Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Oakes Training Center 4957 Old Hwy 11
Hattiesburg, MS 39402
Year Opened: 2016
Soccer Under the Oaks
Southern States Soccer is a local soccer academy located in the Hattiesburg suburb of Oak Grove, Mississippi. The Academy was founded in 2016 and strives to provide well-organized soccer opportunities for youth players, in a positive environment that teaches life lessons through the sport of soccer. The academy currently offers four different classes for boys and girls. The beginner's group is the Little Kickers program for ages 3-6 designed for kids to learn the fundamentals of soccer. The Pre-Academy class is designed for kids ages 6-8 who want to advance their soccer skills, while the Academy2 class is the stepping stone of youth soccer in Hattiesburg, and designed for kids ages 8-19, who will eventually advance to the Main Academy program.
All classes are held on the grounds of the state-of-the-art Oakes Training Center. The 6-acre site includes a lighted professional length field with bleacher seating, two smaller practice fields, and an indoor soccer training center called the futsal center. In 2021 the Academy began sponsoring a club that competes in the National Premiere Soccer League. The NPSL is a lower-level professional soccer league that has 99 teams as of the 2023 season, and SSSC competes in the Gulf Coast Division. The players from the main academy compete in the NPSL, while a second team made up of other academy players competes in the Gulf Coast Premier League, which is a semi-pro league with 10 teams throughout the Gulf Coast region. A full length professional sized stadium was built in 2021 as the home of Southern States Soccer FC matches.
Food & Beverage 3
There is one main concession stand located on the east side of the complex overlooking the pitch, and they surprisingly have a lot of offerings here. The usual fare of hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn are sold, but they also sell corn dogs and funnel cake. They also have a nice selection of alcoholic beverages, including domestic and imported beers, as well as a few local beers from Southern Prohibition Brewing in Hattiesburg. The cool thing about the concession stand are the four picnic tables located near the stands, which have an excellent view of the match. The picnic benches also provide excellent shade from the Mississippi heat, and provide an excellent view of the sun going down to the west.
The Oakes Training Center is a beautiful soccer specific facility, the only one of its kind in the State of Mississippi. The main field is the one closest to the parking lot and faces north and south. Along the west sideline is the box-style metal bleacher seating that extends down the full length of the field; this is the general admission seating area.
But what really makes this venue stand out is the setup on the east sideline – a large two-story brick building overlooks the field on this side. The indoor of this two-story facility houses the locker rooms, weight rooms, and indoor practice field, and the offices of the soccer academy. Outside along the patio there is chairback seating for a couple of hundred people, and you can also go upstairs to an A/C lounge area with couches and TVs that overlook the field – this is the VIP area seating.
A concessions area makes up the south side of the brick building, which includes four wooden picnic benches. General admission ticket holders are welcome to sit at these picnic benches, although you will need a separate ticket to get to the chairbacks or the lounge area. Along the outside of the brick building are about 30 nationality's flags that you can see from the field – this entire complex and set up are really impressive for this lower level of soccer.
Oak Grove is a suburb of Hattiesburg with a population of about 2,000 people. It is mostly a quiet, residential community compared to its neighboring college town. There isn't much in the vicinity of the Oakes except Oak Grove High School and a library across the street. Venture about a mile or two north on the main highway and you'll find a few things to do; mostly chain stores and fast-food restaurants dominate this stretch of the highway, as well as Turtle Creek Mall, the largest mall in the Pine Belt.
There are few local restaurants in Oak Grove though – Half Shell Oyster House is a popular seafood restaurant located on the highway, and another popular spot nearby is the Movie Star Restaurant, which is like Cracker Barrel. Movie Star has vintage memorabilia, old signs, movie props, and anything old you can think of adorning its walls. It remains a popular spot for brunch and is located about a mile from the Oakes.
For stuff to do outdoors in Oak Grove there are two beautiful 18-hole golf courses, Canebrake Country Club and Shadow Ridge Golf Club. You will also especially want to drive through the Canebrake subdivision and check out all the huge mansions that overlook the lake. Another popular outdoors activity in Oak Grove is fishing or boating at Hennington Lakem also known as Lake Serene; it doesn't get its nickname for nothing, as the beautiful lake also has cabins and a campground where you can make a peaceful weekend out of your visit.
The Long Leaf Trace, a popular paved 44-mile bike trail runs through Oak Grove as well. The Trace also has a few primitive campgrounds, as well as the famous Piney Leaf Resort, which has cabins. Those are just a few things you can do in the small community of Oak Grove. Of course, Hattiesburg is the next city over and you can find more restaurants and plenty of lodging available there as well.
The Stars have a pretty big following in the Pine Belt, with each match averaging about 1,000 fans. This area is a surprising big soccer market, with tons of various youth leagues and rec leagues throughout the region – all around the practice fields you will find kids playing pick-up soccer. You will see a lot of the kids from the academy in attendance, many of them in soccer uniforms having just got done with practice. Before the match the Stars bring that professional soccer feel; as the Stars take the pitch they enter with a various local youth team, while opera style music plays over the PA system.
The Stars also have their fair share of supporters who get into the matches. The general admission seating closest to the players' bench on the west side is where the group of fans called the Supernovas sit – this group tries their best to make it as rowdy an atmosphere as possible for this level of soccer. All throughout the game you'll hear various chants coming from this section, and when the Stars score they blow off smoke bombs and wave a giant flag. From the parking lot you can also see the field, so there is also a group of fans there that sit in their cars and watch the game and tailgate. Whenever there is a goal, those fans will honk their horns.
Getting to the Oakes can pose a problem if you are not familiar with the area. The Oakes is located off a back road in a residential area, off a busy highway. The best way to get here if coming from out of town is to take Interstate 59 to Exit 65, which is Hardy Street/Highway 98, the main drag into town. If you go east you'll get closer to Hattiesburg, so instead go west on Hardy Street towards Oak Grove, until you reach Oak Grove High School and Highway 11. Then, go south for about two miles until you get to the Public Library, and the Oakes is right across the street.
The one drawback coming here is there is no signage directing you how to get to the facility – if you didn't know what you were looking for you would have no idea this place was back here. The entire stadium literally sits in the woods amongst a bunch of oak trees. In fact there is only a small sign at the main entrance, that you can miss if you don't look quick enough.
Return on Investment 3
General Admission tickets are $10, and you can sit anywhere you want on the west bleachers, while for $20 you can sit on the padded chairs on the east side patio outside the training center. For $75 you can get the VIP experience, where you can sit in the lounge area upstairs from the Training Center on the east side. I consider seeing a match here a good return on investment; most of these guys won't be playing in the World Cup anytime soon, but you are getting to see professional soccer in South Mississippi.
The Stars achieved some national success in just their second year of play in 2022, after advancing to play in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is a knockout months-long tournament to determine the best soccer club in the US. The tournament began in 1913 and is the oldest ongoing soccer tournament in the United States. The tournament is not only open to all MLS teams, but also to every league on the American soccer pyramid, including NPSL, which usually invites each division winner to compete in the Cup; SSSC won the 2022 NPSL Gulf Coast Division to advance to the tournament. The Stars then won their first-round matchup over the Georgia Revolution (the match was hosted at the Oakes), but later ended up losing to the Birmingham Legion of the USL.
Another plus for the local fan engagement and community involvement that the Southern States Stars bring to the area during the summer months, when there is not a lot going on in the Pine Belt. In a college town dominated by Southern Miss the Stars do a great job at filling the local sports void during the summer months, in between the college baseball and college football seasons. If looking for a sporting event in Hattiesburg to attend in the summer months, then I highly recommend attending a Southern States Stars SC match.