Diddle will open to fans Saturday

Beth Sewell

Hilltopper basketball fans will kick construction workers out of Diddle Arena Saturday and bring in the season with style.

The arena, which has been under renovation since April, will open its doors to the public at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the Lady Toppers game. There will be some restrictions on parking, entrances and concessions as construction continues.

Associate Athletics Director Jim Clark said fans should not stress out over finding their way into Diddle. To ensure accessibility and fan safety, Western will post 50 ushers around the arena to direct Topper fans.

“We’re having a dress rehearsal for the ushers Thursday night,” Clark said. “We hope that everything runs smooth on Saturday, and people really get excited about what we’ve done.”

Curiosity about the renovations and anticipation for another season of basketball are two things Clark said will help attract a big crowd for the game.

“If we have a large student turnout, we’re expecting to sell out,” Clark said.

Getting In

With construction still underway, finding a parking space will be more difficult than in previous years.

Diddle lot will provide 450 spots for Hilltopper Athletic Foundation members. The parking structure and the SkyPAC and Creason Street lots are expected to accommodate everyone else.

Diddle will boast four new entrances Saturday, but only two – those closest to Smith Stadium – will be accessible to fans.

Entrance 1, near University Boulevard, will be open for students and the general public. Entrance 2, near Big Red Way, will be open for luxury suite holders and the general public. The stairwell in Entrance 2 will not be accessible.

Entrance 3, near the parking structure and University, will be limited for use by Western band members, cheerleaders and the media.

Entrance 4 is currently used only by construction workers.

The 16 luxury suites adorning the arena’s upper concourse will be unveiled Saturday to their respective donors. But the elevators that go to the second floor and upper concourse in Diddle will not be operating.

Assistant Athletics Director Craig Biggs said that although Diddle is still limited in what will be ready, more will be available to fans than expected.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Biggs said. “We’ve worked late a lot of nights, and now we just have some little things to do.”

There will be two ticket sellers at each entrance, along with a spray of ushers to help direct traffic. Each fan will also be given a map of the arena.

“With the ushers, the maps we’re going to hand out and the 150 temporary directional signs we’ve added, it should help,” Biggs said.

Game Time

Fans will have plenty of places to sit Saturday. All seats in Diddle will be available.

And even though concession stands are still under construction, fans will have places to get food. Concessions will be temporarily set up outside their future permanent locations.

But the men’s and women’s restrooms on the side of Diddle closest to the parking structure will not be ready.

Diddle is undergoing a massive cleaning effort which began Monday afternoon. Many of the seats in the arena were covered in dust yesterday. Aisles were littered with debris, and the final touches to two new, large video screens had not yet been made.

Ann Stewart, a member of the cleaning team, said she cleaned more than 1,000 seats yesterday. There are still thousands more.

“We’re supposed to be done by Friday,” Stewart said. “It looks good in here, but . it’s a lot of seats.”

Biggs said workers have planned to work up to lunchtime Saturday so that Diddle will be as ready as it can be for fans.

Deadlines set by Saturday’s game are affecting other workers as well. Kevin Russ of Hussing Mechanical is working on Diddle’s plumbing and heating systems. After working anywhere from 48 to 60 hours a week, Russ said he is nearing completion.

The heating system will be turned on today. The arena is expected to be a comfortable temperature by game time.

“We’ve come a long way,” Russ said. “But there’s still a long way to go before it’s all finished.”

Biggs said Diddle’s interior and entrances will be completed by March 6 – the opening date for the men’s and women’s Sun Belt Tournament.

Until then, fans will have to deal with the hassles brought on by Diddle’s renovation.

In the spirit of construction, the first 5,000 fans to enter the building Saturday will receive hard hats.

“We’re going to have a game,” Clark said. “It won’t be perfect, but it will get better each time they come.”

Reach Beth Sewell at [email protected]