Feeling the Heat in Harrisburg

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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