A trip to Gillette last week turned out to be so much more. In the literal sense, a standard 40-minute Region IX women’s basketball game turned into a 60-minute quadruple-overtime thriller. I was exhausted just watching it. The men’s basketball game wasn’t quite as thrilling as Gillette College had its way with Sheridan College in a blowout.
But Wednesday’s games were an event. The action on the court was the headliner, but the openers and intermission participants had hands in the spectacle.
From the introductions during the women’s game until the final buzzer sounded in the men’s game, the Pronghorn Center was the place to be for Gillette basketball fans — and the SC fans that made the trek east. They all got to experience high-caliber basketball in a fun-filled environment.
Unfortunately for those SC fans who had to travel back to Sheridan for more games at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome, their basketball-watching won’t be as exciting as the season trickles toward the finish line.
That’s not a shot at the Generals or Lady Generals. The basketball isn’t the issue here, especially when you’re talking about a men’s team that’s spent most of its season in the top 25. I’ve said it before, but if you like thunderous dunks (who doesn’t?), this is the team for you.
But all the entertainment we got at the Pronghorn Center disappears at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome.
Saturday’s games against Casper were fun. It was one of the bigger crowds in recent memory, although the Thunderbirds brought a load of fans up from Casper to help. The SC dental hygiene program even provided a fun “chuck a duck” halftime contest. Good start.
But that was the best atmosphere the dome has seen in my tenure here — aside from some buzzing-beating heroics a few times.
The point here is that Sheridan College and Gillette College, despite being “teammates” in the Northern Wyoming Community College District, aren’t on an equal playing field.
Sure, we could talk about the Pronghorn Center, a shiny new arena with a video board and booming sound system and a roof that doesn’t drip melting snow into buckets across the court. It obviously has perks the golden dome can’t provide.
But take away the newness, and the Pronghorn Center isn’t as cool as the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome. The dome is so unique and iconic and provides a setting not many arenas across the country can showcase. That’s worth showing off.
The dome needs its share of repairs, especially to match the Pronghorn Center, but making those tweaks will not only improve the overall feel of athletics at SC, it will boost the fan experience as well. And patching some holes might prevent some unwanted injuries.
But repairs cost money. The Pronghorn Center cost $18 million. With budget cuts already hurting education funding in the state, cutting checks to renovate the dome may turn some heads. Definitely a fair excuse, although I still think the dome shouldn’t go untouched.
But Gillette College had plenty to provide at last week’s games without smashing its piggy bank. There were halftime contests and pregame dance performances. Students gave out thunder sticks (note: thunder sticks are annoying) and tossed out T-shirts. The arena has a video board and camera operators and fun visuals during timeouts.
I know athletic director Jenni Winter is stretched thin as it is. And the coaches already have enough on their plates just trying to compete in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
This needs to be a group effort, and it starts by making a conscious effort to make athletics matter. Not all students play, but most of them take part in some way.
I’ve only watched four games at the Pronghorn Center, so maybe this was just a special night because rival Sheridan was coming to town. And the games prior to the center’s construction — when GC played in a high school gym — certainly didn’t have as much entertainment.
But they had a ton last week, something the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome lacks more frequently than it should.
Sports — across the board — at SC are competing at the highest of levels and succeeding. That should be showcased, and that begins with improving the fan experience.