Photo by Winston Zhou.
The UMBC Field house opened inside the Retriever Activities Center in 1973. Since then, the sports arena has been renamed the RAC Arena, and has been the primary sports center for Retriever athletics since its opening. Despite the move to the Event Center by Volleyball, Women’s Basketball, and Men’s Basketball, the RAC Arena’s rich history and place in UMBC’s culture cannot be forgotten.
The RAC has been, if nothing else during its existence, incredibly intimate for the Retriever community. Due to its location in the heart of the school’s academic row, the three-floor gymnasium is in the ideal place for students to go to exercise between classes or after finishing for the day. Additionally, the Arena’s place at the gym’s center meant that students could support the school team between classes and build that sense of community. The RAC Arena is an incredibly congested court, with the stands as close as possible to the action. The small playing area carries noise incredibly well, always creating a great atmosphere by the UMBC faithful, even when the stadium was not at capacity.
During the era where the RAC hosted all of UMBC’s athletic teams, it also held all the athletic department’s offices and allowed for a powerful sense of camaraderie within the school. The sense of togetherness among the athletics staff was summarized by Associate Assistant Director of Communications Steve Levy when he said, “It was definitely a family type of atmosphere, from both within our department and the season ticket holders we know and see on a game-by-game basis, to the staff that comes to work the games.”
Many of the athletes that got to play in the RAC Arena also considered its 4,024-seater stadium a home away from home. Junior volleyball player Kristin Watson has played all three years of her collegiate career in the RAC Arena and, though she looks forward to playing her senior year in the new facilities at the Event Center, she also carries many memories in UMBC’s historical colosseum.
“It was one of the first places at UMBC where I felt like it was home for us [the team]. I started working out there the summer before my Freshman year, I was there at least two or three times a week working out or playing with the girls. Ever since, because I’ve lived close, I’ve worked out there nonstop during the Winter breaks. Our locker room is in there, it’s where we’ve played. It’s been our home away from home. If we all wanna talk to each other, just chill, we have our study hall. It’s the central place we go to,” Watson expressed.
Watson also has an incredibly unique view of the facility, not only as an athlete but also a student taking a class to help with the ESPN3 broadcasts of UMBC’s basketball games through the year. Watson was given the opportunity to produce the broadcast of the final game played at the RAC Arena, the Women’s Basketball game against Stony Brook on Wednesday, Jan. 31, distributed through the America East site.
The 2016 America East Defensive Specialist of the Year endearingly continued, “It was pretty cool to actually finally get in the producer chair, but it was nice to finalize our RAC experience and for me to be there with other athletes and other people taking the class to really make our mark there.”
Athletics’ Director of Multimedia Communications Zach Seidel reminisced over some of the great games he has experienced at the RAC Arena since his time as a student at UMBC in 2008 alongside Levy. Levy started, “That last men’s game, the atmosphere was amazing.” The Director of Communications also identified a few key other standout games for the Retrievers, including the Men’s Basketball team winning the 2008 AE tournament at home against Hartford, and the phenomenal turnout at the semi-final of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, where the men hosted Texas A&M University Corpus Christi with a sellout crowd.
Seidel picked out a few personal favorites of his own, “There were a couple men’s [basketball] games, the Citadel game last year, Darley’s three against University of New Hampshire, I think back to a couple women’s games. We hosted Virginia in a season opener and we were winning with four minutes left and ended up losing by 11. I think it was 2010, and the Virginia coach ended up setting an all-time coaching record here, so there was a lot of media and a ton of people. My senior year we were hosting Maryland, and we ended up losing by nine, but we were leading all game and I remember it was really packed and the feeling of, ‘oh my God, we’re beating Maryland,’ because they were ranked number four in the country at the time. And also, when Women’s Basketball ended up winning the title here [in 2010-2011].”
Even after the Arena’s retirement the RAC will continue to be an important part of student life at UMBC. UMBC’s Swim Team will still practice and compete at the RAC while the Track & Field team will continue practicing there. Seidel happily noted he has already seen students enjoying getting to play on the hardwood floor, and the gymnasium will be a bit less busy with less athletes trying to occupy the space alongside the rest of the student body trying to workout. The RAC’s office spaces will be renovated, though it is still unknown for what capacity or what the spaces will be used for moving forward.
Still, the opening of the Event Center marks a new era in UMBC athletics and student life. The new stadium will increase school prestige and aid in recruitment, and it is agreed speaking to anybody inside the athletics department that the time to move on from the RAC has come. However, speaking with those in athletics about the RAC Arena universally creates a melancholy mood. The weight of the memories of the RAC Arena are more than banners that now hang in the Event Center. The RAC Arena is formed by the dozens of Athletics staff that have worked there, the hundreds of athletes that have competed there, and the thousands of students who cheered the Retrievers on from their iconic yellow seats. That is the legacy of grit and greatness that the RAC Arena leaves behind.