“Football” in America doesn’t resemble “futball” in other parts of the world, but both sports have a home in Huntsville at Wicks Family Field at Joe Davis Stadium.
City officials cut the ribbon on the multiuse facility on May 16, which was followed just three days later by the first professional soccer game in the City’s history. This fall, high school football teams do battle beneath the Friday night lights.
Mayor Tommy Battle hoped the renovation of the long-shuttered “Joe” would draw interest from professional soccer, and that’s what happened. Last summer, Nashville Soccer Club announced Huntsville City Football Club (HCFC) would be its affiliate team in the MLS NEXT Pro league.
Huntsville City FC Managing Director of Business Operations Chad Emerson called the renovated stadium a dynamic place to introduce professional soccer to Huntsville.
“The City, the stadium architect, the general contractor all did a great job putting in the stadium pieces to enhance guest experience,” he said.
When the players took the pitch for their home-opener against Crown Legacy FC, they were greeted with a sold-out crowd in a sea of blue and white.
“We knew our soccer community in North Alabama would embrace the team,” Emerson said. “But what’s been a really pleasant part of the experience is that fans who had never attended a soccer match before love going to an HCFC match because it’s so fast-paced. The clock never stops. There are no ties. There’s never a dull moment.”
Emerson said the players and coaches also love playing at Wicks Family Field.
“The fans are loud and proud, cheering them on in a positive way,” he said. “It’s a definite home advantage.”
In fact, the team enjoyed a four-match unbeaten streak at home.
It’s not just fans and players who recognize this is a special place. Wicks Family Field at Joe Davis Stadium is also being honored at the national level, as one of six nominees for Best New or Renovated Sports Venue by SportsTravel Magazine.
Online voting runs through Sept. 8. The winner will be announced Oct. 4 at The Palm Beaches of Florida.
A community club
One of the team’s value statements is, “In Huntsville, with Huntsville and for Huntsville.” Community programs focus on supporting youth and families, celebrating diversity and acknowledging outstanding citizens. Section 256 is an area of designated seats, given by the club to people and groups who are doing good work in and around Huntsville.
At each home match, a local service member is recognized in the Military Salute. There is also a Hero of the Match. Recipients have ranged from Jody Singer, who retired in 2023 after serving as NASA’s Director of Marshall Space Flight, to 3-year-old Andrew Tappen, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“These are all about engaging people in the North Alabama community who have really done special things for all of us,” Emerson said. “It’s not just a cursory recognition. It’s so meaningful to make those human connections.”
‘An environment for excellence’
While pro soccer has been an exciting addition, the stadium redesign began well before the HCFC announcement. The goal was to create a modern sports venue to accommodate high school football, lacrosse, city sports clinics and special events.
The advanced turf uses cork rather than rubber pellets. This not only keeps the temperature down, but it also means field lines can be washed away.
Dr. Clarence Sutton, superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, said the system is proud to partner with the City to usher in a new era for high school football.
“This collaboration represents not only the pursuit of athletic excellence but also the shared investment in our youth,” he said. “Together, we are creating an environment for excellence where our students can thrive both in our schools and within our City.”
2023 Wicks Family Field high school football schedule:
- Friday, Sept. 15 – Grissom vs. Bob Jones
- Friday, Sept. 22 – Huntsville vs. Bob Jones
- Friday, Oct. 6 – Jemison vs. Buckhorn
- Friday, Oct. 20. – Lee vs. Gadsden City
What’s next for MLS NEXT Pro
As for HCFC, the team is down to their last two regular season home games. On Sept. 10 at 6 p.m., they’ll take on Atlanta United II. The final regular-season match on Sept. 24 – also Fan Appreciation Day – is a home game against Chicago Fire II. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
Visit mlsnextpro.com/huntsvillecityfc/stadium to learn more about Wicks Family Field at Joe Davis Stadium.