Hodges Stadium rises above and beyond for UNF

Spinnaker

To the average person driving around UNF’s Lot 18, Hodges Stadium might not look like anything special. In a time where stadiums around the country have huge jumbotrons and can hold over 100,000 people, who could blame those who look at the 9,400 seat Hodges Stadium and aren’t blown away?

However, over the years Hodges Stadium has become one of the premiere college sports facilities in the country. For a school like UNF that lacks a Division I college football program, Hodges Stadium more than meets the needs.

The stadium serves as home to the UNF men’s and women’s soccer, cross country and track and field teams. In fact, Hodges Stadium ranks third in the country when it comes to the size of college stadiums used mainly for soccer and track events.

“We’re giving our student athletes here the best facilities and the best opportunity to be competitive,” said UNF Assistant Athletic Director and Director of Track and Field Mark VanAlstyne. “I think you can pick any number of the aspects of the facility and say that’s great and it would probably put it in the upper echelon of facilities in the U.S. by itself, certainly on college campuses.”

The stadium’s most prominent feature is its world-class track. The recipient of a Class II IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) certification, which is given to the most elite tracks, Hodges Stadium boasts a nine-lane Olympic-quality track that was built with a Mondotrack SX surface. The stadium also has all of the markings needed to host NCAA and IAAF events.

The process of building a track that met the standards of an IAAF-certified track was very exciting, said VanAlstyne, who is in charge of scheduling events for the stadium. It involved an extensive series of tests that included flooding to see where puddles would form, then repaving, and flooding again to make sure all of the measurements were accurate.

“A typical NCAA track requires about four survey points, so you would have one team that would come out and maybe do eight hours of survey work,” VanAlstyne said. “I think our track required 278 survey points. It required 80 hours of survey work to meet those standards. But the end result is you have a track that is almost unparalleled in the United States as a competitive venue.”

While the track is Hodges Stadium’s single biggest selling point for bringing in events, VanAlstyne said it is the sum of everything that comes with the stadium that sets it apart.

Thanks to a $2 million donation from George and Kernan Hodges in 2006, UNF was able to build a press box that is complete with separate rooms for radio and television in addition to the track. Additional aluminum seating was put in along with field/track lighting.

The stadium also has the Browning Athletic Training and Education Center as well as classrooms. VanAlstyne said that the location itself, being in the heart of Jacksonville, is a huge selling point for the stadium.

“I think what makes its case on a national level is the sum total of everything,” said VanAlstyne. “It’s Jacksonville for gosh sakes. Nine or 10 months out of the year we’re the best weather in the world for outdoor sporting events. We’re Florida. Everyone wants to come here in the first place. Let’s put some facilities down here that will accentuate that.”

UNF athletics are not the only ones taking advantage of what Hodges Stadium has to offer. The NFL came calling when Jacksonville played host to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. Hodges Stadium was the Philadelphia Eagles practice field for the week before the Super Bowl. In addition to the NFL, the Minor League Football Jacksonville Knights call Hodges Stadium their home field.

The Stadium also is home to the American National Rugby League Champions, the Jacksonville Axemen, who have been playing their home games inside Hodges Stadium since 2006. In fact, Axemen co-founder, coach, and player Daryl “Spinner” Howland has been so impressed with the facility that he is bringing in three national rugby teams to compete in the Atlantic Cup rugby tournament, Nov. 14-21.

“We really want the students at UNF to embrace a true international event coming to their campus,” Howland said. “How many schools in the country get to put their hand up and say they hosted a true international event? UNF should be absolutely proud to put that venue on the global market for it to be seen.”

Howland said with all of the international press that will come along with hosting a rugby tournament such as the Atlantic Cup, the new Hodges Stadium press box will be perfect.

“The press box and reception area upstairs is classy,” Howland said. “Even the press we’ve had come over from overseas or different parts of the country go in there and it’s really well designed. They’re always impressed.”

Howland said the quality of the locker rooms and weight rooms was another reason the Axemen are lucky to call Hodges Stadium home. The equipment in the weight room includes six hammer strength power racks, six Olympic platforms, a hurricane, two treadmills, Jacob’s Ladder, and a VertiMax. It also includes over 11,500 pounds of plate weight and medicine balls that range from five to 100 pounds.

“What I would give to get five-day-a-week access to that place,” Howland said. “That weight room is world class and I literally mean that. I would love to be able to put our guys in there for all of our weight sessions. What an amazing place.”

Despite being home to teams like UNF soccer and the Axemen, UNF still plans to promote Hodges Stadium as a premier track and field venue, said UNF Athletics Director Lee Moon. In fact, the school looks to host high-caliber track events inside Hodges Stadium in the near future.

“What we’re trying to do is use it as a great venue to host national, international and state track meets,” Moon said. “We have that (high) quality of a track facility. It is in my mind the premier track facility in the eastern United States.”