Arena football fans like Thunder's chances



Fans attending a Lowellville benefit believe the Thunder will succeed.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LOWELLVILLE -- If the survey of fans attending two benefit basketball games at the Lowellville High gym Wednesday night is correct, then the outlook is very bright for the success of the Mahoning Valley Thunder of the af2 in its inaugural season at the Chevrolet Centre.
Fans jammed the gym while the Thunder administrative staff played the Lowellville, Coitsville, Struthers and Poland fire departments basketball team in the first game of the night, while the nightcap feature paired the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Local Competitive Athletic Association.
While the games were being played for the benefit the Lowellville Fire Department, the Thunder's cheerleaders had their own booth in the adjacent food court area to greet and take photos with the fans, while Boomer, the Thunder's mascot, roamed the gym to have fun with the kids and promote the team.
"I think [the Thunder is] great for the community. It is a great opportunity for local athletes who cannot compete on the next level," said Dave Stambul of New Castle, director of the LCAA for the past seven years. "The Thunder can get exposure for the Chevrolet Centre, the team, community and local players."
Stambul said that the LCAA helps to organize fund-raising benefits for organizations using the sports of basketball, golf, flag football and softball, and provides mostly area players to fill the teams and participate in the games.
Zebrowski family is happy
Husband-wife Rick and Candy Zebrowski of Lowellville are looking forward to seeing the Thunder's opener March 31 against the Tri-Cities at 7:05 p.m. on Cortland Banks Field at the Chevrolet Centre.
"I'm glad the Thunder is here. It is good for the community and the Valley. I bought tickets for the opening game. I'll probably go again after that," said Rick Zebrowski, milling around the cheerleaders' booth. "I think it will be fantastic. I'm glad they finally have a team. There is not a bad seat in the house."
He said that he used to be a fan of the Youngstown Hardhats. "I have grown up with football." But, "[the Thunder] is something different with different rules, and I will have to learn the rules. I watch [indoor football] on TV sometimes."
Candy Zebrowski said they already are familiar with the Chevrolet Centre.
"We already have been to the Chevrolet Centre for concerts and hockey games and the home show. It's a beautiful place," said Candy, who is optimistic the Thunder will succeed.
"I'm a huge football fan. [The Thunder] is something different and it's local and it has YSU players. It seems like it will be fun to go to [the games]."
Two different reasons
Two eighth graders at Springfield Middle School also hope to see the Thunder play, but for different reasons.
"I'm not interested in the Thunder, just the cheerleaders because the girls are hot," said David Nolfi, who had a great time mixing with the cheerleaders. "I will go [to the Thunder games] if I can get a seat close to the cheerleaders."
But Casey Cooper, 14, just wants to enjoy games inside an arena.
"You can run [players] into walls. That will be sweet I think it will be cool," said Cooper, who loves the Chevrolet Centre. "It's a pretty good place. Every seat in the house is real good. I went to see the SteelHounds and a couple of concerts. [The Thunder] will be a nice experience. The Centre is an attraction in itself."
Two girls interviewed also loved to mix with the cheerleaders, but for different reasons, and they hope to see them again at the Thunder's games.
"I like the cheerleaders because I am a cheerleader. I want to see their moves and learn from them," said Araya Lemonis, 11, a sixth-grader at Lowellville Elementary.
Madison Vanover, 9, a third-grader at Lowellville Elementary, also wants to follow the Thunder's cheerleaders.
"Maybe I will go [to the Thunder games]. I am hoping that my parents will take me. I'd like to see the cheerleaders. I want to be one," she said.
Father likes the indoors
Jeremy Terwilliger of Youngstown, on hand with his son, Jesse, to see the Steelers play basketball, likes the fact that the Thunder games will be played indoors.
"No cold, miserable weather," said Jeremy, who is only slightly familiar with indoor football. "I only watched one game on TV. It was interesting. I would consider going to the Centre."
But Jeremy already knows that, "It is difficult to [kick] the extra points and field goals because of the narrow space between the goal posts."
Jesse, 11, fifth grader at Lowellville Elementary, is interested in the Thunder, too.
"I'd like to see a game. It seems like there will be a lot of action," said Jesse.
kovach@vindy.com

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