State-of-the art facilities? A brand new clubhouse with full amenities? Did someone say jumbo scoreboard?
These are all foreign concepts to Mike Morencie, who began a 44-year relationship with the AKO Fratmen football team as a player back in 1976.
Morencie happily and officially became the former owner of the team Friday as the St. Clair College Student Athletic Association (SAA) formally announced its purchase of the club.
“I really like the sound of that last one — ‘former owner,’” Morencie said, referring to introductory remarks by St. Clair athletic co-ordinator Ted Beale to the media, college officials and players gathered inside the lobby of the college’s SportsPlex.
While the purchase price was not disclosed, terms of the deal will see team president Morencie, head coach Mike Lachance and other Fratmen staff retain control of football operations while the Student Athletic Association takes over the business side and game-day operations.
After a nomadic existence that saw the team shuffle around the city for practices and games, the Fratmen will call the college’s soon-to-be-completed $20-million SportsPark home for the upcoming 2020 season.
The new stadium will feature artificial turf, lighting, seating for 1,500, a media press box and a jumbo interactive scoreboard.
It’s a long way from the days when Morencie and the rest of the coaching staff gathered at a picnic table at Windsor Stadium to discuss strategy.
“If it was nice out, we’d pull the picnic table into the sun. If it was raining we moved it under a tree, ” Morencie said.
Often, the coaching staff stayed after practice to build benches, install lockers or apply a fresh coat of paint to their latest space.
“We’ve had a lot of different homes over the last 10 years,” Morencie said. “It’s been a long journey to get here today. It’s been a real crazy journey, so to have some place to call home, we’re really happy about that.”
Since losing their traditional training field at AKO Park, the Fratmen based operations out of Windsor Stadium, the University of Windsor and Lajeunesse secondary school.
“Thank God those places and people came to our rescue and helped us out but it was never enough,” Morencie said. “There was never any longevity to those moves.”
He describes the college facilities as “the final piece of the puzzle” to winning a fourth national title in club history.
“Now we’ll be able to recruit on a national basis,” he said. “I fully expect to be playing for a national championship in that park in November.”
As has been the practice since 2014, Fratmen players who are enrolled full-time at St. Clair will each receive a $1,250 scholarship per semester. Last year, there were 24 rostered players enrolled at the college although enrolment is not a requirement for playing on the Ontario Football Conference team.
Team ownership by a student athletic association is the first of its kind in Canada.
Last fall, when word of an impending sale leaked out, the commissioner of the Canadian Junior Football League said there were no other partnerships like it within the CJFL.
“We wanted to be the first proud owners of a football team,” said SAA president Kshitij Punj. “We think it’s a great opportunity for our students and, with a new sports park, we were looking to show off the facility.”
Punj said the business side of running the club will draw in students from several different programs including sports and recreation management, business, hospitality and security.
“We don’t know all the new opportunities we’re opening for our students,” he said.
Members of the SAA unveiled the new look Fratmen jerseys and helmet featuring the college name and logo in St. Clair’s traditional green, white and yellow colour scheme.
The Fratmen are recognized as the longest running amateur sport organization in Canada. Founded in 1929, the club has been honoured by the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Morencie, who serves as Lachance’s defensive co-ordinator, bought the team from the AKO Fraternity in 2014.
He said spring camp opens May 2 with the first exhibition game May 17 against Stevenson University from Baltimore County, Md.