this will be updated as needed during championship week for turfcat fans
The Heart of a Turfcat
AUSTIN, Texas - Austin Turfcats defensive lineman Ryan Childress never gives up. No matter how many times he's been told no, if he wants something, his determination will not waver. He proved that this season by going to every Turfcats practice and home game despite never making the 23-man roster.
On July 11, Ryan became the Turfcats' version of Rudy when he made his debut into the SIFL in the last game of the 2009 regular season. Childress helped the Turfcats close out their regular season with a 60-28 win over the Texas Hurricanes.
"I always wanted to play professional football," Childress said. "That was my dream and now I've had the opportunity to work hard and make it a reality. Being part of game felt great and I got to help the Turfcats earn a win on their way to the championship."
"His determination and loyalty motivate the rest of team," said Turfcats head coach Chris Duliban. "He makes everyone remember that you better come to practice ready to fight for your spot and produce during the game because there are guys working hard in the wings trying to take your position."
The Turfcats (10-2) and the Louisiana Swashbucklers (11-1) face off Monday in the inaugural SIFL President's Cup championship game. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. from the Smuggler's Den at the Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, La. Tickets will be available at the ticket booth on game day. For ticket prices visit the Swashbucklers website at http://www.labucs.com.
For information on riding the Turfcats party bus to the game, contact Jack Dixon at (866) 969-TCAT (8228.) or via email at [email protected] no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. If you are unable to make it to the game you can watch it live at http://www.southernifl.com or follow live updates on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/austinturfcats.
July 24, 2009
AUSTIN, Texas - The Austin Turfcats (10-2) will have their last practice of the season Saturday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at SoccerZone South. Media is invited to attend and interview the coaches and players. Fans are also encouraged to attend and give the Turfcats a send-off to the President's Cup.
SoccerZone South is the official indoor practice facility of the Turfcats. It is located in South Austin at 9501 Manchaca Road. Contact SoccerZone South by phone at (512) 280-2244 or via email at [email protected].
The Turfcats travel to Lake Charles, La. on Monday to take on the Louisiana Swashbucklers in the inaugural SIFL President's Cup championship game. Kickoff is at 6:30 from the Smuggler's Den at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Tickets will be available at the ticket booth on game day. For ticket prices visit the Swashbucklers website at http://www.labucs.com.
A live broadcast of the game will be available on http://www.southernifl.com and, as always, live updates will be posted on the Turfcats homepage at http://www.turfcats.com and Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/austinturfcats.
For fans of Austin's newest team, low-rent brings high excitement
By Kevin Robbins
Saturday, July 25, 2009
An hour before the semifinal game of the Southern Indoor Football League championship, a man wearing an enormous top hat and Mardi Gras beads began to perspire in his wig. He was joined under an awning that resembled the Texas flag by other fans of the first-year Austin Turfcats, including a systems engineer for a cable company who'd invested 90 minutes of his afternoon to the application of greasepaint on his face: black for the whiskers, with green, yellow and white around the eyes.
Matt Cross, known as "Tophat," witnessed the scene develop Saturday outside the Travis County Exposition Center through a pair of sunglasses tinted green. He watched Jason Bennett the face-painted "Topcat" do an interview. He patronized a beverage cooler in the bed of a towering 4-by-4 parked a few steps from the arena doors. Cross made room for two women loading a propane grill for hotdogs injected with chili and cheese. He announced: "We feed off the players. The players feed off us."
And then it was time to raise havoc.
The fans left their chairs, coolers and grill unattended and set out for the game. They entered the arena and found their seats borrowed banquet chairs aligned on wood risers on the front row. The visiting Acadiana Mudbugs stretched on the far end of the 50-yard field, laid over a floor that doubles every spring as the dirt ring for the Star of Texas Rodeo. The PA announcer said over the loudspeakers that the referees for the game could not locate their mics.
Steve Litaker, who goes by "Diablo" in Turfcats circles, wore his long ponytail in three ties, and his team-sanctioned Turfcat jersey hung untucked over denim shorts. Litaker also maintains a Turfcats blog. He has followed the team since its formation last year. He had helped to set up the banquet chairs before the 6:30 p.m. game. For that and other benevolent gestures related to the team of professional players, Diablo was invited to the field for the national anthem.
"They're short (on) interns," Litaker said, explaining his assistance.
"My husband lives this," sighed his wife, Kathy.
The Litakers, who tailgated this season with Tophat, Topcat and about a dozen other stalwarts, were fans of the fast, pass-happy arena game long before the Turfcats came to Austin in their gold and green uniforms and mismatched shoes. The couple followed the Rockers and the Wranglers, a short-lived Arena Football League team, earlier in the decade.
The disbandment of the Wranglers left a void in their weekends. The Turfcats filled it. The team lost its first game to the Acadiana MudBugs but rallied to win the next five, including a 56-53 upset of the Louisiana Swashbucklers, considered the best team in the new league.
The Turfcats endured some shaky moments in their rookie season. The start of their first home game was delayed 36 minutes because a car show at the exposition center fouled parking. The balls arrived late. One of the goalposts was still being assembled during pregame drills.
Later in the season, a car collided with a transformer on nearby Decker Lane. The arena went dark for 22 minutes.
Turfcats general manager Ronald Oswalt kept smiling through every bump. The convivial 44-year-old Mississippian never promised fans extravagance or perfection. "The key is: I'm a fan first," he said. "And I want them to have the greatest experience possible."
What's possible in the SIFL, which began with seven teams and finished with five, differs a great deal from what's possible in the NFL or even the top tier of the NCAA. The University of Texas, for example, has a dressing room with flat-screen televisions and a season-ticket base of more than 80,000. The Turfcats have a space near the loading area of the arena and an average attendance of just more than 2,000.
The team pays its 23 players about $225 a game. Naturally, the players who range in age from early 20s to late 30s maintain other careers. Football is a supplemental job, a passion that happens to pay.
"If we weren't doing this, we'd be playing flag football," said Darren Brown, the Turfcats kicker.
Brown is 29, a graduate of Wofford, where he kicked field goals and extra points, and the University of Texas law school. The North Carolinian maintains a general law practice in Austin and owns a sports arena and soccer complex.
Other Turfcats work for the IRS, the State of Texas and a beer distributor.
"Those guys come in handy," Oswalt, the general manager, said of the beer-truck drivers. "They can put my schedules everywhere."
Oswalt is far from bashful about promoting his Turfcats. He said he buys about 75 official league balls for every game, knowing most will end up in the seats, where fans can keep them. The balls leave the arena and poof! they instantly become conversation pieces and advertising on the streets.
His budget is but a thread on a shoestring. He employs three people full-time: a media-relations specialist and two coaches, head coach Chris Duliban and offensive coordinator Kerry Cash. Both, not coincidentally, are former Longhorns players.
With an inexpensive venue (the Wranglers played in the expensive-to-rent Erwin Center) and a modest payroll, Oswalt can offer single-game tickets in the range of $5 to $20. Season tickets, which account for abut 30 percent of the seats sold for 2010, range from $99 for a family of four in the balcony seats to $250 on the field.
Oswalt unabashedly courts any and all sponsors. "We're the NASCAR of football," he said.
Even a piece of the action has a price at a Turfcats game. At the playoff game Saturday, a booming "That's an Adfirmative-dot-com first down!" accompanied each 10-yard progression by the Turfcats.
"Everything's for sale," Oswalt said.
The Turfcats and the Mudbugs went to overtime. Austin scored a touchdown on its first possession; the visiting team's drive ended with an incomplete pass and, to Austin fans, a complete success for the Turfcats.
"We get attached to the guys," said Erinn Hughes, one of the tailgaters.
"Their girlfriends. Their mothers. Their kids."
Final score: Austin 56, Acadiana 49.
A team-record crowd of more than 3,800 watched the Turfcats win their 10th game against two losses. The team will travel to Lake Charles, La., to play Monday night for the President's Cup. They'll face a rematch with the Louisiana Swashbucklers, whose only loss in a dozen games this season was to the Turfcats.
As much as they would like to see their Turfcats win, the tailgaters seem happy enough that the team has made it this far. They hope the 10-2 season is something to build on for the players and coaches, for team management, for the community.
The semifinal game over, the tailgaters rendezvoused back below the Texas flag. Flames licked the hotdogs on the grill. Cooler lids groaned with every fetched beer.
Some of the players came out for a late supper. They mingled with the fans. They stayed until after 1:00.
"That's what I like about arena football," said Hughes. "It's so personal."
[email protected]; 445-3602
Pictures by Larry Kolvoord
http://www.statesman.com/sports/content ... fcats.html
**Turfcat fans Matt Cross, right, and Jason Bennett attend all the games in full festive attire.
**Fan Steve 'Diablo' Litaker of Austin watches the SIFL semifinal at the Travis County Expo Center.
**Turfcats player Shon Mitchell banters with a fan during warmups.