Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Wheeling WV’ tag

1962-1969 Wheeling Ironmen / Ohio Valley Ironmen

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Wheeling IronmenUnited Football League (1962-1964)
Continental Football League (1965-1969)

Born: 1962
Folded: December 1969

Stadium: Wheeling Island Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Michael Valan, et al. and community stockholders

United Football League Championships: 1962 & 1963
Continental Football League Championships: None


The Wheeling Ironmen were a minor league football team in the coal-mining Ohio Valley region of West Virginia during the 1960’s. For their final two seasons, in 1968 and 1969, the team was known as the Ohio Valley Ironmen.

The team formed in 1962 when a group of 15 local business leaders ponied up $1,000 apiece to enter a club in the United Football League. The UFL featured teams in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio in addition to West Virginia. The Ironmen defeated the Grand Rapids Blazers 30-21 to win the UFL championship in their debut season. They repeated as champs in 1963, knocking off the Toledo Tornadoes 31-21.

The UFL folded in early 1965. The Ironmen joined the start-up Continental Football League in February 1965. The Continental League was more ambitious than the UFL had been. By the end of the Sixties it expanded to a nationwide circuit. Though most competition was still regional – the Ironmen didn’t play against the CoFL’s Texas or California or Pacific Northwest clubs – the team did travel by air to play division opponents from Toronto to Orlando.

Wheeling struggled to recapture their UFL dominance in the Continental League. The Ironmen were 2-12 in 1965 and 0-14 in 1966. The team found its form somewhat by the end of the decade with a 9-3 finish in 1968 and a 6-6 mark in 1969.

The Ironmen’s finances and future were in continuous peril by the mid-60’s. A lengthy profile in a December 1968 issue of Sports Illustrated described the club’s finances. Players could earn a maximum of $200 per game and the team’s total salary cap was $5,000 per week. Wheeling’s total budget for 1967 was $270,000 and the Ironmen finished $90,000 in the red. The team briefly folded in April 1968, only to scrape together enough community support to re-group for two more seasons, which proved to be their best.

Wheeling saw some terrific players during the Ironmen era. Future Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche saw time at quarterback for the Ironmen during their 0-14 campaign in 1966. When the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs met in Super Bowl I in January 1967, both teams has former Ironmen defensive linemen on the roster. Andy Rice suited up for the Chiefs. Bob Brown recorded a sack in Super Bowl I for the Packers. Brown would win two Super Bowls with Green Bay. He earned an NFL Pro Bowl nod in 1972.

Running back John Amos saw limited action with the Ironmen in 1965. After his minor league career petered out in the late 60’s, Amos turned to acting. We starred as family patriarch James Evans Sr. in the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times on CBS from 1974 to 1976.

The Ironmen finally went out of business in late 1969. The Continental Football League itself split apart and folded several months later.


Wheeling Ironmen Memorabilia


In Memoriam

Ironmen President/General Manager (Ironmen ’62-’69) Michael Valan passed away in August 1986 at age 76.

Defensive lineman Bob Brown (Ironmen ’64-’65) passed away on December 10, 1998. The two-time Super Bowl champion was 58.

Quarterback Benjy Dial (Ironmen ’66) died of a heart attack on April 5, 2001 at the age of 57.

Running back Merlin Walter (Ironmen ’66) passed away in May 2015 at age 72. McNeese State Athletics obituary.



Pro Football on a Shoestring“, Harold Peterson, Sports Illustrated, December 16, 1968

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs





1978 West Virginia Wheels

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West Virginia WheelsAll-American Basketball Alliance (1978)

Born: 1977 – AABA founding franchise.
Folded: February 1978

Arena: Wheeling Civic Center

Team Colors:

Owner: David Segal


The West Virginia Wheels are a forgotten minor league entry in the All-American Basketball Alliance, a penniless organization that last only four weeks in the winter of 1978.  The Wheels were one of eight founding AABA clubs, stretching from Rochester, New York in the north to Georgia in the south and west to Indianapolis.

27-year old former Duquesne star Mike Barr, who spent time with the Virginia Squires and Spirits of St. Louis of the ABA and the Kansas City Kings of the NBA, was the team’s player-coach.  David Segal, a Philadelphia-based attorney, was the nominal owner of the Wheels and also the President of the fledgling league.

The Wheels made their debut on January 11, 1978 by defeating the Kentucky Stallions 109-107 at the Wheeling Civic Center.  It quickly became apparent that the AABA organizers had no money and no clue what they were doing.  Only one owner – Dick Hill of the Rochester Zeniths – actually put up the $25,000 franchise fee.  Hill reportedly had to buy uniforms for all eight teams in the league as well.  Players – who were supposed to earn $100 per game – went unpaid throughout the league.

The Wheels managed to play 11 games during January 1978, including four home dates in Wheeling.  Three consecutive late January home game were cancelled when the Wheels’ scheduled opponents couldn’t afford to travel to Wheeling.  On January 31, 1978 the Wheels played what would be their final game, a 119-113 road victory over the Carolina Lightning in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The AABA folded the following week after less than a month of operation.  The Wheels’ final record was 3-8.



All-American Basketball Alliance Programs



1992-1996 Wheeling Thunderbirds

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Wheeling ThunderbirdsEast Coast Hockey League (1992-1996)

Born: 1992 – The Winston-Salem Thunderbirds relocate to Wheeling.
Died: 1996 – Re-branded as the Wheeling Nailers.

Arena: Wheeling Civic Center (5,608)

Team Colors: White, Red & Black

Owner: Ed Broyhill et al.


The Wheeling Thunderbirds were a low-level minor league hockey franchise in the East Coast Hockey League from 1992 to 1996.  The franchise still exists today and has been known as the Wheeling Nailers since a 1996 re-branding. According to the Nailers wikipedia entry, the name change came about after the Thunderbirds ran into a trademark dispute with the Seattle Thunderbirds, a junior team in the Western Hockey League.

The origins of the club date all the way back to 1981, when the team began play in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the Carolina Thunderbirds of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League.  Thunderbirds owner Ed Broyhill moved the team to Wheeling in the spring/summer of 1992.

Fourteen players who suited up for the Thunderbirds between 1992 and 1996 later made it to the NHL.  Most only stayed up for a handful of games.  The most notable exception is goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who posted a record of 20-10-2 as a first year pro for the Thunderbirds in the winter of 1995-96.  Vokoun came up to the NHL with the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998-99 and forged a 15-year (and counting) NHL career with Nashville, Florida, Washington and Pittsburgh. Vokoun was selected to play in the 2004 and 2008 NHL All-Star games.

Headed in other direction on the NHL ladder was center Ron Wilson, an NHL regular from 1979 to 1994, primarily with the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues.  Wilson finished his career with the Thunderbirds at age 39 during the 1995-96 season, appearing in 46 games for Wheeling.


==Wheeling Thunderbirds Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other


1992-93 12/31/1992 vs. Toledo Storm ?? Program Game Notes


1995-96 11/22/1995 @ Johnstown Chiefs W 5-3 Program


==Key Players==

  • Tomas Vokoun
  • Ron Wilson



East Coast Hockey League Media Guides

East Coast Hockey League Programs

Wheeling Thunderbirds All-Time Roster on



Written by AC

April 3rd, 2013 at 2:37 am


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