. Millsaps opened its doors in 1890 when Confederate veteran Major Reuben Webster Millsaps donated $550,000 and the land for the university. Named after Millsaps, the Majors compete at the Division III level in the Southern Athletic Association, and with their enrollment of 900 are currently the smallest school in the conference.
In the 1940s Millsaps College was selected as one of 131 sites in the United States to offer the V-12 Naval Officer Program. The purpose of the program was to generate large numbers of officers for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, to meet the demands of WWII. The program lasted from 1943 to 1946, and students took classes and trained in case they were called to fight for their country. TV personality Johnny Carson was enrolled in the program at the time. So what do you do when the war is over and you have a giant airplane hangar on campus that is no longer in use? In the case of the Millsaps Majors, converting it into a basketball court was the only logical answer.
The affectionately named Hangar Dome opened its door in the 1950s and seats close to 1,000 people. You can tell just by looking around that the gym has not been renovated in recent years, and in this case, it’s a good thing – with its wooden frame on the inside, classic wooden bleachers, and dimmed lights it reminded me of watching a throwback basketball game from the 70s. The only recent renovation happened in 2000 when the Maurice H. Hall Activities Center, which houses the university’s fitness program, opened on the side of the Hangar Dome.
Food & Beverage 1
There is one small concession stand located right before the entrance to the main floor of the gym. The basic fare can be found here, including large fountain drinks ($3), hot dogs ($3), nachos ($3), popcorn ($2), small fountain drinks, and bottled water ($2). I bought a small fountain drink and found my cup to be reasonably sized, but it would be best to eat at one of Jackson’s many restaurants located in the area before or after the game – anybody coming to The Hangar Dome looking for a culinary experience will walk away disappointed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere inside the gym. There are two main entrances into the arena, with the main entrance also being the best way to get into the Activities Center. Once inside you will be greeted by hallways lined with trophy cases that rival any Division I school’s trophy display. From one end of the hallway to the other there are displays built into the walls that show literally every accomplishment and trophy won in every single sport the university competes in. Not only that but there is everything from old jerseys to signed game balls representing every athletic feat the school has achieved. For such a small school it was nice to see them honoring the athletic accomplishments of the university. Also, at the front entrance is the school’s fitness center, along with a running track that circles three different indoor basketball courts.
After getting acquainted with the Majors athletic program you walk downstairs to get to the actual basketball court. Once you get downstairs there is the one concessions stand to the right, bathrooms, and the building’s other entrance. Electric is the wrong word for it but there was something about walking into the gym for the first time – when walking out onto the gym floor you get a sense and feel for the history. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that not very many venues these days have wooden ceilings and the lights were dimly lit on the court, but I got a real Jackie Moon Flint Tropics vibe from sitting in the stands. I felt like I was transported back to the 1970s; the only thing missing was the short shorts.
The arena is set up with the court facing east and west, with two sets of makeshift bleachers on the south side – these sets only have 15 rows, while the bleachers on the north side are wooden and are the original bleachers built into the arena. The wooden seats rise and form sort of a crescent shape at the top, and there’s just something old school about walking up the stairs and seeing the dust on the bleachers.
There are two basic scoreboards in each end zone and the acoustics in the building are incredible. I’m not sure if the wooden ceilings played a factor in the noise level, but the speakers seemed up to date and the noise volume echoed nicely inside the gym. Also, at each end of the court are the banners of all the tournament appearances of the Major basketball teams.
One interesting side note is that if you sit in the north side set of bleachers there is no way to get to the concessions stands or bathrooms without having to walk across the back end of the basketball court – It was very interesting to walk past the other team’s bench or risk getting hit with a ball as you walked to and fro during the action. That said, if you choose to sit on that side of the gym I recommend getting concessions and taking a bathroom break before you sit down.
The campus is located in a mostly residential area north of the downtown area. While there is nothing within walking distance of the college, just a short drive north will take you to the Fondren District. Located near the Ole Miss Med School, this is Jackson’s nightlife area and you will find numerous restaurants and bars on this one block strip, my favorite being Fondren Public. Bocce ball, corn hole, shuffleboard, oversized Jenga, and multiple board games can be played inside and outside the bar, and it has a really cool feel to it. There are also numerous other bars and restaurants located in Fondren, such as Pig & Pint (known for its BBQ), Walker’s Drive-In, Babalu Tapas & Tacos, and Sal & Mookie’s Pizza, but another bar in the area I recommend checking out is Brent’s Drugs. From the outside, it looks like a regular pharmacy, but with its soda fountain inside it’s very reminiscent of a 50s style diner. However, in the back there is also a speakeasy-style bar that was used during prohibition; Brent’s is a very interesting bar and gets pretty packed at night.
There are also numerous bars in the downtown area, a couple of miles south of campus, such as Hal and Mal’s, Fenians, and Old Tavern on George Street. There is also Underground 119, which is a cool underground blues bar located in downtown, but this area is not exactly the safest, so use caution when walking around here after dark.
In addition, Lakeland Drive is located about a mile east of the Millsaps campus, and you can find all the usual chain restaurants and lodging in this area. For attractions nearby I recommend checking out the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is a very nice interactive museum that doesn’t get too packed during the week; you could spend hours just walking through all the different exhibits located in this museum. The Hall of Fame is located on Lakeland Drive right next to historic Smith-Wills Stadium, former home of the Jackson Mets and current home of the Belhaven baseball team.\
Millsaps is a really small school of only 900 students, and for this level of college basketball, you are only going to get about a hundred fans in attendance. However, because the campus is so small and the majority of students live on campus, Millsaps students to show up at The Hangar Dome on game night. The students sit on the two sets of lower level bleachers on the south side of the court, with other fans scattered throughout the taller wooden bleachers on the north side. Many students stood for the entire game, and I even saw a group of students with their shirts offs. Though it’s not Division I basketball, the students make the best of it by treating it as such. In such a unique arena the student section definitely creates a raucous atmosphere.
Millsaps College’s campus is located north of downtown Jackson, just west of I-55 in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson. The college is located in a mostly residential area of town, a couple of blocks east of another school, Belhaven University. The Blazers are D3 as well and share a fierce rivalry with the Majors.
When coming to The Hangar Dome, the Woodrow Wilson Drive exit off I-55 is your best bet; just take rush hour traffic into account, as the interstate tends to back up especially on the north side of downtown, so plan accordingly. The campus can be easy to miss as it is pretty small, but just follow Woodrow Wilson Drive until you get to the State Street intersection.
Millsaps College’s campus is pretty small, so finding a parking spot can be difficult. There is a small parking lot located right outside the arena but it fills up quickly, especially on weeknights, so instead you can park across the street in the stadium parking lot, or you can park in the campus parking garage on the south side of campus – just take State Street until you get to the Park Street intersection, and the parking garage is on the right.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets are free, parking is free, and concessions are average. The return on investment is good, but anyone showing up expecting a big fancy basketball arena will be disappointed. But you will get to see a college basketball arena at an arena, where little has changed in the past 60 years.
If in town when Millsaps and Belhaven are playing each other I recommend seeing the game, as the atmosphere goes up to an extra point when these two are playing each other. Though the two teams are not in the same conference, they share a heated rivalry that has stretched for decades.
Many notable celebrities have spoken inside this building – in 1953 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis judged a homecoming beauty contest here, while in the 1960s Johnny Carson and Robert Kennedy both spoke here at commencement ceremonies, and in the 1970s Bob Hope and Jimmy Carter made appearances in The Hangar Dome.
Right next to The Hangar Dome is Harper-Davis Field, home of the Majors football team. From 2006 to 2008 the New Orleans Saints used this field, and the surrounding fields to the north, as their Training Camp location. In fact, some could argue that the Drew Brees era officially began right here at Millsaps, considering the fact that both he and Sean Payton joined the team in 2006.
Another extra goes to the campus itself and its scenic beauty. The campus classrooms are located in beautiful white marble, Greek-columned buildings, and there are also several cannons located on campus that were used during the Civil War. I also recommend climbing the clock tower on the south side of campus; if you climb to the top you can get a really good view of the whole campus; the founder of Millsaps College himself is also buried on the south side of campus.
The Hangar Dome is a throwback to days gone by, back before the days of elaborate arenas and stadiums. The Hangar Dome is gritty, old, rustic, and beginning to show its age, but in this case, it only adds to the charm. If in the Jackson area, especially when the Millsaps plays rival Belhaven, make it a point to come out to The Hangar Dome – you’ll get to see a true hidden gem of an arena on a beautiful and historic campus in Mississippi.
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