Thunder clouds looming

It should be a close vote, and much will hang in the balance depending on the outcome of the ballot.
The Ontario provincial election? Nope. Think a little closer to home.
This political war will culminate in February on the Couchiching First Nation Reserve, when the annual elections for chief and band council take place— and the existence of the Borderland Thunder may very well be at stake.
There is allegedly a groundswell of support on the reserve to examine more closely the financial feasibility of the reserve continuing to own the Thunder. A group of concerned citizens presented official documents to me this past week, stating the team had lost in excess of $122,000 at the end of the reserve’s fiscal year this past March.
They claim that, should the February elections signal the end of current Chief Chuck McPherson’s term as leader of the reserve and displace enough of the present councillors, that changes to how the reserve does business could change—in regards to the Thunder, dramatically.
McPherson declares that the debt has been reduced by $40,000-$50,000 since March, and that the cost of running the team is worth the benefit of providing athletic opportunities for young First Nations players, six of which suited up this past weekend to take part in this past weekend’s first full sessions of Borderland training camp at the Ice for Kids Arena.
He is emphatic that other needs of people on the reserve are not being forsaken in order to funnel money into the price of maintaining the Thunder.
The citizens group are in disagreement, and has made it clear that while they are not anti-Thunder, they are not willing to sit back and watch what they say is good money getting poured into a bad investment.
They have even said that they would go as far as to shut the team down in mid-season this year if the financial numbers don’t add up. McPherson replies that he can’t understand why the citizens would want to deprive the reserve’s young people of another chance to make something of themselves.
This has large implications for many people not only on the reserve, but in the community. From the people who run the canteen who may lose important game night revenue, to the local proprietors of Thunder merchandise, to the players and coaches and team management themselves, the impact would be significant.
And if the Thunder are considered a monetary millstone around the neck of its owners, what does that say for the long-term viability of the rest of the SIJHL teams, who are supposedly are in the same financial boat as Borderland, if not worse? What does it say about the league’s future?
The loss of what is viewed by many as the flagship organization of the SIJHL could have a devastating domino effect on the other four teams.
Nothing is for certain, of course, and it’s dangerous to get caught in a Chicken Little mentality. The hockey sky, at this point, is not yet falling.
But there are tough questions involved, to be sure. The short-term answers will come in February, the long-term ones down the road.
The choice is up to the First Nations people. Their decision will bear close scrutiny in the months to come.

• • •
For the sake of brevity, I’ll save you all my in-depth analysis of the upcoming NFL season—mostly because, with my luck, my prognostications will all be revealed as mindless drivel.
In the NFC, it will be the Philadelphia Eagles (East), Green Bay Packers (North), Tampa Bay (South), and St. Louis (West) taking their respective divisions, while San Francisco and New Orleans will take the wild card spots.
I know, picking the Saints make no sense. But I had to show some kind of integrity and avoid picking my Dallas Cowboys (just wait for 2004), and New Orleans couldn’t possibly choke at the end of the year three straight seasons and cost themselves yet another playoff berth. Could they? Oh, well, stranger things have happened.
In the AFC, look for Buffalo (East), PIttsburgh (North), Tennessee (South), and Denver (West) to lead the way (memo to Muskies athletic director Darren Johnson: you’re welcome, but Jake Plummer had better not be a flop). Miami and Indianapolis claiming wild card berths.
The Bills look loaded with their defensive acquisitions and a high-powered offence, and in what is certainly a wide-open conference, have a great chance to make a pile of trouble for their AFC rivals.
My Super Bowl pick? I can tell you one thing in extreme confidence: Arizona and Cincinnati don’t have a prayer.
Having said that, you can now probably lay your money on a Cardinals-Bengals Super Bowl.

• • •
Here’s a reminder for returning members of the Fort Frances Cyclone Swim Club, as well as any prospective new members, that registration for this season takes place tomorrow (Thursday) from 5-7 p.m in the lobby of the Memorial Sports Centre.
Call Cyclones coach Debbie Murray at 486-3886 (home) or 274-4561 (work) for more information.

• • •
The grand re-opening of the newly renovated Plaza Lanes is still on for this Sunday at 12 p.m.
The public will have a free-of-charge opportunity to test the revamped facility, which now includes electronic scoring, string pins and a bar area. All people who come out Sunday will be treated to one free game — with the hope they’ll come back for plenty more of the paying variety, either on their spare time, or as a member of one of the many available leagues.
The lanes were supposed to open to the public Aug. 24, but had to be pushed back due to unforeseen circumstances.
Members of all adult leagues from last year are being invited out this week for three free games, while those pint-sized pin pros who register for YBC will receive one free game.

• • •
The one-day community-wide blitz to help raise funds for the Muskie football program will take place this coming Monday, beginning at 5 p.m.
Muskie players dressed in their game jerseys will travel door-to-door throughout Fort Frances offering Touchdown Club discount cards to the public.
The players won’t be collecting money, and will only take your name, address and phone number if you express interest in getting the card, which entitles the holder to discounts from various local businesses.

• • •
Fort Frances Wado Kai will be offering regular karate classes every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30-8 p.m. at the St. Francis School Gym, beginning Sept. 9.
Classes are free until October, and families are encouraged to join. For more information, contact Chris Bazinet at 274-4788.

• • •
A correction on an earlier item: in last week’s story about the Thunder’s regular season schedule, it was mentioned that this year’s SIJHL all-star game is set for the Fort William Gardens Jan. 28.
Well, the calendar and SIJHL commissioner Harvey Fedell informs me that I’m a year behind the times. Fort William was actually the host of last year’s game, while this year’s star-studded tilt is scheduled for Dryden.
I knew this retro craze would go too far. It seems as though I’m stuck in the past.

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