By Erika Webb
Tailgating is a time-honored tradition in the South. As the excitement about DeLand's very own college football team builds, plans are underway to drop those tailgates, tote those grills and fill up the coolers.
The question is: How will the pregame Hatter hoedowns compare with swamp romps and Tally rallies?
The DeLand City Commission voted unanimously Aug. 19 to allow the consumption of alcohol along South Alabama Avenue between Euclid and Hubbard avenues prior to the six home games scheduled to be played at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
Chris Calabucci, a businessman from Ormond Beach and owner of Sportsanity -- a college sports apparel shop in downtown DeLand -- last spring acted on a vision he had for game days. In April, Mr. Calabucci bought the Moose Lodge buildings and 2.86 acre-property at 614 S. Alabama Ave.
The bar at "Fan Central Station" is undergoing a remodel to be brought up to date, and 186 parking spots on the property have been reserved by first season game goers for $100 each, according to Sportsanity General Manager and Vice President of Operations Matt Birnie.
"We're trying to (create) that tailgaters' experience we've already grown accustomed to," Mr. Birnie said. "We want to make sure we make it an amazing experience for everyone involved to watch Stetson football."
For at least the first game Fan Central will have live music.
"We're looking to see where it takes us," Mr. Birnie said. "This is new to the city and new to us but we're hoping to grow with it."
Catered food, including "standard tailgating" fare -- barbeque, hamburgers, hot dogs and more -- will be served on game days. Drinks will be flowing and activities "from corn hole to horseshoes" will be offered to tailgaters, he added, "just to get that game day experience."
Local feedback already is positive. Parking spots sold out faster than Mr. Birnie or Mr. Calabucci expected.
"This is great for the city and great for Stetson. The hype's there," Mr. Birnie said. "We're really excited about what this fall's gonna bring."
Alicia Queally, a Stetson University associate athletic director, presented the commission with a promissory note of pregame parameters:
Police, public safety officers and parking attendants will patrol lots and the Hatter Village area to monitor parking, limit jaywalking and control flow of foot traffic near the stadium and surrounding areas and to ensure adherence to tailgating policies and procedures.
For the first game, representatives of the Florida Alcohol and Beverage Commission will be walking the lots to curb irresponsible consumption.
Snow fence roping near streets at the edges of the tailgating area will assist with traffic control, limit the number of individuals leaving the stadium or surrounding area and is expected to prevent individuals from entering non-tailgating areas with open containers.
The fencing is designed to "push people toward" controlled intersections -- patrolled by the DeLand Police Department for safe passage to either the south stadium parking lot Hatter Village area or into the stadium.
Signs reading "no alcohol beyond this point" will be located along the perimeters of each lot to warn fans where they might be in violation of open container laws.
Hatter Village will serve as an attraction to fans before the game, drawing them away from heavily traveled roads and into the safer vehicle-free area closest to stadium, and will feature "Healthy Tailgate" educational outreach in addition to an on-campus group promoting healthy alternatives to alcohol consumption during pregame activities.
"Three of four sides of the stadium roads are completely or partially closed to vehicular traffic thereby limiting the risk of an intoxicated person thoughtlessly wandering into traffic on Woodland or Amelia," Ms. Queally noted.
Gus Gibbs, well known -- among other things -- for commandeering a party bus to and from the Florida-Georgia game each year, said he has season tickets to the Hatter games, but likely will participate in pre-game fanfare at a friend's house rather than in the zone near "Hatter Village".
Mr. Gibbs remembers selling 10-cent cokes at Stetson football games back in the 50s. He also recalls raising money with "Sawbucks for Stetson" -- nearly half a century ago -- to keep the game alive in DeLand.
"So many people went to their graves mad about that," he said of the demise of Stetson football. "I'm so happy now that they're bringing football back."
Jim Dreggors, of Dreggors, Rigsby and Teal, played ball for Stetson in 1955 and 1956, the last two years it had a football team.
"I (played) guard most of the time, tackle some," Mr. Dreggors said. "We played offense and defense back in those days."
He doesn't have a recollection of tailgating festivities back then. His head was in the game.
As for Stetson's resurrection of the Hatter pigskin:
"I'm tickled to death they're doing it," Mr. Dreggors said. "It's good for the school, and good for the town, too."
Once again, his head will be in the game rather than the party.
"I'm not much of a tailgater," he said chuckling.