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Covering Arena Football a Life Changer for Writer/Broadcaster

by Fran Stuchbury
February 27, 2018 - Arena Football League (AFL)

It all started the day I graduated in June of 1998, at the College of Staten Island when I got my Bachelor's Degree in Communications Media Studies. When I returned home that night after celebrating I checked my answering machine and found I had been turned down for a job I applied for at Phoenix Communications in New Jersey. I would have worked as a sports highlights logger, something I did when I interned at ABC a year before. I was very down because getting my degree was my accomplishment, but I felt getting a job in my field was even more important.

That summer I was continuing to do a weekly sports talk radio show for my college radio station WSIA. In July I got an email from Ken Gill telling me about a new fan site on Arena Football called "ArenaFan" so I decided to check it out and saw they had a mailing list. I joined it and was soon receiving emails from Arena Football fans all over the country talking about the sport.

I was a huge fan of Arena Football; I watched its first every game in June of 1986 when I was 12 and was hooked and watched as many games on television as I could. I was staying up at late hours of the night to watch games on tape delay and loved seeing the ArenaBowl championship game every year.

Earlier that year, on January 25th I went to Madison Square Garden to cover a New York CityHawks Super Bowl XXXII party for my college newspaper "The Banner." I had a great time interacting with CityHawks head coach Chuck Shelton and players that included quarterback Mike Perez.

Back in 1998 the Arena Football League had 14 teams. The New York CityHawks played in a three-team Eastern Division with the Albany Firebirds and New Jersey Red Dogs.

I covered the CityHawks for the 1998 season for my college radio station WSIA. I went to all seven home games that season at Madison Square Garden and one road game in New Jersey against the Red Dogs. The CityHawks finished the season 3-11.

On the ArenaFan email list I started talking to former player Pete Porcelli, a former OL/DL who played seven years in the AFL from 1990 to 1996 with four different teams: the Albany Firebirds, Las Vegas Sting, Connecticut Coyotes and Anaheim Piranhas.

ARENAZONE

A few months prior, WSIA started streaming over the internet; I had no idea how that worked. I asked Pete if he would like to come on my sports show to talk about Arena Football. He said he would love to.

The interview went pretty well and Pete told me a show on Arena Football could be successful. After the interview a guy named Buddy Oakes called in from Nashville and told me it was great having Pete on the show and he hoped to hear more shows on Arena Football.

Later on the ArenaFan mailing list, I found out fans across the country were listening to the interview, so I was thrilled and decided to do a weekly show on Arena Football.

I came up with the name "ArenaZone" and did a couple of shows including an interview with league founder Jim Foster talking about the history of the sport.

I interviewed one New York CityHawks player, defensive specialist and kick returner Ron Carpenter. He went on to win a Super Bowl XXXIV championship with the St. Louis Rams and an XFL Championship in 2001 with the Los Angeles Xtreme

Things were going fine until around mid-August, one night after I completed an interview with Neal Cook who ran the Nashville Kats fan site. Members of my sports department decided to attack me on the air for covering Arena Football, and they wanted me to cut back from one hour of covering the sport to 30 minutes. We were doing three hours of sports so I didn't think one hour of Arena Football was bad since people were listening and responding compared to when we did our regular sports nobody would ever call in.

I was embarrassed and even thought about quitting the station, but I realized if I did that they would have won. So I decided to agree to cut the show to 30 minutes. In two weeks ArenaBowl XII was going to take place. I needed an impact guest to get the fans across the country to listen in so I got league founder Jim Foster on again.

That week on the mailing list I posted about me being attacked on the air for covering Arena Football. The fans on the list wanted to do everything they could to support the show.

When Jim Foster called in, he told me he could only talk for 10 minutes so I was bummed, but the Arena Football fans flooded me with questions during the interview and Foster was enjoying the interview so much it went on for 45 minutes. The one thing about league founder Jim Foster was he loved to talk about Arena Football and loved all questions that were being asked.

When the interview was about to end I told Foster I was on a mission to prove an Arena Football radio show could work and tonight I proved that. He referred to me as a pioneer and told me he appreciated what I was doing. That compliment meant the world to me.

My friend Ferdinand Cesarano from Queens, NY was taping the interview and transcribed it so fans on the mailing list were able to see all of Jim Foster's comments.

What happened after the interview shocked me. Rory Webb from Tampa Bay called to tell me how great the interview was and wanted me to cover ArenaBowl XII in Tampa Bay the following week. Other fans also wanted me to cover the game and do a post-game show.

Rory went even further telling me one of his friends owned a resort in St. Petersburg and would be more than happy for me to stay there for free.

My parents paid for my plane ticket for a graduation present so I went to Tampa Bay to cover ArenaBowl XII. I felt a little like a celebrity, when I got off the plane Rory had a "Fran ArenaBowl" sign and picked me up from the airport.

He was an awesome host, showing me a lot of the town and was thrilled to have me giving Arena Football the coverage it deserved. The Orlando Predators won ArenaBowl XII defeating the Tampa Bay Storm 62-31. Later that night I called in and did a post-game show from my hotel room recapping the game.

I decided to take another class that fall so I could still be involved with WSIA and that turned out to be a great decision.

I set up an interview with St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. This was his first season with the team and I wanted to interview him because he played with the Iowa Barnstormers of the AFL. I wanted to talk about him making it to the NFL. I appreciated the St. Louis Rams for working with me to get that interview with him.

I had pneumonia but I conducted the interview anyway because I didn't want to disappoint fans, who wanted to hear him. The interview was outstanding; I introduced him as the future starting quarterback of the St. Louis Rams. Kurt was happy to play Arena Football and talked very highly of the league. After the interview a fan from Iowa called in stating that he loved that I had Warner on.

A year later Warner was named NFL and Super Bowl MVP. It was thrilled to tell people I interviewed him before he became a star. Last year in 2017 Kurt Warner was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I listened to his speech, and it was very inspiring!

THE SPORTS NETWORK

When I was covering ArenaBowl XII in Tampa Bay I met the CEO of the Dick Butkus Football Network, Bob Smith. He already knew me pretty well because he was a lurker on the ArenaFan email list, and read the transcript I did with Jim Foster. He was impressed with my passion for Arena Football and asked me if I wanted to write for his site, which I ended up doing.

I told Bob I was having a hard time finding a sports job. He helped me and gave me a couple of leads. One day he told me to try "The Sports Network" in Pennsylvania. I sent my resume and went up for an interview. In April of 1999, I went up for a second interview and was offered a job that I accepted. They told me Bob Smith's reference helped me get the position: another example of how networking is so important.

I was thrilled; I had been setting up and delivering audio visual equipment for eight bucks an hour at my college. I was running out of money and was a month away from having to move back home. Landing a job in sports was a dream come true that I worked so hard to make happen!

I ended up working with The Sports Network as The Assistant Content Coordinator for over 16 years until it was bought out by a competitor, Stats Inc., from Chicago.

Not only did my sports career launch, I continued covering Arena Football as well, going on to cover five more ArenaBowls in person in Albany, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Las Vegas and New Orleans. I covered the Philadelphia Soul for OurSports Central where I did several interviews including Soul owner Bon Jovi and team president Ron Jaworski.

I relaunched my AFL radio show ArenaZone from 2002 to 2008 for ArenaFan that I really enjoyed doing!

To sum things up, covering Arena Football's 1998 season had a huge impact on my life. I ended up doing two things I loved: working in sports and broadcasting. I also made a lot of good friends across the country.

If I got that job with Phoenix Communications I would have never continued doing my sports talk show for WSIA during the summer, which would have never led me to create my show "ArenaZone," writing for OurSports Central and my job with The Sports Network.

I learned in life things happen for reason. Instead of being disappointed when I didn't get a job I kept moving forward working hard to get into the sports industry.

My freshman year in college I was a business major but wasn't enjoying the classes I was taking so my sophomore year I switched to communications because I wanted a sports job. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I could have stayed in business and ended up with a career I would not have liked.

In my favorite sports movie "Rudy," the main character's dream was to play for Notre Dame and he made it happen. My dream was to get a job in sports and I did.

If you want to achieve anything in life and you work hard enough at it, it will happen. I'm proof of that.





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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.


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