Date: Sept. 15, 2004

Weather may have dampened the spirits of some Florida Firecats fans this year, but the af2 ArenaCup 2004 champions will be back next season and hope their success of this year follows them through to next.

The Firecats of the American Conference League, which call Germain Arena, Estero, Fla., home beat the Peoria Pirates of the National Conference League, 39-26 before 6,491 fans on Aug. 27 to win the first professional sports title for the facility. In addition, the Firecats are the first American Conference Team to win the ArenaCup in the five-year history of the league. Two years ago the two teams squared off with Peoria beating the Firecats then with a score of 65-47.

“I think all the attention to the devastation from the storms down here dampened attendance from the community,” said Steve St. John, vice president of arena operations. “But, it is a great thing for them and us.”

And a great thing for that area of Florida which has been on a roller coaster ride since Hurricane Charley first blew through in mid-August. According to St. John, the Firecats were on the road for the semi-finals when Charley hit. They returned to their facility and actually had to co-habitate with evacuees who were using Germain Arena as a shelter until they could return home.

“It was a very interesting situation,” St. John said. “We had 5,000 people in here at first. That number dissipated to 200 when, after nine days, the Red Cross decided to shut down this shelter.”

This is the Firecats fourth year at Germain Arena and St. John said they have just recently signed another two-year contract with the af2 team that has been averaging about 4,000 attendance at home games this season and last. Maximum seating capacity is 7,200.

Gloria Sobiech, concessions manager for the in-house food and beverage operations, said concessions at the ArenaCup were the highest they have been at any of the af2 games, with an average per cap of $8.

“But our food sales tend to be higher anyway for the football games,” Sobiech said. “It is more of a family event and they really eat a lot.”

Sobiech said they didn't create any special menu offerings or souvenir cups for the event. They had all four of their concessions stands open, offering such standard fare as pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and other more elaborate items such as chicken parmesan. They also have eight portables, which were all open for the ArenaCup.

She said she uses volunteers to man all her concessions at every event. The volunteers, in return, get 10 percent of the sales for the groups they represent, such as the American Cancer Society, Children's Diabetes, community groups, etc.

Interviewed for this story: Steve St. John, (239) 948-7825; Gloria Sobiech, (239) 948-7825