Statesboro has long been a haven for sports fans to enjoy watching successful high school and collegiate events.
When 2019 rolls around, Statesboro will be able to add professional sports to that list.
South Georgia Tormenta FC announced on Thursday in a press conference at the Gene Bishop Field House at Paulson Stadium that it will be a founding member of USL Division III - a third-division branch of American professional soccer that will begin play next year.
The league will open play with at least eight franchises in the spring of 2019. An extensive tour of potential cities and clubs was conducted by the USL throughout 2017 and the league’s recognition of Tormenta as a member franchise makes the Statesboro club the first ever member of the new league.
“About four years ago, my wife, Netra, and I had a crazy idea,” Tormenta president Darin Van Tassell said. “We thought, ‘Hey, we’re in the middle of the hotbed of football in the American South. Let’s put a soccer team here.
“It may have sounded crazy to a lot of people, but we had found a passion for the game watching our kids play. We found out that plenty of others shared that passion and so we wanted to bring soccer to Statesboro.”
A prime factor in Tormenta’s quick ascension from fledgling club to pioneer for a new professional league is the attendance and overall support from the surrounding community. So, with bigger games on the horizon, Thursday’s press conference also announced that Tormenta will move forward with construction of a 5,382-seat stadium.
The stadium, which will be located on Old Register Road on the site of the current Hackers driving range, will feature a fieldhouse with team and front office facilities. The overall construction will extend far beyond the field as retail space will fill the void between the stadium and the 301 bypass. The venue itself also goes beyond soccer as the building plans aim to make it a year-round destination for many diverse events.
“The one thing we knew we couldn’t do was build a soccer stadium,” Van Tassell said. “This is going to be the new home for our team. It’s also going to permit the city to host concerts and festivals that we haven’t had before.”
The growth of the club and its contributions to Statesboro are already being recognized beyond the team roster and its loyal fan base.
“This embodies the spirit of Statesboro,” mayor Jonathan McCollar said. “(Van Tassell) and his family have this vision, but it’s having the courage to follow through with that vision that will make this great for our community.”
Since its creation in 2016, Tormenta has competed in the Premier Development League - a division consisting mainly of current collegiate players looking to impress professional clubs for a chance to advance their careers. The club has found success both on and off the field, notching a two-year record of 13-8-7 while also being named the PDL’s New Franchise of the Year in 2016 and finishing as a runner-up to the league’s overall Franchise of the Year last season.
In some opening remarks, USL D3 vice president Steven Short mentioned that it was the immediate buzz created around Tormenta - and subsequent high attendance numbers and winning ways - that made the franchise an ideal choice to lead the way into a new league.
Also mentioned constantly - both at Thursday’s announcement and over the last two seasons - has been the environment created between the team’s front office, its players and all of its fans.
“We view this as a family,” Van Tassell said. “We want to give our players the best possible experience while they’re with us. And when they go back (to college) or move on, my wife has still shown up at games. They know we’re following them and rooting for them.”
The admiration is mutual as current and former Tormenta players made up a solid chunk of Thursday’s attendance. Some players have taken offseason jobs running various facets of Tormenta’s front office and youth programs. Others simply felt the obligation to make their way to Statesboro for the big day.
The team will compete in the upcoming PDL season and will retain its name and colors as it makes the jump to the pro side next season.The transition has been meticulously planned and calculated ever since learning of the creation of a third division, but one simple - yet major - point wasn’t resolved until just recently.
“Our motto since we started has been ‘Pro’s begin here’,” Van Tassell said. “My son, Whit, told me that would work for this coming season, but that it would have to change. About 20 minutes later, I got another message from him.”
When it comes to the 2019 edition of Tormenta FC, ‘Pros Are Here.’