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A lot more than basketball going on at new 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington

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When the Delaware Blue Coats walked into the new 76ers Fieldhouse near the Wilmington Riverfront last January before their first game, the memories of practices, games and team events at a mix of locations around Delaware melted away.

Larry Meli
Blue Coats President

“We were nomads and wanted a building to call home,” said Blue Coats President Larry Meli. “There’s nothing like this in the G League [the NBA’s talent development league]. It’s modeled after the Sixers facility in Camden, New Jersey. It’s the perfect size; we got it right.”

Meli added that “culture stems from facilities and a first-class facility shows players that the team values them.”

The Buccini/Pollin Group created a division, BPG|Sports, to build, own, and manage the Fieldhouse after the Philadelphia 76ers decided to put the multipurpose arena on Garasches Lane in the Southbridge neighborhood. The arena seats 2,500 people for games and can be expanded to 3,000 for concerts such as the ones with Cardi B and O.A.R. that it hosted last year.

But there’s much more in the 161,000-square-foot facility, which went through a lightning-fast five-month construction after ground was broken in August 2018. There’s a Titus Sports Academy and Nemours will open a Sports Medicine clinic on Sept. 19 that will have employ 12-15 physicians, physical therapists, and support staff.

“We’ll be treating all types of sports injuries, including concussions,” said Kim Pierson, senior director for therapeutic and rehabilitative services. “The people we’re treating don’t see themselves as being sick. They’re injured so the hospital is not always the best environment.”

Pierson sees the Fieldhouse facility as Nemours’ “sports medicine hub,” adding that BPG approached them. The presence of the indoor and outdoor fields, the relationship with the 76ers, and Titus across the hall made it a no-brainer to make the Fieldhouse the “showcase for our Delaware sports medicine program.” 

Besides its program at the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children, Nemours operates two sports medicine facilities in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.

Pierson said “we want to put these athletes in a great psychological place and get them back in a safe place. We’ve been working collaboratively with Titus for a little while now. They can see if something’s not quite right and we can get them in right away. We can also send our patients over to Titus to work on speed, agility, and strength and we’ll have the clinic right there if anything comes up. In addition, we will have athletic trainers there for the clinics and tournaments [at the Fieldhouse] if the sponsors want that service.”

Nemours is one of the founding partners of the arena along with Christiana Care and JPMorgan Chase.

And now, as Meli looks ahead at the team’s first full season in the Fieldhouse, he has a lot to look forward to:

  • Having a full season of basketball, with 24 of the 50 games on the schedule in Wilmington. More than half of the arena’s seats have already been sold for season tickets with another two months before the opening tipoff on Nov. 9.
  • Completion of a connector bridge by March 2020 that will make it easier to get to the arena from the Riverfront.
  • Hosting ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith and a college fair for high-school students on Sept. 20 as part of the city’s HBCU Week.  The event is expected to attract more than 4,000 students and their families.
  • Use of the brand-new weight room, which will be available to players 24/7 rather than the limited hours they had at the Y in Bear.
  • Expansion of the more than 150 community outreach events they’ve conducted since March, with a focus on literacy and donations of more than 45,000 books to the community (“the No. 1 predictor of success is your ability to read at grade-level and we want to be part of helping achieve that here,” said Meli).
  • The possibility of what Meli described as a “Riverfront Passport” that would allow visitors to access other Riverfront attractions like the Delaware Children’s Museum, the Wilmington Blue Rocks minor-league baseball team, and the nearby hockey rink and mini-golf facilities.
  • Every member of the organization doing 76 hours of community service.

In addition, the Philadelphia 76ers has announced that the Fieldhouse will host the annual Blue x White Scrimmage on Saturday, October 5. The free, ticketed event is the fans’ first chance to see the 2019-20 76ers team in action.

“The intimate environment continues our tradition of creating the perfect atmosphere to introduce the team to our incredible fans,” said Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown. “By having this game at the home of the Blue Coats, it shows the important partnership we have with the G League program in Wilmington, Delaware.”

Meli said his staff of 14 is focused on creating experiences their visitors will never forget. He’s proud of the first summer camp that the facility hosted last month, with local hero Dante DiVicenzo (a two-time state champion at Salesianum, a national champion at Villanova, and a current member of the Milwaukee Bucks) being totally engaged over four days with kids between the ages of 7 and 17.

And even with just a little over three months left in the year, Meli says the goal is to welcome more than 350,000 people through the Fieldhouse doors in 2020.

“Community outreach is what’s important for all of us here,” said Meli. “Basketball is almost secondary.” 

By Max Osborne
Contributing Writer

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