By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Statesboro, Bulloch County | Region 12
Think of a typical college professor, and an image of tweed, corduroy, maybe a neatly trimmed beard and colored chalk may come to mind. But not Dr. Darin Van Tassell, who holds a Ph.D. in International Studies and specializes in sports and international relations. He has an extensive background in professional sports, and his specialization and experience fit naturally for the development of a sports and entertainment complex.
The Clubhouse started in 1998, as a golf driving range. In 2001, mini-golf was added as a result of an SBA guaranteed loan. The Clubhouse soon grew to include batting cages, go karts and soccer fields. In total, The Clubhouse spans 38 acres of outdoor activities and 45,000 square feet of indoor amenities, such as bowling, an arcade, a restaurant and more. In all, The Clubhouse employs over 70 people.
But The Clubhouse was only the beginning for Darrin. He always felt Statesboro was ready to be a minor league sports city. After being involved in three Olympics himself, Darin and his team began to develop a plan and one sport quickly rose to the top: soccer.
But why? Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the US, and with the success of the US National Teams in the World Cup, younger generations are being attracted to the sport like none other.
Last year, Statesboro hosted the State Cup and live-streamed games hosted at Georgia Southern University. More than 11,000 people worldwide were watching youth soccer that weekend, streamed live from the ‘Boro. Talks of a minor league soccer team began, and in 2015, the South Georgia Tormenta FC team was born.
South Georgia Tormenta is a member of the Premiere Development League. Other world class cities with such teams include Baltimore, Charlotte, New York, San Diego and Toronto.
Tormenta, is Spanish for storm. And the Glossy Ibis – the mascot of the team- is the last animal to retreat from a storm and the first to return. Ironically, some of Georgia Southern’s biggest football games have been played in storms, such as the “Hugo Bowl (GSU’s first night game at home) and the GoDaddy Bowl (GSU’s first Bowl Game). Darin has had a great deal of support along the way.
“The Georgia Department of Economic Development has been very helpful as we have moved into professional soccer.” -Darin Van Tassell, owner of The Clubhouse
Georgia Power and the local EMC, Mayor’s office, County Commission, the local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Development Authority, school systems, GSU, local industries and the public itself have all been very supportive of The Clubhouse, and Darin hopes this will continue as Tormenta FC continues to grow.
Has it been worth the journey? You bet! “When people that live in the community say thank you for making their town a better place to be, it makes it worth it,” said Darin. “The residents think this [facility] is theirs.” The Clubhouse also serves as a laboratory for young professionals, and Darin acts as a mentor as they continue their education.
Offering some advice to entrepreneurs and other small business owners, Darin stated, “It is about people. People matter. Your staff has to matter as much as customers.”
The vision for The Clubhouse continues to grow. When asked what’s next, Darin quickly states new hotel options and a soccer stadium. “Both would help economic development in the community.”
So if you are traveling close to Statesboro, plan a side trip to The Clubhouse to bowl a few frames or grab a quick bite to eat. And beginning in Summer 2016, plan to take in a Tormenta FC soccer match. You’ll be glad you did!
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development.