Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1997-1999 Raleigh Cougars

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1997 Raleigh Cougars Pocket ScheduleUnited States Basketball League (1997-1999)

Born: 1997
Folded: June 7, 1999

Arena: Dorton Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Clyde Austin

USBL Championships: None


The Raleigh Cougars low-level minor league basketball outfit founded by former N.C. State star and Harlem Globetrotter Clyde “The Glide” Austin. The team’s name recalled the old Carolina Cougars club that played in the American Basketball Association in the early 1970’s. The original ABA Cougars played in various arenas around North Carolina, including Raleigh’s Dorton Arena, where Austin’s team set up shop a quarter century later.

The Cougars’ biggest name was Lorenzo Charles, who famously slammed home a buzzer-beating dunk to life N.C. State to the 1983 NCAA championship over the University of Houston.

As the Cougars prepared for their third season in the United States Basketball League in 1999, it was clear that something wasn’t right. The team held no training camp. Clyde Austin no-showed a league owner’s meeting and bounced his payroll. The Raleigh Cougars managed to play 13 games, posting a 5-8 record, before USBL Commissioner Daniel Meisenheimer euthanized the club on June 7th, 1999 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

It later emerged the Clyde Austin was running a multi-state pyramid scheme during the time he was involved in the USBL. Serving as a pastor in churches from North Carolina to Nevada, Austin swindled parishioners out of an estimated $16 million between 1996 and 2000. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2004.



Written by Drew Crossley

May 29th, 2017 at 7:36 pm

1984-1985 Fort Lauderdale Sun / South Florida Sun

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United Soccer League (1984-1985)

Born: 1984 – USL founding franchise.
Folded: July 9, 1985

Stadium: Lockhart Stadium (20,000)

Team Colors: Red & Yellow


USL Championships: None


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


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.



June 9, 1984 Fort Lauderdale Sun Roster 



United Soccer League Media Guides

United Soccer League Programs




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.


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

Gary Steelheads Sources

Written by AC

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.


1979-1981 Hartford Hellions


Major Indoor Soccer League (1979-1981)

Born: April 26th, 1979 – MISL expansion franchise.
Moved: May 1981 (Memphis Americans)


Team Colors:

Owner: William E. Chipman

MISL Championships: None


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.

Paul Toomey SoccerThe 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 –

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, the 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”.


Hartford Hellions Memorabilia


Hellions Video



Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs



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