We couldn’t do a “where-to-go” piece regarding stadiums in our area without chiming in on some statewide venues as well. No long introduction needed–these six places (among many others) are places we highly recommend you checkout a game during the fall. So if you’re in one of the different corners of the state and can’t make a game in our area, might we suggest these places.
Apopka’s Roger Williams Field. In 1932 they changed to Blue Darters from Blue Devils and the rest they say–is history. The likes of Sammie Smith, Warren Sapp and Brandon Meriweather have played between the hash marks for the Darters, and even MLB’s Zack Greinke is alumnus of the school that’s located northwest of Orlando. It doesn’t hurt to have that kind of pedigree with putting players into the professional ranks, and it doesn’t hurt to have Ron Darlington leading their players on to the field every friday night. The Darters are one of the most successful teams in the state’s largest classification and they have a home field advantage that’s virtually second-to-none. The players come screaming out of the tunnel located underneath the middle of the stands underneath the banner “Hoka Hey” and the band starts playing Stetson’s Fight Song (sorry, but that’s what it is and Darlington’s a Stetson Grad, so…) and usually the butt-whoopins start to commence.
Bishop Kenny’s William Johnston Football Field – You can take the water taxi to the School Board next door and walk over to see Kenny play after having a meal at Hooters or Chicago Pizza at The Landing–oh yeah, you can also watch a football game with unobstructed views of the St. John’s River and Jacksonville Skyline as well as Everbank Stadium with the Crusaders garnering support from one of Jacksonville’s oldest private schools. The stadium opened in 1973 and was the home for the Philadelphia Eagles when they practiced for the Super Bowl. While the Crusaders may not have the pedigree overall that would make their actual team a destination, they’ve been in the postseason a ton and the faithful flock to this beautiful south bank location in droves. A definite must-see in this state.
DeLand’s Spec Martin Stadium – The home of Bobby Boucher! Well, not really, but in the movie ‘The Waterboy’ it was the home to his Mud Dogs. It’s also home to another set of ‘Dogs–DeLand High School–as well as Stetson University’s Hatters. The facility has been around well over 70 years and has seen its fair share of memories made. The stadium is set in a bowl to the north end and opens up to Earl Brown Park on the south side and is located across the street from the baseball stadium that’s hosted NCAA Regionals and is the current home of Stetson Baseball and DeLand Baseball. When you drive up from the south on Ameila Avenue, or head south down Woodland Boulevard, the lights send out the bat signal to everyone in town that the boys are about to get cranked up. The town may be 30,000 in population, but it virtually shuts down on Friday’s and the atmosphere to watch a game is one that is recognized by people from all over the state.
Glades Central’s Dr. Effie Grear Stadium aka “The Muck” – Why wouldn’t you want to go and see future NFL players? You don’t even know who they are yet, but the odds are they’re going to be playing on Sundays. The Raiders boast a laundry list of players that have played in the league and currently have THE MOST active players than any other high school in the country that make their living on the gridiron. Word to the wise–this scene IS a bucket-list item, but there are protocols that have to be met. First, wear garnet and gold–even if you’re not there to root for Central. Either that, or wear a neutral color and mind your manners. If you’re an opposing team, it’s undoubtedly the toughest environment to go into and walk out of without taking some lumps–and that’s just from the fans. The team is simply going to be a reflection of that attitude. Teams DO win in “The Muck”, but very few of them walk away from the Muck the same as they were before the entered. It’s a place that only the strong can survive.
Niceville – If you’re not from the Panhandle, you’re likely not going to just get in the car and drive to Niceville. Let’s face it, it’s a looooong way from Central Florida. But it’s a stadium experience that MUST be seen in order to appreciate what’s going on. The stadium is set in a bowl like Spec Martin in DeLand which adds to the noise, plus the hedges shaped in the letters ‘NHS’ add a detailed to touch to the eyes. They also pack the stands–and pack them to the gills with upwards of 6,000 fans in a night. Niceville may be out of the way for us, but it should be directly in your path if you want to see an authentic Friday Night Lights experience.
Vero Beach’s Billy Livings Field at The Citrus Bowl – The Indians and their fans have been clamoring for renovations to one of the oldest stadiums along the Treasure Coast–and they’re getting them. The Citrus Bowl comes alive when the Indians take the field and with Vero having one of the state’s biggest student populations, that ensures everything has a small-college feel to it. The marching band starts playing the Warchant, and 6,000+ arms start moving in unison while the smoke from the grills and tailgates still bellows form its source. Once the renovations are done, you can bet we’ll be back taking-in the sights and sounds.