HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The formerly defunct Harrisburg Stampede indoor arena football team is back to compete in the state capital with games starting in 2024.
“This is not going to be a ‘success or failure year one’ and if we don’t succeed or we don’t hit all our goals we won’t be back,” Stampede owner Justin Coble said. “We have a five-year plan; I have a business plan. We’re going to carry it out.”
Coble has lived in central Pennsylvania for 16 years and owns Dazzle Sports in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, and the Dazzle Sports Group LLC where he works in marketing with athletes involving memorabilia items and autographs. Coble previously owned the Stampede in 2012 before selling it to Dynasty Group.
Now Coble is back with a new vision for the Stampede.
“I was thinking about it a couple of years ago and then the pandemic hit,” Coble said. “I think it’s still a good brand of sports. It’s a good community-based, affordable entertainment for families.”
The Stampede were one of the original teams in the American Indoor Football (AIF) league. The Stampede, who started in 2009, were originally with the American Indoor Football Association before moving to the Southern Indoor Football League. Over their tenure, before suspending operations on Dec. 30, 2014, they were also a part of the Professional Indoor Football League.
In deciding to bring back the Harrisburg team, alongside the AIF’s announcement of restarting its league after a hiatus since 2016, Coble has chosen to keep the original Harrisburg team name along with the logo and colors.
The Stampede’s 2024 season will run from the end of March through June, and they will play at the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex. Harrisburg’s schedule will be released early next month.
The Stampede named its head coach, Bernie Nowotarski, in a press conference on Sept. 7. Nowotarski is a graduate of Exeter High School and Kutztown University, where he is in both school’s Hall of Fames for three different sports.
Nowotarski played in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions in 1982 before later joining the Michigan Panthers in the first installment of the USFL.
Nowotarski started his football coaching journey with the Reading Express arena football team in 2005 as an assistant coach. In 2008, he became the general manager and head coach of the Express, leading them to the first professional National Championship the city has ever had in 2009.
Nowotarski also worked as a defensive coordinator with the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks and was a defensive back and special teams coach for the Philadelphia Soul who earned World Championships in 2016 and 2017.
“I basically thought my indoor arena days were done coaching,” said Nowotarski.
Nowotarski was the head coach of the Stampede under Cobles original ownership and Nowotarski decided he wanted to be a part of the team in its comeback season.
“I gave Bernie one instruction,” Coble said. “I said I need you to win. So, he’s got the pressure when it comes to the football side, but he’s more than capable.”
In the next 30 to 45 days the Stampede will begin holding tryouts. However, on their website they have already received over two dozen submissions of interest from athletes hoping to make the squad. They will be holding tryouts in Central Pennsylvania, in a location that is to be determined, New Jersey and Baltimore.
They are hoping to fill about half of the team with Central Pennsylvania natives. Coble noted that in the past they had about a quarter of the team from Central Pennsylvania.
“I would hope for that same if not more,” Nowotarski said. “I definitely want to have some local talent.”
Both Coble and Nowotarski emphasized that players will be required to put in time not only on the field, but off the field as well by working with the community.
“It’s not all just about football, it’s about being in the community and being a part of different things in the community,” Nowotarski said.
They plan on partnering with a nonprofit every game like they used to do with an emphasis on local, grassroots nonprofits. In the past they held an Easterseals football camp and they hope to be able to hold something similar in the future.
“I wanted to do more grassroots nonprofits this year, ones that impact central Pennsylvania where we play and help our city and touch the people in our city,” Coble said. We love Philadelphia, we love Pittsburgh, but we live here.”
The Stampede are also partnering with Central Pennsylvania high school marching bands to allow them to perform at games. They plan on hosting a new band at every home game.
They will also be starting the Harrisburg Ring of Honor where they will induct former Stampede players and retire their jersey numbers. The Stampede will be inducting four former athletes in their 2024 season including Archie Smith who is on the football coaching staff at Bishop McDevitt High School, Will Hines who played for the original Stampede team, Eugene Goodman who was a star running back for the Stampede and who now owns a soul food restaurant in Hershey, and Jermaine Thaxton who was very successful in arena football.
“These guys are role models,” Coble said. “They played arena football; they hold jobs in our community, and they stayed [here].”
The Stampede’s arena at the Fram Show complex has 2,400 seats, but Coble already has eyes on moving to a larger arena because he is confident in the support the Stampede will receive.
Season tickets for the Stampede begin at $50.