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Lockport Rage enters comfort zone with home turf After faltering start, new semi-pro team is starting to settle in

Many men and women got married on 7/7 /07 last weekend, with hopes that nothing but good karma would be in store for them by virtue of having their weddings on what was deemed the luckiest day of the year.

All those sevens didn't bring any good fortune on the field to the Lockport Rage, who made their July 7 semi-professional football debut in the New York Amateur Football League.

The team suffered a 24-7 loss to last year's league runner-up, Lyndonville, in Middleport. The game stayed competitive until the Tigers pulled away with the help of a 21-7 fourth-quarter against a Lockport outfit that was forced into playing both ways due to in-game injuries.

The fact the Rage officially embarked on their first season of play with the knowledge that the game played at Roy-Hart High School was truly a road game -- instead of a home one -- is proof that luck is just as important as who you know in starting up an organization.

Both factors are the biggest reasons the Rage officially will be Lockport's football team more than in name only.

NYAFL and government officials in Lockport and Buffalo banded together to mount a successful late fourth-quarter comeback last month, after the Rage's hopes of playing home games in Medina were dashed by that village's School Board, which voted against letting the Rage use Vets Park -- a lighted facility with artificial turf.

The Rage hosted their home opener Saturday night against the Buffalo Gladiators at Outwater Park's Exchange Field.

The Vets Park dilemma surfaced in part because the team had failed to secure an agreement to use Outwater Park during its first seven months of operation. Miscommunication -- a byproduct of the hysteria that tends to surround a first-year semi-pro team run by a bunch of rookies -- hindered the team's ability to contact the right people about using the field.

"Whether we win every game or lose every game," said Will Stiles, a Rage co-founder and the team's defensive coordinator, the season will still be a success "because we brought football back into Lockport."

"No matter what happens, football is back," Stiles said. "It's a football town. It's what the community needed. It helps all of the demographics of the city.

"Trying to be politically correct, we learned to talk to the right people to get things done, whether it's talking to heads of state, media, spreading the word. If you get enough backing and support you can get things done. We have a team and we're in Lockport. That's the biggest thing."

When the Rage learned that they wouldn't be allowed to use Vets Park a month ago, it notified league Commissioner Terras Kulyk, a former member of the Buffalo Gladiators. Kulyk asked Gladiators owner and Lockport native John Augustine if there would be any way for Buffalo to find a venue in its home city so that the Rage could use Outwater Park, where the Gladiators played last season and had struck an agreement with Lockport Little Loop Football to use again this year as a home field.

It didn't turn out to be as big a problem for the Gladiators as it first seemed.

Just before the Rage found themselves scrambling, again, Augustine had been notified by Buffalo Common Council Member Brian Davis the Gladiators had received permission to use Johnny B. Wiley Stadium, on the site of the former War Memorial Stadium. Since the president for Lockport Little Loop Football, Steve Calhoun, plays on the Gladiators, all the parties necessary to strike a last-minute deal for the Rage were in place.

Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker and the Common Council, which gave Calhoun the power to broker the deal with the Rage, agreed to pay the electric bill when the Rage plays at home so it could play at night. The team pays Lockport Little Loop $600 per game to use the field, a fee that also covers the cost of in-game security.

"Without John Augustine, this wouldn't have happened," Stiles said. "He was directing us the right way to go. John's one of our key components toward getting stuff done. He's basically like a father figure for our team, telling us who to contact, telling us the infrastructure of the whole league."

"This is the best thing that could happen for everybody because we're a Buffalo team and we're finally playing in Buffalo," said Augustine, adding Davis deserved most of the credit. "Everything fell into place. Brian Davis helped us tremendously, and because they gave us a field, it opened up [dates in] Lockport for the Rage."

The Rage foundered in finding a home venue during the initial organization process that started in November. In April, Lockport Councilman John Lombardi III said it would be nice to have a hometown team but added if the Rage "were smart, they would have talked to us a month ago," during the team's attempts to secure the use of Outwater Park's Executive Field.

At the time, the Gladiators had already secured permission to use the facility for home games. While a source said the team had informal talks with the city and Little Loop brass last January about using Outwater Park, apparently something was lost in translation as the team apparently was surprised by Lombardi's comments in The Buffalo News last spring.

"It's a new organization; there's a lot of chaos," Calhoun said. "The reason they were running into brick walls was there were miscommunications, or they were going through the wrong channels. . . . They weren't contacting anybody really . . . approaching people in the right way."

"We've been walking through the process of trying to find the right people," said Joe Speer, a co-founder serving as the team's vice president, general manager and emergency tight end/wide receiver. "I probably should have written a letter of intent. . . . It's all part of the growing pains of being the new team, but we're very happy with the results of everything."

Playing games in Lockport is important to the viability of the not-for-profit team's long-term success. It simply wouldn't make sense for the Lockport Rage to play home games in Medina, Middleport (where the team had also thought about playing) or Newfane while trying to develop a fan base. It wouldn't make sense holding fundraisers in Lockport to help cover the costs of playing games in another community.

While the Gladiators made playing games 45 minutes away from Buffalo work, they had a tradition of success on their side along with a Lockport native, Augustine, running the show.

He tapped into this city's talent pool in crafting the Gladiators' championship roster. They're the defending NYAFL champs and have won the title five times.

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Lockport Rage schedule

Saturday: Monroe County Sting*

July 28: Troy Fighting Irish*

Aug. 4: Southern Tier Diesel

Aug. 18: Buffalo Gladiators

Aug. 25: Lyndonville Tigers*

Sept. 8: Glove City Colonials

Sept. 15: CNY Express

Sept. 29: Mohawk Valley Vikings*

*All home games start at 7:30 p.m. at Outwater Park's Exchange Field

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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