November 15, 2017

Worcester arena football team to debut in April

Grant Welker
Massachusetts Pirates co-owner Jawad Yatim introduces Worcester's new arena football team. At table from left are Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy Murray and Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus.

At a time when Worcester is enjoying the first season of its new minor-league hockey team and is in play for the top Red Sox minor-league affiliate, the city now has football as well.

The Massachusetts Pirates, an arena football team, will start play next April at the DCU Center as the newest team in the fledgling National Arena League.

"There wasn't a team out here. We thought, 'Why not put a team here?'" Jawad Yatim, a 28-year-old Shrewsbury native who will own the team with his father, Hassan, said in an official announcement of the team Wednesday. "You have the most passionate fans here."

The Pirates will play eight home games in what is a smaller but faster-paced and more high-scoring affair than its outdoor counterpart. The field is 50 yards long, half the size of an outdoor field, and features eight players on each team instead of 11.

The team expects to release a schedule in the coming weeks, Yatim said. Individual prices for tickets was not released, but season tickets start at $90.

The Pirates will join the Worcester Railers hockey team playing in the DCU Center. The Railers began play last month in the ECHL, the minor league hockey association formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League.

Just as the Railers brought hockey back to Worcester, the Pirates bring a return of indoor football to the city.

The Pirates were officially announced in a press conference at the DCU Center, a ceremony complete with a pirate mascot, cheerleaders and a giveaway of T-shirts and hats. City officials touted the new team as another piece of making Downtown Worcester a neighborhood with more vitality.

Grant Welker
A helmet for the Massachusetts Pirates, an arena football team that will begin play next April at the DCU Center.

"It feels like every day we're doing an announcement," City Manager Edward Augustus said.

Augustus also made a thinly veiled reference to the team's consideration of luring the minor league baseball team Pawtucket Red Sox from Rhode Island.

"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe we'll make another sports-related announcement in the not-too-distant future."

A previous arena league team, the New England Surge, played in Worcester in 2007 and 2008 in the now-defunct Continental Indoor Football League. Another short-lived team, the Massachusetts Marauders, played in 1994 in the Arena Football League.

The league the new Pirates will join, the National Arena League, previously had five teams: Columbus Lions in Georgia; L.V. Steelhawks in Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania; Monterrey Steel in Mexico; Jacksonville Sharks in Florida; and New Jersey Flight in Trenton.

Two other new teams are slated for Portland, Maine, and Greensboro, N.C. Next spring will begin the league's second season.

Other National Arena League teams appear to have folded since last season, including the Corpus Christi Rage in Texas, the Dayton Wolfpack in Ohio, and the High Country Grizzlies in North Carolina.

The 2017 season ran from March to June, with each team playing a dozen or fewer regular-season games.

Chris Siegfried, the National Arena League commissioner, pitched the league as being on to something absolutely amazing in its upcoming second season.

"To these kids watching the games, there's nothing better than the National Arena League," he said, noting the proximity of seats to the field and the high-scoring games.

The Pirates are co-owned by Hassan Yatim, the president and chief operating officer of Yatco Energy, which has 16 gas stations across the area. Jawad Yatim, who played quarterback on an undefeated 2007 Shrewsbury High School football team, has played on arena league teams himself and admitted he still had an itch to play, despite now being the team's other owner.

Jawad Yatim said he didn't have any expectations or goals yet for how many fans the Pirates would draw.

The National Arena League is just one of several indoor football leagues across the country. Some are in far larger cities than Worcester, but some are in even smaller markets.

The Arena Football League has teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Washington.

A third similar league, the Indoor Football League, has teams in Phoenix; Des Moines, Iowa; Bloomington, Ind., Grand Island, Neb.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Muskegon, Mich.

A fourth, the American Arena League, will start next spring after the merger of the Arena Pro Football League and the Can-Am Indoor Football League. It has teams in Anderson, S.C.; Buford, Ga.; Burlington, Vt.; Richmond, Va., Boone, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Rochester, N.Y.; Glens Falls, N.Y.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Macon, Ga.

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