Its football season again in Rockford, a time for many sports fans to get out that face paint, brush up on the referee jokes and get reacquainted with the different regional rivalries. But wait! Its only July, and football season doesnt start until late August. Not necessarily. The Forest City Gladiators, Rockfords minor league football team, has just improved its record to 3-1 defeating the Belvidere Rush 31-23 on Saturday, July 12. But who are the Gladiators? Well, theyre probably the best-kept secret in Rockford sports.
The Gladiators, in their second season, compete in the North American Football League (NAFL), which is home to 98 teams throughout the United States and divided into eight regions. They are coached by former Detroit Lions Pro-Bowler Mel Grady
The Gladiators compete in the Midwest Division of the Great Lakes Region along with the Cedar Valley Vikings, the Kane County Eagles, the Racine Raiders and the Milwaukee Marauders. The regular season starts in June and finishes at the end of September. Qualifying teams are set up in a 32-team playoff bracket format.
The Gladiators have local talent on the field in Rockford East graduates Buddy Turner and Steve Neely. The team also has three league regional All-Stars from a year ago in Kywan Edmonson, Michael Allen, and Dave Crosby.
Melissa Pappas, a Gladiators fan, was impressed with what she saw at the game on Saturday and likes the fact that it give the people of Rockford something else to do on a Saturday night.
They seem like theyre a good team, Pappas said. Its different people from all different areas and backgrounds I like it. Len Williams, another Gladiators fan and former player in the Canadian Football League (CFL), agreed with Pappas, and was excited at how many people came out for the game.
Its real football, and its a good thing since we have limited activity in Rockford, and the fan support is the most surprising part. As long as we can maintain this, it will be great, Williams said.
Ticket prices are $6 for any seat, and games are Saturday nights at 7:05 at Wedgbury Stadium, which is located in front of the Indoor Sports Center, 8800 E. Riverside. Next home game for the Gladiators is July 26 against the Milwaukee Marauders. For more information, call 969-0921.