Tri-Cities Fever

Fever still unsure of next opponent

Adam Shackleford and his Tri-Cities Fever assistant coaches were in their office Monday night looking at game film of their next opponent.

The problem is, as of Monday night, the Fever coaches don't know who that opponent is.

Tri-Cities was originally scheduled to play this Sunday in Anchorage against the Alaska Wild.

But dwindling funds to keep the Wild running, a pile of unpaid bills, a player exodus and the departure of head coach Darnell Lee caused the Indoor Football League to suspend Alaska's scheduled home game this past Sunday against the Billings Outlaws.

IFL commissioner Tommy Benizio has been working since last week to clear the Wild's situation up. Whether that means a new owner, the league taking over the team, or suspending the team's operations, that's anybody's guess.

Fever owner Teri Carr said Saturday night that she was waiting to hear from Benizio.

"Tommy is working on the situation," Carr said. "He's working with some investors."

Neither Benizio nor Carr returned calls Monday night.

Meanwhile, Shackleford and his assistants were combing through game films of Alaska and the Fairbanks Grizzlies -- Tri-Cities' home opponent May 29.

"We're preparing like we have a game this week," said Shackleford. "We're not gonna be caught without being prepared. We're preparing for two possible opponents."

The Wild situation is a mess and has been since the first week of the season when then-owner Charles Matthews walked away from the team and the IFL took control of the team.

However, the IFL wasn't making any payments to the players, and when the Wild lost 56-48 to the Fever at the Toyota Center on May 1, Lee told the Herald his players hadn't been pair in three weeks.

"We have a bye next week and a lot of the guys are going home to visit their families," Lee said at the time. "I just don't know who will be back for our next game. We got a lot of guys whose wives and girlfriends are mad at them for playing for free."

Turns out, Lee was one of those guys who didn't come back to Anchorage.

"I went home for the bye week to see my family (in Louisiana) for Mother's Day," said Lee in a telephone conversation Saturday night. "I noticed a lot of my guys had packed all of their stuff."

While at home in Louisiana, Lee said he was ready to come back the day before Mother's Day to convince players from leaving. But he said he got a call from the general manager (Abe Hernandez) to not come back.

"About six our seven guys had left the team, and they based the decision on the fact that most players were leaving," said Lee.

Lee's regular job doesn't start up again until August, so when his old team -- the Southern Indoor Football League's Louisiana Swashbucklers, whom he led to a 51-9 record as a head coach -- hired him as the team's offensive coordinator, he couldn't say no.

"I got my last payment (from Alaska) about a month ago," Lee said as his new team was travelling by bus from a road loss in Albany, Ga. "I can't do it anymore. I'm about to lose my home."

Lee was also accused of bringing five Wild players -- defensive back Damian Huren, defensive lineman Bryant Mason, fullback Kendrick Perry, and wide receivers Henry Hunter and Damian Henderson -- back with him to Louisiana.

"That's not true," Lee said. "The owner of the Louisiana team signed them all, and they're all from Louisiana."

There is still a small group of players in Anchorage, hoping to finish out the season playing. They're just waiting for the OK from the league.

"It's a rough situation," Lee said. "I know there are guys up there who are mad at me. They're saying 'OK, you're the guy who brought us up here.' And now I'm gone.

"I'm scrambling to try to find ways for eight guys to get home from up there," Lee continued. "Our guys have been kicked out of two hotels (for lack of payment)."

Lee said one guy who owns a restaurant stepped up and provided 92 free meals a week to the team.

But there's a long way to go to get the Wild up and running -- especially this week against the Fever.

"If anything, they might get a replacement team," Lee said. "I feel bad for the diehard fans up there."

***

Andy Collins, the Fever's starting quarterback on opening day, is done for the season after the Zillah High graduate was diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear. He'll have surgery. Shackleford is looking for a backup to current starter Houston Lillard. ... Linebacker Chris Hunsaker is also gone from the Fever roster. The former AFL player is a firefighter in California for the wildfire season, and he was called to work earlier than expected this year.

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