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'It's a win-win': Toyota Field to host UNA football game in the fall

UNA will hold a football game against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on October 15 at the Trash Pandas Stadium.

MADISON, Ala. — A big announcement from the Toyota Field is shaking up sports tourism in the Tennessee Valley!

The UNA Lions will use the Trash Pandas Stadium to host a football game on October 15 against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.

FOX54 News's Keneisha Deas caught up with city and county officials on the economic and educational impacts this will have.

“We are expecting about 10,000 fans to be here for the game. And that would mean about a million-dollar estimation of our economic development,” said CEO Huntsville Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Judy Ryals.

Monday’s announcement certainly created a buzz in Madison County. UNA and the Trash Pandas teaming up is another great way to think outside the box, leaders say.

“I think that Huntsville and Madison have always been innovators. And I think this just says that imagination or reimagining how something can fit into somewhere that we might not think it would,” added Ryals.

City of Madison Mayor Paul Finley believes the quality of life is just as important as economic growth.

"I think the first thing we foresee is a lot more people learning about the city and the community, and tying that together. It's not just about what will happen here, there could be a concert at the Amphitheater, they might want to go to the Space and Rocket Center. The more things that we bring in, it gives folks an opportunity for quality of life. They'll pick and choose what they want to do," he said.

Leaders also believe it takes building a stronger relationship in education to continue economic growth.

“Madison is now our second-largest feeder County for incoming students. With nearby Limestone and Morgan counties. Also factoring very prominently in our group,” said UNA President, Dr. Kenneth Kitts.

“We’re innovative, but we're also problem solvers. And I think you know if the problem is, that in UNA’s case we need more folks from this area to become students, it really helps them tie that together with economic development workforce here. We need a lot more workforce in this area to fill some of these jobs. So it's a win-win that four, or five years from now, folks because of this game, could be working on Redstone Arsenal,” added Finley.

The game itself marks the latest chapter in a rivalry that dates back to UNA's first football game in 1949, when the Lions faced the Gamecocks.

"It's a rivalry from the old school days," explained UNA Head Football Coach, Chris Willis. "We've got to make it more of a rivalry. Right now, they've had our number. They've done a really good job. They're going through a coaching change. They're also going through classification. This is their last year in FCS, but will they move to FBS? I don't care where we play football. We can play in the parking lot. Football is football. We love the game so much. We'll play it any time anywhere."

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