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1998 Columbus Hawks

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Columbus HawksMajor League Roller Hockey

Born: 1998
Folded: Postseason 1998

Arena: Battelle Hall

Team Colors:

Owner: Fred Drew,

 

This fly-by-night professional roller hockey outfit played for two months in downtown Columbus, Ohio during the summer of 1998.  The Hawks were one of several minor sports franchises that tried to make a go of it at Battelle Hall in the Columbus Convention Center during the mid-1990’s, along with the Columbus Invaders indoor soccer team and the Columbus Quest women’s basketball team. Only the Quest attracted even a modest core of regular fans while the men’s teams played to virtually empty stands. None of these clubs made it through more than two seasons.

The Hawks were owned by a Mansfield, Ohio businessman named Fred Drew who worked in the trucking industry. The team’s coach and GM position was a summer job for Derek Clancey, a minor league hockey journeyman who had played four winters for the city’s popular East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team, the Columbus Chill.  Most of the Hawks players were moonlighting ECHL ice hockey players, including a number of other Chill veterans.

Crowds numbered in the low hundreds and the Hawks faded quietly from view at the end of the summer along with the rest of Major League Roller Hockey. The league was relaunched as a semi-pro enterprise in the early 2000’s but the Hawks never returned.

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Written by AC

November 5th, 2015 at 3:56 am

1996-97 Columbus Invaders

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Columbus InvadersNational Professional Soccer League (1996-1997)

Born: 1996 – The Canton Invaders relocate to Columbus, OH
Folded: 1997

Arena: Battelle Hall

Team Colors:

Owner: Moh Hassan

NPSL Championships: None

 

The one-year existence of the Columbus Invaders of the indoor National Professional Soccer League was a sad coda to the story of the Canton Invaders, a minor league soccer dynasty of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The Canton Invaders began play in 1984 as one of the original franchises in the American Indoor Soccer Association.  In the beginning, the AISA was an Upper Midwestern bus league. A handful of clubs knocked about in minor league hockey rinks and agricultural exposition centers in places like Kalamazoo and Toledo.  Canton, Ohio and its tiny 4,200-seat Civic Center fit right in.  The Invaders dominated the carpet, appearing in each of the AISA’s first six championship finals and winning five of them.

By the end of the 1980’s, the AISA grew more ambitious and became an air travel league with an expanded footprint across the United States.  In 1990, the league re-branded itself as the National Professional Soccer League and began playing in big city arenas like Atlanta’s Omni and Denver’s McNichols Arena, among others.  Canton became a small market anomaly within the league. Crowds – never great to begin with – dwindled as the Invaders’ championship form receded sharply after 1992.

In the summer of 1996, Moh Hassan purchased the Invaders and moved the club 125 miles south to Columbus. The Columbus Invaders proved to be a shadow of what the Canton Invaders once were.  The team was inexperienced and overmatched in the NPSL. It relied heavily on young players from a local 3rd division outdoor team called (absurdly) the Ohio Xoggz.  After a 4-18 start, Hassan fired original coach Drago Jaha. He replaced him with player-coach Solomon Hilton, one of the few experienced indoor veterans on the team.  That hardly improved matters, as the team fumbled away 17 of its remaining 18 matches to finish with a league worst 5-35 record.

The Invaders’ humiliations included a March 1997 home loss to the Cleveland Crunch by a score of 52-18.  (The NPSL had a wacky scoring system consisting largely of 2-point and 3-point goals).  It was the most vicious beating in the 17-year history of the league.

Owner Moh Hassan barely promoted the club. Local soccer diehards who might have sought the Invaders out on their own already had the brand new Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer to get excited about in 1996.  The Invaders’ proclaimed averaged attendance of 1,588 per at Battelle Hall, a sterile downtown convention center, was the worst of the NPSL’s 15 clubs.  To no one’s surprise, the Columbus Invaders folded in the summer of 1996.

 

Invaders Video

The Columbus Invaders take on the Cleveland Crunch in a near-empty Battelle Hall. Winter 1996-97.

 

Links

National Professional Soccer League Media Guides

National Professional Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

August 14th, 2013 at 7:48 pm

1996-1998 Columbus Quest

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Columbus QuestAmerican Basketball League (1996-1998)

Born: 1996 – ABL founding franchise
Folded: December 22, 1998

Arena: Battelle Hall (6,313)

Team Colors: Blue, Red & Orange

Owner: American Basketball League

ABL Champions: 1997 & 1998

 

Now here’s a great team I remember seeing live…

Back in the spring of 1997, I was a senior wrapping up my studies at Emory University in Atlanta.  My girlfriend at the time was in grad school at Ohio State University in  Columbus.  I headed to Columbus for spring break and we spent the week tugging each other in the opposing directions of our respective obsessions.

The first night of my visit she rented some bleak, sub-titled epic about families torn apart in the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  I retaliated the next evening with tickets to a Columbus Invaders indoor soccer game at the antiseptic Battelle Hall downtown.  There were about 40 other people in the 6,000-seat building and I will be the first to admit that it sucked.  A few nights later it was her turn again – a modern dance troupe led by Mikhail Baryshnikov appeared on campus.  There were about 40 other people at that one too.

On one of my last nights in town, I dragged Stephanie back downtown to Battelle Hall.  I remember her being exasperated, but I guess I didn’t care because we went anyway.  I was determined to see the fifth and deciding game of the American Basketball League (1996-1998) championship series between the Columbus Quest and the Richmond Rage.

In fact, I showed far more determination to support the Quest than the citizens of Columbus seemed to.  They had rewarded the Quest, far and away the best team in the newly launched women’s basketball league, with the worst attendance in the eight-team circuit (2,679 per game). To the extent that the people of Columbus cared about women’s basketball, their loyalty lay with the Lady Buckeyes of Ohio State, who averaged nearly 4,000 fans per game at the time, according to a Sports Illustrated piece on the Quest’s meager box office.

From personal experience, I lay part of the blame on Battelle Hall itself.  The 6,000-seat arena is buried within the imposing Greater Columbus Convention Center, which looks like a big city courthouse.  It’s a big rectangular room full of cheap modular seating that is snapped together like Legos and has all the charm of an Amazon.com shipping & fulfillment center.  Walking down the street outside you’d have not the slightest clue that a pro team made its home there, much less that a game was going to happen on any particular evening.

Columbus QuestBut on this night, March 11, 1997, the fans came out.  The arena was pretty much full and the Quest announced a sellout o 6,313.  It was, after all, the championship game – Game 5 of a best-of-five series to determine the best women’s basketball team in, I suppose, the world at that time.  (The rival WNBA would begin operations just three months later and drive the ABL out of business within 18 months).

I bought a program and learned a little more about the Quest and their opponents from Virginia.  The Quest were 31-9 in the regular season, plus a two-game sweep of the San Jose Lasers in the semis.  They had the best player in the league in 26-year old Nikki McCray, a 5′ 11″ guard out of Tennessee who wore her hair in braided rows and won a Gold Medal with the U.S. Women at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  She would go on to win the ABL’s Most Valuable Player honor.  Quest Head Coach Brian Agler was named Coach of the Year.

The Richmond Rage were a little better than mediocre that year, finishing 21-19. But they peaked late and also swept their way through the semis for their date with Columbus.  The Rage were led by McCray’s Olympic teammate Dawn Staley.

The Quest got the better of it on this night, pulling away 77-64.  The atmosphere was terrific, proving that a great crowd can enliven in the dullest of surroundings.  Tonya Edwards was the leading scorer for the Quest with 23 points and Staley was the top threat for the Rage with 19.  In an appealing sub-plot, 35-year old Valerie Still of Columbus was named Series MVP.  Still was the oldest player in the ABL.  Without a viable women’s pro league in the United States between 1981 and 1996, Still kept her career alive in Italy for a dozen seasons before coming back to finish her career in the ABL and the WNBA.

After the season, Nikki McCray bolted the ABL for the NBA-backed WNBA.  McCray earned $150,000 a year in the ABL, which placed her among the league’s top earners.  She earned a bigger payday and better stability from the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.  But McCray was the exception rather than the rule.  Most ABL players stayed loyal to the scrappy independent league for a simple reason – typically, the ABL paid much better than the WNBA.  The average ABL salary in the first season was $70,000 plus generous benefits.  The WNBA didn’t come close, choosing to put its money into promotion, rather than players’ pockets.

As mentioned earlier, Head Coach Brian Agler won ABL Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1997, but he really deserved them more in Year Two (when he didn’t win).  Despite losing McCray, the league’s reigning MVP, Agler led the Quest to an even better 36-8 record during the 1997-98 season.  The Quest repeated as champions, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the ABL championship series to defeat the Long Beach Stingrays 3 games to 2.  Attendance even ticked up to 3,500 per game.

The ABL suffered from anemic corporate sponsorships, flat attendance, obscure television deals and the WNBA threat.  Heading into Year Three in the fall of 1998, the league cut costs across the board.  But it wasn’t enough.  Two months into its third season, the ABL abruptly shutdown and declared bankruptcy with debts of $10 million.  The date was December 22, 1998.

As always, the Quest were atop the league standings at the time.  Columbus had an 11-3 record when the ABL folded.  Over the league’s two-plus years of operations, the Quest’s regular season and playoff record was a remarkable 86-24.

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After the league folded, Brian Agler became Head Coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx expansion franchise, leading that club from 1999 to 2002.  Five Quest players followed Agler to the Lynx, including Tonya Edwards and Valerie Still.  Although Agler could not repeat his ABL success with the Lynx, he would later win a WNBA title as Head Coach of the Seattle Storm in 2010.

 

Columbus Quest Memorabilia

 

Quest Video

1998 ABL Championship Series, Game 5.  Quest vs. Long Beach Stingrays. March 15, 1998

 

Downloads

1997 Columbus Quest Corporate Sponsorship Binder

1997-98 American Basketball League Human Resources Manual

 

Links

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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Written by AC

December 27th, 2012 at 3:24 am

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