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Low-level professional football games possibility in proposed new stadium

Hagerstown mayor has had talks with Chambersburg Cardinals officials about possible move

April 26, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II describes a proposed stadium development at Summit Avenue and W. Baltimore Street in this file photo.
File photo

Hagerstown officials have maintained all along that a new multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown would host more than Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball games.

Concerts, local high school sports, fairs and festivals have all been mentioned as possible date-fillers to supplement the 70 or so Suns’ home games.

Now, low-level professional football games could also be added to that list.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Thursday that he has had talks with a representative of the Chambersburg Cardinals football team about the possibility of playing games in the new $30-million complex.

“They usually have attendance of about 2,000-plus at every home game,” Bruchey said.

But those figures could “increase dramatically” if the longtime Chambersburg club played at the proposed facility at the corner of East Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, Bruchey said.

Football would be a good fit when the Suns aren’t playing, he said.

Russell Ruckman, director of business operations for the Cardinals, confirmed in a telephone interview Thursday that he and the mayor have spoken about the idea.

Ruckman said playing in a private facility instead of at Chambersburg Area Senior High School’s newly renovated Trojan Stadium — which he called “second to none in the area” — would provide for more of a “game-day atmosphere” because rules and regulations of a school district can be constraining.

Alcohol is not allowed on school campuses, but beer sales would be possible at the new stadium, Ruckman said.

It would also create additional leeway for promotions and activities before and after games, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of people ... want to find out about tailgating and stuff like that,” Ruckman said. “We’re just open for discussion as a business.”

City and Washington County elected officials will meet Tuesday to decide whether to move forward with the proposed facility, which would include an adjacent parking deck, and to further discuss the funding options, Bruchey said.

If they elect to move forward, solidifying a new long-term lease with the Suns would be the next step, the mayor said.

Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.

Ruckman said Hagerstown businesses have expressed interest in hosting the team, which went 14-0 last year en route to winning the Gridiron Developmental Football League championship — its 13th league title since 1969 in amateur, semipro and professional levels of play.

Ruckman, who said he doesn’t want the loyal Chambersburg fans to think the team is deserting them, said it would be important to get both communities behind the potential move. He said he’s open to continuing talks with Hagerstown, but has not spoken to Quinn about it yet.

In 2007, NFL Europe, which at that time was considered a “farm system” for the NFL, folded, creating a lack of options for many quality players looking for new teams, Ruckman said.

Since then, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league leaders have expressed interest in American outdoor football teams, such as the Cardinals, and developing a real professional farm system in the U.S. has become a top issue, Ruckman said.

The Cardinals became a professional club in 2010 and began heavily recruiting players nationwide to come to Chambersburg for the football season.

“A lot of teams across the country really started amping it up” since then, he said.

More than 100 teams play in the GDFL, but only about 20 of them are at the Cardinals’ talent level, Ruckman said.

The local club outscored opponents 600-96 in 14 games last season, meaning the Cardinals won every contest by an average of about 36 points per game. Its closest games were five-point wins over the D.C. Explosion in the regular season and the Oklahoma Thunder in the league championship game.

Ruckman said he believes the idea of instituting a farm system for professional football — although not as extensive as what Major League Baseball currently has — is not out of the question, especially considering the rabid popularity that the sport enjoys across the nation.

“It’s definitely very exciting,” he said.

Even if a move doesn’t happen for the Cardinals, Ruckman said there could be potential in possibly developing an expansion team in Hagerstown.

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