The title “Team Mom” takes on a different meaning when it comes to Stephanie Tucker.
She spent the week in Oklahoma City, sitting with other moms and watching daughter Kaitlyn compete in a national dance competition. Between dances, she was on the phone, keeping tabs on the two fitness centers she owns. She also was putting the finishing touches on a new business, which will offer wellness plans for Panhandle residents.
Oh yeah. One more thing.
While juggling all of that, Tucker was making arrangements to get the Amarillo Venom, the indoor football team she owns, to Wichita, Kansas, to play in tonight’s Champions Indoor Football championship game against the Wichita Force.
For Tucker, owner and general manager of the state’s most successful professional football team of the last five years, juggling life around the playoffs isn’t unusual.
The Venom won championships in 2012 and 2013. They lost in the semifinals in 2014, before faltering last year with a 7-6 record and missing the playoffs.
Tonight’s game is the second meeting between Wichita (11-2) and Amarillo (10-4) this season, with the Force winning the first 59-51.
Tucker sees her team as an extension of her family and is proud of its accomplishments in the same way a parent dotes over children. She’s fiercely protective of her players, helping them find offseason jobs to make ends meet. She’ll also tear into a player if, for example, he doesn’t wear a knee brace and re-injures himself because of it.
Pro Team Sports
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Alamo Heights’ Morgan Dawley looks at the runner-up trophy with Jered Aldaz (22) and Michael Kelleher (10) after their team fell to Grapevine 9-2 during the UIL state baseball 5A championship in Round Rock on June 10, 2016.
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The Express-News Area all-sports award is named in honor of the late Dan Cook, shown in 1995. Cook was a sportswriter and columnist for the newspaper from 1952-2003. He also served as the sports anchor for KENS-TV from 1956-2000.
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Alamo Heights head coach Jason Thompson stands with his team before the UIL state baseball 5A championship in Round Rock on June 10, 2016.
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Tucker, a native of nearby Groom, caught the sports management bug when she was 16.
Working on the family farm, she accidentally plowed up a long stretch of her dad’s fencing. He promptly fired her from her farm job. She got a job answering phones part-time at the offices of the Amarillo Dallas, a now-defunct independent baseball team.
Within weeks, the teen Tucker was the team’s de facto promotions director, staging on-field contests and other non-baseball entertainment. She studied management and marketing at Texas Tech but spent her post-college years moving around the state as husband Toby Tucker lived the itinerant life of a high school coach.
The Tuckers had moved back to the Panhandle when, on a rare weekend with no youth sports obligations, they went to a Venom game.
It was 2011. Indoor football has been played in Amarillo since 2004, with the team changing either name, league or owner every few seasons. (It echoed the indoor football era in San Antonio, which ended in 2014 when the Arena Football League’s Talons went out of existence.)
High scores have always been part of the indoor football game, which is played by eight-man teams on a 50-yard-field. The game was created and marketed as a way to satiate football addicts during the off-season.
Fans, however, never paid much attention, resulting in teams that have always struggled to stay solvent.
The idea behind the league has thrived, ironically, in the traditional game. The modern 11-man game — at all levels — is a living, breathing homage to indoor football, with lots of passing, porous defenses, and high scores.
Back on Tucker date night, Stephanie spent the game sharing with Toby some of her sports marketing ideas. She had always dreamed of owning a professional team. By the end of the game, the couple had decided to put a bid in for the Venom
For the Tuckers, indoor football has been an immediate success on and off the field.
Besides winning, the Venom draw between 1,000-3,500 fans per game. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a nice-sized crowd in the Panhandle.
The league has a $3,500-per-game salary cap, Tucker said, to keep costs down and keep all of the teams viable in the long run.
She has no regrets.
“It’s been a roller coaster couple of years,” she said, “but it’s been fun.”
When asked about who is one of the most recognized faces on the Amarillo professional sports scene, most will point in the direction of Amarillo Venom head coach Julian Reese.
First arriving in Amarillo as the quarterback of the upstart Dusters of the Intense Football League in 2004, Reese has played a major part in indoor football’s success in the Texas Panhandle either as a quarterback or as head coach.
Since taking over coaching duties at the tail end of the 2011 season, Reese has accumulated a 43-26 record, four postseason appearances, secured winning seasons four out of five seasons, and has claimed two championships.
Reese will attempt to acquire his third championship Monday night when the Venom travel to Wichita, Kan., for the the Champions Indoor Football league title game.
The Venom earned the title berth with last week’s victory over the top-seeded Texas Revolution. But there was a slight bump in the road in preparing for the 7:05 p.m. championship game in Intrust Bank Arena.
On Tuesday, Reese underwent an emergency appendectomy at BSA Hospital.
However, by Wednesday, Reese was released and was back overseeing practice.
“I’m feeling a lot better, and I’m very thankful that the game is on Monday,” Reese said. “I’m a little sore, but I’m ready for the championship on Monday.”
Despite having the obvious drive to haul in another title for Amarillo, there lies much more to Reese than meets the eye, according to fellow coaches and those who play for him.
For instance, there is wide receiver/defensive backs coach Donta Bright. Bright, a veteran of the indoor game, has played with and against Reese.
“Julian is a good guy,” Bright said. “When I first met him, he was really passionate about the game. He was always on time, always the last person off of the field. He’s dedicated to what he does and he knows what he’s doing. I think that’s what grew on me when we played together and rubbed off on me.
“It was the way he studied and showed me how to study a little bit. That’s what helped me, and I’m trying to pass it on to the younger guys.”
Two of those younger guys are defensive back Percy Turner and linebacker Kendrick Causey.
“When Kendrick and I came here as rookies last season, Reese and (Venom defensive coordinator) Dannie Snyder took the time out to teach us the game,” said Turner, who spent time earlier this year as a member of American Indoor Football’s New Mexico Stars. “We got better every day. I can remember the first game was in Dodge City, and we didn’t know any indoor football rules. Coach Reese said, ‘just play football and I’ll correct you as you go.’”
Turner said he has continuously improved, and after the season-ending loss to Sioux City last year, he is determined to help Reese and his Venom teammates take home a championship.
Causey, who played alongside Turner in New Mexico and Amarillo, echoed Turner’s words in how Reese has instilled that hunger to win from within.
“We’re pretty much on the same page right now concerning that hunger stage,” Causey said. “I’ve never been to a championship before. This is my first championship appearance, so I’m hungry, and I want it really bad.”
Lastly, Reese has used his experience from his past title wins in 2004, 2012 and 2013 to aid his players.
“I just tell them, don’t try to do anything crazy and don’t do anything outside of your character,” Reese said. “As long as you trust in the guys next to you and trust in what we have in the system, we’ll be fine. We just need to make plays collectively and within the realm of what we’re doing as a team. As long as we can stay true to who we are throughout the game, there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs, but it’s a matter of how you handle those things.”
Amarillo 98, Dodge City 56
Bloomington 65, Sioux City 45
Wichita 52, Bloomington 51
Amarillo 57, Texas 53
Champions Bowl II
Amarillo at Wichita, 7:05 p.m.
With a 57-53 road victory the Amarillo Venom will play in the 3rd championship game in 5 years. The Venom will travel to Wichita, Monday June 27 to take on the North Division champion Wichita Force. For ticket information contact 806-350-PASS.
In their first home postseason appearance since the 2013 Lone Star Football League championship, the Amarillo Venom made a strong statement.
The Venom scored just two points shy of triple digits, soundly defeating the Dodge City Law 98-56 in a Champions Indoor Football Divisional Round playoff matchup on Saturday night at the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Cal Farley Coliseum.
Amarillo (9-4) advances to the CIF Southern Division championship and will play for a chance at a berth to the 2016 Champions Bowl, squaring off against the top-seeded Texas Revolution at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Allen Event Center in Allen.
“We’re right there on the edge of our true potential,” said Venom coach Julian Reese following the victory.
“When we needed the big plays, we got it them. (Quarterback Nate Davis) played well, the defense caused turnovers and we finished the game strong. It also gives us some confidence and shows what we can do at this level. I believe that the consistency is key still, especially when we go in and play for a championship berth next week.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Venom set the tone for the game following a 13-yard run by Dodge City quarterback Derrick Bernard. In the point-after attempt by kicker Jared Wood, defensive end Desmond Raiford burst through the Dodge City line and swatted the ball downfield.
“All year long, I’ve been going outside when I’ve tried to block kicks,” Raiford said, describing the block. “So I thought that I’d give them a little inside flavor, a little bit of juice back in. All Dodge City was seeing on film all year was me going to the outside. I figured that I’d give a little sauce. It was a smaller guy too, so he was definitely expecting to take me outside. I went with the swim inside, and I got there.”
Defensive back Percy Turner then scooped up the ball and took it in for the two-point score.
“Desmond made a great block on it,” said Turner, who was brought into the lineup before the June 2 transaction freeze. “I saw it bounce up and I told myself ‘take it to the house, score, score, score.’ I just wanted to do something for the team and I made a play, that’s it.”
From the return onward, the game had shifted to Amarillo’s favor, as the Venom scored 25 unanswered points by halftime.
By the break, the Venom held a commanding 32-6 lead and didn’t allow the Law to come back into the game for the rest of the contest. Dodge City also struggled with turnovers and had trouble in the redzone, losing the ball five times and going 1-of-6 respectively.
Quarterback Nate Davis turned in his best performance of the season, going 23-of-36 with 372 yards passing and six touchdowns. The Ball State grad also rushed for 14 yards and five more trips into the endzone.
“When I told Coach Reese before the game, is that I wanted to play consistent,” Davis said of his performance. “I wanted to take whatever they gave us. That’s what I did. Whatever they gave us, I took it.”
Wide receiver Raymond Johnson Jr. led the Venom receiver corps with nine catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, defensive back Jemichael Williams turned in nine tackles, a forced fumble and a recovery.
Fellow defensive backs Leroy Trahan and Jevin Colbert acquired two interceptions, while linebacker Kendric Causey tallied a sack.
Dodge City was led by Bernard, who went 16-of-28 with 233 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Bernard also led the Law in rushing, with 118 yards and two touchdowns in 13 attempts.
The victory was the most dominant performance by the Venom since their 109-31 victory over the LEXFA All-Stars of Mexico on March 23, 2014. The Law conclude their 2016 campaign with an 8-5 overall record.
Venom 98, Law 56
Dodge City 0 6 28 22 — 56
Amarillo 0 32 28 38 — 98
AMA— Wyreaz Bradley 2 run (Felton kick)
DCL— Derrick Bernard 13 run (Jared Wood kick blocked)
AMA— Percy Turner PAT return
AMA— Davis 1 run (conversion failed)
AMA— Raymond Johnson Jr. 45 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
AMA— Davis 4 run (Felton kick)
AMA— Felton 35 field goal
AMA— Leonard Dixon Jr. 2 run (Felton kick)
DCL— Daniel McKinney 25 pass from Bernard (Ricardo Johnson 2 pass from Bernard)
AMA— Johnson Jr. 24 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
DCL— McKinney 27 pass from Bernard (conversion failed)
DCL— Johnson 45 pass from Bernard (Wood kick)
AMA— Julian Walker 30 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
AMA— Walker 22 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
DCL— Bernard 15 run (Wood kick)
AMA— Felton 39 field goal
DCL— Dominique Carson 2 pass from Bernard (Carson 2 pass from Bernard)
AMA— Davis 7 run (Felton kick)
DCL—Brandon Venson 13 pass from Bernard (Wood kick)
AMA— Davis 3 run (Felton kick)
AMA— Davis 2 run (conversion failed)
Dodge City Amarillo
First downs 14 29
Rushes-Yards 20-124 22-73
Passing-Yards 16-207 23-372
Total Yards 50-331 58-445
Comp-Att-Int 16-28-2 23-36-0
Fumbles-Lost 3-3 1-1
Penalties-Yards 12-96 13-71
Dodge City: Derrick Bernard 13-118; Ricardo Johnson 1-5; Dominique Carson 5-3; Daniel McKinney 1-minus 2. Amarillo: Wyreaz Bradley 9-36; Leonard Dixon Jr. 6-15; Nate Davis 6-14; Greg Jones 1-8.
Dodge City: Bernard 16-28-2-233. Amarillo: Davis 23-36-0-372.
Dodge City: Carson 7-73; McKinney 5-80; Johnson 2-58; Brandon Venson 2-22. Amarillo: Raymond Johnson Jr. 9-152; Julian Walker 5-84; Jones 3-65; Kent McDonald 2-16; Tommy Curry 2-7; Dixon Jr. 1-35; Bradley 1-13.