Columbia, South Carolina will be a site for the first and second rounds of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena March 21-24, 2019. It’s the first time since 1970 that the tournament will be played in Columbia, and basketball fever is taking hold.
We won’t know until Sunday evening March 17 (Selection Sunday) which eight teams will be traveling to Columbia to play. Even if they make the tournament, the Gamecocks can’t play on their home turf (#rules), but regardless of which collegiate teams are slated for the capital city there will be some pretty serious basketball being played right in our backyard. Even if you are not a basketball fan there will be some dynamic things for kids and families to do during tournament time.
Here are some tips on making this experience a slam dunk for even your tiniest fans:
1. FREE Open Practice
Thursday, March 21 is a FREE and open-to-the-public practice date for all eight teams. Each team will have 45 minutes in the Colonial Life Arena to get their bearings on the court. Availability is first-come, first-served. Open practice times will be announced after Selection Sunday. Concessions will be sold at Colonial Life Arena during the open practice. Since parking will be at a premium, take advantage of the free park and ride system. You can park for free at Gamecock Park (located at 76 National Guard Road near Williams Brice Stadium or at the Kline Lot at 405 Gervais Street) and ride the FREE shuttle directly to the Colonial Life Arena. When else will your kids have the opportunity to see some of the country’s best collegiate ballers and not pay a dime? Be sure to note the clear bag policy!
2. FREE Segra Fan Fest Experience at Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
After you enjoy Open Practice, walk over to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center for FREE admission to the Segra Fan Fest Experience. Arcade-style basketball games, a bouncy house and inflatable basketball games are free. Face painting, balloon animals and body marbling are available for a fee. Segra Fan Fest Experience will be Thursday March 21 from noon-8 p.m. and Friday March 22 from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. And definitely avoid traffic and take advantage of that free shuttle, which will be available both Thursday and Friday during the tournament.
3. FREE Hoops Fan Day on Main + Capital City Hoop & Music Fest
Chances are, you have ventured to Soda City Market with your crew on a Saturday morning. If not, there’s no better time to check it out because there will be even more excitement on Main Street during the tournament. Stop by on Saturday, March 23 for Hoops Fan Day on Main starting at 9am for the market, plus appearances from Cocky and the Pep Band from 11 a.m.-noon by the Columbia Museum of Art. Fort Jackson’s 282nd Army Band will play from 6-8 p.m. along Main Street. Capital City Hoop & Music Festival runs from noon-10 p.m. with pop, rock and hip hop music and a variety of performers.
4. “Beyond the Court” Public Art
Experience Columbia SC, One Columbia for Arts & History and First Citizens Bank teamed up with six local artists to produce “Beyond the Court”, a 8-foot three-dimensional basketball public art piece located at First Citizens Green at the Corner of Main and Lady Streets in downtown Columbia. It’s super colorful and makes a for great Instagram shot. And if you use #RealColumbiaSC in your Instagram post, your photo may get shared on the Experience Columbia SC website or social media wall at the Columbia SC Visitors Center. The piece will be up at least through the last day of the tournament, March 24, 2019.
5. Vista After Five
Vista After Five concert series kicks off its spring season on Thursday, March 21 at 5 p.m. This family-friendly event boasts free admission and will feature the band 76 and Sunny at Tin Roof and The Senate. Strollers welcome.
6. Wild About Basketball at Riverbanks Zoo
Be sure to stop by Riverbanks Zoo between March 22 and 24 for their “Wild About Basketball” event, which includes animal enrichment, conservation efforts and more, all centered around basketball. It’s included in the price of admission, so if you are already a member, it’ll be free!
7. Outdoor Screening of Hoosiers at West Columbia Ampitheatre
On Thursday, March 21 at 7:45 p.m., the movie Hoosiers will be featured at the West Columbia Amphitheatre. Pull up your knee socks and don’t miss the 1986 basketball classic on the big screen.
8. Oooor, Hire a Sitter
Lots of breweries and sports bars around Columbia have specials and events for the tournament including River Rat Brewery’s Tailgate at the Rat Cave, Steel Hands Brewery, Carolina Ale House, Thirsty Fellow and more. Plus there are cultural happenings hopping on the basketball bandwagon, too. Historic Columbia is offering Buy One Get One Free on their Historic House Museums Tours and the Broadway musical Chicago at the Koger Center is offering discounted tickets with the code BBALL.
Find a complete guide to basketball week with information on 30+ events, happenings and specials (including those in this post), details and times on parking and shuttles, and tournament schedule updates at Basketball.ColumbiaSCSports.com.