TC Wolves hungry for season

Dan Skibbe didn't need his business degree to figure out that good football means a good possibility of success for his Traverse City Wolves semi-pro football team.

But it helped.

"Being a business major in college, I saw the potential in the Grand Traverse area," he said. "I was associated with a semi-pro team in Flint that was pulling in 4,000 to 5,000 fans per night and there were four other teams in the area. Then, after seeing the success of the Beach Bums baseball team, I knew this would go well."

The Wolves will start play in the North American Football League in 2009. The league has 110 teams all across the U.S. and Canada and has been in existence for 10 years. Traverse City will be part of a five-team Midwest Division.

The Traverse City team will be comprised of players from northern Michigan, an area Skibbe says is rich in talent.

"We had a tryout in April in Kalkaska and 120 players showed up," he said. "That just proved what we thought all along, that this is a great community for football."

From the 120 players who showed up in Kalkaska, the roster was narrowed to 62 for a July training camp in Indian River. The Wolves started once-a-week practices in October and will train at the indoor Just For Kicks facility during the winter. Their next round of tryouts will be Feb. 7-8 at Just For Kicks.

Players must be a minimum of 18 years of age to play in the league.

Some, like local attorney Peter Boyles, have sons almost that age.

"I don't feel like a 42-year-old lawyer when I'm in the huddle," said Boyles. "I hadn't played football since the sixth grade because of my lack of size. But when I heard about the Wolves tryout, I talked to Dan (Skibbe). The team needed a lawyer and there was no age limit to try out, so I went for it."

Boyles worked with a personal trainer for 10 weeks, got into yoga and showed up for the first workout "in the best shape I've been in years."

It paid off. He has survived the first two rounds of cuts and is working out with the other players over the winter at Just For Kicks.

"When you're playing in this league, you're doing it for the love of football," said Skibbe. "The players don't get paid. They all have full-time jobs."

He said the average age of the players is in the mid- to late-20s.

"And I would say that between 35 to 40 percent of the players have some college experience," he said. "Some of them have played one or two years of college ball, others four years. Just about everyone else played in high school, but we had a handful at our tryout camps with no football experience at all. So there is some disparity, but that's all right. We did notice during our tryouts that there are some guys who can definitely make things happen."

Skibbe and his wife Rachael moved to Traverse City in 2002 from Detroit.

"After a couple of years of getting acclimated to northern Michigan, I joined the football coaching staff at Elk Rapids under Josh Merchant," he said. "Then in 2006, I took an offensive coordinator position with the Genesee County Patriots, another league team that will be a division."

After that, he took a year off to analyze the ability of a semi-pro football franchise to become successful in the area.

"From a business side," he said, "there is probably no greater market than Traverse City for football. I went to the TC West and Central game last fall and they had almost 10,000 people in the stands. Even some of the surrounding schools draw from 1,500 to 2,500 fans. So within a 25-mile radius, we've seen high school football attracting upwards of 14,000 fans on a given night. What we would like to bring to Traverse City is the ability to bring those fans together and root for one team – their team."

The NAFL is a summer football league, which starts in early July and runs through October. All of the games are played under National Football League rules.

Skibbe said the team plans on playing at Thirlby Field.

The Traverse City Wolves roster will include 50-55 active players, plus an extra 10 on the practice squad.

While the Wolves didn't play in 2008, they won't be hibernating during the winter. Skibbe has to round out his coaching staff and continue with his marketing campaign to sell Wolves tee-shirts, polo shirts and dress shirts on the team's web site – www.tcwolves.com.

"We've got work to do this winter," he said. "We are going to have cheerleading tryouts and we're going to be working to make sponsorship and advertising packages available to local businesses." BN

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