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Pioneer Viewpoints: Are you ready for some football?

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Bemidji’s a hockey town.

But that doesn’t mean Bemidji can’t become a football town, too.

Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University long have had a loyal football fan base. And the upgrades at Chet Anderson Stadium this year will help BSU’s cause for sure.

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But are we ready for pro football?

The Indoor Football League is banking on it. Last week, the IFL announced it was locating a franchise here to play out of the Sanford Center.

Chris Kokalis, owner of the Cedar Rapids Titans, will be the co-owner of the yet-to-be-named team along with Ross Ladehoff of Bemidji.

At an introductory press conference Wednesday, both said Bemidji was ready for the next step in its sports evolution.

“I’m a big hockey fan, so coming here and seeing this building erupt kinda gets your skin tingling,” Ladehoff told the Pioneer’s Jack Hittinger after the Sanford Center press conference. “I want to bring that feeling to football. I believe this is a great community for football.”

Spreading that message is job No. 1 for Kokalis, Ladehoff and staff.

To that end, Kokalis said the team, and the entire organization, will be very visible over the next few months to drum up support. He said they won’t turn down any chances to appear at community and business events before league play starts in February.

That’s a smart plan. Because without widespread support, the venture could have a tough time establishing a foothold, or a first down if you prefer, in the community.

Having fans name the team and choose team colors also is a strong idea. In the interest of full disclosure, the Pioneer partnered with Bemidji Professional Football to sponsor the contest. It’s a good way for the community to take direct “ownership” of the team.

Another aspect Kokalis noted was the reach of the team. While located in Bemidji, the organization needs to reach beyond city limits to attract interest and fans.

“I don’t view Bemidji as a town of 15,000 people,” Kokalis said at the Wednesday press conference. “I view it as a central location for northern Minnesota. Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide tourism opportunities to get people to come into Bemidji for games.”

As the smallest market in the now 10-team league, that reach will be important if the team hopes to attract the 4,000 fans other Midwest teams average in attendance, something Kokalis is confident Bemidji can achieve.

Start spreading the word.

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