Spring sports preview5/3/2023
If you are looking for fast-paced sporting action this spring and summer, you are in luck. The Des Moines Menace soccer team and the Iowa Barnstormers arena football team, although being quite different, provide a similar atmosphere for their current and soon-to-be fans. On the following pages, we share some background and a peak at this year’s teams along with schedules of upcoming games.
Heed the Menace
Soccer is winning the hearts and minds of Des Moines sports fans. It’s been a long time coming, but a perfect storm of circumstances has the sport on the brink of greater appreciation. Last year’s World Cup was the best ever played. For the first time, it played out during the American holiday season, and more people watched. The game’s greatest star and its best ambassador — Lionel Messi — finally won the biggest prize in all sports for his country. Caitlyn Clark has transformed an underappreciated sport into a state-wide coming together.
At a time when baseball and basketball are deemed too slow and taking too long, and when parents are pulling children from football’s violence, and when American gymnastics reels from sexual abuse scandals, soccer is growing participants and fans. The games are always finished in less than two hours, and the best players are not oversized or overdosed on steroids. Messi is 5’8” and 157 pounds.
Des Moines has become increasingly more cosmopolitan, bringing more soccer lovers to town. World Cup watch parties were hosted here last fall by Brazilian, Bosnian, Peruvian, Mexican, French and English fan clubs, restaurants and bars.
Des Moines Menace is ready to seize this moment. Though their roster was still being recruited at press time, the team already had players lined up from Spain, Liberia, Chile, Costa Rica, England, Canada, Libya, Jamaica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Trinidad and Tobago, and Japan. Among those coming to town are popular players who played here last year — goal keepers Joey Batrouni and Grant Makela, defenders Kori Cupi and Zeron Sewell, midfielders Luka Nedic and Brayan Padilla, and forwards Leroy Enzugusi and Eliot Goldthorpe. Manager Dean Johnson, a London born American, also returns.
Most years, the Menace turns over much of its inner structure, including the manager. Not so much this year. Last year’s team won 10 games and tied two in an undefeated regular season. Johnson prefers to play a 3-5-2 alignment. That is what France and Holland used mostly in the World Cup to success and lots of goals. It frees a team’s best player (like Frankie De Jong and Kylian Mbappe) to roam and star. Goldthorpe scored a lot last year.
In Johnson’s words, “I’m excited to get back to Des Moines for my second year with the club. Last summer didn’t end the way we wanted it to, and I’ve brought back some returners that have unfinished business to see to. I’ve been hired by the club to add a third star (championship) to the crest, and we’ve assembled a roster to get that job done. Des Moines has the best fans in all USL2, and we want to reward their attendance and support with lots and lots of goals to celebrate.
“We will have some extremely talented players on display at Valley Stadium this summer, which provides a great opportunity for young soccer players to watch and learn from young athletes that will soon be playing at the next level.”
The team has built on success. They won a national championship in 2021 in front of 7,342 fans in Valley Stadium. Last year, they lost in a penalty kick shootout to rival Flint City Bucks. They have not lost a regular season home game since 2017.
More than 50 Menace players have been signed by professional teams since 2018. They have won five regular season championships and two national titles since 2003. Menace alumni are now coaching big league pro clubs — Ezra Hendrickson (Chicago Fire), Mike Jeffries (Charlotte Independence), and Alen Marcina (San Antonio FC).
The league is built around college calendars, where many of its players compete. While most pro leagues in Europe open in late August and finish in late May, the Menace’s league opens in early May and finishes in mid-August.
“Our players, to a large degree, take their college finals and come the next day to training camp. As soon as the season ends, they go back to college,” Assistant General Manager Charlie Bales explained.
This year’s home schedule is built for fans. All six games are played at 7 p.m. on Saturdays at Valley Stadium. Valley Stadium is a first-class facility.
“Teams come in here from all over, and they all marvel that this is a high school stadium. It can seat 10,000, and that is just on one side. We use the other side for signage,” said Bales.
Former main rival Thunder Bay is now in another division.
“Peoria might be our new chief rival, maybe Flint City, too,” Bales said. Not too many years ago players made money working in Kum & Go stores. “Now they all teach at our youth camps and clinics,” Bales said.
“We have a very family-friendly atmosphere. Tickets are only $10 for adults and $8 for ages up to 18. Season tickets are $50. People show up early and tailgate. We have two fan clubs that sit together and sing — the DSM Society and the Red Army,” Bales explained.
The Menace has been practicing the Caitlyn Clark magic, too.
“Our players stay around after games to meet everyone, sign autographs, take photos. We give away posters then, too,” Bales said. ♦
2023 Menace home schedule
• Saturday, May 13
Des Moines Menace vs. FC Wichita at 7 p.m.
Theme: Make it Okay Night Presented by Iowa Healthiest State Initiative
• Saturday, June 3
Des Moines Menace vs. Des Moines United FC (Exhibition) at 7 p.m.
Theme: Des Moines Derby Presented by Kum & Go
• Saturday, June 10
Des Moines Menace vs. Springfield Athletic SC at 7 p.m.
• Saturday, June 17
Des Moines Menace vs. Chicago Dutch Lions FC at 7 p.m.
Theme: Pride Night Presented by Iowa Safe Schools
• Saturday, July 1
Des Moines Menace vs. St. Charles FC at 7 p.m.
Theme: Stars and Stripes Night presented by the U.S. Army
• Saturday, July 8
Des Moines Menace vs. St. Charles FC at 7 p.m.
Theme: Youth Soccer Night — stay tuned for more details to come!
• Saturday, July 15
Des Moines Menace vs. Peoria City at 7 p.m.
Theme: Fan Appreciation Night — stay tuned for more details to come!
Iowa Barnstormers create a true fan experience
Iowa Barnstormer fans, are you ready for some (indoor) football? If the first few weeks of the 2023 Indoor Football League (IFL) season are any indication, the answer thus far has been a resounding yes.
The Barnstormers began their storied indoor football history as members of the Arena Football League in 1995 and had great success thanks to players such as future National Football League Hall Of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner.
The original Arena Football League team played in Veterans Memorial Auditorium from 1995-2001 before moving to Uniondale, New York. After a couple of additional stops and starts, the Barnstormers began play in the AF2 in 2008, this time in its current home of Wells Fargo Arena. The team then joined a revamped AFL in 2010. In 2015, the Barnstormers left the AFL and became members of their current league, the IFL.
Juli Pettit became the team’s general manager after her father, the late John Pettit, who served as the vice president and chief operating officer, passed away in 2020.
Pettit said having a strong history and fan base have been major factors in the continued success of the organization over the years.
“We have the best fans in the Indoor Football League,” she said. “Our fan base is loud, fun, and always shows our organization support. We appreciate their continued support and look forward to seeing many new faces this season.”
While the leagues and faces may have changed over the years, one thing hasn’t: a winning tradition. The Barnstormers have made 10 playoff appearances in team history, including five of the last six seasons. The team also boasts two conference championships and one league championship in 2018.
This season, Dave Mogensen returned for his second year as head coach after helping guide the team to a 9-7 mark last season and yet another playoff appearance. The Barnstormers began the 2023 season with an 0-3 record, falling to the Vegas Knight Hawks, Green Bay Blizzard and Sioux Falls Storm on the road.
During the offseason, the IFL announced a new agreement ensuring that the next three Dollar Loan Center IFL National Championship games will air on CBS Sports Network. The deal also allows for additional games to be aired on CBS Sports Network throughout the agreement. A total of 14 teams are in the league, with two more set to join in 2024.
The fan experience
The fans not only get to watch a fast-paced, exciting brand of football, they also have the opportunity to get up close and personal.
“Barnstormers games are full of entertainment both on and off the field,” Pettit said. “Fans have access to the players like no other league offers. We welcome everyone to join us on the field after every home game to meet the team, get autographs and photos, and throw the football around.”
Digital and Game Production Manager Parker Robinson is also excited about the improvements the team has been using to make the fan experience even more enjoyable. That’s no easy task, especially in today’s ever-evolving world of technology in which the latest and the greatest can become yesterday’s news before a season is even completed.
Robinson, now in his third season with the Barnstormers, is very aware of this and is pushing to keep the Barnstormers at the front of the pack in presentation as well.
“I’m excited to show our fans what we’ve been working on in the off-season,” Robinson said. “We’ve stepped up our production both on and off the field, to make sure that every Iowa Barnstormers game is a fun time, whether you’re a season ticket holder or at your very first game.”
Going the extra yard for the fan base is nothing new for the franchise, and 2023 will be no different. On May 6, the team will hold Mascot Night and celebrate the birthday of team mascot Billy the Barnstormer. The first 1,000 kids younger than age 12 will receive a free jersey, and hot dogs will be just $1 through the first half. Other nights include:
• May 13 vs. Massachusetts Pirates
• May 26 vs. Sioux Falls Storm
• June 3 vs. Green Bay Blizzard
FAMILY NIGHT presented by J&D Restaurants.
This game will feature the Animal Rescue League of Iowa’s
Halftime Corgi Chase
• June 17 vs. Quad City Steamwheelers
FIRST RESPONDERS NIGHT.
The team will be wearing special First Responders Night
Jerseys presented by DMFD Local 4 that will be auctioned off.
• July 8 vs. Sioux Falls Storm
The game will feature throwback music, trivia and more.
• July 15 vs. Frisco Fighters
TAILGATE NIGHT. $2 beers through the first half.
Pettit said the team is excited to be playing another season at Wells Fargo Arena and, despite the slow start, is looking forward to another banner year.
“We have a lot of fun promotions coming up throughout the season,” she said, “and it’s going to be a great year for the Barnstormers.” ♦
2023 Iowa Barnstormers Schedule
(As of April 18, 2023)
March 25 vs. Vegas Knight Hawks L, 57-44
March 31 vs. Green Bay Blizzard L, 54-24
April 9 vs. Sioux Falls Storm L, 54-24
April 22 vs. Tulsa Oilers, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
April 28 vs. Massachusetts Pirates, Worcester, MA, 6:35 p.m.
May 6 vs. Quad City Steamwheelers, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
May 13 vs. Massachusetts Pirates, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
May 20 vs. Green Bay Blizzard Green Bay, WI, 6:05 p.m.
May 26 vs. Sioux Falls Storm, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
June 3 vs. Green Bay Blizzard, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
June 10 vs. Tulsa Oilers, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 7:05 p.m.
June 17 vs. Quad City Steamwheelers, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
June 24 vs. Quad City Steamwheelers, Moline, IL, 7:05 p.m.
July 8 vs. Sioux Falls Storm, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.
July 15 vs. Frisco Fighters, Des Moines, 7:05 p.m.