Corey and Courtney Martin were sick of the drive to South Bend. Every week, sometimes multiple times in the same week, the brothers would travel from Fort Wayne to play semipro football.
So sitting around one day, Courtney said to Corey, “Let’s start a team.”
Corey’s response: “All right.”
Little did they know how much work it would be. With help from their mother, Karen Martin-Coleman, the Martin brothers formed a plan. They worked on securing a field and sponsorships and spreading the word about trying to field a semipro team in Fort Wayne, where previous teams, such as the Fort Wayne Flyers and the Allen County Xplosion, had folded.
“It’s a lot more than we thought it was going to be,” Corey Martin said.
Not that he regrets any of it. The Martins had their first season last year and, admittedly, it didn’t go smoothly. With players having commitments to families and work, and the Martins unable to pay anyone, numbers fluctuated.
Yet there was hope. Jim Menzie – the former owner of the Xplosion – signed on to coach. His teams had won the first two Midwest Football League championships in 2002 and 2003.
“It’s starting from scratch again,” Menzie said. “It’s a joyful and rough road with the economy. It was a roller coaster ride until the second year.”
A year in, the Cardinals have a more stable group of about 30 players, including both Martins and wide receiver T.J. Snow, a former wide receiver at Harding. They’ve started to recruit more players through word of mouth and are trying to build a fan base.
The Cardinals are part of an eight-team MFL that starts play July11.The players participate for myriad reasons.
Some, like Corey Martin, can’t quite let go yet. Others, like the 21-year-old Snow, are hoping to use it as a gateway to playing somewhere in college or with a professional team such as the Freedom.
“I tried out for the Freedom last year,” Snow said. “I didn’t make it, but every day I think about it, every time I step on the field, that maybe this will get me somewhere, college, Freedom, get recognized any way I can.”
Snow is more of the exception. Most play because they miss the camaraderie.
And it comes with a price. Players have to pay for their equipment. They have to pay a fee to play. And in most cases, they have to pay travel costs.
“That’s the only way we can do it because we have to pay for field and refs after games,” Corey Martin said. “None of our guys are paid. They are just doing it because they love playing football.”
Recognition is the key for the Cardinals right now. Despite the almost always-imminent collapse of the Freedom, that is still the recognizable name for non-college football in Fort Wayne.
Snow and the Martins find it when they tell people they play football in Fort Wayne. The first reaction is always: “Do you play for the Freedom? In the Coliseum?”
That’s when the selling begins, with the players explaining that they play 11-on-11 and they play outside.
“It’s hard to explain to them,” Snow said.
The hope, for those involved with the Cardinals, is that one day, it won’t be.
That is a good post. First of all, I want to wish you guys good fortune in your 2009 campaign.
There was quite a bit in that article that I can "feel ya" on.
I will not go into great detail but one thing mentioned in the article was that there is a class of players that are hopeful of the possibility of stepping up to another level. With regards to that (an I have argued this point many times before) I do not feel that the "Semi-Pro" label helps in this case. Personally, I think it actually becomes a negative. The first thing (I have usually had to do) is explain that players DO NOT get paid and the why's and how's.
Next, while I have seen various posters 'Poo-poo' the prospects of somebody 'takin' it to the next level'. It can happen. Obviously, IT IS NOT AN EASY ROAD! but it is not impossible. Back with my days with the Chiefs, Jason Goldson had a tryout with the Montreal Allouettes [sp], and Troy Lewis, Jim Thompson and Robert Jordan received invites to the Milwaukee Mustangs. Still later, Thompson received and accepted an opportunity to play in Europe with a minor league team in Germany. I know also that a great player on the old Randolph County rage team, B. J. Paulus, also played in Europe for a team in Helsinki (I believe). There are also aberrations such as Robert Redd, that is a truly talented player that has had several opportunities at the ultimate NFL level. Again, obviously, these opportunities are rare but they do occur.
Beyond that, as the article suggests, there are many that simply have a true love of the game. they usually will form the nucleus of the team. However, they are sometimes too small a portion of the nucleus. Therein lies the struggle.
Unfortunately, I think all clubs and/or organizations are being challenged by the current economic situation in one way or another. Guys trying to find work, the job they have is somewhat inadequate, their personal budgets are strained, tough with gas for transportation (LET US HOPE WE DO NOT GET TO $4 per gal), sponsorships curtailed, etc.
Again, I hope the frustrations do not become more than you can bear and that the positives and benefits outweigh the negatives.
Great Article. The Martin Brothes are very respectful, and great atheltics, and im glad they are doin something for home, I have nothin against them or the team I like and love alot of guys on that team, but it wasnt for me, but i do wish the cardinals and the Martin brothers a good season, and injury free. GOD bless you all, and good luck this year, from the real. Rep the fort hard this year guys ill be watching
Now in regards to moving up...very very few have made it to the NFL....
I know the Chicago Thunder have one guy who seems to make it every year on someones Practice squad after playing each year in Arena ball...
and every year the MSFL has multiple players playing in Arena Ball (CIFL)...
but one of the main things that we are proud of with the help of some great owners...
I believe last season at least 5 MSFL players earned some type of football scholarships to college..
Wishing nothing but success to the Ft Wayne Brothers as well as all the struggling teams out there...this could be a really tough season for Semi-pro teams