Now entering its 19th season as the home of American University athletics, Bender Arena officially opened its doors on Jan. 23, 1988, when AU's women's basketball team hosted James Madison University. The new arena was a welcome sight for all associated with the University, as the program previously played all of its home contests in the old Cassell Center across campus.
The funds for Bender Arena were donated by alumni benefactors Howard and Sondra Bender and named in honor of Jack I. Bender, Howard's father. The arena holds 4,500 fans for basketball and volleyball and 6,000 for concerts. In the spring of 1988 the university held its commencement in the new facility, marking the first time in decades that the ceremonies were held on campus.
On January 15, 2003, American University dedicated the competition floor to the memory of Stafford H. "Pop" Cassell. Cassell was a legendary figure on campus serving as Director of Athletics, coach, teacher and student-athlete during his time at AU.
Prior to the 2001-02 season, the arena received a new scoreboard, which includes a 7-by-9-foot animation and video display and advertising signage for corporate sponsors. Additional improvements include new chairback seating for the west bleachers and new back-lit scorers tables which surround the playing surface.
Located in one of the nation's top sports and entertainment cities, Bender Arena hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year. Besides commencement and varsity basketball and volleyball contests, Bender has hosted a wide variety of events over the last year, including rock concerts like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, speakers like Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Tipper Gore, camps and high school basketball tournaments like the Gonzaga Holiday Classic and the DC Board Games.
The multi-purpose facility is unique in providing services for a growing university community. The Sports Center is located in the virtual geographic center of American's campus and features several amenities:
- The state-of-the-art William I Jacobs Fitness Center
- The 25-yard, eight-lane pool and facilities of Reeves Aquatic Center
- A six-store mini-mall
- AU's Campus Store
- A 470-car, seven-level parking structure
The 300,000 square foot building connects to the Mary Graydon Center to create an enormous hub of student activity. AU students are able to go to class, have dinner, attend a game or concert and stop by the Tavern or The Eagles Nest convenience store for refreshments without ever leaving the confines of the building. In addition, the facility houses the athletics department and health and fitness offices.