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Druley: Semi-pro football back in Kane County

Published: Friday, June 7, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 7, 2013 7:43 a.m. CDT

Fox Valley Eagles owner and president Patrick Sharpe wants to stress the following points:

He’s not Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, but the head of a football team.

His football team is semi-pro.

Semi-pro does not mean players are paid.

“These are guys that just love to go out on Saturday night and bang heads,” Sharpe said.

Geneva’s Burgess Field will provide that haven for six Ironman Football League home games this summer, beginning with Saturday’s 6 p.m. preseason game against the Leyden Lions. The season runs until Aug. 24, the weekend before the IHSA football season kicks off. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for children. Fans younger than 10 are admitted free.

Die-hard followers of semi-pro football in these parts will remember Sharpe as the general manager of the former Kane County Eagles, who closed a nomadic, decade-long run at Mooseheart in the late 2000s. While that ownership group pursued indoor football opportunities, Sharpe remained active in the semi-pro circuit, including a run as president of the McHenry County Pirates from 2007 to 2011. He started the then-Elgin Eagles in 2012, although that name was a misnomer.

IFL officials assigned the team to play home games in Wilmot, Wis., as there were conflicts with Elgin’s Memorial Field and St. Edward High School.

Sharpe reached out to Geneva District 304 administrators about a month ago, drawn to the central Kane County location and the school’s FieldTurf facility, installed in time for the 2012-13 school year.

Geneva figured such overtures might be common sooner than later.

“We purposely didn’t count them as a certainty because when you do that, then you have the high potential for disappointment if they don’t materialize,” Geneva athletic director Jim Kafer said. “We did assume that having a facility like that would attract interest for any group that needs a large surface area that plays their game. And to find a facility where it doesn’t wear out, that makes it attractive.”

Turf is the preferred playing surface when teams can get it. With semi-pro leagues playing during summer months when high schools would just as soon let grass fields rest, artificial surfaces stand out.

For the Eagles, the arrangement is sweeter considering the higher concentration of recent high school and college grads. Players range in age from 18 to 30.

“We’ve got a nice balance. That’s the thing we like,” Sharpe said. “With the younger guys, you seem to have more camaraderie than you did with some of the older group because they were all married with children and those kind of things. These guys are young and fast and a nice bunch of kids.”

Sharpe is optimistic about building a fan base, especially considering the recent relocation of the Great Midwest Football League’s Kane County Chaos, moved to DeKalb to become the Illinois Chaos beginning this season.

The Chaos called Aurora Christian home in 2011 but played at West Aurora last season because of conflicts with field availability at ACS.

“Christian was great people and it caught on, but with Aurora being so big it was really challenging to get that hometown buy-in, so to speak,” Chaos owner and coach Lloyd Hatcher said.

Hatcher called DeKalb the perfect fit, “a large community in the middle of an ocean of cornfields.”

Geneva is more metropolitan, but the Eagles likely wouldn’t take too much stock.

For the next 10 weeks, they have a place to bang heads and play ball.

Meet the new bosses: Wheaton Academy on Thursday named Brad Thornton as interim football coach. The former Wheaton College fullback spent the past six seasons as a defensive coach at Evangelical Christian School in Memphis, Tenn., helping the Eagles to three state semifinals in his tenure.

Wheaton Academy also has named Geof Weisenborn as boys lacrosse coach and director of performance.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

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