The Duke City Gladiators’ whirlwind inaugural season has ended, with the organization feeling a sense of pride and also the anguish that comes from narrowly missing the playoffs in the Champions Indoor Football league.
Duke City’s season came to a halt a week earlier than scheduled when its finale against the Salina Bombers was canceled. They were to meet Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center, but the financially strapped Bombers folded May 28.
That lost home date, though, didn’t dampen the spirit of Gladiators GM/managing general partner Matt Caward during a news conference at Hotel Cascada on Wednesday.
Caward, the driving force in creating the franchise in a matter of weeks in February, marvels over his team’s 7-4 record (5-4 CIF) despite a late start and that the Gladiators had a steadily growing fan base. He said the team averaged about 1,000 a game in five dates at Tingley Coliseum and topped out at 1,200 for the April 26 home finale against the Texas Stealth.
“We’re very happy with the product we’ve been able to put together in a very short amount of time,” Caward said. “We’re here to stay.
“Our Facebook, our social media has been off the charts. We’ve grown to over 5,000 fans on our Facebook page. It grows every day.”
He also said the team is strong financially.
“We expected this first season, since we jumped into it so quickly, not to be profitable,” Caward said. “A sound business plan would be three to five years before you make money. So we’re not naive thinking we’re going to turn a profit right away. But we were successful in that we had enough money raised to cover our first season’s expenses.
“I think we’ve been successful in putting ourselves out in the public eye in a short amount of time. We plan to capitalize on that and do more this offseason.”
On the field, the Gladiators were at a scheduling disadvantage because of their late arrival. By the time Duke City held its first practice March 7, some league teams had already played twice.
Also, the Gladiators had only nine CIF games scheduled, whereas the other eight league members had 12. In addition, since Tingley was already booked for May and June, the Gladiators played four straight road games down the stretch, including two only four days apart last week.
Still, the Gladiators remained in the playoff hunt until their 54-49 loss to the Texas Revolution on May 29.
“The last game was bittersweet because I thought we had it,” coach Dominic Bramante said. “The sting of the season is very much alive and it will take time to get over it. But I can tell you this, no one in the league expected Duke City to be (competitive). And that’s a credit to the players.”
Dodge City Law owner/GM Ricky Bertz, head of the CIF Executive Committee, wasn’t totally caught off guard.
“I think what the Gladiators accomplished off the field is what was surprising. … Most teams have months to prepare, and they had literally weeks. Coach Bramante and his success wasn’t as surprising given his past experience and track record … but still bringing everything together so fast was pretty impressive.”
Bramante, who coached the New Mexico Stars to the Lone Star Football League title game in 2014, said he’s going to relax and recharge.
“This was a very stressful season,” he said. “The constant change. When you’re an expansion team, and that’s what we were, you have to find the right combination of staff, the right combination of players.
“The fortunate point of where we were is we finally got it to the 21 (players) and the coaching staff that I was happy with. I’m telling you, l love where we’re sitting.”
EXCHANGES: Caward said season-ticket holders and fans who purchased a ticket in advance for the Salina game will be able to use that ticket for next season.
SUNDAY GALA: The Gladiators will host a charity ball at 7 p.m. Sunday at the MGM Elegante Hotel. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased only in advance at the team website at dukecitygladiators.com. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation.