Nestled halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando is the tiny railroading community of DeLand. You'd miss it driving down Interstate 4 if you weren't looking for it. There's only one main exit to and from this small city, a fact they seem to have planned in order to keep the small-town charm that's been preserved since the town's founding in 1882. The "main street" mentality with shops, stores, restaurants, and walkability are all quite apparent; it's much like I'd imagine walking into a Norman Rockwell painting would entail. To make the retro experience even more complete, they even included an old-time school, too.
On a tree-lined campus north of that "main street", State Road 44 a.k.a. New York Avenue, is Stetson University, a private university founded in 1883 and having the current name since 1889. Shortly after its founding, in 1901, Stetson fielded its first sports program, football, which folded in 1956. However, the legacy of the Hatters (named for John Stetson, the school's main benefactor's profession of hat maker) was already established, and sports had been running continuously. Amongst those sports is basketball, which has been played at the J. Ollie Edmunds Center since 1974. Can the facility live up to the hype of historical charm and overall beauty the rest of the campus - and city as a whole - exude? Sadly, not as much as I had hoped driving in.
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There's nothing special nor awe-inspiring to write home about. You have your standard fare of hot dogs (sorry..."Hat Dogs"), popcorn, pizza (delivered from Dominos, but forget asking about toppings; as I was told, "You can have cheese or cheese," to which I replied, "Plain, please."), candy bars, and chips. One nifty thing was the ability to buy a refillable cup for $3.50 and, all season, you could get it refilled for a buck.
Otherwise, with one kiosk and average prices, it was just as easy to spend a little more and eat at one of the great restaurants downtown as it was to be cheap and digest the food here.
The seating gives a weird feel and I'm not quite sure why. I don't think the seats on the west side have been replaced since the '70s, as they all have the same "Brady Bunch" look and design. You know the design I'm talking about: the seats with the curved back that curves into your seat and hugs you with white plastic. It's comfortable, but very dated. The east side is all bench seats that, unfortunately, don't look padded, so that can make for a very long game.
Speaking of outdated, the scoreboards are in need of some TLC, as well as the sound system, which was too loud for the facility, causing everything to have an annoying echo.
The weirdest thing about the arena, though, is how the seating is arranged; being only about 20 rows up, I felt incredibly far away from the action since the seating wasn't tiered. Most places, I would have been close enough to the action to know what was going on, but here, I might as well as sat on the roof.
The lone redeeming factor to this category is the proximity to downtown DeLand, which is a 10 minute walk away.
As I've said a few times, DeLand has great charm, and it extends to the campus. Everything is within walking distance, well-maintained, and after dark, not once did I even think I'd see some hippie trying to sell me weed, let alone any other crimes. This is an idyllic campus and college town that all the others should strive to attain.
In their defense, the men's team was in 2nd-to-last place, so fan participation is expected to be lackluster. However, it was one of the last home games of both the season and for their coach, Derek Waugh, and to hear the opponents' fans - Atlantic Sun rivals North Florida - out-cheer the Hatters' fans was, quite frankly, sad. If they were fielding a winning team, I could see this score go up, but until then, the only reason it's not a 1 is because they at least had fans show.
This is a walkable campus. That said, not much thought has been put into public parking. I drove around the campus about three times before I decided to park in a dirt lot that had construction equipment in it because it was the only spot I could find. Public parking is at a premium around the Center, and while there are plenty of parking lots, you better be a student or faculty member or you may get towed. Luckily, I didn't get towed where I parked (since I saw others parking around me and they all had their cars still there, too), but that doesn't mean where I did was allowed, just accepted on that night.
The campus is easy to find, however, and the access roads - U.S. Routes 17 & 92 (a.k.a. Woodland Blvd.) and Amelia Avenue are easily navigable and signed clearly to the facility. The main concourse is functional and, even with the concession stand in the middle, not too crowded; the bathrooms are nothing special, but still clean.
Maybe I just caught them during a bad season, but I saw nothing impressive about either the team or the facility. To use the obligatory and obscure Mad Hatter reference, I wouldn't pay 10/6 to see them again. Maybe if the men's team achieves the caliber of play the women's has in 2011 - which won the Atlantic Sun championship this year - then I might change my mind.
The recruiting potential is there, especially with an exquisite campus to show high schoolers, but a combination of a boring team and a bland facility aren't big draws.
I've mentioned it a few times, but this college town adds a lot to the equation and I'd be remiss to leave it out here, as well. Also, you're 30 minutes from Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, so that's also a draw.
It's quite the letdown to go from this picturesque town and campus oozing with Southern charm and walk into this building. It's not a bad facility by any means, but it just doesn't live up to the class and history living outside its doors, and its offenses are glaring. Adding little touches of that small-town motif a little here or there and fixing the audio and video problems inside would help greatly, but until then, you at least have the town of DeLand to look forward to when you watch your team play the Hatters.
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