In a matter of weeks, a whole new pack of football fans will sprout in Billings and stand ready to defend the den. These rabid football lovers have waited five years to see a hometown indoor team take to the field. On March 15, 2015, they’ll get their chance to again watch the action at the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark as their brand new team with the Indoor Football League, the Billings Wolves, takes to the hometown turf.
“The making of the team began two years ago,” says Marc Burr, Billings Wolves’ General Manager. For Marc, it’s been a long road of research and development to find out what fans want and expect out of a new indoor football team. He wrote the business plan and then talked extensively with his father-in-law Ron Benzel about ownership. He says, “The two years of research were all about having a blueprint in which we could be successful.” Ron is a third-generation sugar beet farmer and Marc says it was that farm operation philosophy that helped him craft the plan for the Wolves. “Where my father-in-law looks to expand the land he farms in a controlled manner, we look to do the same with our football team,” he says. From ticket sales to sponsors and media partners to marketing, he adds that with his father-in-law’s business savvy and his passion for a great product, the pair knew there was potential.
It was a year ago that the IFL board voted 9 to 0 to grant Hardin native Ron “Shorty” Benzel ownership of the Billings Wolves. Now that the season is close to its kick off, Marc adds, “I’m excited to watch the youth of Billings experience — maybe for their first time — a professional football game. As a father of three sons, two of whom are 4 and 3 and have never witnessed a game, I can’t wait to take pictures with them and have memories that will last a lifetime.”
Since the team launched, Marc’s staff has been working behind the scenes to make sure that it is not just the team that’s making football magic and memories. If you look at the team’s marketing, financial department, ticket sales and team spirit, there are a handful of “she-wolves” protecting their pack to get this team ready for some serious football.
Meet the women behind the Billings Wolves.
“We are very excited about our upcoming season,” says Jamie Burr, the Billings Wolves’ Market Researcher. “It’s been fun watching the entire thing come together.” As wife of General Manager Marc Burr, Jamie has had a front row seat to all the action. She won’t soon forget the day he approached her to talk about an “amazing idea.”
“When Marc had the idea to bring football back it reminded me of spring, one little flower showing signs of spring to come and the next thing you know the grass is green and everywhere you look flowers are in bloom. The idea took off quickly and here we are counting down the last few weeks before kickoff,” she says.
“My favorite part so far has been the children that come up to us at different events around town and thank us for bringing football back to Billings,” Jamie says. “In the beginning, I completed all of the marketing research for Yellowstone and surrounding counties. Lately, Tina (Benzel, meet her below) and I have been working on all of the merchandise, deciding on jerseys, tee shirts and hat designs, as well as other fun fan favorites. Everything has been coming together quite smoothly.”
She can’t wait until March 15th. “The first game will definitely be bittersweet, emotional and very exhilarating. I cannot wait to see the entire idea all come together. My goal is to sit back with all of the fans, take it all in, and just enjoy the game,” she says.
You can definitely see that The Billings Wolves operation is a family affair. Tina Benzel, Jamie’s mother and owner Ron Benzel’s wife of 28 years, handles the team’s finances. After working 30 years at First Interstate Bank — from bookkeeping all the way up to management — tapping in to her financial experience was a no-brainer.
“It’s definitely stressful at times overseeing the numbers for a professional football team but preparing for the season is an unexpected joy.” Aside from crunching numbers, Tina took charge and orchestrated all the fan gear, from the hats and shirts to pens and fan novelties. She says, “When the opportunity presented itself to head up the merchandising department, how could I say no to shopping? I am excited to see all the families fill up the arena and watch the guys play on EFX Sport Field.”
Another member of the behind-the-scenes pack is Nikki Bykonen, who volunteers to help the team make community connections. Not only is she trying to build that fan base with season ticket holders, she’s reaching out to groups who just might want to get in on the action. Nikki explains, “I have been contacting schools and local non-profits to offer them opportunities to be part of the Wolves family as well.”
Nikki credits her husband for getting her involved.
“He is the fanatic in our house!” she beams. “Our family loves football! We are very involved in our local Yellowstone Youth Football, where I also volunteer and hold a position on their board. Football is a very large part of our lives so working with this new league just seemed right!”
Recently, Nikki was on the sidelines watching the team tryouts at the Billings Sports Plex. She was thrilled to meet some of the athletes hoping to make the team.
“I don’t know any of the players well enough to pick a favorite,” she says, “but I’m sure I will pick one before the season starts!”
When the lights go down at half time, Sherlynn Stewart wants nothing more than the fans to enjoy an energetic and entertaining show. As the head coach of the She Wolves Dance Team, the countdown is on to game day. Sherlynn knows, “Adrenaline, nerves, excitement, pride and honor, are a few things that the girls will be feeling once they hit the field.”
Sherlynn was running the Billings Sports Plex when Marc Burr walked into the office one day to set up practice times for his new team. After chatting about her experience coaching dance and cheer teams in the past, it wasn’t long before she got the job as coach and chose the name the “She Wolves” to complement this brand new football team. Sherlynn’s 20-year-old daughter, Lynda, who has been dancing since she was four, is the team’s assistant coach.
Tryouts were held last November and when the team was chosen, the result was an eclectic mix of women. From Zumba and dance instructors to college students to banking professionals, Sherlynn says, “These women are professional women who work 40 hours a week and sometimes more, are furthering their education and are raising families. They have a deep desire for dancing and performing. That’s how they became team members.”
And when that opening game day finally arrives? “For myself as Head Coach my eyes will probably be welling up with tears of pride. These women may have come in as strangers but they are family now and I am so proud of who they are, blessed that they understand our mission of being a positive community dance team and so honored that they have joined our team!”
Billings Wolves fans, get ready for free tailgating parties that will start two hours before kickoff. That’s when you can meet the players, the dance team, and have a chance at pre-game prizes. For more on tickets and game day events, visit billingswolves.com.