Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86
Belhaven Bowl 1500 Peachtree St Jackson, MS 39202
Year Opened: 1950s
D3 Football at Belhaven
Belhaven University is a small private Christian university located in Jackson, MS. The college was founded in 1883 through the merger of two schools, Mississippi Synodical College & McComb Female Institution. The school's current location opened in 1894 in the mansion of former Confederate Colonel Jones S. Hamilton. The mansion was named Belhaven, and hence is how the university got its name. In 1927 a lightning strike destroyed the mansion, which housed the university's only classrooms – the columns that stand today on the west side of the campus are the only remnants of the old college. The college was originally an all-female institute, however in 1954 males began being admitted to the school.
The college has a current enrollment of a little over 4,200 students and fields 15 different sports, which since 2015 have competed in Division III's American Southwest Conference (ASC). The Blazers are the only team in Mississippi that competes in the conference, with 7 out of 10 schools in the ASC stationed in Texas. The Blazers originally were members of NAIA Mid-South Conference and played at H.T. Newell Stadium located just north of campus, but in 2015 the Blazers began the transition to NCAA Division III, and to accommodate these changes opened the brand new state-of-the-art Belhaven Bowl in 2016, located on campus.
Since first fielding a football team in 1998 the Blazers have not had much success, compiling an 82-125 (.396) overall record, and not making any playoff appearances in either the NAIA or D3. Despite that fact Belhaven has had a few notable names come through the program. Former Kentucky Head Coach Hal Mumme was head coach for the Blazers from 2014-2017, and in 2009 current Tennessee Titans cornerback Tramaine Brock finished out his collegiate career here after a standout career at the University of Minnesota.
Food & Beverage 1
Belhaven Bowl does not have a concessions stand on site, however, if you walk next door to the Heidelberg Gymnasium there is stand open in there. You should be able to make it to the gymnasium and back to your seat in about 5 minutes. Food options are pretty limited with only hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, popcorn, peanuts and candy listed on the menu. They also sell canned Coke products for $1, and as usual there is no alcohol. My suggestion would be to get something to eat anywhere in Jackson.
The whole setup for the Belhaven Bowl is quite impressive for this level of college football, and stands out compared to most college football stadiums in the south. The field the stadium was built around was originally known as “The Bowl,” and was just a big field that hosted football practices; the Blazers men's and women's soccer teams also used it for select games. The Bowl sits in the center of campus surrounded by beautiful campus buildings, and underwent a $4 million renovation at the end of the 2015 season, including chair back seating for 1200 and a state-of-the-art video board. The chair back seats with cup holders are an added touch here, and something you normally wouldn't see at the D3 level, but here every seat is a green chair back. The press box is unique as well as instead of a normal singular press box, Belhaven Bowl has their press box separated into 3 boxcar style buildings. There is no concourse but more of a walkway that surrounds the Bowl, and the field slightly below ground level so you walk down to your seats.
The field faces north and south, with the home side located on the west side with the visitors on the east. The home side is much longer stretching the length of the field, while the visitor side only stretches from the 15-yard line to the 45-yard line. There are a few people tailgating around the stadium, and a unique thing here is that you can actually watch the game on the field while tailgating outside the stadium.
The Blazers football program is young and has been notoriously bad in recent years, so there are not a lot of achievements. But the atmosphere is pretty good and more than makes up for the lack of wins. Coupled in with the cozy chairback seats, Belhaven Bowl is a pretty comfortable place to watch a football game. The old stadium H.T. Newell Field was definitely larger and held more fans, but Belhaven Bowl is much more comfortable and fits the program much better.Fans are free to walk up and come and go because there is no admission cost for tickets, so it is hard to take to count how many people actually show up on game day. Every seat is usually taken, but there are also a couple hundred or so people standing around the field watching.
The atmosphere increases a point when the Blazers play Millsaps College. The Millsaps Majors are not part of the ASC conference but are still the Blazers' fiercest rivalry. Millsaps is located in the same neighborhood about two blocks west of Belhaven. Nicknamed the Riverside Rumble, these two teams usually face off every year to start the season. Fans from both schools pack the stadium and it becomes not so much a home game for Belhaven but more of a neutral site because of so many visiting fans.
Belhaven's campus is located in a mostly residential area north of downtown. While there is nothing within walking distance of the college, just a short drive north will take you to the Fondren District – located near the Ole Miss Med School this is Jackson's nightlife area, and you will find numerous restaurants and bars on this one block strip, my favorite being Fondren Public. You can play all sorts of games such as bocce ball, corn hole, shuffleboard, and over-sized jenga, as well as multiple board games so this bar has a really cool feel to it.
There are numerous other bars and restaurants located in Fondren as well, however, such as Pig & Pint (known for its BBQ), Walker's Drive Inn, Babalu Tapas & Tacos, and Sal & Mookie's Pizza. But another bar in the area I suggest checking out is Brent's Drugs – from the outside it looks like a regular pharmacy, and with the soda fountain inside it's very reminiscent of 50's style diner. However, in the back there is a speakeasy style bar that was used during prohibition – it's a very interesting bar that gets pretty packed at night.
There are also numerous bars in the downtown area as well, a couple of miles south of campus, such as Hal and Mal's, Fenians, and Old Tavern on George Street. In addition, Underground 119 is a cool underground blues bar located in downtown as well. However, the downtown area is not exactly the safest area, so use caution when walking here after dark.
Lakeland Drive is located about a mile north of Belhaven's campus and you can find all the usual chain restaurants and lodging in this area. For attractions, I recommend checking out the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is a very nice interactive museum that doesn't get too packed during the week, and you could spend hours just walking through all the different exhibits located in the museum. The Hall of Fame is located on Lakeland Drive, right next to historic Smith-Wills Stadium, former home of the Minor League Jackson Mets/Generals and the current home to the Belhaven baseball team.
This season marks the fourth year of football at Belhaven Bowl, and the new venue has already proven to be a success, as more fans have turned out than when games were played across the street at Newell Field. Because fans are free to come and go as they please there is not an official way to accurately determine just how many fans come out for games, but as the majority of the seats are filled, and with many fans also standing around, it looks to be in the 1200 to 1500 range. Many of the schools in the American Southwest Conference are in Texas, and unfortunately there is not a large turnout from visiting fans except when they play Millsaps.
Because of the closeness of the field to the stands everything looks packed out and looks pretty cool. At the farthest away you are still only about 15 to 20 feet from the actual playing field. There is also a mix of all types of people including lots of player's parents, alumni, and students – there is no official student section so most of the students seemed scattered out between the grandstand and the tailgating lots. In addition, from Peachtree Street there is a clear view of the playing field, so you will see some fans driving down that road who pull off to stop.
The campus is located north of downtown a couple of blocks west of Interstate 55. If coming from any direction I-55 will be your best option – just take the Fortification Street exit and then turn north onto Greymont Street, which will run you right into campus.
The field is located on the north side of campus right next to Heidelberg Gymnasium, home of the Blazers basketball program. Even though many of the seats are taken on a first come first serve basis, the place is spread out enough that you should have no problem finding a place to either stand and watch the game, or you can sit on the berm in the south end zone which a lot of fans do. So you should have no problem finding a seat, and even though you have to walk to the gymnasium next door to get food, it shouldn't take any longer than 5 minutes.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets are free, concessions are limited but cheap, and you’re not going to see many future NFL stars on the field, but the overall atmosphere makes this a good return on investment. It makes for a great stop if in Jackson, MS on a Saturday in the fall.
Belhaven can be considered the Oregon Ducks of D3 football, as they are known for numerous different uniform combinations. Almost every home or away game expect the Blazers to wear a different jersey and a new helmet design that was not used the previous week. Belhaven's colors are similar to Oregon as well, except the green is a little lighter in Belhaven. Expect the Blazers to wear bright green, yellow jerseys, or charcoal grey with a bright green or yellow helmet, but they'll switch it up and wear any color pants from gray to bright green to black to bright yellow. It's definitely a sight to see and something to look forward to if attending a game. Though the Blazers don't win much they still look good while trying.
Another extra for the amount of college football games one could attend while in the area. Belhaven, Millsaps College, and Jackson State's football stadium are all located within blocks of one another. I recommend checking the schedule for when all three teams play on the same day, which happens at least once or twice a year. On my most recent visit I was able to check out the noon game at Belhaven, then drive two blocks over and watch the Millsaps game at 2:30, and then I walked across the street to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch the Jackson State Tigers play at one of the most historic college football venues in the south.
Another extra point for the World's Oldest Singing Christmas Tree, which is performed at Belhaven Bowl every December. A singing Christmas tree is exactly what it sounds like – a giant Christmas tree with platforms where people stand and sing. When the Singing Christmas Tree started in 1933 it was a first of its kind, and today the wood and metal structure can hold over 100 people. Over the years the candles have been replaced with LED lights that change colors in various patterns and sequences according to the Christmas carol being sung, which creates a visual spectacle. The tree is set up on the football field and there are two performances each year, so if in the Jackson area on these particular dates I highly recommend checking out the tree.
When people think of great college football venues and traditions in Mississippi, for most people in the state Belhaven University does not come to mind. Many people think of Davis-Wade Stadium’s cowbells and The Junction, The Grove in Oxford, The Rock in Hattiesburg, or The Vet in Jackson. But what many people don't know is that there is a small D3 college in downtown Jackson that has created its own unique identity to stand out, with an atmosphere and fan engagement that rivals the bigger schools in the state.
I have been to and experienced most every college football stadium and arena in the state of Mississippi, and perhaps one of my absolute favorites has to be Belhaven Bowl. The Bowl has everything from the tiny grandstands to the campus buildings overlooking the field to make it unique and stand out amongst other venues in the state. After four years Belhaven Bowl still retains that new feel to it, and it remains a true hidden gem and something all college football fans in the Jackson area should visit at least once.