Lansing's Semi-Pro Stealth
At its first exhibition game last month, a few things stood out about the The North American Football League
's Capital City Stealth
First, few minor league outfits have their own fight song. But the Stealth does, thanks to the team's public relations man, Doug Ruben, who warbled his self-penned ode "Stealth Fight Song" during halftime at a preseason game, held at Okemos' Chippewa Middle School.Stealth is rough and ready. Stealth is tough and steadyChampions the Stealth will be. Stealth is rough and ready....
The Stealth also has cheerleaders and, though they number only four, the presence of any pom pon-inspired choreography is atypical among the generally more austere minor league gridiron circles.
Stealth owner Robert Huntoon also talks about players visiting children in hospitals, setting up fund-raisers for youth football, and a 9/11 tribute that will cap off the regular season home schedule.
"At this level, most teams don't market. They don't do anything except suit up and play," says Huntoon, who lives in Mason. "That's why being part of the community and bringing in good entertainment is important. That's what we're about."
To lure the casual football fan, the team will also strive to keep up the electrifying action provided by the first preseason encounter, which included a pulsating 75-yard kickoff return by Mason's Sam Grantham to start the second half and a deftly placed 28-yard strike from quarterback Danny Dresselhouse to wide receiver Jonathan Hart in the fourth quarter.
The latter play—culminating in the receiver snagging the ball while straddling the sideline—set up the Stealth's game-winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory over the visiting Detroit Diesels
The bruises, cuts and other minor injuries sustained in the Stealth's dramatic preseason win—and all of the Stealth triumphs and tragedies, in fact—are voluntary. None of the players are paid.
In fact, the gridiron Goliaths each kick in $150 to play, and must provide their own gear.
Players range in age from 18 to 40. Their ranks include factory workers, college students and even a published author. Previous football playing experience ranges from high school to college and other semi-pro play.
A majority of team members are from the Capital region, but a group of 10 or so players hail from Washtenaw County, where Huntoon was general manager of the Ypsilanti Yellow Jackets
The team's mission is to provide players with exposure and help them to ascend to college or one of numerous pro circuits—namely the Canadian Football League
, United Football League
and Arena 2
—that play in the National Football League's shadow.
Stealth linebacker and Haslett High grad Eric Hadley, 19, is just playing "for wherever it takes me," he says. "If an opportunity came up, I'd be happy. Other than that, I'm playing for the fun of it."
Hadley, a pre-med student at Michigan State University,
tried out for the team after a friend alerted him about the Stealth. In the team's preseason win, he intercepted a pass in the first half and registered a quarterback sack.
The team came together in January, starting with informal workouts at The Summit in Dimondale
before conducting tryouts in February.
To outsiders, the health and welfare risk for little or no return is hard to fathom. Yet the camaraderie keeps players like 34-year-old Ted Kluck involved.
The Grand Ledge author and adjunct college professor chronicled his semi-pro football experiences in Paper Tiger: One Athlete's Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football,
which was selected as a Michigan Notable Book in 2008. The ESPN.com
contributor has also written books on boxers who've faced Mike Tyson and on professional wrestling.
After playing football at Taylor University
, a liberal arts school in Indiana, the defensive lineman continued with several semi-pro outfits, including the former Battle Creek Crunch and Lansing Lightning teams.
He's tried to quit, but can't. "Once you are a football player, you're kind of always a football player," says Kluck, who also teaches at Cornerstone University
and Montcalm Community College
"It's hard to get it out of your system. It's intense, it's fun, it's combat," he says. "You can't really get that buzz anywhere else in life. For me, it's almost like an addiction."Promotional Power
As a minor league team, Stealth organizers face constant third-and-12 challenges. The team is trying to land coveted sponsorships, which difficult since traditional media (TV and daily newspapers) has been slow to embrace the Stealth.Facebook
has proved viable alternative to getting word out.
"There were other teams in the past that weren't set up the way we are," says Huntoon, who is a photographer but devotes most of his time to running the Stealth. "We want to promote and give back to the community. "They are kind of skeptics at this point. We hope to win them over."
The team's stake in the community is taking roots.
Okemos Youth Football
receives revenue from food concessions and also gets a portion of ticket revenue, Huntoon says. Admission is $7 for adults; $4 for children for regular season games (Tickets are $5 and $3 for the June 26 exhibition).
Season passes run $25, which is $10 less than individual tickets and enters the buyer into a raffle for two NASCAR tickets Aug. 14 at Michigan International Speedway
The team is also selling $10 saver cards, which offers discounts at 16 Lansing area businesses. Officials also hope to generate revenue from T-shirt and sweatshirt sales.
A majority of the 200-plus crowd at the first exhibition game included close friends and family members, but the team's ultimate mission to capture the attention of curious football fans like Dan Lohrmann of Grand Ledge, who took in the contest while standing along the perimeter fence.
"It's something different," says Lohrmann, who played football at Valparaiso University. "It will be interesting to see. I think it's going to be exciting but a challenge, too, to see if they can keep it going. "I hope they succeed."
A denizen of the semi-pro ranks, player Ted Kluck sees something special in the Stealth.
"It's the classiest semipro organization I've been involved with, and that's attributable to the ownership and the coaches," he says.The Stealth opens its 10-game regular season at 7 p.m. July 10 at Okemos Chippewa Middle School against the Traverse City Wolves. The team has another home preseason encounter at 4 p.m. June 26 versus the Southern Michigan Timberwolves.
Larry O'Connor is a mid-Michigan freelance writer who likes all things minor league.
Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a
freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie
Scenes from the Capital City Stealth vs Detroit Diesels game
All Photographs © Dave