Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1984-1985 Fort Lauderdale Sun / South Florida Sun

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United Soccer League (1984-1985)

Born: 1984 – USL founding franchise.
Died: July 9, 1985 – The Sun cease operations.

Stadium: Lockhart Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Fort Lauderdale Sun were an oddball pro soccer entry during the dark years of the mid-1980′s for the outdoor game in the United States.

The United Soccer League formed in February 1984 by a break-away faction of owners from the ramshackle 2nd division American Soccer League (1933-1983).  The Sun were a brand new franchise, created to fill the void after the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League (1977-1983) moved to Minneapolis three months earlier.  The Sun had only a fraction of the budget of the old Strikers clubs, but managed to bring back a handful of ex-Strikers for familiarity, including Peruvian World Cup star Teofilo Cubillas (who agreed to play home games only), Thomas Rongen and player/coach Keith Weller.  Other notables included long-time English National Team defender Dave Watson and Scottish international midfielder Asa Hartford, both of whom played for the Sun in 1984 but did not return in 1985.

Original Sun owner Ronnie Sharp was a 36-year old Scottish footballer who starred for the Miami Toros of the North American Soccer League during the 1970′s and then remained in South Florida.  Less than a month into the 1984 season, Sharp was arrested in Laredo, Texas and indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to smuggle 200,000 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from Colombia.

Despite the circus atmosphere surrounding Ronnie Sharp, the Sun put together a league-best 15-9 record and advanced to the USL’s best-of-three championship series against the Houston Dynamos in late August 1984.  The series came down to a deciding Game Three played at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium on September 1, 1984.  Dave Watson was the hero of the game for the Sun, scoring the team’s only goal in regulation and then burying the decisive penalty kick to give then Sun the first (and, as it turned out, only) championship of the United Soccer League.

Following the 1984 season, seven of the nine original USL franchises went out of business.  The Sun came back for a second season in 1985 with a new name (South Florida Sun) and a new ownership group of 13 area physicians and businessmen who took over from Sharpe.  In mid-June, the Sun signed a three-year contract with former Ajax, New York Cosmos and Dutch National Team star Johan Neeskens to a three-year contract, although the team was already falling behind on payroll to its existing roster.   Neeskens played only one league game for the Sun before the league folded in midseason (he would never receive a paycheck).

After the USL died in late June, the Sun drifted along for another couple of weeks, making noise about playing out the summer with a series of exhibitions.  But the money was gone and there was no point.  The team’s final hurrah was an exhibition against the Topez-Haitian All-Stars of Miami on July 4, 1985 as a warm-up act for the city’s Independence Day fireworks show.  The unpaid players split the gate proceeds from the crowd of 3,529 and disbanded four days later.

 

==Sun Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
6/9/1984 vs. Houston Dynamos ?? Program Game Notes

 

==Key Players==

 

==In Memoriam==

Colin Fowles, a longtime Striker who signed with the Sun in 1985, was murdered during a recreational soccer game in Miami’s Bunche Park.  Fowles was an innocent bystander.  The murder was not solved, although authorities suspected a notorious Jamaican drug gang.  Fowles was 32.

Sun player/coach Keith Weller died of cancer at age 58 in November 2004.

 

==Downloads==

June 9, 1984 Fort Lauderdale Sun Roster 

==Links==

United Soccer League Media Guides

United Soccer League Programs

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December 13, 2001 – Gary Steelheads vs. Dakota Wizards

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Gary (IN) Steelheads vs. Dakota Wizards
December 13, 2001
Genesis Convention Center
Continental Basketball Association Programs
36 pages

Isiah Thomas talked a big game when he bought controlling interest in the venerable Continental Basketball Association for $10 million in late 1999.  Blathering to Sports Illustrated in a February 2000 profile, Thomas declared that he would transform the CBA – for decades a charmingly ungovernable minor league money-pit – into “the Microsoft of basketball”.  He envisioned expansion growth to 300 small market teams (up from just nine when he bought in) and even the formation of a WCBA minor league for the women’s game.

Thomas was five years removed from his NBA playing days at the time.  The Sports Illustrated piece was just one of many that followed a consistent (and deeply flawed) media storyline about Thomas and the CBA.  The notion was that the smooth-talking, stylish basketball star would deliver a much-needed dose of Madison Avenue panache and boardroom sophistication to the slack-jawed yokels who ran minor league basketball in places like Sioux Falls and Grand Rapids.  Isiah Thomas would be the best thing to happen to these rubes since rural electrification.

As it played out, Thomas was the rube (and a “nasty, imcompetent” a-hole, according to this 2006 New York Daily News evisceration).  The men he bought the CBA from were a motley bunch.  But the best among them had operated their clubs for a decade or more on razor thin margins.  They understood the peculiar economy of the minor leagues in a way Thomas did not, and apparently didn’t care to.  Within 18 months, Isiah Thomas bankrupted the venerable 55-year old CBA.

Among his many failures at the CBA, Thomas failed to attract the legions new franchises he promised.  In fact, he signed on just one: an expansion franchise for Gary, Indiana, announced in February 2000.  It’s not surprising that the one place Thomas closed a deal for the CBA was in Indiana, where he was still revered for delivering a national championship at IU under Bobby Knight.

Under the structure of Thomas’ CBA management scheme, his holding company would own 51% of the Gary Steelheads.  A group of local investors headed by Jewell Harris Sr. purchased the remaining 49%.  Jewell Harris was a Gary power-broker; former majority whip of the Indiana state house of representatives, chief political adviser and campaign manager to Gary’s Mayor Scott King, and a prominent businessman in his own right.  In addition to his partial ownership of the Steelheads, Harris was involved with a much higher profile minor league project in Gary: the 2001 construction of RailCats Stadium for the city’s independent baseball team.  Harris’ Enterprise Trucking and Waste Hauling was a sub-contractor on the $45 million project.

Just a few months after the Gary franchise was announced, Thomas accepted a job as Head Coach of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. NBA rules required Thomas to divest himself of the CBA, but he found there were no buyers.  (Thomas had already foolishly brushed off an offer from the NBA and David Stern to buy the league from him on favorable terms.)  Thomas placed the CBA into a blind trust and walked away, leaving the entire league starved for cash as the Steelheads entered their inaugural season in the fall of 2000.

By February 2001 the CBA was insolvent and unable to make payroll for its players or team staff.  The league officially folded on February 7, 2001 in the middle of its 55th season.  In a few cases, the former team owners who sold out to Thomas in 1999 came back to save their teams.  Others simply folded.  In the case of the Steelheads, Jewell Harris Sr. stepped up to take on full operations of the club and the team was able to continue on.

The surviving CBA owners bought the league name and trademarks out of bankruptcy and revived the CBA for the 2001-02.  The program above is from December 2001, early in the Steelheads’ second season, with the team now firmly under the control of the Harris family.

The Steelheads had some highlights under the Harrises.  In January 2005, the CBA All-Star Game drew 6,000 fans to the Genesis Center.  Announced attendance peaked at around 2,700 during the 2003-04 CBA season.  But for the most part the Steelheads were a losing proposition.  The team operated in the red for all six seasons of existence of Jewell Harris Sr.’s ownership from 2000 to 2006.  The team was also dependent on unusually generous public subsidies from the City of Gary, which flowed from casino revenues.  Long-time Mayor Scott King was an early booster of the Steelheads to the civic and corporate communities, but buzz around the team faded after King had a falling out with Jewell Harris and distanced himself from the team.

Harris Sr. pulled out of the CBA and shut down the Steelheads in July 2006.  The very same week he was indicted on federal fraud and money laundering charges related to the construction of Gary’s minor league baseball stadium back in 2001.  It seems Harris pilfered $1.5 million dollars from the City of Gary in a double-billing scam related to hauling debris away from the stadium site.  He was convicted in 2008 and is currently serving a six-year federal prison sentence.

Harris’ son, Jewell Harris Jr., organized a new investment group that revived the Steelheads for a couple more grim seasons in progressively cheaper minor leagues.  The Steelheads competed in the summer-season United States Basketball League in 2007 and then moved to the cut-rate International Basketball League in 2008.  By this point, Steelheads attendance had dwindled to just a few hundred fans per game at the Genesis Center.  The team suspended operations indefinitely in 2008, citing the financial crisis, and never returned.

Downloads:

Gary Steelheads vs. Dakota Wizards Game Notes – 12/13/2001

Gary Steelheads Sources

Written by andycrossley

December 8th, 2012 at 5:36 pm

April 28, 2001 – Trenton Lightning vs. Omaha Beef

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Trenton (NJ) Lightning vs. Omaha (NE) Beef
April 28, 2001
Sovereign Bank Arena
Indoor Professional Football League
60 pages

 

The experience of writing this blog has only served to heighten a long-simmering suspicion of the personal financial advisor industry.  Years ago, I was working for a minor league baseball team when a friend and co-worker asked if his cousin Brendan could come in a buy lunch for the office.  The cousin was starting out as an American Express Financial Advisor and he had a monthly quota of corporate lunch presentations to hawk disability policies and IRAs and so on.  The thing was, I already knew Brendan.  Brendan was a bartender at a place downtown where we watched a few Red Sox playoff games.  Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s weird to get financial advice from a kid in his 20′s working two jobs to make ends meet.  I said yes because it was an easy favor for a friend and because we’d get a free cold cut platter and because nobody in that front office including me had two nickels to rub together anyway, let alone to invest with Brendan.

When I first heard of the court case against the former owner of the Trenton Lightning indoor football team, I’d already penned an early FWiL piece about an audacious low-life named Jeffrey Fischer who funded his Sarasota Stingers minor league basketball team with millions stolen from his primarily elderly stock brokerage clients in the early 1980′s.

The Trenton Lightning of the Indoor Professional Football League were another embezzlement-powered start-up in a remote outpost of the minor league industry.  In this case, an American Express Financial Advisor named Philip Subhan secretly diverted money from at least two of his clients to fund his pro sports fantasies.  Most of the money – over $100,000 – was stolen from Sandra Kelly, a 90-year old blind widow who trusted Subhan and one of his Amex Financial partners to open her mail and write checks for her using a rubber signature stamp.  Soon enough, Subhan began writing checks to himself.

The Lightning belonged to the IPFL (1999-2001), a fly-by-night indoor football operation that attempted to replicate the Arena Football League’s game in smaller markets.  Arena Football’s founders actually had patents on the sport and sued the IPFL’s predecessor league for patent and trademark infringement.  The IPFL got around the issue by playing without endzone nets, which were the key innovation of the AFL’s game covered by the patents.  When Subhan signed on for 2001 with his Trenton franchise, the league had just four other teams, stretched across the country from Boise, Idaho to Knoxville, Tennessee.

IPFL players earned only about $200/game so most of the players were local products.  The Lightning roster was heavy on guys from Rutgers, Montclair State and The College of New Jersey.  Former Denver Broncos return specialist Vaughn Hebron was the team’s Head Coach and biggest name.  That’s him on the cover of the team yearbook at the top of this post.

For a team in such a crummy league, the Lightning actually drew quite well at Trenton’s Sovereign Bank Arena.  The club averaged about 3,000 fans per night for three home games in April and May 2001, according to The New York Times.

Decent attendance proved irrelevant for an operation backed by the pilfered life savings of little old blind ladies, however.  Sometime in late May 2001 the ownership group fell apart, although whether this timing was due directly to the exposure of Philip Subhan’s criminal schemes is unclear.

The Lightning shut down in mid-season on May 28, 2001.  The team played only six of a scheduled sixteen games, losing all of them.

##

Philip Subhan was arrested and convicted on several counts of theft by unlawful taking, misapplication on entrusted property and financial facilitation of criminal activity.  He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, a verdict upheld on appeal in 2006.

The Indoor Professional Football League folded after the 2001 season.

==Downloads==

1979-1981 Hartford Hellions

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1979-1981)

Born: April 26th, 1979 – MISL expansion franchise.
Died: May 1981 – Hellions relocate to Memphis, TN.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: William E. Chipman

 

The Hartford Hellions indoor soccer team was the creation of Glastonbury, Connecticut accountant/flim flam man William E. Chipman.  Formed on April 26th, 1979 as an expansion franchise in the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League, the Hellions staggered through two losing seasons on the Hartford Civic Center carpet before devout Christians bought the insolvent club, exorcised the (awesome) Satanic logo and branding, and packed the team off to the Bible Belt.

The condition of the Civic Center impaired the Hellions’ launch in Hartford in late 1979.  The roof of the five-year old arena collapsed under accumulated snow in January 1978, and the extensive reconstruction took two full years to complete.  The Hellions spent the first two months of their inaugural season playing to small crowds at temporary homes in the New Haven Coliseum and later the Springfield (MA) Civic Center.   The Hellions finally debuted at the re-opened Hartford Civic Center on February 10th, 1980, dropping a 7-2 decision to the Wichita Wings before an announced crowd of 12,154.  By this point, fewer than 10 games remained in the 32-game MISL schedule.

The Hellions finished their inaugural season with a league-worst 6-26 record.  Argentinean Eduardo Marasco led the club in scoring with 29 goals and Cypriot Yilmaz Orhan paced the Hellions in total points with 22 goals and 19 assists.  Defender Paul Toomey was Hartford’s lone representative in the MISL All-Star Game.  Yale grad Roy Messing – brother of New York Cosmos star Shep – handled the bulk of the goalkeeping duties in a platoon system with Paul Hammond and Mike Hewitt.

Following the dismal 1979-80 campaign, William Chipman blew up the Hellions squad and essentially started over with a new Head Coach (John Kowalski), new administrative staff, and an almost completely new roster.  Only four returning Hellions suited up for the 1980-81 campaign, which went south almost immediately.

 

Courtesy of the Dave Morrison Collection – NASLJerseys.com

Only 3,356 fans turned out for the November home opener at the Hartford Civic Center.  The club was marginally improved but still a league doormat.  The 1980-81 Hellions finished at the bottom of the standings again with a 13-27 record.  William Chipman, meanwhile, was not going to be nominated for any Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year awards.  Chipman stopped paying the team and his staff in early 1981, causing a threatened player strike in mid-February.  Hartford Courant journalist Tom Condon published a litany of Chipman’s sins in a 1993 retrospective, including housing his players in a YMCA, cancelling their health insurance on the sly, alienating the Connecticut Youth Soccer Association, and bouncing checks from Connecticut to California.

In May 1981, Chipman managed to unload the Hellions on Arizona businessman Ray Kuns and Dave Hannah, Executive Director of the Athletes In Action Christian sports ministry for an estimated price of $500,000.  The franchise relocated to Memphis, Tennessee’s Mid-South Coliseum.  Athletes In Action had little use for the club’s devilish identity and the team was re-branded as the Memphis Americans for the 1981-82 MISL season.

The bloodlines of the Hellions franchise ran until 1985.  The Memphis Americans played for three seasons, before Las Vegas interests bought the team in June 1984.  The club played one final season as the Las Vegas Americans in the winter of 1984-85.  The franchise folded in July 1985.

William Chipman served time in federal prison later in the 1980′s for his role in promoting phony literary tax shelters, a scheme he hatched in collusion with the Westport, Connecticut-based author Robin Moore, author of the best-selling novels (and later Hollywood films) “The Green Berets”, “The French Connection” and “The Happy Hooker”.

 

==YouTube==

 

==Links==

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

==Downloads==

Hartford Hellions sources

 

1983-1986 Sarasota Stingers / Florida Stingers

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Continental Basketball Association (1983-1986)

Born: 1983 – CBA Expansion Franchise.
Died: July 1986 – The Stingers relocate to Charleston, WV.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

We didn’t borrow any money for this,” Jeffrey Fischer told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune in early 1984, bragging about his new Sarasota Stingers basketball team.  “I took what I considered to be risk capital and invested it.”

Technically, this was true.  Fischer, a stockbroker for E.F. Hutton in Sarasota, did not borrow any money to run his Continental Basketball Association expansion franchise in the winter of 1983-84.  He stole it from his mostly elderly brokerage clients.  And he got away with it for an entire season before the Securities & Exchange Commission caught up to him in June 1984.

Journeyman basketball coach Bill Musselman briefly helmed teams in the American Basketball Association, the NBA and the Western Basketball Association.  A Sarasota resident, Musselman brought the idea of forming a CBA team to Jeffrey Fischer in the summer of 1983. Fischer paid $180,000 to the CBA for his expansion franchise that August.  Musselman signed on as Head Coach and General Manager.

“Bill Musselman was a no-nonsense guy.  He was a hard-nosed guy.  He was very intense and he played to win.  He put his best players out there on the floor and he expected them to play hard for him,” recalled former Stinger Kevin Loder in 2011.  ”Bill Musselman and I got along great and I really miss him.  He was a guy that was definitely a gift to the game and he was a winner.”

On the court, the Stingers struggled out of the gate.  After a 6-13 start, Fischer forced Musselman’s resignation in January 1984.  Musselman found a local money guy and offered to buy the team from Fischer instead, but scoffed when Fischer asked for $1 million – a 455% premium over what he paid for the team five months earlier. “Does he think we’re a couple of hayseeds?” Musselman fumed to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The Stingers finished the 1983-84 campaign tied for last place in the CBA’s Eastern Division with a 16-28 record.  Three Stingers players – Clay Johnson, Mike Sanders and former Kansas City Kings first round draft pick Kevin Loder earned call-ups to the NBA during the season.

For a man making bad bets with stolen money - the Feds would later show that Fischer defrauded his clients of $2.3 million between 1977 and 1984 – Fischer spent a lot of time crowing to the local media about the alleged details of the Stingers’ finances.  His club sold an all-time record of 1,348 season tickets for the 1983-84 campaign.  He had to cut off the waiting list of interested investment partners after more than 120 people clamored to get a piece of the Stingers.  He expected to make a 40% annual return on his Stingers investment.  He was preparing to apply for an NBA expansion  franchise for Tampa-St. Pete.  None of it was true, but it all made for great press while it lasted.

In June 1984 the authorities caught up to Fischer and froze his assets, which placed the Stingers in limbo throughout the summer.  Fischer’s sole minority investor (out of the 120 allegedly clamoring for a piece of the team) Mike Cohn recruited two new partners and rescued the team in August 1984.   Then he began to sort through the books.

Fischer’s boasts to the media – and his own partner – were fabrications.  Of the CBA record 1,300 season tickets Fischer claimed, Cohn could only account for 300 actual paid tickets.  Robarts Sports Arena was routinely papered with free tickets and the club lost about $200,000.  Even the NBA expansion papers that Fischer showed to Cohn turned out to be “forgeries…a figment of his imagination“, Cohn told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

“At that particular time they were trying to create a large critical mass <of teams> in the CBA.  Let’s just say there was not a lot of scrutiny about the background checks, if you will, of where and how someone makes their money,” said Kevin Loder.  “At any rate, players were removed from that.  We just assumed that whoever was a part of <ownership> was capable of delivering.  That kind of thing happened overseas as well and so those were common place stories when you were playing in these leagues that were not the NBA.  Stability was in the NBA.”

Reorganized in the front office, the Stingers continued to struggle on the court in their second season.  The club finished in 7th (last) place in the East with a 21-27 record.  After the 1984-85 season, the Stingers moved 15 minutes north up Interstate 75 to the Manatee Civic Center in Palmetto, Florida.  The club played one final season in the winter of 1985-86 under the name “Florida Stingers” at the 3,900-seat Manatee.  The Stingers averaged 1,096 per games during their lone season in Palmetto and once again finished out of the playoff hunt with a 21-27 record.

In July 1986, new ownership purchased the franchise and relocated the team to Charleston, West Virginia for the 1986-87 CBA season.

##

Fischer pled guilty to three counts of fraud in April 1985 and was sentenced to four years in federal prison.  In the early 1990′s he re-surfaced in Central Florida running QMC, a medical billing company.  In 1996, he was convicted of swindling a tax-payer funded county hospital out of $1.2 million, which he used in large part to squander on risky stock trades.  Fischer received a five-year sentence in the QMC case.

Bill Musselman had great success in his next two CBA coaching stops with the Tampa Bay Thrillers and Albany Patroons.  He leveraged his CBA track record to return to the NBA, where he was named the first head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves when that expansion franchise began play in 1989.  Musselman coached the T-Wolves for their first two seasons of existence and  joined the Portland Trailblazers as an assistant coach in the late 1990′s.  Musselman suffered a stroke following a pre-season game in October 1999 and died due of heart and kidney failure in May 2000 at the age of 59.

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Stingers Head Coach Bill Musselman died on May 5, 2000 of heart and kidney failure after a series of ailments.  He was 59.

 

 

==Downloads==

2011 interview with Stingers player Kevin Loder
United States v. Jeffrey Allan Fischer appeal 1999
Sarasota/Florida Stingers sources

 

 

==Links==

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

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