As the popularity of soccer grows across the U.S., a team is set to debut in May with the aim of bringing the sport to a new level in New Orleans.
The New Orleans Jesters is the city’s new soccer team, replacing the New Orleans Shell Shockers, the team that represented the area since 2003. In addition to a new name, the team has a new owner, local construction executive Dana Stumpf; a new stadium for games; and a new professional designation within its Premier Development League of soccer teams.
“The sport is rapidly growing here and it’s huge globally,” Stumpf says. “There is an enormous base of people who started as youth players who are now in their 20s and 30s. They understand the sport and they want to see it played locally at this level.”
In their first season, the Jesters will compete in a new category called PDL-Pro, an arrangement that allows the team to sign professional players for the first time. Kenny Farrell, who coached the Shockers last year and now coaches the Jesters, says most of the new team’s roster is comprised of players recruited from overseas.
Last year, the Shockers played at Muss Bertolino Stadium in Kenner. But now the Jesters will play at the newly renovated Pan American Stadium, the City Park facility that recently had a state-of-the-art FieldTurf surface installed courtesy of the National Football League and the New Orleans Saints.
Farrell believes a permanent home in such an accessible location in the city will go a long way to cementing the team and winning over fans.
“Finally we’ll be in a stadium for soccer. We have a cathedral now. That saying is true, it’s hard to have a congregation without a chapel,” he says.
Stumpf is also founder of Samson LLC, which organizes soccer camps and youth programs in the region. Outreach to young local players will be a big part of the Jesters’ business plan, she says, and the team plans to host youth soccer camps and clinics, initially in the summer months and possibly expanding to a year-round schedule.
The Jesters begin their first season on May 9 with a road game against the Baton Rouge Capitals. The team marks its home season-opener on May 16, when they play the Bradenton (Fla.) Academics.