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Arena football may be coming to Niagara County

NIAGARA FALLS - For Niagara County football fans who don't want to drive to Orchard Park or want a less expensive alternative to watch live professional football, a new option may soon be coming your way.

Plans are in the works to bring arena football to Niagara Falls and possibly Lockport.

Gladiator Sports and Entertainment met with the Niagara Falls City Council recently to detail its plans to bring professional indoor football to the Hyde Park Arena in Niagara Falls. Co-owner Bob Guenther said plans are for a team to be in place in Niagara Falls by 2017.

The league has invited local football players to team  tryouts.

The team would not compete in the Arena Football League, the most prominent indoor professional football league, which has teams in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Guenther said Gladiator has operated a professional indoor football team, the Buffalo Lightning, for the past four years and the Buffalo Gladiators semi-pro outdoor team for 25 years.

"The Buffalo Gladiators is the impetus for why we are in football today," said Guenther. "The two work hand-in-hand."

Guenther served as offensive coordinator for the minor-pro Gladiators, which co-partner John Augustine quarterbacked for 20 years. During that span Augustine was named league MVP eight times and the Gladiators won multiple championships. The Gladiators were named "Minor-Pro Team of the Decade" and "Team of the Turn of the Century."

Augustine played European professional football and was All-America at Buffalo State College. He holds a number of passing records in the minor-pro league. He is now a business teacher and coach at Lafayette High School.

Guenther, also a former quarterback and coach in high school,  is the co-owner of Super Price Shoppers on Genesee Street, Buffalo.

Arena football is commonly played on artificial turf placed on the concrete of ice arenas. The smaller fields, half the size of a regulation professional field, makes for a higher-scoring game with no punting allowed.

Augustine said there are three offensive players allowed to be in motion, rather than one. And rather than kicking the ball on fourth downs, the team has to go for the touchdown or try for a field goal. He said 50-point games are not uncommon.

Augustine was a quarterback for the Lockport Invaders, a  minor semi-pro team, during the early 1990s. He said through that experience both he and Guenther made Lockport connections with Miles Patterson and John Lombardi. He said they are working with them to bring a team to Lockport.

"We don't have a definite agreement yet. There's a couple locations there," Augustine said of Lockport.

He said the former ice arena at the Kenan Center and the new Cornerstone Arena, which has two ice arenas, would be likely contenders.

Gladiator Sports and Entertainment also brings celebrities, including wrestlers and former Buffalo Bills players, to games.

The Buffalo Lightning played its home games in 2016 at Cattaraugus Community Center in Irving. Augustine said most Buffalo Lightning home games were sell-outs in an arena that has about 500 seats. The team is looking at larger sites that could accommodate 1,000 to 1,500 spectators. Guenther said the Buffalo team is moving to the arena at Buffalo River Works.

With the move, plans are to change the name of the Buffalo Lightning.  To that end, there will be contests to name the team and create a new team logo.

Guenther asked the Niagara Falls City Council for $45,000 in financial  support toward the artificial turf and equipment. The turf alone can cost as much as $75,000 and helmets run about  $250 apiece.

"We put a ton of money into the Buffalo team and are looking for a little help to bring a team to Niagara Falls," Augustine said after the meeting.

The Council has not approved funding for the venture. Also, an agreement has not been negotiated to lease Hyde Park Arena from the city.

Guenther said arena football would fill a hole in programming at Hyde Park Arena after April when there's nothing going on.

"We can kind of fill a spot there and create some excitement and entertainment," Guenther told the Council.

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