The long-anticipated unveiling of the Leo D. Mahoney Arena took place on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, at 10 a.m. which saw members of the Fairfield University community gather to participate in the grand opening of the facility. The event took place just hours before the women’s basketball team was set to take on Stonehill College in the arena’s first-ever game. 

The cold November air was no match for Fairfield University students, as the newly-named Lessing Plaza was nearly packed with fans playing pop-a-shot, standing in line for the Tasty Yolk food truck and chatting amongst friends ahead of the speeches that would soon be given. A table near the truck served hot apple cider and hot coffee. 

Anticipation for the event continued to grow amongst the crowd. While waiting for the event to start, the Star 99.9 radio tent played music to build excitement. 

Although the official ribbon-cutting ceremony was announced to be starting at 10 a.m., the festivities did not begin until around 10:18 a.m. when Fairfield University Student Association President Jordan Gale ‘23 addressed the crowd to share what the arena meant to him.

“It is impossible to step inside without being overcome by a sense of school spirit and pride for our great university,” Gale shared to open his speech.

Gale also felt passionate about the immersion of the local Fairfield community and students themselves to “come together as one Red Sea.” To close his address, he stated his excitement for students showing out in the student section at the inaugural game. 

After Gale’s speech, he turned the mic over to the Reverend Keith Maczkiewicz, S.J., ‘04 to lead a prayer. 

“As we prepare for the first of many athletic events in this space, we ask for your blessing that the Leo D. Mahoney Arena might be a home that renews the spirit and strengthens the mind and body of all,” Mackiewicz prayed.

Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda L. Kupchick was also in attendance and spoke next. She spoke to University President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D.’s leadership over the university, and referenced that “having this University in our town is a huge economic infusion into our community.” Her excitement about the new arena was very clear, proclaiming “Go Stags!” to close out her portion of the event. 

Vice President for Athletics Paul Schlickmann was next up to the mic, taking a more reflective approach to the arena’s construction. 

“I promised myself I’d take a breath and just take it all in,” Schlickmann began. He later stated that the culmination of the last two years “does kind of take your breath away.”

According to Schlickmann, Mahoney Arena’s mission developed four years ago, and aimed to “build a state-of-the-art venue that is second-to-none amongst our peers.” The arena additionally “serves as a shining example of our relentless pursuit of comprehensive modern excellence.”

“To put it quite simply, with great conviction, I would say, ‘mission accomplished,” Schlickmann shared. This proclamation was met with applause from the crowd. 

As the project evolved, the mission of the arena’s construction turned into bringing together current and past Stags, while creating a “home” that would provide a top-tier gameday experience for both fans and student-athletes.

A little after two minutes into his speech, members of the cheer and dance team that stood beside the podium began to shift over to the door and hold up a large red banner. The banner read “Return of the Red Sea”. 

Finally, Nemec took to the podium to give his remarks. He joked that his points would be brief in order for students to get out of the cold and into the stadium. 

He thanked the community and Schlickmann himself for the hard work they put into the creation of the arena. For more clarification about what types of events the arena would host, Nemec shared that it will “be a home for concerts and events” and it will also be “on that very, very, very rare occasion that it might rain on commencement, a location for graduation.” 

Above all else, however, he alluded to the fact that it serves as a symbol for what Fairfield is, the “modern Jesuit Catholic university of national prominence.”

Nemec closed out his speech by re-inviting Gale up to the podium along with FUSA Vice President Aliyah Seenauth ‘24. Seenauth spoke first, and described herself as “ecstatic” for the arena’s opening, which she described as a “spark that ignites student engagement.” 

Gale invited all Fairfield students in attendance to step up to the door of the arena for the opportunity to head inside and look for one of the 31 golden tickets hidden throughout the arena itself. Students and members of the community poured in once the ribbon was cut and explored all the new arena has to offer. 

In the Quick Atrium on the main concourse level of the arena, a table was set up offering free T-shirts and commemorative cups. Basketball-shaped stress balls were also being handed out on the concourse. 

Students quickly dispersed into the arena, going down onto the court and up to the second level to explore the new amenities. Signs in the middle of the Athletics Hall of Fame on the eastern side of the building show athletic records, a sign depicting the history of Alumni Hall and a sign showing the Lucas the Stag costume through the years.

Concession stands were prepared for gameday, as well. A large sign above a concession stand on the far side of the concourse shows Stags Hospitality’s menu for food, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, as well as combos. 

With the typical game day snacks like hot dogs, burgers, jumbo pretzels and popcorn present, additional concessions include a chicken caesar wrap and a vegetable hummus wrap. Combos include a hot dog, chips and a bottled drink, but for a dollar more you can swap the hot dog with the cheeseburger option. 

According to a press release from Fairfield University’s office of media relations, the club area brings unique offerings to the fan experience as well. The club area is dubbed “The Diffley” after Special Assistant to the President George Diffley P‘97, ‘96 who served as the former Vice President for Advancement for 31 years, according to the official press release. This area boasts “172 cushioned chairback seats, a premium bar and a spacious lounge area”. 

A 2006 press release from Fairfield University states that Diffley served his role of Vice President for Advancement from 1975 to 2006. 

In order to gain access to the club area, the Club Level Access Pass will cost $450 for access over the entire season, according to an informational press release on the official athletics website. 

The team store is now open, as well, located on the right side of the entrance in the Quick Atrium. While the “Run With The Stags” Homefield T-shirt can be found in the store, new items include the Red Sea Madness T-shirt and other apparel. 

In the women’s basketball home-opener played against Stonehill College later that night, the Stags defeated Stonehill by 24 points with the final score of 77-53. The men’s basketball team will make their debut in the arena on Dec. 3. against Saint Peter’s University, according to their official schedule.

Stay tuned for future updates regarding the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as updates on the arena itself.

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