In the Semipros, the Game's the Thing: Football League Gives Its All for Fans, Community
Loverro, Thom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The men dress in a high school locker room that is foreign to them but at the same time familiar - with small benches, small lockers, no names and no numbers - the very sort of lockers they used when they were stars at their own high schools.
Some players have their injuries taped by coaches, each other or themselves, and some bring their own tools to repair their helmets and other football gear. Scratchy music from a portable tape player plays in the background, and the room reeks of ointment and sweat.
Outside, two maintenance workers line the field at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the District, getting it ready for play.
One elderly man walking around the track at the school asks, "Are they going to play a game here tonight?"
Damn right they are. Washington Chiefs football - providing, of course, the other team shows up, which is just one of the hazards of minor-league football.
In August, Chiefs owner Richard Myles had a game lined up for his team at Richard Montgomery High School in Montgomery County and the opponent showed up several hours late, too late to play.
"I had the Montgomery County executive there for this game," Myles said, "a color guard, all these Montgomery County dignitaries supporting me, and the [other] team's bus broke down. I had to give all the money back. That's how it is sometimes in minor-league football."
On this night, the Durham Bulls do show up, though not in a team bus. The players drive the six hours from North Carolina in their own cars. So tonight, Myles won't have to give any money back. With about 100 people in the stands, there wouldn't be much to return anyway. Again, that's just how it is sometimes in minor-league football.
For Myles, a physical education teacher, these trials of owning a minor-league football team don't detract from his enthusiasm and optimism. "I'm still like a sleeping giant," Myles said. "No one knows I'm here. But I know this will catch on. We've got something good here."
Semipro football has been around since the days of the first game in Canton, Ohio, long before the National Football League became a powerhouse. But unlike minor-league baseball, these small-scale football operations - while sometimes solid, popular teams - are often ragtag ventures, sometimes nothing more than glorified sandlot football.
Several semipro teams dot the Washington area, including the Washington Stonewalls and the Fredericksburg Generals, among others.
Myles and the league his Chiefs belong to - the Minor Football League - are seeking to change the image of minor-league football. The MFL is a league formed a few years back with several goals: to bring more of a sense of professionalism to minor-league football and to support community services. Like the Chiefs - who won the MFL championship last year with a record of 10-2 and who play tonight in this season's championship game - all teams must be nonprofit organizations.
"This is not sandlot football," Myles said. "We provide everything for the guys except pay them. And we are a community-based organization that specializes in youth and community services."
The Chiefs provide players with equipment and uniforms - and insurance - Myles said. These are luxuries not often offered by many semipro teams.
"If it looks professional, then people will come to see it," he said. "We offer family entertainment. The Chiefs help organizations raise money by selling tickets. I try to get local bands to play at the games. The money came from me, my job. Every spare moment, I'm out there trying. I just need a little help."
Myles has gotten help for his venture from some familiar sources. Former Washington Redskins defensive tackle Bobby Wilson is one of the Chiefs' backers and one of Myles' biggest supporters. …