Now entering its 29th 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 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 the building was 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.
Located in one of the nation's top sports and entertainment cities, Bender Arena has hosted a wide variety of events throughout the years. In 2010, Sir Elton John and tennis legend brought a World Team Tennis fundraiser to Bender. The event, which included then-WTT stars Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, drew more than 3,000 and raised about $500,000 for local charities fighting AIDS.
Besides commencement and varsity basketball and volleyball contests, Bender has hosted concerts from well-known groups and singers such as Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Cee Lo Green and Chance the Rapper. The facility has hosted speakers like Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Tipper Gore, Bill Nye and former President Bill Clinton.
Camps, special events and high school basketball tournaments like the Gonzaga Holiday Classic, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championship and the CDRF Real Estate Games have called Bender Arena home.
In 2015, the record for the attendance for a volleyball game in D.C. was broken when AU’s women’s volleyball team played against the Florida Gators.
There was also a sighting of Michelle Obama at an Eagles women’s basketball game. The former First Lady’s niece played for Princeton, and Obama came to Bender Arena to watch the matchup.
Bender Arena is the flagship facility of the American University Sports Center, which also includes a fitness center, the Reeves Aquatic Center, a mini-mall, the campus store, and a 470-car, seven-level parking garage. The Sports Center lies virtually at the geographic center of the campus.
Updated July, 2017