Everyone associated with the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks looks at Sunday’s first Professional Indoor Football League event at the PPL Center as quite possibly the best day in franchise history.
But perhaps no one realizes the significance of the 4 p.m. game between Lehigh Valley and the Marion (Ohio) Blue Racers better than Steelhawks assistant coach Bob Kohler.
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Kohler has been coaching football in the Lehigh Valley for more than 40 years, most notably as a Muhlenberg College assistant, and has spent a good portion of his life working in the Allentown School District as a teacher and administrator.
He has experienced the city’s ups and downs his entire life.
He appreciates what the PPL Center has done for Allentown and is eager to see what it will do to enhance interest in the fifth-year Steelhawks, who had played the previous four seasons at Lehigh’s Stabler Arena.
“It’s so awesome, not only inside, but the improvements that have been made in downtown Allentown,” Kohler said. “I tell these guys that when I was a kid, you could walk down Hamilton Street on a Thursday night and it was like walking down Broadway in New York City. The city’s coming back and I think it’s going to be a great facility for us; one of the best places in all of arena football.”
Kohler had been with the Steelhawks for two seasons, took a year off and then spent last season with the Trenton Freedom.
He is happy to be back with his hometown team and has great admiration for Glenn and Mike Clark, the father and son team that runs the Steelhawks.
“The Clarks are great people, great owners,” Kohler said. “They do what they can to promote this team and also the community. They have made this a strong franchise.”
Mike Clark, the team’s general manager and executive vice president, said the franchise has never been stronger.
He is guaranteeing the largest crowd in Steelhawks history with more than 3,000 seats sold as of Thursday night.
He’s hoping that day-long activities in downtown Allentown will also spark walk up sales.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the response we’ve had,” Clark said. “We have all kind of events lined up all day from early in the morning right through the end of the game.”
The festivities began with a dance clinic at 8:30 a.m. with 125 kids registered to participate. The kids will learn a dance routine and then perform at halftime.
From 1-4 p.m. the Double Tap band will perform outside the center at the front entrance. Clark said the player intros at 3:45 p.m. are going to be something special since for the first time the franchise will be able to use special lighting and the giant video boards.
But perhaps the biggest highlight will be an indoor fireworks show at halftime followed by a performance by a group of bucket drummers.
Clark said besides the ticket sales, the Steelhawks have a stronger sponsorship base than ever and more groups are coming aboard. A lot of the increased interest has to do with the change in venues.
“This was a process that started almost three years ago,” Clark said. “This is where our sport is supposed to be played … on a full-sized arena floor that sits atop an ice hockey rink. It’s definitely what we’ve dreamed of. We did what we could at Stabler, but now the sky’s the limit for us and everybody from the Phantoms and Global Spectrum, which runs the arena, couldn’t have been more accommodating.
“It’s going to be non-stop action from the moment the doors open until the end of the game when everybody can come on the field for photos and autographs.”
The game will not count in the PIFL standings because Marion is from the X-League. Marion, a PIFL candidate for 2016, replaced the defunct Harrisburg franchise on the schedule.
But the fact that game won’t count in the standings doesn’t mean it isn’t important to the Steelhawks, who are off to a 1-1 start after beating Erie in their opener, 50-43, and then losing to defending PIFL champion Nashville, 55-28, last week.
“I still feel really good about this team,” fourth-year head coach Chris Thompson said. “After looking at the film, we realized how close we were to winning that game. It was 20-15 halfway through the third quarter. We shot ourselves in the foot time and time again. It just wasn’t our night, and you’ll have that when you play two road games in six days. It was a good learning experience.”
The Steelhawks are back at the PPL Center on Saturday night against Erie in a league game.
“We’ve got to get back on track and back to playing Steelhawks football,” Thompson said. “And we want to put on a good show for our fans. I can’t wait to see the crowd and the reaction to the new field and the new facility. We couldn’t even turn the lights off at Stabler and now we can use video boards and actually show replays. It’s the completion of a long journey for us, the beginning of a new era and we couldn’t be more excited.”
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