BY JEFF PEEK
TRAVERSE CITY -- The Boys of Summer may be getting some company.
Former Eastern Michigan University football player Daniel Skibbe has announced the formation of a semi-professional football team in Traverse City that he hopes will begin play in the summer of 2009.
The Traverse City Wolves would be the second minor-league sports team to call Traverse City home, following in the footsteps of the TC Beach Bums independent league baseball team, which opened play in May 2006 at Wuerfel Park.
"This is a great football community," said Skibbe, who moved from Detroit five years ago and coached for two seasons under Josh Merchant at Elk Rapids. "When I came up here I realized that northern Michigan not only has a lot of talented players, but disciplined ones, too.
"You don't get to play football after high school unless you're gifted and go on to college," he said. "So this league is for guys who play for the love of the game."
Skibbe, 33, said he hopes the Wolves can play their home games at either Thirlby Field or Wuerfel Park, although he understands the hurdles he would face at both locations.
Thirlby Field does not have locker rooms or permanent bathrooms, and the field itself is already used by three high school teams -- TC Central, West and St. Francis. And Wuerfel Park is already a busy place in the summer, with the Beach Bums playing games there May through Labor Day weekend.
That's why Leslye Wuerfel, general manager and chief financial officer for the Beach Bums, said the Wolves won't be playing their games there.
"During the baseball season, we're a baseball facility," Wuerfel said Wednesday.
Thirlby Field appears to be a better fit. Skibbe said the Wolves would be willing to donate "10 percent of our gate" to Traverse City Area Public Schools and the "Fourth and Goal" organization to help complete the planned upgrades at Thirlby.
"Thirlby Field is a great venue for football," Skibbe said. "We think it would be a great for us."
Gary Derrigan, TCAPS executive director of operations, said he told Skibbe that TCAPS would be interested in hosting Wolves games, but only after artificial turf is installed there.
Tim Brick, co-chairman of Fourth and Goal, said turf could become a reality within two years.
"It's definitely possible," Brick said. "It all depends on fund raising."
The Wolves would play in the North American Football League, which includes 120 teams in the United States and Canada.
Players are age 18-40, with 45-50 players on each team's active roster. Skibbe said the Wolves would typically practice 2-3 nights per week, with games set for Saturdays or Sundays.
Logistically, Traverse City would likely play in the NAFL's Central Lakes Division. The division currently includes the Genesee County Patriots (Flint), Michigan Admirals (Flint), Detroit Diesels, London (Ont.) Silverbacks and Tri-City Titans (Kitchener, Ont.).
Skibbe was offensive coordinator for Genesse County in 2006.
The NAFL's 2007 season is just finishing up, with the Kansas City Eagles and Dallas Diesel set to square off in the championship game Saturday at 5 p.m. in Las Vegas.
Skibbe said he plans to hold a "combine" in late March or early April. Traverse City won't play games until 2009, he said, "so we can take 2008 to make ourselves noticeable."
Skibbe said the nickname "Wolves" and the team's colors of maroon and gold were chosen because they are different from any area high schools.
He said his dream is to broadcast games on the radio, perhaps on WNMC so students can gain work experience, and maybe even televise some.
"This is a great community that takes care of its own," Skibbe said. "That's one of the reasons we moved here."
A Wolves' Web site -- www.tcwolves.com -- is under construction and should be available by Monday, Skibbe said. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the North American Football League, log onto www.nafl.org.