St. Paul Pioneers sign Spicer to one-week contract [with Video]
Image courtesy of Rebecca Allen Can these men mold Spicer into a football player?
Last month, I had the pleasure of practicing with the semi-pro St. Paul Pioneers football squad, defending champions of the coast-to-coast Northern American Football League. The objective: to get me game-ready for some action in their June 5 matchup against the U.P. Arctic Blast.
Now a member of the regionally-located Northern Elite Football League (with a dozen teams spread across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the U.P. of Michigan), the Pioneers are comprised namely of former college ballers who played at varied strata of the sport.
And as I was soon to learn: this level of play isn't a makeup of dudes looking for the low charge of slow pitch softball. Rather, the vast wealth of these guys (ranging the age spectrum from early 20's to early 40's) remain in exceptional shape. As a mirror of their myriad ages and levels of past experience, the Pioneers' shared devotion to football is pieced together with a mosaic of vastly different personal backgrounds and livelihoods.
"We've got some schoolteachers, some personal trainers, guys that sell cars, several guys that have played Arena League pro ball," says d-coordinator Jim Walsh, a former semi-pro player whose own daytime responsibilities come as a federal courts and agencies reporter for the Star Tribune. Thumbing down the roster, Walsh adds:
"We've got Kym Trueblood, our 40-year-old defensive tackle who played at Clemson and used to be in the military. There's Ukee Dozier who started for the Gophers. At quarterback we've got Alex Neist, who played in the Arena League."
Per the Pioneers' new league environs, Walsh adds:
Image courtesy of Rebecca Allen
To compete, these guys are pocketing passion in lieu of paychecks. There's no compensation at the semi-pro level; actually, there's a per player fee of $100 to play. Walsh estimates that it costs about $18,000 annually to keep the squad running, with cash flow derived from the afore-noted fees, combined with ticket sales and numerous fundraising activities.
But at their regular Tuesday night practice, the business of sport is washed out by the entertaining (and at times intense) lexicon of smack talk, a splash of some rah-rah, and an immediately-evident flavor of unity and purpose.
"It's the same type of stuff that's happening through Pop Warner, through high school, through college -- it's football," says d-lineman Guillaume Paek, a former Augsburg player whose been with the Pioneers since their inaugural season of 2002. "One of our assistant coaches in a prison guard, we've got some guys who do construction, some who work in finance. One of the guys I brought over from Augsburg is a day trader at RBC Wealth Management. There are quite a wide range of professions here. It's all about getting a group of guys together from diverse backgrounds, but all with the same common goal in mind."
Image courtesy of Rebecca Allen
"I teach at Anwatin Middle School, teaching Seventh Grade social studies," Paek says. "There are actually a few people on our team that work in the Minneapolis School District. I get razzed by the other teachers: 'Why are you doing this?' I tell them it's my cheap therapy. I get go out and hit something and feel good about it afterwards."