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The team, cobbled from the area’s public safety agencies, has won all of its games this season.
Coach Casey Stewart
Saturday, May 25, 2013
In its first season, the Roanoke Rampage football squad lost every single game.
For Todd Stone, a Roanoke fire captain who helped establish the team, that was OK at first. Roanoke Rampage is a minor league football team made up of firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies from the area. Proceeds from the games and merchandise go to the charities of their choice. Most of the players simply joined for fun.
After three years of losing seasons, the team had to struggle to keep a consistent roster , according to some of the players, but that stopped this year.
“Winning solves a lot of problems,” said Andrew Palmer, a Roanoke sheriff’s officer who is also one of the team’s cornerbacks.
In its fourth season, the Rampage has gone undefeated on the field, beating four larger football teams from around the country. As a result it will play in the National Public Safety Football League Division II championship game against the Dallas Defenders in Dallas on June 22.
Several of the players credit their winning streak to first-year offensive coordinator Casey Stewart, who is an assistant coach at Patrick Henry High School. Palmer said he took a more organized approach to coaching and helped give the Rampage a much needed spurt to their offense.
Stewart, who is not paid for his work, said he took the job to get more coaching experience, but it is a lot different from coaching high school students.
The players have a wide range of football experience. Some have played professionally and some haven’t touched a pigskin since high school. The oldest player is 47 years old and the youngest is 21.
“We had a lot of guys not as committed coming at first, but now we have a core group of members,” said Roanoke police officer Ronald Robinson, who has been on the team since its inception. Robinson was Roanoke’s officer of the year in 2011.
At a practice earlier this month, about 20 of the team’s players showed up to work on offense. It’s hard to get all of the players at all of the practices since so many of them have irregular work hours.
With 40 consistent men on the team, Stone said a bond has been formed with the players through the years. While they are members of different agencies, it’s not uncommon to see their teammates on the job. Any differences they have off the field go away for most of the players when they put on their maroon uniforms.
“On the field it’s a team,” said Hollins Fire Chief Greg St. Clair. He said when he looks at the players, he sees friends, many he did not have before joining.
Their teamwork has not just paid off on the field. In April a fire broke out in an apartment on Montauk Road near one of their games.
Palmer said they were getting ready for the game when they saw smoke coming from the building, and several of the players hopped a fence and went in to evacuate it.
“One guy was still on the couch when I went in,” said Palmer. “He only heard me when I kicked the door.”
Winning all four of their games was not something they expected at the beginning of the year. Stone said the main focus was not to win but to give to their charities, the Wounded Warrior project and Steps for Billy, and to fulfill their competitive spirit. They typically raise several thousand dollars during the season.
“We do it for charity, of course, but it’s fun to get out there and just hit somebody,” said Palmer.
The roughhousing of the games has turned a few players away from the team before, and there is always the concern of getting hurt. Probation officer Tyrone Chavers said he broke his foot in the first game of the season. Although his teammates at practice teased him about it, saying it was just an ankle twist, it kept Chavers sidelined for two games.
“It didn’t affect work, though,” Chavers said while returning to the field.
Stone said a lot of people did not expect the Rampage to go undefeated in the beginning of the season, and he hopes this can help shine some positive light on the Star City.
“We are the smallest city in the entire league,” said Stone. “We play a lot of bigger cities, and for us to beat Tampa Bay and Columbus is something.”
Stewart said he hopes the league also shows people in the region some of what their public safety workers do when they are not on the job.
“It brings prestige to our service personnel,” he said.
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