Friday, February 08, 2008

Eagles take season off to rebuild

Eagles take season off to rebuild

The Scranton Eagles, a longtime fixture in the area, have been granted a one-year leave of absence from the Empire Football League, the league announced Monday.

"We decided to take a leave of absence in order to rebuild the organization to get it back to where it was during our glory years," team president George Romiti said.

This past season, the Eagles posted a 3-8 record, losing to the Ottawa Bootleggers, 45-3, in the first round of the EFL playoffs.

"This past year, in particular, was a struggle," Romiti said. "Over the last few years, myself, (former quarterback) John Kennedy and (2007 head coach) Mike Arcure would put money into the team with the hope that we would be repaid. Unfortunately, we never got our money back. It gets to a point where your can put in so much your own money into it. Obviously, we have to take care of our families as well."

The Eagles trace their roots back to 1971, when the Lackawanna County Eagles joined the EFL. Success came early for the team as the Eagles won the league title in their first season. The following year they lost in the championship game. After that season, several EFL franchises, including the Eagles, joined the Seaboard Football League.

The Eagles lasted a season and a half in the SFL before folding midway through the 1974 season due to poor attendance.

Spearheaded by former L.C. Eagles quarterback John Rogan, the Scranton Eagles were born in 1982 and like their predecessor, found a streak of good luck that lasted for a decade.

The Eagles won Empire Football League titles each of their first three seasons, culminating with a 21-6 victory over the Racine Gladiators to capture the Minor Professional Football Association National Championship in 1984 at Scranton Memorial Stadium.

The local team continued to be successful on the field, playing in the EFL championship game each year from 1986 to 1994, winning six titles in that span.

"Successful teams usually have at least one of two things," Kennedy said. "They either have a rich owner with deep pockets and are willing to take a loss in the team or you have a lot of former players around who a lot of pride in the team."

The Eagles added a pair of national championships during this time, winning the American Football Association championship in 1989 and the Minor League Football Alliance crown in 1990.

It was also during this time that attendance at Eagles' games began to suffer.

"I trace it back to when the Red Barons came, then the Penguins and Pioneers coming. They were taking a lot of our fan base away," Romiti said.

The Eagles continued to compete in the Empire Football League, winning their last championship in 1999.

Among the struggles that dogged the Eagles this past season included travel costs.

Last offseason, the local team's two closest rivals, the Broome County Dragons and the Tri-State Bulldogs from Suffern, N.Y., were not on the league's schedule. The Dragons took a leave of absence from the EFL and the Bulldogs moved to another league. The closest team to Scranton was Amsterdam, N.Y., which is 189 miles away.

According to Romiti, renting a bus costs the team as much as $5,200.

"We put over 3,000 miles traveling to away games this past season," Romiti said. "The last few weeks, we canceled the buses and players paid for their own gas and drove to games."

Additional expenses are an $1,800 per-game stadium rental, $650 for game officials, not to mention costs for announcers and people to work the chains. The team also gave the water boys a small stipend for their efforts.

"It takes about $35,000 a year to run the team," Romiti said. "And that is without paying coaches."

Romiti said the coaches can be paid by the team, but the players are not allowed by EFL rules to draw a salary.

With the announcement, Romiti said he is retiring as an active player.

A former West Scranton standout, Romiti played linebacker for the Eagles for the past 12 seasons, was named all-EFL seven times and won the league's defensive player of the year award each of the past two seasons.

"I'm going to miss playing," the 46-year-old Romiti said. "I still have my workout routine just as if I was still getting ready for the season."

Kennedy said that many former players and coaches have decided to create an alumni association to help the team get back on it's feet.

"If the alumni gets involved and is willing to go out and talk to businesses and movers and shakers about town, the process of rebuilding the Eagles could begin," Kennedy said.

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