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Stars announce plans to play in upstart indoor league in 2016

Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory Hull, left, displays a New Mexico Stars jersey given to him by team owner Tracy Duran at a news conference announcing the club's return. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory Hull, left, displays a New Mexico Stars jersey given to him by team owner Tracy Duran at a news conference announcing the club’s return. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA ANA PUEBLO – On Feb. 21, New Mexico Stars owner Tracy Duran was clearly downcast while telling the Journal he was shutting down his pro indoor football the team for the 2015 season. It was startling news considering the Stars’ season opener was less than two weeks away.

The abrupt resignation of head coach Dominic Bramante on the day training camp was to commence helped trigger Duran’s decision to take a breath and reorganize for 2016.

Less than eight weeks later, Duran and wife Crystal announced that it’s now full speed ahead for the Stars.

At a news conference Friday afternoon at Tamaya Resort, Tracy Duran showed off the team’s new Eagle mascot, introduced head coach/GM Farasi Norman and revealed that the Stars would join the upstart North American Indoor Football League.

“The community support we’ve received since we shut down has been outrageous,” Duran said of fans and businesses in Rio Rancho and on Albuquerque’s West Side. “When we left (in February), we didn’t leave any bills hanging out there. We had no debts. We left in good standing.

“(Rio Rancho) Mayor (Greggory) Hull has been nothing but great for the New Mexico Stars … nothing but encouraging.”

Norman, meanwhile, is a 1991 West Mesa High alum who competed in football, basketball and track. Among his coaching jobs was running the New Mexico Prep Sports Academy from 2007-11. He also recently coached collegiately at Texas College and Langston.

Although he has no arena ball experience, he said a year’s head start will smooth the process.

“When I heard we’re taking 2015 off I smiled,” he said. “That’ll give me time to understand the indoor game. I have been studying like a freshman in college. If you come to my house, you’ll see 20 DVDs all on my floor.

“… I assured Tracy and Crystal when we take the field we will be going to battle, and I will be well aware how to be successful in the indoor football game. … I’m not going to be outcoached.”

The first-year league, meanwhile, has four teams active this year, according to league executive commissioner Randall Fields – the Iowa Elite, Windy City Ravens, North Texas Crunch and Texas Stealth. In fact, the league title game is scheduled to be played at the Santa Ana Star Center on May 16 in conjunction with the league meetings.

Eleven other franchises, including the Stars, are committed to play next season.

Fields said his goal is to have 30 to 32 teams for 2016 spread over four divisions across the country.

Duran also is confident the Stars can have improved attendance over 2014.

“Granted, last season attendance was a little down at 1,300 on an average, but for the previous seasons always averaged 2,100. This city can support the New Mexico Stars, and we look forward to having the numbers back up again.”

The metro area now has two indoor pro teams, including the Duke City Gladiators, who were born only days after the Stars had shut down. Duke City plays in the Champions Indoor Football league and has its home games at Tingley Coliseum. Attendance through three home games has averaged about 850 per game.

WOMEN: Owning one team apparently isn’t enough for Duran. He also said he has been granted the rights to a women’s pro football franchise in a sister league to the Stars’ NAIFL. The squad will be called the Black Widows and play in the Ladies Indoor Football League. Fields said that team will begin play in 2017 as an expansion franchise.