Column: A ground level look at the Rochester FirePublished 12:00am Thursday, November 1, 2007
By Jon Laging, Talking Sports
There were rumors, then speculation and then affirmation. A minor league professional basketball team is coming to Southeastern Minnesota. The Rochester Fire. I was surprised, because it&8217;s been tried before without success. This edition will succeed according to General Manager Quentin Berner.
The Fire was holding a media day and I thought that it might be fun to be there for their first official contact with the sportswriters, TV personalities, etc. That it would be interesting to be in on the bottom floor of a new sports team for both me and readers of my column. I got there and the Fire was there, but I was the only media type. It wasn&8217;t an auspicious start for the new franchise. Not too surprising really, it was a nice Saturday and the Minnesota-Michigan game was being televised. One of the few chances to see the Gophers. One of the few times Mediacom was carrying the game.
I did have the Fire General Manager all to myself. Quentin Berner is a recent graduate of Kansas State University and had previously worked for the Detroit Ignition, a soccer team.
I asked Berner that given the past experience of similar franchises why another attempt was being made with a new basketball team and how could it succeed? Quentin explained that the Fire had 56 corporate sponsors and 200 season tickets had been sold. Not knowing the Fire&8217;s bottom line, it seemed like a good base to me, even though probably most of the 200 tickets are distributed to the sponsors.
Although Berner assured me that the players made a comfortable living, when looking at their bus schedule, I would guess that the Fire players are in it for the love of the game and what the future might bring. Most of the team is young and hoping that lightning might strike. One prospective team member just left for China for $25,000 a month. Some players bring experience to the team with years in Europe, China and previous teams in the ABA. Quentin described the ABA as one step below the NBA, likening it baseball&8217;s Triple A league.
One player that impressed me during the intersquad game was playmaking guard Terry Klemett who was with a Finland team last year. He reminded me of a short Steve Nash, MVP of the NBA two years ago year. There are other fine athletes on the team including Rochester&8217;s Mike Hardy and Mike Kinsella that coach Herb Hofer hopes to mold into a winning team.
Two members of The Fire Dance Team were also there for media day and I felt I would be remiss if I didn&8217;t talk to them. They explained that there were 20 members composed of former cheerleaders and dance students. They were doing it mostly for fun and either were in other careers or students. In fact, Kendra and Marinda, the two I talked to, are nursing students.
Also on hand was team trainer Candee Mills. She is a graduate of South Dakota State University now employed at the Mayo Clinic&8217;s Sports Medical Center. She also works with the prep teams, RCTC and the Rochester Honkers. Candee says between all the teams and being a new mother she is really kept hopping. She thinks her job is great and the toughest part of it is telling a coach that one of his players can&8217;t go.
All in all, the Fire looked like a good family organization and made a favorable impression. I never heard any bad language and head coach Hofer and assistant coach Dave Grimsrud spent most of their time teaching. By the way, for all you ex-players out there, one roster spot is still open.
It&8217;s way too early to predict how the Fire will fare this year in either attendance or wins or even if they will
be here a month from now, but I wish them well.
Jon Laging writes a regional sports column from his home in Preston.