Professional indoor football is returning to Camp Jordan Arena in East Ridge, this time in a league with former Kentucky star quarterback Jared Lorenzen as the commissioner.
The Ultimate Indoor Football League got off to a solid start with six teams this year. The season ran from February to June, and the Saginaw (Mich.) Sting won the championship. Lorenzen, a backup to Eli Manning in the New York Giants' Super Bowl championship season, played for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters that had the UIFL's best 2011 regular-season record.
Then in July, he succeeded the original commissioner, a San Diego resident. Lorenzen, now 30, was at the news conference Tuesday announcing the Tennessee Rail Runners as the last of 10 new league teams. He lives in a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati, and he and his wife own a restaurant near there.
"I loved playing. I had a blast. But now I'm done," he said. "I'll be traveling somewhere every weekend during the season. I'll be here for as many games as I can."
The Rail Runners will be part of the UIFL's Southern Conference along with two returning teams -- the Huntington (W.Va.) Hammer and the Eastern Kentucky Drillers -- and newcomers from Rome, Ga.; Fort Myers and Lakeland, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C. and Tupelo, Miss. The Mississippi Hound Dogs were announced at a similar news conference in Tupelo on Monday.
Each team will be playing seven home games and seven on the road, beginning in March, with ticket prices starting at $7 and season tickets beginning at $42. Training camp is set to begin Feb. 15, according to league co-founder Andrew Haines.
The ownership group for the Rome Rampage also will own the East Ridge-based team. That group is headed by Cecil Van Dyke, who also is involved with the Huntington team and is the CEO of the league, according to Kacee Smith, who represented the ownership group at Monday's gathering. East Ridge mayor Brent Lambert began the news conference with an official welcome.
Smith, 25, is from Calhoun, Ga., and played football for Gordon Central High School. Despite the bad memory of breaking his leg in a Tennessee-Georgia all-star game at East Ridge High School after his senior year, he said he and his wive have long enjoyed visiting East Ridge and Chattanooga.
The president of the Rail Runners is a former Columbia (Tenn.) Central High School player, Chad Dymon, who has been living and working in Las Vegas but planned to move his family to this area even before hooking up with Van Dyke's group. He had a connection with the UIFL through Winning Sports Programs, which among other things trains coaches and team administrators in leadership, management and marketing tactics.
"Sustainability is the difference between this league and others," said Dymon, adding that the plan to use mostly local talent will help stir community interest.
The Tennessee River Sharks in the National Indoor Football League generated good crowds at Camp Jordan five years ago but folded under ownership instability.
Haines said one UIFL feature is owning its own charter buses, which will greatly cut travel expenses during the season and become a revenue source otherwise.