Following a successful 2020 game, Senior Bowl organizers still are not ready to say which local stadium will play host to future college football showcases, but residents of Maysville and other areas hope a petition will keep the game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Mobile County School Board Commissioner Robert Battles organized a petition-signing ceremony at Williamson High School, across the street from the 70-year-old stadium, in hopes of receiving support from 10,000 residents to keep the Senior Bowl’s board of directors from moving the game to West Mobile.
“I’m concerned about the impact to downtown Mobile if they move the game,” Battles said. I’m concerned about all the businesses and the economic impact.”
He added he’s worried about the area’s schools as well, like Williamson, which he represents on the board.
“When they make money, they help my schools,” Battles said.
Officials with both the Senior Bowl and the LendingTree Bowl have had preliminary discussions about moving the game to a not-yet-completed stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama (USA), the school’s athletics director, Joel Erdmann, Ph.D., confirmed to Lagniappe in a phone interview last week.
“We’ve had casual discussions,” he said. “There has been no decision or outcome as far as the bowls. We’re open to it.”
Senior Bowl President Angus Cooper said he wasn’t sure which stadium would host next year’s game, citing security concerns.
“We want to make sure the game is in a safe place,” he said.
In an incident that made national headlines, nine teenagers were injured during a shooting at Ladd at the end of August. Battles acknowledges the incident following the LeFlore High School and Williamson football game; however, he said the school system took “concrete action” and acted quickly and spent money to address safety concerns at Ladd and all other high school football stadiums. Whether the game is held at Ladd or at Hancock Whitney Stadium, safety will be a concern, he said.
“You’re in Mobile,” Battles said. “This isn’t a violence-free city.”
Ladd board Chairwoman Ann Davis said she is also unsure where the 2021 game will be played, but said she is looking forward to the stadium’s future regardless.
“We are looking forward to many new experiences and changes that we can announce when we can,” she said. “We’re excited about the future.”
When comparing the 40,000 seats at Ladd with the proposed 25,000 seats at Hancock Whitney, Battles said he is concerned game organizers will simply raise ticket prices to make up for the difference in available seats. The rise in ticket prices will sting those in the community who can only afford a more modest ticket price, like members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, Battles said.
“Now you’re talking about hurting my community,” he said.
Those interested in signing the petition that will be presented to the Mobile City Council on Tuesday, March 10 can find it on Facebook or change.org.
The 2020 Senior Bowl
There might have been two glaring reasons why more than 38,000 fans took to Ladd-Peebles Stadium for this year’s Senior Bowl: sunshine and former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“It was a great turnout,” Davis said. “We were very, very happy. It brought me memories of days gone by.”
Cooper called it the “best Senior Bowl” he’s been a part of in more than 40 years. While Cooper admits “Jalen helped,” he credited more “energy” around the game created by a week full of events, including a free concert by The Revivalists and a Mardi Gras parade where the players tossed signed footballs and other goodies to fans lined up behind barricades on Dauphin Street.
“I really thought people were going to like it,” he said. “I think the players were into it.”
The concert filled Cathedral Square downtown, Cooper said, and board members want to do the events again, but he mentioned possibly offering a sponsorship to cut down on the expense.
“It was so well received,” Cooper said of the event. “We want to continue it.”
Hancock Whitney Stadium update
The stadium on the USA campus is still on track to open in time for the Jaguars’ first home football game on Sept. 12 against Grambling State University, Erdmann said. That game will be followed by The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on Sept. 26. In addition, the Sun Belt Conference schedule includes a home game against USA’s biggest rival, Troy University, Erdmann said.
The outside of the stadium is mostly complete and the inside walls and fixtures are currently going in now, Erdmann said.
“The seating in the stadium is around 65 to 70 percent complete,” he said. “The lights are up and the video board and sound system is up.”
The video board is “massive” at 100 feet by 38 feet, Erdmann said. A ribbon band of LED lights is up along the east side of the stadium and one for the west side is coming in the next four weeks, he said.
The installation of the synthetic playing surface will be delivered soon. It will take between six to eight weeks to install, Erdmann said. The stadium will be “wet,” meaning it will sell alcohol.
The school hopes to be able to occupy the stadium by mid-summer in order to move things in, Erdmann said.
As for parking, he said, the stadium footprint will include the same number of spaces as Ladd, but the school will also open up all student and faculty spots on campus for football parking. Shuttles to and from the stadium will also be available, Erdmann said.
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