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Running Blog: Stadium Tripping in North Carolina

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 29, 2018

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Friday
Travel day. We started in the rain, but it wasn’t too bad and it was over by the time we reached Maryland. Hoping that’s the last of the wet stuff that we see all week. Our rough halfway point was Hagerstown, a city I’ve seen before on a visit to Municipal Stadium. Today, we took the little one to Discovery Station for some running around followed by a bagged lunch. After more driving, the end of the road was Wytheville, VA.
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Saturday
What a beautiful day. 75 and sunny with conditions perfect for our final drive through the mountains to Asheville. We actually went a good distance past the city to visit Chimney Rock, about 40 minutes to the east after traversing the curvy Rt 74-A. The slightly nauseous ride was worth it once got to the tiny charming town and the Rock that towers above it. There’s a lot to do here with several great trails, but the main one was time-consuming and energy-sapping enough for us. 499 steps brought us to the top of the famed granite outcropping with a view that was worth every step. Our 3-year old Shayla amazingly climbed probably 75% of it as her extra weight only needed to be carried down the stairs. She gave a “wow”, a few times, mostly at some of the neat side attractions on our way up.
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After a little break, our baseball game had an earlier 6 PM start and we headed over to McCormick Field at about 5:15 PM. That still was not enough time to find a parking spot in the tight surrounding area and we were forced to drive around side streets, looking for a place to park and accepting a long walk. I’ve been to 55 minor league ballparks and this is the worst parking situation I can remember. Once that debacle was over and our tired legs climbed up another hill to the entrance, I was able to enjoy a quirky ballpark with a lot of character that I really enjoyed. The elevation sets the frame for a unique concourse and inside, it gives a great view beyond the outfield. The seating bowl has the grandstand that I always appreciate. A nice crowd was on hand and they were treated to one of the best baseball games I’ve seen in awhile which included: five home runs, benches clearing after high heat and a home team comeback. Chad Spanberger’s three-run homer in the 7th put the Tourists up for good as the crowd went crazy. Asheville won 10-8 in a great showcase for McCormick Field.
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Sunday
This day was all about exploring Asheville and the perfect means for that is the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour. With entertaining storytellers giving us insight to this remarkably historic city, we rode along while getting off at some sites. Grove Park Inn is remarkable and the Biltmore Village is a great little spot as well. Downtown, we checked out a lot of the main sights and the preserved architecture is awesome for nerds like me who enjoy that stuff. Austin is the capital of “Weird”, but I feel like that saying should be “Keep Asheville Weird” as it fits better here. There is such a collection of unique folks that make this city a quirky and fun place. A hipster’s paradise. For food, we enjoyed meals at Tupelo Honey and Luella’s, where my BBQ is a little backwards. They have an Eastern-style and I’ll wait til Wilmington (in the East) for the pork taste usually reserved for the Mountains.
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Monday
We’ve been very fortunate with weather and it was a gorgeous day as we spent it at the Biltmore Estate. Yes, this place is so big that it was a day-long affair. My wife, Cheryl, has always wanted to visit, so I took Shayla for a few hours in the morning to the Antler Hill section and let her play in the playground and barn while Cheryl got some needed alone time in the house. This is the closest I’ve felt to Downton Abbey and the whole place is incredible. Some stats from this French Renaissance Chateau built by the Vanderbilt’s in the late 1800s: 249 rooms, 43 bathrooms and nearly 180,000 square feet. The inside is as extravagant as you could imagine and the outside offers sweeping views of the rolling hills and Blue Ridge Mountains.
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Tuesday
The drive down from the Mountains to the Piedmont took a little over three hours and we arrived in Chapel Hill around lunchtime. The defining place to eat is Top of the Hill (Topo) and we went with that. Food wasn’t actually that great (I had a very plain chicken sandwich), but the upper deck view is cool and the inside bar seems like a great hangout. Afterwards, we walked Franklin Street a bit and then went on campus, which had a cool vibe as students were enjoying a long-awaited warm and sunny day. Wish I got to the Visitors Center first, which had a walking tour guide and a better description of the buildings than my name notes of what I wanted to see. Still got to look at Old East, Old Well, Morehead Planetarium, Wilson Library and the Bell Tower. 

For the stadium visit, it was a UNC baseball game at Boshamer Stadium. Getting there was a mini-adventure thanks to mis-direction for parking on the website and then a lack if signage to the ballpark after walking out of the parking garage. Once we reached the stadium, we encountered a traditional modern brick facility with an open concourse above the green seating bowl. I did love the elevated bowl that began with seats about 10 feet higher than the field. UNC also did an awesome job with displays including a spectacular trophy room. The crowd was expectedly sparse for this mid-week non-conference game and it was a snappy start with 0’s on the board for the first four innings. Then Asheville scored two in the 5th before the Tar Heels put their foot down with a 10 spot in the bottom half. Bad news, the inning took 1 hour. Ugh. The game took 3:30 as UNC-Chapel Hill won 11-5.
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Wednesday
The second stadium in less than 24 hours comes at a cost: Education Day. I definitely am lucky to have an understanding wife put up with that and a side trip on a family vacation to Kinston, NC. It was really sad to drive down Queen Street and see nearly the entire center of town quiet and boarded up. But there are signs of a little hope and development as a luxury boutique hotel recently opened up and minor-league baseball is back. The Wood Ducks debuted in Historic Grainger Stadium last year and even won the Carolina League title. This park was built in 1949 and it is so wonderful. It’s everything my nostalgic self loves: completely covering roof (with ceiling fans!), water tower in the background, occasional train horn. Pure bliss, except for the deafening school kids. This was another lengthy game as it lasted over three hours as well. Home teams move to 3-0 on this trip as we saw Down East defeat Buies Creek 15-3. After the game, I stopped at Kings Restaurant to pick up a bottle of their BBQ sauce and will use that on my Chicken and Pork this summer. It was then on to Carolina Beach, where we took a stroll on the beach and boardwalk before dinner and bed.
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Thursday
Beach Day. We got a hotel right on the ocean, which is great for spending time in the sand and surf. I’m not a big beach person, but Cheryl and Shayla are and they enjoyed the morning and midday with beautiful weather continuing. It’s still kinda offseason here, so many of the boardwalk shops weren’t open. For the afternoon, we went to the North Carolina Aquarium, which is in the Fort Fisher area. After dinner, it was a boardwalk stroll with some ice cream.
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Friday

We saw two cities today as we began in the Port City of Wilmington. It’s a great little place along the Cape Fear River, we just didn’t have things go our way today. The exception was where we started at the Cape Fear Museum. We walked into a great little program that was free for Ages 2-5 as Miss Pepper led the kids through a Crafts Program. That also gave us access to the museum, which I really wanted to see more of, but Shayla was obsessed with the Classic Toys room. That means we were stuck there longer when we wanted. After a solid lunch at Chops Deli, we walked the historic downtown. This is a mini Hollywood and I pointed out a few Dawson Creek sights for my wife, who was the exact genre that show targeted in its heyday. However, the spots (found on a TripAdvisor Forum) were barely recognizable from 20 years ago. There’s also plenty of tours and we picked the wrong one. Cape Fear Riverboats was the dullest waste of $12. I usually can find interest in something, but our guide was so dry and then when we spent 30 minutes travelling along the industrialized and undeveloped parts of the river, I wanted to fall asleep. Too bad the benches were breaking my back and the wind slapping me in the face. Can’t win them all.
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We then made the 2+ hour drive to Durham, which took a little longer because of rush hour traffic. The Bulls game coincided with “May the Fourth” and Fireworks, so that meant a packed house. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is one of the best minor-league parks I’ve been to and the whole place has a very “major” feel to it. Nice design, complimented by excellent displays including their famous “Hit Bull, Win Steak” in left-field. Tremendous local beer options here as well. The game was a good one too and Durham scored in the 7th to take a 5-4 lead and hang on the rest of the way. Home teams finish 4-0 on this trip! I’ll start working on detailed stadium reviews a few days after settling back home.
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Saturday
Our last day here in North Carolina and we stayed in Bull City. I’ve fallen in love with Durham and think that it is a fantastic place to live. Probably because I’m most impressed with all of the redeveloped tobacco warehouses that have turned into mixed-use spaces. First, we started at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the campus of Duke University. It is one of the top Gardens in the country and I can’t argue that. So much natural beauty to see and it is all free. What a great space to spend a morning or bring a picnic for lunch. It also gave us a chance to see Duke and the Gothic architecture on campus is impressive. I may not be a fan of their basketball, but the grounds are beautiful (better than UNC, sorry Chapel Hill). We went inside the Duke Chapel, a mighty impressive structure.

During the afternoon, we split off as Cheryl and Shayla went to the Museum of Life and Science while I went to Durham Athetic Park, the former home of the Bulls and scene of Bull Durham. The ballpark still hosts baseball as North Carolina Central uses it and they had a game against Florida A&M. Capacity may be too small for an official review, but it was well worth a visit for historical purposes. Watching a game here took me back in time and the comments from the peanut gallery in the back row made it all the more entertaining. Even better, I walked to 70 year old King’s Sandwich Shop to bring in my hot dog, fries and coke while watching the game. I’ve definitely had some great baseball experiences on this trip. 

I didn’t stay the whole time as I wanted to explore the city on foot more and I checked out Main Street, the Bull Statue, the Durham Museum and Brightleaf Square before heading back to pick up the ladies. Dinner was at Bullock’s and this was a taste of a true local BBQ place. Families were laughing and enjoying a great meal and I savored some succulent pork, ENC-style. And with that our trip was complete as a full driving day followed to reach home. Check back for updated reviews of each stadium on the right side of the page.
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North Carolina!

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 24, 2018


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The Tar Heel State, here we come! We’ll be taking a week-long family vacation on a visit to our 27th state, trying to get in as much of North Carolina as we can by going from the Mountains to the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain. Our mountain adventure we’ll begin in Asheville, the quirky “Portland of the East”. With both city and surrounding area offering plenty of attractions, we’ll be spending three days there. Given that it snowed just last week in the city, we’re really hoping for some pleasant weather, especially during a couple of our ventures into the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge. Saturday is going to be the first of several official stadium visits, as we’ll be at Historic McCormick Field for an evening Asheville tourists game. Midweek college baseball is a schedule planner’s savior and for this go around, we’ll be taking advantage of the Tar Heels having a home game (ironically, against UNC-Asheville). The afternoon will be spent in Chapel Hill before going to Boshamer Stadium. Piecing the next part of the trip took some thought, but a weekday late morning game in Kinston an hour away worked well with the schedule. That’s where we’ll see the Down East Wood Ducks at Grainger Stadium. Now unfortunately, I think you all know what a Wednesday 11:00 AM game means…School Day. Kids, screaming kids will be everywhere we turn and I’m hoping we’ll be able to find a corner of the stadium to keep my sanity that day. Right after the game, we’ll head south to the beach with a few days in the Wilmington – Carolina Beach area. The Seawolves (UNC-Wilmington) aren’t in town, so that will be a sports-less few days that I’m sure the wife and daughter will be happy about. Towards the end of the week, we’ll drive up to Bull City, where we’ll spend time in Durham. I was really hoping that USL’s, North Carolina FC would be playing in nearby Cary, but they are unfortunately on the road. I wouldn’t exactly call a visit to Durham Bulls Athletic Park as “settling”, because that should be an awesome stadium visit in and of itself. I’ll also be taking in a brief bonus game Saturday afternoon as North Carolina Central University plays at the original Durham Athletic Park (scene of Bull Durham). They have an afternoon doubleheader and though the stadium doesn’t meet capacity for The List, it is well worth checking out. The venture gets kicked off later in the week and let’s cross our fingers for no rainouts! I will try to give a daily update on the blog, depending how early I zonk out each night. Until then!
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2018 Soccer Stadium Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on April 8, 2018

We welcome Banc of California Stadium and Audi Field to the Stadium List

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It was a busy offseason in the North American soccer world and before we get to the reshuffling in the lower divisions, let’s get into the two new stadiums opening in MLS. New franchise LAFC is poised to soon open Banc of California Stadium in the location of the old Sports Arena (right across from the LA Coliseum). I am whole-heartedly against MLS’ corrupt expansion tactics which include: two teams in the same market and holding cities hostage for more new stadium taxpayer money. What they are doing to Sacramento is a crime, while their strategy regarding the next expansion team potential in Cincinnati is ridiculous. Yankee Stadium is ok during the foreseeable future for NYCFC, but Nippert Stadium is not ok for Cincy? It’s hard to feel bad for the LA Galaxy (Zlatan!), but they will be working extra hard to sway the neutral with newbies LAFC joining. While the StubHub Center is a beautiful pitch, Banc of California looks amazing from the renderings, plus it will be right in the city as opposed to the Galaxy’s southern location in Carson.

On the other side of the country, DC is finally opening up a home of their own in Audi Field. It won’t be ready until July, but the wait will be worth it as they set-up shop in Buzzards Point, just south of Nationals Park. FC Dallas completes their stadium renovation with the completion of the National Soccer Hall of Fame behind one of the goals. The HOF will include a club section that seats 3,500. An induction ceremony will kick off the new addition in late October. In Minnesota, the Loons will play one more year in perennially borrowed TCF Bank Stadium as they await their facility next season. Finally, the Portland Timbers are beginning a 2-year renovation to Providence Park, which will redo the East Stands. Hard to imagine the best stadium in the country (that’s right) getting even better, but I believe this will do just that. I can’t recommend going to a game here enough.

The troubled NASL has folded and that means a lot of movement below the first division. FC Edmonton, Puerto Rico, New York Cosmos and San Francisco have all folded. Of those four teams, only the last one had a stadium on The List and that won’t change as new team San Francisco City FC begins in the PDL at Kezar Stadium. Both FC Miami and the Jacksonville Armada will drop to the NPSL (a league I’m increasingly interested in thanks to Chattanooga and Detroit). North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven move to the USL, but the Eleven made the stupid move of playing games in nearly empty Lucas Oil Stadium instead of staying at Carroll Stadium.

There are plenty of other changes within the USL, including several new teams. Unfortunately, the following all are going to play at a minor-league ballpark instead of a dedicated soccer facility: Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC and Atlanta United 2. Loyal readers know I’m not a fan of MLS B squads playing in the USL, but I’m mildly enthused that several of them made good stadium moves this year. Seattle Sounders 2 shifted operations to Tacoma and while they’ll play in Cheney Stadium (ballpark) for the near-term, it sounds like work is progressing towards a stadium and a transition to a Tacoma name. TFC 2 is moving from the bare-bones Ontario Soccer Centre to Lamport Stadium, which has now been added to The List. Also moving is Swope Park Rangers, as they’ll play at a high school stadium in Shawnee, KS. Real Monarchs get to play in the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, part of a training academy for RSL.

I was glad to see a couple teams on hiatus: Orlando City B and Vancouver Whitecaps 2. However, I am deeply saddened to see the lone American club I support, Rochester Rhinos, go on life support and sit out the 2018 USL season. I wrote about the sad state of the team back in 2010 and it has just gotten worse in the Flour City. While following local soccer (especially among millennials) is increasing rapidly, it never happened in Rochester and a multitude of factors led to dismal support for the team. I may live 300 miles away now, but the glory days of drawing 10,000 to Frontier Field for each Rhinos games is still etched into my happy memories as a youth. I still hope for the best and wish I was there to try and play a tiny part in getting something back the city could be proud of. To those that are local: the Lancers will be playing their NPSL season in Capelli Sport Stadium. I encourage you, research the grass-roots support that has built something special in Detroit, Chattanooga and Shreveport and let’s try to build a culture for the Lancers that grows and Rochesterians can be proud of. 

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Hockey in Glens Falls and Lake Placid

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 18, 2018

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It’s been a rough March weather-wise in the Northeast, but thank goodness we got a break for a few days, as a Glens Falls – Lake Placid hockey opportunity only becomes a possibility every one or two years. My brother drove down to Jersey the day before to spend time with my daughter/his niece and then we left Friday Morning. Before Glens Falls, we stopped in Saratoga Springs, about 30 minutes away. This ritzy town was enjoyable to walk through and after lunch, we went to Congress Park to unfortunately find the museum closed. The spring water was available though as the fountains were running with the famous “healing” power of the mineral water this place became known for way back in the day. I tried the first one and it was refreshing, but the second and third, I just couldn’t get past that horrendous sulfur spell and carbonation. Wasn’t able to get myself to try Hathorn Spring One while Eric wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot-pole.

We went to Glens Falls for dinner and met a friend at the Downtown City Tavern before going to the arena. It’s amazing this tiny town has had professional hockey for so long and still does in this day and age. They’ve been close to losing hockey recently, but local ownership stepped up and the Thunder are in their second ECHL season. The building is small, but lovingly old-school. Just an opening, rectangular lobby in the front with corner food stands on the inside as the oval bowl steeply circles the arena. Way too many advertisements though, I mean, an insane amount. Definitely need to stop with the annoying PA saying “It’s another Queensbury Hotel Icing” in a soft voice or his grating yell of the “Catseye Penalty Kill…Catseye!”. Outside of that, the atmosphere is great and it reminded me so much of my childhood days going to Rochester Amerks games. Fans knowing the Referee name, booing the scratching of a player, ringing cowbells. Even though the arena was half-full, the crowd really shined during the exciting Overtime session as the Thunder scored with 57 seconds left on a nifty, patient move by Shane Conacher as they beat the Fort Wayne Komets 3-2.
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On Saturday, we made the 1.5 hour drive from Glens Falls to Lake Placid. Mountain weather quickly showed it’s teeth as a seemingly quiet morning gave way to wind-whipped snow as we snaked to the resort town by running through blowing snow from fields onto roadways. We started at the Ski Jumping Complex, where the burning wind and occasional snow showers didn’t damper a trip up the ski lift. At the top, the area around the 120m tower had some cool signs and markers that we read before taking the elevator to the observation deck. Wow, what a view and what a feeling. The snow cleared enough to give us an amazing visual of the surrounding mountains. Then looking down at that jump, while watching kids going off the 90 meter was awesome.

Afterwards, we drove into bustling downtown and parked at our hotel on the other side, the Lake Placid Summit Hotel. Lunch was at Big Mountain Deli and we hopped in and out of shops along this charming little town. Along the way, I kept picturing myself back to 1980 to think about how the Olympics must’ve been. We also took a walk on frozen Mirror Lake, while watching kids play hockey and sled dogs cross to the other side. It feels like another world up here! Then it was onto the Olympic Museum, a small, but well-done summary of the Games and impacts on Lake Placid. There was a youth hockey tournament going on as well and with the Museum being inside the Olympic Center that houses both the ’32 rink and the ’80 rink, it gave us a chance to tour the facility and for me to be in dreamland. The displays in the arena are really well done and both the lower bowl and scoreboard are first class. The upper-level though is really poor as they redid it so there is just a small balcony of wooden bleachers with most of seats obstructed by railings. Also the walkway/concourse behind the bowl led to quite the traffic jams and intermission long lines. All of this I can put up with though to soak in the arena history.

More sightseeing in town eventually led to dinner, but we didn’t start early enough at our first choice: Smoke Stacks. An hour wait was too long, so we walked over to Delta Blue for a more manageable 15 minute wait. The Louisiana-based menu looked really good, but the food was just eh. In the ECAC Tournament the night before, Princeton upset Cornell while Clarkson came back from a 4-1 deficit to defeat Harvard in OT. Thank goodness, because team fan support would’ve been low if it was Princeton-Harvard. The Golden Knights brought a very large contingent from Potsdam just over an hour away. Their green and gold colors filled the streets all day and they outnumbered Tiger fans in the arena 10 to 1. Frequent chants of “Let’s Go Tech” went for naught as Princeton took a 1-0 lead. It was a classic “underdog hanging on” in the third period, as the Golden Knights just couldn’t find the answer. Things were bleak and Clarkson had one last chance…and it went in! a miracle! 😉 Nico Sturm’s deflection with 6.4 seconds left sent Herb Brooks Arena into hysteria as Clarkson fans went bonkers, jumping up and down all around. Eric and I just stared at each other with mouth’s wide open, soaking in the craziness. What a moment. The building digested what happened in the 15-minute intermission and my gut started swaying towards wanting Princeton. With Clarkson able to get an At-Large bid to the NCAA Tournament in spite of a loss, Princeton was win or go home and what a heartbreaking way for the go home part to happen. Yet, sure enough just 2:36 into the extra frame, Princeton’s Max Becker won it and the Tigers went crazy, celebrating their first ECAC title in ten years. They beat the #1, #2 and #3 seeds to do it with one of the conference’s most remarkable championship runs ever. The game capped a truly special weekend and the 15-minute walk back to the hotel in the -5 degree Lake Placid air was one I’ll never forget. For a sports and stadium nut like myself, I do believe.
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An Adirondack Hockey Adventure

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 12, 2018

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Despite the upcoming first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, hockey is the sport of preference this weekend as we head north for what should be a special trip. When it comes to history, it’s hard to beat the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, now known as Herb Brooks Arena. Of course that is the site of the 1980 Olympics and the Miracle on Ice. The arena does host a few hockey tournaments and for the last five years, it has held NCAA Division I conference tournament action in the form of the ECAC Semifinals and Final. It is a perfect home given the location of Lake Placid with respect to league members, not to mention how awesome the town and arena is. Stars aligned for this weekend to be available for me to make a trip and my brother will be joining as we look forward to time in Lake Placid before the championship game Saturday Night in the historic venue. To complete the road trip, before we get to the Adirondacks, we’ll stop in Glens Falls Friday Night to see their Civic Center and an ECHL game with the Thunder. We’ll have some periodic snow at times to start and hopefully that does not disrupt our weekend plans as this promises to be a special trip. Back next week with a wrap-up.

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2018 College Basketball Conference Tournaments

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 23, 2018

3 of the Power 5 Conferences will have their tournament in a location near a far-flung, relatively new member. ACC is one of those with Brooklyn's Barclays Center being the site.

3 of the Power 5 Conferences will have their tournament in a location near a far-flung, relatively new member. ACC is one of those with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center being the site.

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It’s my favorite time of year again! We’re just days away from College Basketball moving into the Second Season as we reach conference tournament time. While the NCAA Tournament is the core of March Madness, the Conference Tournaments should not be overlooked as there is plenty of excitement within each bracket. Since this is a stadium website, I like to break down each College Basketball conference and their respective tournament location. It’s not as fun when more conferences nowadays need a plane ticket just to travel to a road game, but nonetheless, long-time lovers of this sport can’t resist getting excited when the calendar hits late February. Every conference and tournament location is placed below into one of three categories: “Good”, “Ehh” and “Bad”.

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Good

  • Big East:     New York, NY – Madison Square Garden

    • I know it is not the classic Big East, but at least there are still five original members
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  • Big Sky:     Reno, NV – Reno Events Center

    • This is a spread-out conference in the western half of the US and with Vegas already packed with other tournaments, the next best choice is Reno. The Biggest Little City in the World has embraced the tournament well and The Events Center is relatively new, mid-sized venue that fits wonderfully.
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  • Big XII:     Kansas City, MO – Sprint Center

    • Perfect spot in a basketball-rich city that loves the conference and always supports this tournament.
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  • Big West:     Anaheim, CA – Honda Center

    • The California Bus League features most if its members in SoCal, so Anaheim is a great host
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  • MAC:     Cleveland, OH – Quicken Loans Arena

    • Excellent location and fans travel well here. It’s a great tournament made even better by a natural bracket with no double-byes.
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  • MEAC:    Norfolk, VA – Norfolk Scope Arena
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    • Norfolk is probably the best option around for this league.

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  • Missouri Valley:     St Louis, MO – Scottrade Center

    • Hands-down, Arch Madness is the best conference tournament in the country.
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  • Ohio Valley:     Evansville, IN  –  Ford Center

    • Crushing that the contract with the Nashville Municipal Auditorium was not renewed. That was the perfect place for the conference. Even though Evansville is an MVC city, I’m willing to give it a shot as the city is central to many league members and the arena is first-class.
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  • Pac-12:     Las Vegas – T-Mobile Arena

    • Vegas, rightful king of the conference tournament and the Pac-12 fits right in.
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  • Southern:      Asheville, NC – Asheville Civic Center

    • The Southern Conference has struck gold as they enter their eighth year here. Crowds have been good and Asheville is a fun, quirky city to visit
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  • Southland:     Katy, TX – Merrill Center

    • Small arena in a Houston suburb that is an ideal host for the Southland
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  • Sun Belt:     New Orleans, LA – Lakefront Arena

    • New Orleans is centralized and offers a lot for visiting fans. Great move in playing this at the Lakefront Arena as that is a much better venue for the Sun Belt, than the Smoothie King Center.
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  • SWAC:     Houston, TX – Delmar Fieldhouse

    • Campus sites host the early rounds before the Semis and Final shift to this 5,000-seat arena. Nothing against the host or facility as I think they’re pretty good, just that this is always a depleted tournament because of APR qualification issues.
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  • West Coast:    Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • Big crowds fill this casino arena just off The Strip as each team brings a high number of fans. They are doing very well here

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Ehh

  • America East:    Campus Sites

    • I know this conference is too small to generate a big crowd at a neutral site. But I think Springfield, MA and the MassMutual Center would be a solid location for them. Side Note: They’ve tightened up the spacing between each round as what used to be an 11-day gap between Quarterfinals and Finals is now a proper 7 days.
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  • Atlantic-10:     Washington, DC – Capital One Arena

    • Well, it’s not Atlantic City, which was a perfect site years ago…but DC is not a bad choice as you have six schools within a three-hour drive. Definitely an expensive affair, but there is so much to do nearby to the arena.
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  • Atlantic Sun:     Campus Sites

    • Campus sites are fine for this constantly evolving conference. They still could try for better…how about Savannah and the Civic Center? It’s a nice destination town within driving distance of most schools
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  • Ivy:     Philadelphia, PA – The Palestra

    • I’m really struggling with this one. Losing the sacred 14-game tournament is one thing, but I’m having trouble with the location. The Palestra is a magical place and an amazing arena for any game, let alone tournament. But is it fair that it is on Penn’s campus? What if Harvard wins the league by a game this year and they have to play Penn in a road game for the championship and NCAA berth. Hard to justify no matter how great an arena.
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  • Horizon:     Detroit, MI – Little Caesars Arena

    • Detroit and Oakland certainly will have an advantage in the Motor City and I think that Detroit is a fine host. But, I still believe Fort Wayne would be a perfect fit for the Midwestern City School league.
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  • MAAC:    Albany – Times Union Center

    • Despite it being Siena’s home court, Albany has been the best of the many places tried by the MAAC the last few decades. I wish they would consider Newark’s Prudential Center as it is closer to the core of the league’s teams.
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  • Mountain West:    Las Vegas – Thomas & Mack Center

    • See all of the above home courts (this one is UNLV’s). How about Salt Lake City?
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  • NEC:    Campus Sites

    • Not ideal, but there probably isn’t a suitable place for them in the NYC Metro area
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  • Summit:     Sioux Falls, SD – Denny Sanford Premier Center

    • The Sanford Premier Center is a beautiful new arena and Sioux Falls embraces this event. It’s just that the Summit League is so spread out that it is understandably hard to get fans to make the trip.
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Bad

  • ACC:     Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center

    • I hate these big leagues and their spread out schools. The ACC is back in Brooklyn and I long for the days of seeing the teal and purple court in Greensboro. Games were routine sellouts as most schools were within a six hour radius from the tourney.
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  • American:     Orlando, FL – Amway Center

    •  It really doesn’t matter where the tournament is since this conference is a random mix of teams stretching halfway around the world. While the host city gives UCF an unfair advantage, at least travelling to Orlando in March is a lot better than Hartford.
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  • Big South:    Campus Sites

    • Surely they can do better as the league footprint has plenty of mid-sized cities that could host. Roanoke, Greenville, Florence, Greensboro. Even going to Myrtle Beach would be worth a shot.
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  • Big Ten:    New York, NY – Madison Square Garden


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    • The conference that is at the forefront of money-grabbing and needless exposure has decided to move their tournament up by a week, just so that this former Midwest league can play in the bright lights of NYC. That means conference games in early December, a 10-11 day break for teams that make the tournament and seeing Wisconsin-Maryland on a weekday afternoon with a crowd of maybe 2,500.

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  • Colonial:     Charleston, SC – North Charleston Coliseum

    • A great city and warm climate for a tournament…but, it’s not even close to 70% of the league’s members. I miss the good ol’ days in Richmond when this was a Virginia-centric league.
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  • Conference USA:     Frisco, TX – Ford Center at The Star

    • Similar boat as the American Conference. But the concept is interesting as they will be playing in the Dallas Cowboy-owned facility. The stadium holds 12,000 and is often the host to Friday Night High School Football. Curious to see how this plays out. Only North Texas, UTSA, Rice and Louisiana Tech can be considered “close”
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  • Patriot:     Campus Sites 
    • OK Patriot, it’s time to take a step and grow up…especially since you decided to make the curious move to 10 teams a few years ago by adding Boston and Loyola (MD). Allentown and the relatively new PPL Center would be perfect.
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  • SEC:     St. Louis, MO – Scottrade Center

    • Another example of the Power 5 having to show love to an out-of-place, newish member. Atlanta and the SEC are Kings of the South. This event should always be in Atlanta.
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  • WAC:     Las Vegas, NV – Orleans Arena

    • What kind of crazy teams play in this league again?
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A Spur Of The Moment Game

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 6, 2018


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Monday was an unusual day for me: a deviation from the routine. A long work weekend meant that I took a little bit of a break on Monday and I realized a nice de-stresser would be a sporting event. My love for college basketball has waned over the last several years for a multitude of reasons, but I still have that urge now and again. With stadium reviewing not the focus, I perused the light schedule for something. There were two options: Indiana at Rutgers or Bucknell at Lehigh. Easy decision here: Bucknell-Lehigh. The Bison came in with first place in the Patriot League and I prefer following the geographically-sensible conferences. This was a terrific game of basketball and it made me fall in love all over again. Clean, hard-working play and no showboating shenanigans by either side as they played their tails off in an entertaining affair. Lehigh shot nearly 50% from behind the arc and the game went to OT after Bucknell missed a shot near the buzzer. In the extra frame, the Mountain Hawks continued their shot-making and Jordan Cohen was money from the line. The Bison still had a chance to send the game to Double OT, but they missed as well and Lehigh celebrated their victory. Games like these, where there is not 15 replay reviews or the mention of “Trey Young” 55 times makes me want to get back into following the sport hardcore again. As for Stabler Arena, this was my third visit to the arena and it is one of the biggest in the Patriot League. Not much change in there as it is a well-lit and comfortable building to watch a game. The crowd was around 1,000 with many decked out in Eagles gear. They were the best that I’ve heard them in my three visits as they really picked it up in the final four minutes. The students too, who sat most of the time behind the basket, stood up and got into it towards the end. Best thing of the night: The awesome halftime show put on by the Bucks County Bungee Jumpers. They were phenomenal and deservedly drew the loudest applause of the night from the crowd. Check them out!

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Feeling the Heat in Harrisburg

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 28, 2018


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Before checking out the Heat and New Holland Arena, I spent a little time in downtown Harrisburg. Now back in 2013 when visiting for a Senators game, I remember learning that this is a sketchy town. However, I really didn’t see any of that during my enjoyable walking tour that included the Walnut Street Bridge, Front Street and the State Capitol. This time around was a little different as the drive in from I-81 took me through some questionable areas and I was not exactly comfortable on my three block walk from the car parked on the street to the PA State Museum. Call me a softy suburbanite, but that’s just how I felt. Anyway, the state museum was good and the statue of Willam Penn is really something to behold. I thought the Transportation & Industry section was the most visually appealing and the most interesting permanent section. What really caught my interest was a temporary exhibit on the work of T. M. Fowler, who created 248 Birds Eye View maps of PA cities in the late 1800s and 1900s. I love those! After the museum, I stayed nearby for dinner at the Sturges Speakeasy. It looked like they had a party going on, but I still was able to take a seat on the side for dinner. As I felt increasingly ignored by the staff, time was getting to be a concern and I made the decision to hightail it out of there without ordering and try somewhere else. Clutch decision. I drove to the Appalachian Brewing Company (5 minutes from the arena) and was served quickly at the bar with a great dinner and a beer that was brewed on-site.

The game was at the New Holland Arena, one of many buildings that make up the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. Before the corporate sponsor, it was just referred to as “Large Arena”. This is a truly impressive facility in both size and history, as it has hosted the largest agricultural gathering in the United States for over 100 years. During Farm Show week, the Large Arena hosts everything from rodeos to pony-pulling contests to tractor square dancing (yup, that’s right! check it out!). It also hosts indoor soccer as the MASL’s Harrisburg Heat play there, a team with a relatively lengthy history dating back to 1991. New Holland Arena from the outside is architecturally intriguing as the 1930s design features farm-related engravings at the top of the building. Inside, there is a distinctive farm smell that reminds game attendees that this is a unique arena for sports. The seating bowl reminded me a lot of Hersheypark Arena, located not too far away. Built in an era when everything was designed for a person sitting in a chair to watch below, there is a very steep grade to the oval structure. It lends to great sightlines. The arena is so outdated that there is an undeniable charm to it because of the nostalgia factor. Along with the aforementioned, you have tight chairs that date back decades and a scoreboard as basic as they come. This does not diminish the Heat experience as it is still a fun one that can be had in any other modern-day arena. For those missing an old-school sports arena, check this place out. Now that’s not to say there is no 21st century influence as a Heat game features goal celebrations complete with smoke machine and strobe light, plus the near-continuous playing of music interspersed with the PA imploring “Harrisburg make some noiiissseeee!” that gradually becomes ear-grating. While the music/PA may have annoyed me, this is undoubtedly a family event with kids everywhere (particularly youth soccer teams), so the game-day atmosphere caters very well to them. This was my first indoor soccer game (match?) and it was quite enjoyable as I dissected the flow and strategy. It is a really intriguing mix of soccer and hockey that has been around since the 80s. Harrisburg was playing the Florida Tropics and they had leads of 3-1 and 5-2. Harrisburg trimmed the advantage to 5-4 and tried to tie it up for much of the 4th Quarter. The Heat even had a 6 on 4 (Power Play plus pulling the goalkeeper), but failed to convert as the Tropics celebrated their win as the buzzer sounded. Stadium #191 was a very different experience from all the other visits and it was one certainly worth doing that featured a new type of arena and sport, both of which were refreshingly enjoyable.
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A Few Firsts Next Weekend

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 20, 2018

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The last few years, I’ve really upped the amount of stadium trips that include multiple games and the use of a hotel. That’s because we’re down to only 11 local available stadiums remaining as I consider anything within a 2.5 hour drive doable without an overnight stay. I’m going to make one of those visits next Saturday as I check out the Harrisburg Heat. That leaves me with five relatively close-by winter venues: Villanova Basketball, NJIT Basketball, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Long Island Nets and a High School Tournament in Pottsville’s Martz Hall. My plan going forward is to leave those arenas as backup plans in future years, just in case a bigger trip gets cancelled due to the multiple things that could come up during the winter (bad weather, work, sick, etc). Back to Harrisburg, this should be an interesting one as it is my first ever indoor soccer game. The league goes back ten years, but professional indoor soccer has a deeper history than that as teams like the Milwaukee Wave and Baltimore Blast date back to the 80s and 90s. The Heat play in a type of building that will also be a first for me: the Large Arena at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. The Farm Show just wrapped up last week and it is one of the largest agricultural gatherings in the US. Within the large complex, one of the buildings is a 7,500-seat venue that during the event hosts everything from rodeos to pony-pulling contests to tractor square dancing (yup, that’s right! check it out!). After a few years at the smaller Equine Arena in the complex, the Heat moved their home games to the bigger venue three years ago and I will be there next Saturday Night for a 7 PM game against Florida. Depending on when my wife gets out of work earlier in the day, I’m hoping to spend some time at the PA State Museum downtown before heading to the game. This will be second time in Pennsylvania’s Capital City as I got to check out some of the sights during a 2013 visit to FNB Field. Check back with wrap-up of the Heat game later next weekend.
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The Year In Visits – 2017

Posted by Sean Rowland on December 27, 2017

Locations of the Stadiums I visited in 2017

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2017 recovered nicely after a horrible start as a planned trip to Wisconsin was cancelled due to an injury. That rescheduled flight turned into a late-season trip to Michigan that went very smoothly. Throw in a vacation to the Deep South, a journey into Canada and some football in Maryland and you have quite a year. I was able to visit 14 new stadiums in 2017, bringing the tally to 190 overall. It’s been fun and memorable, so let’s take a look at the past year in stadium visits:

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Favorite New Stadium:  Yost Ice Arena……Yost got a high ranking of 77 and while fourteen other stadiums have been ranked higher, this gem will always hold a special place in my heart. The students are phenomenal and their “Children of Yost” section made the hockey game a must-see event. They are clever and creative with a zest for a new cheer, plus the pep band compliments them beautifully. Oh yeah and the old barn of an arena is a beauty too, especially on the outside.
………Honorable Mention: Crisler Center, Molson Stadium, Riverwalk Stadium

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Worst New Stadium:  Pete Taylor Park……Southern Miss has a mighty fine baseball program, but The Pete just does not live up to the product on the field. The ballpark feels pieced together and disjointed with day games being particularily uncomfortable. I did like The Grove as it is a cool idea for their tailgaters.
………Honorable Mention:
Paterson Field

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Favorite New City:  Montgomery, AL……For nearly 150 years, Montgomery had a forgettable history. In the last 20, they have really turned it around and this place is a great city to live and visit. Central Alabama will not come up for many thinking of vacation, but three days here is three days well spent. Plenty of historical sites, museums and downtown attractions made Montgomery my favorite city of the year.
………Honorable Mention: Biloxi, MS

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Most Memorable Moment:  Dylan Burdeaux Last Home At-Bat……A college-town community saying goodbye to a hard-working senior in his final regular season at-bat. This one got to me because of the genuine emotion showed both on the field and in the stands.
………Honorable Mention: No Socks Kid at Michigan

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Best Restaurant:  Zingerman’s Deli…..Going back to Ann Arbor for a second time meant that I had the opportunity to try Zingerman’s, which I missed the first go-round. It doesn’t matter if you are a little overwhelmed by the menu at first because any food decision you make here will be a good one. This place was so good, it made me ask to see if they ship deliveries (sadly, they don’t).  
………Honorable Mention: Cafe Gia in Baltimore, MD;  Robin Square in Montreal, QU;  Stockyard Grill in Montgomery, AL;

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Best In-Stadium Food:   Pit Beef Sandwich……The last time I had a city food stable in a stadium, it disappointed (smoked meat at the Bell Centre in Montreal). This was better. You’re still better off going to a local dive for the best Pit Beef, but I was pretty happy with the one I got at M&T and it kept me full through the game.
………Honorable Mention: Murky Waters BBQ at MGM Park 

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Best Game  Michigan vs Minnesota……This was a terrific hockey game and it was Minnesota who jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Michigan fought back and by intermission, it was 3-2. Goals then flew in to start the third as Michigan tied it on a beautiful no-look pass by Tony Calderone, only to see the Gophers get back in front 33 seconds later. Another Wolverine goal tied it up until we went to OT, where a scramble in front led to a power play score for Michigan as Alex Roos got the game winner for the home side.
………Honorable Mention: Montreal vs Saskatchewan
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Championship Teams:  Russellville High School……What I love about championship games at the High School level is that many of them are played in tenant-less stadiums or older facilities. Alabama’s High School Baseball Championship is split between two ballparks in Montgomery and that gave me a chance to add Paterson Field to my belt. Russellville took Game 1, which we attended, by a long margin and then after a defeat in Game 2, took the decider against Faith Academy. The Golden Tigers won their third straight AL title and they brought hundreds of friends and family to the championship series.
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Best Drive:  US-90 between Gulfport and Ocean Springs…..This drive brings both beauty and bad memories as the latter comes from thinking back to what Katrina did along and beyond this stretch of highway in coastal Mississippi. Yet, the beauty comes in the breathtaking scenery with the water and white sand on one side and a mix of fine sights on the other. Ocean Springs ended up being my favorite little town on the trip. 

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Worst Drive:  I-81 in NY between Syracuse and Cortland……This section of 81 is prone to snow given their elevation and geography. I knew I was pushing the envelope by taking a trip to Utica and Syracuse on a bitterly cold March weekend. Lake effect / Orographic snow turned out to be scary enough to strongly consider getting off the highway and crashing at a friend’s house in Tully. But just deviating from the tracks on the road was scary in and of itself, so I pressed on and breathed a deep sigh of relief once the snow let up near Marathon.

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Weather:  7-5-2……The 7 wins (no-issues weather): Flint, Baltimore, Montreal, Auburn, Montgomery (x2), Biloxi. For the 5 losses, we had a bitterly cold and windy day in Utica that made me reconsider taking exterior arena pictures. Southern Mississippi had me sweating under the sun on a hot afternoon. Towson football featured an unseasonably chilly wind that my summer-weathered body was not used to yet. Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor took that to another level on a 10-minute walk to the arena. Finally, I call the 2 “Ties” as situations that weren’t ideal, but didn’t have any bearing on the experience. Those were: rain heading to the arena in Ypsilanti and bitter cold on a much shorter walk to the Crisler Center.

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Best Side Trip:  Sloan Museum……I elaborated last month on how much I enjoyed my trip to Flint, Michigan and how unfair the city’s reputation is. While the Farmers Market in downtown is terrific, the Sloan Museum really takes the cake in terms of places to visit. Arguably one of the best museums about a city’s history that I have been to.
………Honorable Mention: Alabama State Museum in Montgomery, Biloxi Tour Train in Biloxi, Historic Ships in Baltimore

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