By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
Just where hockey fits into the Hurricane Katrina story is something to behold — and to draw inspiration from.
On Friday, when the ECHL announced the approval of the voluntary suspension request submitted by the Mississippi Sea Wolves, it was viewed as a formality based on the damage suffered in Biloxi.
There was no way the Sea Wolves could play this season, but they found out Thursday that the Mississippi Coast Coliseum has been declared structurally sound. With that proclamation, Mississippi’s strong promise of returning for the 2006-07 season seems more valid.
“How can you pull the Sea Wolves and go dark? You can’t. You’ve got to come back,” said Mike Rogers (pictured), the team’s operating owner, last week after he was forced to abandon efforts to find a place to play by Oct. 21. “This was our 10th season, ‘A Decade in the Den.’ So next year we’ll do it again.
“I have a season ticket-holder who lost everything because he lived south from the railroad tracks. He says he has time on his hands and wants to do anything he can as a carpenter and help out. He still wants us to keep his money down on the season tickets. I made an announcement to anyone who needs their deposit back and has a hardship they can have it back, and nobody has asked. That’s the type of people we have here.”
And that is why Rogers insisted on keeping the Sea Wolves’ offices open and offering employment to those who needed jobs. He felt if the fans and people of Biloxi weren’t going to abandon his team, he wasn’t going to abandon them.
Mike Kelly, Mississippi’s radio voice and media relations director, briefly thought about riding out the storm with his wife, Suzanne, and 7-month-old son, Gregory, but changed his mind. He fled to Pensacola and stayed with Ice Pilots radio voice Paul Chestnut, then returned to help Rogers retrieve what was left of the team’s equipment.
“Every office is damaged beyond repair,” Kelly said. “We tried to salvage some stuff from the front offices but that salt water, once it gets in there it ruins everything. There’s a lot of resolve with the people here. It’s amazing to go through something of this magnitude and see people maintain a positive outlook.”
Rogers has experienced “a bunch” of hurricanes and tropical storms, but he said he never went through anything like Katrina. And with Hurricane Rita taking aim at Texas, he expects to have more stories to share with the people involved with the Texas Wildcatters.
Beaumont, Texas, home to the Wildcatters, is located about 35 miles inland from Port Arthur. The latest track had Rita’s eye headed for that region, and odds are Wildcatters CEO Rick Adams is going to be learning about the resolve of his fans, too.
Last year, after Hurricane Ivan tore through Pensacola, the Ice Pilots were about to submit their request for voluntary suspension when they began hearing from their fans. The Pensacola residents expressed how much of a positive diversion the Ice Pilots could be, much like the New Orleans Saints and LSU Tigers have done for the people of that region.
“We’re going to keep our offices open and keep people employed and try to help the community rebuild,” Rogers said. “My brother has a grill store and he’s expanding and fixing them. We froze our prices at pre-Katrina prices and are giving people 10 percent off. We lost a commercial building (the Coliseum), but it was rented and insured and we’ll come back. These other people on the coast lost everything. But every day I see more and more progress.”
Hockey not only is inspiring Biloxi, but is being inspired.