Stetson University in DeLand is preparing to take to the football field again after a more than 50-year hiatus, and the college town in west Volusia County is hoping to attract visitors and recognition through the school’s affiliation with the Pioneer League, composed of small, academically rigorous schools including Mercer, Davidson, Drake, Morehead State and Marist College.
Former Princeton head coach Roger Hughes has been hired to build the program from scratch, without scholarships, in time for a 2013 kickoff. Summer tryouts attracted players from top high school athletic programs statewide and as far away as California. Hundreds of cheering students showed up for the first practice in August. Stetson, which operated a football program from 1894-1956, competes in 15 intercollegiate sports from baseball to lacrosse, and the university is looking to football to help boost enrollment, generate greater diversity among students and energize the main campus, school trustees and administrators say.
DeLand officials are partners in the venture, renovating city-owned Spec Martin Stadium for home games and agreeing to share revenue from advertising, parking and concessions. University President Wendy Libby says the entire community will benefit along with the school, which was named for legendary hat maker and founding trustee John B. Stetson. He was a close friend of the town’s founder, philanthropist Henry Addison DeLand. “The city and Stetson have been bound together since the late 1800s, and our health and vitality go hand in hand,” Libby says.