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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Founded in 1902, Berry College has one of the most unique histories of any private college in the country. Martha Berry created the school in an attempt to bring education to the impoverished children from the northwest Georgia mountains, and in doing so, provide them with a better quality of life. This was not done as a handout, as students were required to work at the school in order to keep operating expenses low and maintenance costs down. This new concept of earning your education caught the eye of philanthropist Henry Ford, who contributed the funds to build the original campus, which is now known as the Ford Buildings.
More than 100 years later, Berry still promotes a strong work ethic, with the now-voluntary Work Experience Program employing more than 1,800 students on campus. Academically, Berry has been recognized as one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country.
Realizing that college should not be all work with no play, Berry has in recent years invested in its intramural and intercollegiate sports programs. A crowning achievement of this capital campaign is the building of the school’s first on-campus football stadium. The school formerly played its home schedule in a municipal stadium in nearby Rome, Georgia.
The Berry teams are known as the Vikings and the home field takes its name from Norse mythology. Valhalla refers to the Great Hall of Viking warriors, a very fitting title for Berry’s athletic battles. A prominent alumnus of the school donated the original $2.5 million, and the stadium hosted its first game on September 12, 2015. Valhalla has permanent seating for 1,200 fans on one side of the field, with a picnic-styled terraced seating area on the opposite side of the field. The stadium complex also features a press box, skyboxes and several restroom and concession areas. Berry will host fellow Southern Athletic Association schools Birmingham-Southern, Centre College, Hendrix College, Oglethorpe University, Millsaps College, Rhodes College and the University of the South in competition over the next few seasons. In addition to football, Valhalla also serves as the home for track and field, lacrosse and soccer. To handle this heavy usage, Valhalla utilizes a state-of-the-art artificial turf on its field.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food concessions inside the stadium are all found at the Valhalla Plaza at the north end of the facility. These concessions include hot dogs ($2.50), pizza ($2.00), nachos ($3.00), Chick-fil-A sandwich ($4.00), candy or popcorn ($1.00). On the drink side of the menu, both Coca Cola and Dasani are $2.00, with hot chocolate and coffee costing $1.00. The plaza also features the merchandise store for the Vikings' team. Because there is only one merchandise stand and one concession stand, lines are long at halftime.
No outside food or drink can be brought into the stadium, and alcohol is not permitted anywhere on campus. During the pregame/tailgate period (opening four hours prior to kickoff), a wide variety of food trucks is available to fans. You can choose from Fuddruckers, Chick-fil-A and RoMex Tacos. Fans are welcome to bring their own food and setups to the tailgates, but no alcohol is allowed.
If the inaugural home game is any indication, Valhalla will be a tough, but beautiful environment to play in. The excitement of having the games on campus, an overflow crowd and the beautiful mountain setting in the fall all add up to a great game experience. Berry drew the second largest crowds in the conference in the past, while playing off campus, so they should easily take the lead in their first season at home. In addition to the students, Berry Alumni are famous for their dedication to the school, as they return for an annual day of work on the campus. Every game is like homecoming at Berry with tents for numerous graduating years dotting the tailgate area. In addition, a new tradition of the Viking Walk led by the school band through the campus stirs the fans and alumni into a greater frenzy.
Seating in Valhalla is on aluminum bleachers, but fans are welcome to bring seatbacks to make themselves more comfortable. Two small drawbacks to the stadium are 1) that it is a multi-purpose facility and a running track encircles the field, so you are a little further from the sidelines than you would be in most fields and 2) only one entry gate is available into the stadium, which becomes extremely congested before a game.
When you speak of neighborhood at Berry, the campus IS the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, Berry has the world's largest contiguous college campus, coming in at more than 27,000 acres of school buildings, woods, streams, waterfalls and more than 80 miles of hiking trails.Students are not the only residents on this campus; more than 1,500 deer are estimated to live within the campus property. Because of its self-sufficient origin, Berry is not surrounded by hotels, restaurants or shops. The city of Rome is just six miles down Martha Berry Highway from the campus. Among the hotel brands available within five miles of Valhalla are Holiday Inn Express, Country Inn and Suites, and La Quinta. Rome is home to a number of great restaurants, including Bella Roma, the Harvest Moon Café and Schroeder's Deli. The Brewhouse Music and Grill sports bar is a favorite for after the game partying.
Even though they don't pillage and plunder like their ancestors, the Viking fans are a rowdy bunch. Expect to see lots of horned Viking helmets, ear-splitting mountain horns and the non-stop beat of the Viking Drumline throughout the game. With only a 2,300-enrollee student body, everybody knows everybody on a first name basis. Berry does not have a Greek system, but it does have more student organizations than you would find at a much larger university. The alumni contingent in the stands will also be quite large, if not as rowdy. Leading all the cheers will be Berry's delightful mascot, Victor the Viking.
Berry's campus is somewhat isolated, as it is 72 miles northwest of Atlanta and 75 miles southwest of Chattanooga. From either major city, the last 30 miles before you get to Berry will be two-lane roads. Coming from Atlanta, you can take the Rome bypass just south of the city and it will bring you right to the Berry campus. Though distance is an issue, you are not going to encounter a great deal of traffic, as a majority of the student body will walk or bike to the stadium. Also with a 27,000-acre campus, parking is not at a premium and it is free. Once you are at Valhalla, you will appreciate its newness, as the architects have allowed generous leg room seating-wise, and the concourses along the sideline are wide enough to prevent any gridlock.
Berry's origins as a college for the working class citizenry of the area are quite evident when you look at the budget to bring your family to enjoy this brand new stadium. Tickets are $5 (all general admission), parking is free throughout the campus and the prices charged at the concession stands and by the food truck operators are quite reasonable. You may not even need to worry about overnight lodging, as Berry is only 70 miles from both Atlanta and Chattanooga. You also need to factor in the extras shown below in realizing what a bargain attending a game at Berry can be.
The extras you'll find at Valhalla are the new stadium experience, but even more so the unique environment the Berry campus provides. If you love great architecture, the English Gothic style of the Ford buildings is fascinating. Love nature? Come up early in the morning and take a hike or bike ride though the many on-campus trails. You may come across some of the resident deer or the campus' famous bald eagles. Berry has also served as the setting for several movies, including Remember the Titans, Sweet Home Alabama, and the TV show, The Following. One other sports facility of interest in the area is State Mutual Stadium, home of the Class-A Rome Braves, which is four miles from Valhalla on the Rome Bypass.
Here is a promo video produced by the school welcoming you to Valhalla:
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