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IFL team name: Bemidji Axemen (with video)

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Chris Kokalis and Ross Ladehoff, co-owners of Bemidji's new Indoor Football League team, the Bemidji Axemen, pose with some axes during the team's official name unveiling event Thursday at Ace Hardware in Bemidji.2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- It was an unconventional choice, but the hardware store turned out to be the perfect place for Bemidji’s new Indoor Football League franchise to reveal its name and logo.

Flanked by a multitude of various-sized axes -- some lodged in blocks of wood -- Chris Kokalis ripped the cover off the backdrop to introduce the Bemidji Axemen, which will begin play in the Sanford Center in February.

“It was a tough decision,” said Kokalis, the Axemen’s co-owner and team president. “But we felt that this name kind of fit with what we were looking for, and describes where we’re willing to take this organization.”

Kokalis, speaking in the back of the Ace Hardware store during Thursday’s press conference, said the name was chosen from among 1,200 entries submitted by the community.

But the “Axemen” -- first selected by Solway resident Diane Illies -- reflected Bemidji’s history and incorporated the Paul Bunyan tale so linked with the area. Kokalis, along with co-owner Ross Ladehoff and other team personnel, selected the name.

The team’s colors will be red, blue and silver -- a nod to Paul Bunyan and Babe The Blue Ox as well as the waters of Lake Bemidji.

The logo, designed by Keith Flynn, in conjunction with Kokalis’ sports marketing agency (KMG Marketing & Entertainment) depicts a bearded man double-fisting an axe and a football.

“We’re really excited about the logo,” Kokalis said. “Obviously, we took Diane’s name that she selected first, the colors she selected, and illustrated it into the logo. And I think we’ve got a pretty good logo that stands for what we’re looking to do with the program and what we’re looking to build.”

Of the 1,200 entries -- which Kokalis said was an IFL record for a name-the-team contest -- included the Bemidji Beast, the Bemidji Buzzsaw, the Minnesota Sasquatch, the Minnesota Minions, the Bemidji Voyageurs, the Bemidji Norsemen and the Bemidji Yellow Snow.

The “Norsemen” was considered, but ultimately not chosen due to the Minnesota Vikings connection.

“I liked the Norsemen, but we didn’t really want to invade the Vikings territory and seem like a copycat of the Vikings,” Kokalis said. “I think that the Axemen really turned out how we wanted it to.”

Now that the franchise has a name, logo and colors, it can get down to the business of actually playing football.

Kokalis said the team is in the process of interviewing head coaching candidates and will make an announcement later this month.

Player tryouts will be held in October; according to Kokalis the team already has received information and highlight videos from 200 players.

“I really want to leave that up to my head coach to make that decision,” he said. “You don’t want to sign players before you have a head coach.”

By Thursday afternoon, the team had also updated its website -- -- and Facebook page.

The team’s schedule will be unveiled in October after the IFL meetings in Las Vegas. The Axemen plan on playing eight games at the Sanford Center and seven on the road.

There are 10 teams in the league. Further expansion was rumored last month but Kokalis said as of Thursday, there were no plans to add more teams at the moment.