Despite a rocky past in the sport, professional arena football will again be played in Fayetteville in 2012.
A new franchise featuring three local owners that will play in a fledgling league was introduced Thursday at the Crown Coliseum.
The Cape Fear Heroes will begin at least a 10-game regular season in March as a member of the American Indoor Football League. Local business people Barbara J. Spigner and Dimitrios "Jimmy'' Diamantopoulos, indoor coach and ex-player Charles Gunnings and AIF founder John Morris form the ownership group.
"It wasn't such a great ending last season,'' Morris said Thursday. "But we know what this community is about. They've supported teams through thick and thin. We felt like this was a great situation for us to come in and assist last year with the idea of coming back this year with a group of local owners, which we've done.''
Morris stepped in late last season to prop up the Fayetteville Force over the final four games season. The Force, a first-year franchise playing in the Southern Indoor Football League, experienced financial issues that put the team on verge of shutting down before Morris purchased the team.
The Force was the latest in a string of arena franchises to have failed to stand the test of time in Fayetteville. The Cape Fear Wildcats played in the arenafootball2 between 2002-04 before moving to Albany, Ga. The Fayetteville Guard replaced the Wildcats, playing in both the National Indoor Football League and the AIFA between 2005-10 before going under.
"We realize we have some rebuilding to do,'' Morris said. Part those rebuilding efforts centered around securing local ownership. Spigner previously owned the Florence (S.C.) Phantoms of the American Indoor Football Association. Morris was the co-founder of the franchise, which won the AIFA title in 2008.
"I wanted to bring something that would be stable, exciting, honest, transparent and just exciting to our community,'' Spigner said when asked about her involvement with the Heroes. "The year 2012 will be our year. I brought a championship to Florence, S.C., and I will bring one to Fayetteville, N.C.''
Morris declined to reveal which of the owners holds the majority stock in the Heroes. "I don't want to do that because it's private information,'' Morris said. "But Barbara is a substantial owner. "My whole purpose for coming here and saving this team was to find local ownership. I want to roll on and run this league, build it and try to make it the best I can. I don't plan on being an owner here long. I will, if I've got to, fund it myself. But my ultimate goal is to find a couple more local people along with Barbara to turn this over to and let them run with it.''
Gunnings was instrumental in putting the ownership group together. The Laurinburg native has been part of the Fayetteville indoor scene as a player, assistant and head coach off and on since 2002. He will serve as head coach of the Heroes in addition to his ownership role.
Gunnings admits that the way things ended with the Force last season had him wondering if it was smart to bring another arena team to Fayetteville.
"I was one of those naysayers, to be honest with you,'' Gunnings said. "I was one of those who thinking in the back of my mind that football is done in Fayetteville. I've seen teams disappear for a year or two at this level and never come back. I didn't want that to happen in Fayetteville.
"So we got this great ownership group together. I know it's going to be an uphill battle. But we're going to play football.''
Original Article: Heroes welcomed as Fayetteville's latest indoor football team
Copyright: Staff writer Sammy Batten