Ghostriders, WIFL ride off into the deep, dark night
By Ken Jackson
News-Gazette Staff Writer
The Osceola Ghostriders are now just that; spirits who rode into town, stirred things up a bit, and left on the Harley-Davidsons they rode in on.
The indoor football team is now defunct. And, with the remaining three members of the World Indoor Football League finding or looking for greener pastures, the league may also be a past-tense product.
The WIFL is on Oceanic Flight 815, said Dan Ryan, who left his post as Director of Communications during the last month. We set some standards as a league, and I hope thats what were remembered for instead of being another one-and-done operation.
We played every game, and had game releases done after each one. And, we handled the worst crisis possible (the death of the Daytona Beach Thunders Javon Camon during a game) to the best of our ability.
Within the last week, all WIFL information was removed from the league Web site (wifl.us), replaced with a simple message: Sorry, there is nothing here
This marks the second Osceola County professional sports franchise to cease operations in 2007. On Jan. 4, the Florida Seals of the Southern Professional Hockey League were evicted from the Silver Spurs Arena for failing to meet financial obligations. The club folded the next day.
According to Dave Doebler, the Ghostriders co-owner, things began to crumble for the WIFL soon after the Augusta Spartans beat the Columbus, Ga., Lions, 63-60 in the Indoor Bowl on June 30.
In August, the WIFL welcomed the Tallahassee Titans from the American Indoor Football Association. But, shortly after it was realized the Titans were under-funded, the Georgia teams began shopping themselves around for a better deal.
At the same time, Doebler said his ownership group proposed a deal to buy Daytona Beachs team, but when that fell through, Thunder brass embarked on a campaign to join
Three weeks ago, the two Georgia teams joined the AIFA, which was the last straw for Doebler, president of Leisure Bay Industries, an Orlando pool and spa builder.
We decided to retire from indoor football. Economic conditions in the housing industry have hurt us financially, said Doebler, who bought the team along with business partner Don Czech prior to the 2006 season. But we had a good time doing it, and became friends with many coaches and players. Some of them work for us now.
Doebler said a substandard marketing push cost the Ghostriders dearly at the turnstiles. While nearly 2,000 fans turned out for the season opener, that number dwindled into the hundreds as the season went on. Osceola posted a 6-8 record.
We didnt get the turnout wed hoped in the second year, so we didnt think we were in a position to subsidize the team for a third year, he said. But from the players standpoint, we thought it was a successful season. Everyone got paid on time and had current insurance.
Doebler said the WIFLs problems stemmed from a lack of cohesion among the members.
We wanted more teams, and we thought it was possible if everyone committed 100 percent to next year, he said. I think there was a lack of focus that hurt that.
Ryan said that from an administrative and a game-day operations standpoint, the Ghostriders were the model franchise for the minor-league football level.
I respect Osceolas ownership group. They were the most secure franchise in the league, despite their market, he said.
Coach Marquette Smith, who completed his third year of service to the area he coached the failed 2005 Kissimmee Kreatures effort in the National Indoor Football League said he never received any formal word of the shutdown. He saw it coming, following it on minor-league message board posts.
I assumed thered be no 2008 season, it was a no-brainer after a while, he said. It may be a good thing, to give me a chance to move on. I coached for three years and we im-proved every year.
Osceola Heritage Park General Manager Robb Larson said that teams void opens up key weekend dates for the arena in the spring.
Well continue to solicit other quality entertainment options to bring to the community, he said.