The Winston-Salem Polar Twins were a rough-and-tumble mid-70’s minor league hockey outfit from deep in the heart of North Carolina tobacco country. They had one of the great (or, at least, original) ice hockey names of all time and if you have a theory on the origin of this deeply weird name, please leave your explanation in the comments.
Originally owned by a group of 15 investors, the group suffered through a couple of tough seasons and by December 1975, the Polar Twins’ financial backers apparently dwindled to one guy named Ed Timmerman who couldn’t keep the club afloat. Famed wrestling promoted Jim Crockett Jr. stepped in to take over the team and kept it going until January 1977. The league’s championship trophy, the Crockett Cup, was named for Jim Jr.’s father, a long-time backer of the Charlotte Checkers minor league hockey team.
By January 1977, the Southern Hockey League was in dire straits, with several clubs dropping out midseason. Crockett declined to keep the Polar Twins going in light of the other SHL clubs dropping out of the league in early 1977 and folded the team on January 7, 1977. Reduced to just three solvent teams, the rest of the Southern Hockey League closed its doors a few weeks later.
==Winston-Salem Polar Twins Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The El Paso-Juarez Sol were a rollicking, co-ed pro volleyball squad that drew crowds to the El Paso Civic Center with a combination of international Olympic stars and cornball promotions during the late 1970’s. The Sol were original members of the International Volleyball Association, a start-up operation in 1975 with five teams clustered in the Western U.S. The Sol were the only team located outside of Southern California during that first season, though the league eventually grew to include clubs in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Washington. IVA volleyball featured two women and four men on the court at all times and the league didn’t take itself too seriously. Sol games featured a roving P.A. announcer named Paul “The Mouth” Strelzin who galloped around the arena on a stick horse.
The league managed to attract top volleyball talent from around the globe. The Sol’s first year roster included American player-coach Mary Jo Peppler, the top female in the league and 70’s-famous from her appearances on ABC’s Superstars competition, and hirsute Brazilian hitter-blocker Lino De Melo Gama of Brazil, better known as “The Caveman”. But the Sol finished the 1975 schedule in last place and Peppler departed.
The Sol’s finest season came in 1977. The team lured Ed Skorek, the 34-year old hitter-blocker from Poland’s gold medal-winning team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, to El Paso. The 6′ 5″ Pole dominated the league all summer long, even earning the relatively unknown Sol a big write-up in Sports Illustrated. But a late season injury caused Skorek to miss the championship series. Without the league’s best player, the Sol lost to the Orange County Stars in the 1977 IVA finals.
Skorek decided not to return to the United States in 1978 and the Sol returned to middling status in the league. The team ran out of money during the 1978 season and the Sol closed up shop following the season. The IVA continued on for two more years, shutting down midway through its sixth season in the summer of 1980.
The small Western Virginia town of Wytheville (Pop. 8,211 circa 2010) played hosted to professional baseball off and on from 1948 until 1989. Major League parent clubs typically didn’t stay long – in 25 summers with baseball, the Wytheville club changed names 11 times. The Kansas City Athletics one-summer partnership with Wytheville in 1964 was typical of these short commitments.
As Kansas City’s Rookie League farm team in the Appalachian League, Wytheville hosted the A’s youngest prospects, most of whom were spending their first summer away from home playing pro ball. The oldest players on the ball club were 22 years old and the Wytheville A’s even fielded a couple of 17-year olds. One of the 17-year olds was Joe Rudi, who played 8 games for Wytheville in 1964 and would have the best Major League career of any one on the team. Rudi later won three World Series and appeared in three All-Star Games for the Oakland A’s in the early 1970’s.
Following the 1964 season, Kansas City pulled out and the Washington Senators came in. The team became the Wytheville Senators prior to the 1965 season.
Eric & Wendy Pastore have photos of what’s left of Withers Field in Wytheville on their excellent Digital Ballparks website. The grandstand remains, but the diamond was converted into a public park in 1993.
The original Baltimore Blast were a popular, immensely entertaining entry on the Baltimore sports scene throughout the 1980’s. The team arrived in Charm City in the spring of 1980 by way of Houston, Texas, where the franchise had failed to develop a following during the first two seasons of the Major Indoor Soccer League. But in Baltimore, the Blast would find a rare and enviable situation – a “Major League” sports market with a distinct shortage of Major League teams. Once the NFL’s Baltimore Colts snuck out of town on March 28th, 1984, the Blast had Baltimore’s winter sports scene all to themselves.
Blast games at the Baltimore Civic Center were a spectacle, starting with the team’s elaborate pre-game introductions. The lights dimmed, Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” boomed over the sound system, fog swirled, and the Blast cheerleaders and players charged onto the arena floor from an exploding soccer ball-shaped spaceship that descended from the ceiling. Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” was the Blast’s goal song and would be heard over and over again, as the high-scoring MISL averaged nearly 11 goals per match.
Beyond the marketing glitz, the Blast were a consistently terrific team under Head Coach Kenny Cooper, who moved with the team from Houston and would guide the club for all 12 seasons in Baltimore. The Blast had fierce divisional rivalries with the New York Arrows in the early part of the 1980’s and then with the Cleveland Force in the middle of the decade.
But the team’s toughest opponent was Ron Newman’s San Diego Sockers, the great indoor dynasty of the 80’s. The Blast made the MISL playoffs eleven times in twelve seasons. On five occasions (’83, ’84, ’85, ’89 and ’90) the Blast advanced to the Championship Series, losing the Newman’s club four times. Baltimore’s only MISL title came in 1984, a season when the Sockers competed in the rival North American Soccer League.
On June 8th, 1984, the Blast defeated the St. Louis Steamers in Game 5 of the MISL finals to win the league championship. This win would mark the peak of the team’s popularity and influence in Baltimore. The Colts had just left town. The Blast averaged a franchise record 11,189 fans per game at the Civic Center in 1983-84. The victory was also a vindication of one of Kenny Cooper’s boldest moves. Eleven months earlier, Cooper paid a league record $150,000 transfer fee to purchase an overweight Yugoslav striker named Stan Stamenkovic from the Memphis Americans. Stamenkovic, known as “The Pizza Man” for his abominable dietary and conditioning habits, led the MISL in scoring in both the regular season and playoffs and was the named the league’s Most Valuable Player for 1984.
The Blast’s 1984 championship was sweet for original owner Bernie Rodin, as he was last man standing of the MISL’s original owners from 1978 and it was his final game in the league. Rodin had sold the Blast for a league record $2.9 million to Nathan Scherr three months earlier and the ownership transfer would take formal effect one week after the Finals victory.
The Blast continued to be a fixture in Baltimore for the rest of the decade, averaging over 10,000 fans per game through 1986. The fortunes of both the MISL and the Blast began to flag as the decade drew to an end. The league nearly folded in the summer of 1988. Budget cuts saw the Blast’s vaunted pre-game pyrotechnics scaled back in the late 1980’s, even as previously conservative NBA and NHL teams began to co-opt the MISL’s flashy game presentation tactics. Nathan Scherr’s early 1989 sale of the Blast to Ed Hale brought just $700,000, or less than 25% of what the team commanded five years earlier.
The Blast played their final matches in April 1992. Appropriately, the team lost their last contests to Ron Newman and the San Diego Sockers in the 1992 playoff semi-finals. Fewer than 5,000 fans turned out for each of the semi-final games at Baltimore Arena.
The MISL went out of business in July 1992 and the Blast closed up shop along with the league. Within a matter of days, a new indoor club called the Baltimore Spirit was organized with Kenny Cooper returning as Head Coach and Bill Stealey as the new owner. The Spirit entered the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League, where they would compete for six seasons. In 1998, former Blast owner Ed Hale purchased the Spirit from Bill Stealey and changed the name back to the Baltimore Blast. This second version of the Blast continues to play today under Ed Hale’s ownership.
==Baltimore Blast Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
Rare match day sheet for a 1971 international match between the short-lived Washington Darts (1968-1971) of the North American Soccer League and visiting Bangu of Brazil. Bangu was a frequent visitor to the States in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. In 1967 the Brazilian club spent most of their summer offseason in Texas, moonlighting as the “Houston Stars” in the United Soccer Association, a league that imported foreign clubs to play under Americanized names.
This match, held at the 7,000 Catholic University Stadium, was part of a short U.S. tour by Bangu in 1971. The struggling NASL was down to just eight clubs in 1971 and relied on international matches to both generate interest and fill out the schedule. So this match wasn’t a friendly – it actually counted in the regular season standings.
The result was a 2-2 draw. The Darts got goals from Tibor Szalay and Warren Archibald, but couldn’t hold a 2-1 second half lead. Bangu’s goals came from Edson Bonfim and Amauri Da Silva.
The debt-ridden Darts club would play only two more home matches after this date with Bangu. The team was sold in the offseason and moved to Miami where it became the Miami Gatos in 1972.