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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Stetson University, located in DeLand, Florida, has one of the oldest football programs and one of the most interrupted football histories in college football. The first game at the school was held on Thanksgiving Day, 1894. The church elders present at the game were so shocked by the violence of the game that they suspended the sport at the school for several years. In 1901, the program was resurrected and ran until 1941. It was then suspended again for five years due to financial reasons, and later on due to World II. In 1945, the program was once again revived, only to be terminated for a third time in 1957.
The modern era of Stetson football began in 2013 with the return of the program. Spec Martin Memorial Field serves as the home field for the Hatters, as it was when the stadium was originally constructed in 1941. The stadium is owned by the city of DeLand and holds 6,000 for football. The facility went through major renovations in 2012, adding a press box, premium seating areas, new locker rooms and a new playing surface. Two interesting pieces of Stetson history are that 1) Spec Martin Stadium was featured as the setting for the 1998 film The Waterboy, starring Adam Sandler. 2) The university’s name and unique nickname (The Hatters) are due to the deep involvement of John B. Stetson, creator of the Stetson hat, as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the school.
The Hatters play in the FCS division of the NCAA and compete in the Pioneer League. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference in which no team offers athletic scholarships. Members of the league include nearby Jacksonville University, Drake University, the University of Dayton, Campbell College, Valparaiso University, the University of San Diego, Marist College, Ave Maria University and Davidson College. The remainder of Stetson intercollegiate sports play in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
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There are two large concession stands within Spec Martin Stadium; one is located at the main entrance (north end) of the stadium and the other is located behind the south end zone. Stetson sells Coca-Cola beverages and a limited menu of foods. These include sodas in small to large sizes ($2-$4), pizza ($3), popcorn ($2), hamburgers ($4), pretzels ($3) and Cracker Jack ($2) . You can expect long lines, especially at the quarters and the half, as no food or drinks may be brought in from outside the stadium. My suggestion is that you visit Hatter Village (more details on this later) prior to the game, as there is a wide variety of food trucks and food booths available. As you would expect, alcohol is not allowed inside or outside the stadium. We have included the offerings at Hatter Village in our rating for this category.
Stetson University strongly believes that education and faith are much more of a priority than football. If you are coming expecting to match the atmosphere of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, "the Swamp," or the "U," you are going to be very disappointed. This does not mean you will not have a good time at a Stetson football game. Three hours prior to the game, Hatter Village opens just outside Spec Martin Stadium. This is a free, family friendly pregame experience, complete with food and merchandise vendors, performances by the Stetson band, cheerleaders and spirit squads, and a wide variety of bands from various music genres on a concert stage. The tailgating experience is definitely something I encourage.
Once inside Spec Martin Stadium, you will realize, in fact, that it is a city-owned stadium that also hosts DeLand High School football and soccer games, as well as the Central Florida Warriors Rugby league team. Unfortunately, this multi-purpose usage puts a lot of stress on the natural turf field, and the off-campus location diminishes some of the charm typically found in on-campus facilities.
There are three unique traditions that take place prior to and during Stetson games. The first is the entry of the team from the locker room through a tunnel featuring the famous Stetson hat atop it. Just before the opening kick-off, the Stetson players turn to their home fans and doff their helmets. This is known as the "Tipping of the Hat," and is reciprocated by the Stetson fans to show their support of the team. The last unique tradition is a ringing of a huge bell stationed in the end zone after each Stetson score.
There are basically three levels of seating in Spec Martin Stadium. The top of the line seats are the John B. seats, which are wider than seats found elsewhere and feature seatbacks in the facility. These boosters also are given access to the President's Tent prior to the game and receive complimentary parking just outside the field. Hatter Boosters come next with seating at the 50 yard line. The remainder of the seating is general admission and is aluminum bleachers.
Spec Martin Stadium is located within the City of DeLand's recreation complex. To truly appreciate Stetson, you need to head over to the college campus, which is three miles from the stadium. The campus offers an interesting mix of architecture ranging from Victorian to Mediterranean to modern. Make sure you visit DeLand Hall and the Stetson Mansion, the Victorian gems of the campus. Just down the street is downtown DeLand, the hub for restaurants, museums and shopping. Two restaurants I highly recommend are Mac's on Main, which offers steaks to seafood to Southern-style foods on its menu. Another restaurant of note is Brian's Barbeque, with ribs, pork, and chicken plates guaranteed to fill you up. Two interesting art-related sites downtown are the many Florida Mural Trail designs on the walls of many area buildings and finally the wonderful Museum of Art-DeLand. Games are typically in the early evening or late afternoon, so make a day of it in downtown DeLand.
The student body and the citizenry really get behind the Hatters. The game I attended was deemed a "blackout" game (wear black as a show of support), and about 90 percent of the fans complied. Despite being off-campus, the student body arrives en masse for activities at Hatter Village before the game, then mostly stands and cheers throughout the game. Helping to amp up the energy is a large cheering squad and the mascot incarnation of John B. (Stetson). The Hatter band also keeps the stands moving with a wide variety of pep songs.
The nearest airport to DeLand is in Daytona Beach, about 18 miles away. Unless there is an event going on at the Speedway (which is literally right next door to the airport), traffic should not be much of a problem until you reach DeLand. Once you enter DeLand, the streets become two lanes and the parking area becomes quite congested. The four stadium parking lots open four hours prior to the game, and cost $10. Another option is to park for free in downtown lots along Rich Avenue and ride the free Bright House Networks Game Day Shuttle over to Spec Martin Stadium. You have to remember that during the rest of the week, DeLand is a small town and Stetson is a small school. Just bring patience along with your tickets to the game.
For small-college football, the prices are expensive. Tickets come in three price ranges for $45 (between the 40's); $35 (from the 40 to the 20 yard line); $20 (general admission from 20 yard line to goal line) Parking at the stadium is $10, though I suggest taking the circulating shuttles which are free and run from the campus/downtown DeLand. Prices charged for concessions are very reasonable. Lodging in the DeLand area ranges from $80 -$120.
1) Hatter Village is a well-planned pregame area just outside the stadium. Live entertainment, food trucks and visits from the band and spirit squad help fire you up for the game. 2) If you are flying in for a game, you will be landing at Daytona Beach (DAB) Airport. The airport is literally next door to Daytona International Motor Speedway. It is well worth the time to visit the NASCAR Museum and Driver's Experience exhibits. From the Speedway it is a mere 18 miles to Spec Martin Stadium. 3) Downtown DeLand and the Stetson campus are well worth a visit.
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795 N Spring Garden Ave
DeLand, FL 32720
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