Phil (Cosz) Costantini, a Hamilton native who has been around football his entire life and has spent the past two decades coaching football at Saltfleet High School and with the Steel City Steelers varsity team of the Ontario Minor Football League, recently announced that the Niagara Spartans would play next spring out of the Fleming Memorial Arena in Beamsville in the newly formed Can-Am Indoor Football League.
The team will play home-and-home series with Buffalo, Lockport and Rochester, the three other teams in the league’s Western Division, and a home-and-home series with Vermont, which is in the league’s Eastern Division along with squads from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Glens Falls.
Costantini, a project manager and engineer with Fibrwrap Canada and the owner/operator of the Steel City Patriots semi-pro outdoor club, expects the team to be a success in Beamsville.
“We will be able to get a ton of our existing fans in Hamilton to come and check it out and the big thing for me is that so many of the players I’ve coached or been around have gone to the U.S. either for college scholarships or to play college ball and never come back,” he said. “Now we are going to give them the opportunity to come back and play in an arena environment that can best be described as hockey on turf.
“It’s just as fast, just as powerful and it is high scoring. You can be up 21 points or down 21 points in the next breath.”
The league plays eight-on-eight, four-down football, but there’s CFL-like motion for the receivers. The field is 50 yards long with eight-yard end zones and the width is the size of the arena. Each team will have 22 players on its active roster and eight players on its practice roster. Active players receive a per diem and a small weekly payment.
“Our homework says that we need to be at maximum capacity, but that doesn’t mean we need to be at 1,250,” Costantini said. “Maximum capacity means we need to be at 750 to a 1,000 to get to the break-even point, but we do understand our first year needs to be an investment because we have to own our turf and own the dasher boards that go over the actual boards.”
Costantini is ready to make that investment.
“The nice thing about the town is that as we grow bigger they are definitely willing to go to next level to get another 500 to 1,000 sets put in there for us.”
Costantini made a commitment to the league to stay as close to the border as possible and he checked out a variety of arenas, including the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, before deciding to make its home in Beamsville.
“We had expressions of interest from the township that were fairly immediate,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility and they can host us for the summertime because their ice will be out in early April.
“It’s a perfect seating environment as well.
The arena has 700 seats, but it can be modified to hold upwards of 1,250 fans with general admission, ground-level corporate boxes and a beer garden.
Costantini’s outdoor, semi-pro squad played in the United States and he was approached several times to join arena leagues. He ended up checking out indoor games in Buffalo, Rochester and Baltimore and was hooked.
“I started to fall in love with the game and thought it was a great opportunity for a lot of the local talent.
He initially met with the league in August and then went to inaugural meeting of the league executive in October where the Spartans were the only Canadian franchise to gain admittance into the league.
“They have strong ownership and a tremendously strong executive,” Costantini said.
The Spartans started tryouts last Saturday and they will continue this Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Beamsville and District Secondary School. Further tryouts will be held on Dec. 3, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17. Interested players need to register at www.niagaraspartans.com .