We all know that in Alabama, college sports are king. But Alabama cities have dabbled in professional sports for decades, albeit never on the major league level.
When Huntsville’s new pro soccer team, the Huntsville City Football Club, won its first game over the weekend, it had me thinking. Huntsville has had its share of pro sports teams come and go, and a look back on the history of pro sports in Huntsville reveals a relatively successful run on the field, court and rink.Read more: Pro sports in the Rocket City — a successful history
Pro hockey in Huntsville
Huntsville is the hockey capital of the south, without question. The success of the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s hockey team is undeniable. The Chargers won two D-III championships — in 1996 and 1998 — and made six NCAA tournament appearances before the hockey program suspended operations in 2021 due to funding issues and lack of conference membership.
But Huntsville also has been home to the Huntsville Blast (1993-94), Huntsville Channel Cats (1995-2000, 2003-04), the Huntsville Tornado (2000-01) and the Havoc, which has played in Huntsville since 2004 (meaning the 2023-24 season is the team’s 20th in Huntsville).
The Havoc have won three Southern Professional Hockey League championships and routinely are among the leaders of the league in attendance.
Minor League Baseball
The Rocket City Trash Pandas are about to begin their third season at Toyota Field in Madison as part of Minor League Baseball’s Southern League. The team is an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
The Trash Pandas led the Southern League in attendance last season and compiled the league’s best record before coming up short in the Southern League playoffs.
But professional baseball didn’t start in the Huntsville area with the Trash Pandas. The Huntsville Stars joined the Southern League in 1985 as a double-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
Stars like Jose Canseco, Tim Hudson, Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi played for the Stars when they were an A’s affiliate, and when the Stars became an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, Huntsville fans got to see former MVP Ryan Braun, All-Stars Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks and more.
The Stars won three Southern League titles, with the first one coming in the team’s inaugural season in 1985. The Stars would go on to win the Southern League Championship in 1994 and in 2001.
The Stars moved to Biloxi in 2015 and became the Biloxi Shuckers.
College football is the draw in Alabama, obviously, and Huntsville is no exception. But the Rocket City has fielded a handful of pro football teams over the years.
In Fact, Huntsville’s pro football history dates back to 1963, when the city fielded a semi-pro team called the Huntsville Rockets of the Southern Professional Football League. That team played from 1963 to 1966 — playing home games at Goldsmith–Schiffman Field. It’s worth mentioning that the Rockets went 17-1 in their first season. The league folded five games into the 1966 season, however.
Following the Rockets were the Huntsville Hawks of the Continental Football League (1968-69), The Tennessee Valley Vipers of the Arena Football League (2000-10) and the Alabama Renegades of the National Women’s Football Association.
The Vipers lost the af2 championship game twice, and won the ArenaCup in the United Indoor Football League.
Currently, Huntsville has a pro basketball team in the North Alabama War Dawgs, who play their home games at James Clemens High School. And I thought the War Dawgs were the first pro basketball team to play in Huntsville. I was wrong.
The Huntsville Flight played in the NBA Developmental League from 2001 to 2005, relocating to Albuquerque after the 2005 season. The team was coached by former NBA players Bob Thornton (2001-02) and Ralph Lewis (2002-05).
More pro sports in Huntsville
The Huntsville City Football Club, as I mentioned, began its first season this spring, winning their first game of the season. Soccer is a big deal here in Huntsville, so it was just natural that the Rocket City should have a pro soccer team.
The HCFC plays in the Major League Soccer Next Pro League as an affiliate of the Nashville SC and will play home games at the former home of the Huntsville Stars, Joe Davis Stadium.
What I found out in my research was that the HCFC is not the first pro soccer team in the Rocket City. Madison fielded a semi-pro team — the Rocket City United — from 2007 to 2013, playing in the National Premier Soccer League. They even made the league semifinals in 2009.
Huntsville also is the home of the Dixie Derby Girls, a pro roller derby team that plays in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
These teams of the past and present each were able to compete and even win championships in their respective leagues, which tells me that Huntsville has had a pretty successful run in pro sports.