Hero Sports vote Braly a ‘must see’ stadium

Braly Municipal Stadium sits ready for fans to fill empty seats for its homecoming game against North-Carolina Pembroke Oct. 17. Braly is home to the UNA Lions and the Florence Falcons.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

Hero Sports voted Braly Municipal Stadium one of eight must-see Division II stadiums Oct. 1.

Braly, home to the UNA Lions and Florence High School Falcons, hosted the Division II national championship game for 28 years until 2013.

“Our fans are what make (the stadium) special,” said UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder. “The people that come out to support us are passionate. Our fans have been exposed to 28 years of championship games and a lot of playoff games.”

Creighton Rabs, the author of the article from Hero Sports, mentioned Braly’s national championship hostings, including UNA’s three consecutive championships in 1993-95. He also mentioned the Pride of Dixie marching band and the team’s exciting style of football.

Florence received the reputation from many Division II football followers as a hospitable place to host a football game. Linder said community involvement made the championship special.

“There was a community set up called the Shoals National Championship Committee well before I came,” he said. “It had representatives from every area of the community. Our community made that a national championship experience.

“From the police escorts, to the hospitality of the hotels and restaurants, and even the community coming out for the welcome on Thursday and Harlon Hill trophy presentation on Friday, it was the buy-in from the community. It’s all about the people.”

Linder said he sees the stadium as a city landmark.

“When you’re on Tennessee Street before it merges into Florence Boulevard, you see the sign that says, ‘The Stadium’ instead of Braly Stadium,” he said. “I think that sends a message like, ‘What other stadium would you be looking for?’ It really is ‘The Stadium.’”

While some teams and fans may only get to experience a Braly game day once in their lifetime, people in the Shoals have the opportunity multiple times a year.

“The atmosphere is awesome,” said senior tight end Grant Lake. “We go to other places around the country, and that really gives us perspective of how good Braly really is. Last week (against Western Oregon), we played in front of 2,000 fans, but in Braly, we might play in front of 12,000.”

Lake said the stadium’s tradition and prestige helped in his decision to play for UNA.

“Running out and touching pride rock is really special,” he said. “We realize how big the tradition is here. Everyone here seems to take part in that.”

Florence High School’s Erroll Thompson, a senior linebacker committed to Mississippi State University, plays his fair share of games within the walls of the stadium.

“It’s a really special place,” Thompson said. “All of the tradition it brings and the players that have stepped foot in that stadium makes it very special in every way.”

Senior Jordan Alcorn, who attends most of the home games, said he believes Braly is an enjoyable venue for anyone, even if they do not enjoy football.

“I think the stadium has a lot of prestige,” Alcorn said. “It’s definitely a must see for the history, for the big players that have played here, the championship games and, of course, as a student or someone from Florence.”

Senior Jennifer Sewell said she enjoys a Braly gameday, but had one minor suggestion.

“I think it would be cool if students could sit on the home side and cheer with the other UNA fans,” she said. “I love the venue and that would make it more enjoyable.”

UNA is consistently in the top five Division II schools in attendance, as it nearly fills its 14,215 capacity during home games. The Lions are 252-112-8 all time in the stadium for a 68 percent home win percentage.

The Lions will return to Braly Oct. 31 to play Delta State University at 1:30 p.m.