Written by Brian Johnson Sports Editor [email protected]
Shawnee’s first season of professional basketball was a resounding success.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation brought the Potawatomi Fire game to Shawnee to compete in the Basketball League (TBL) and the community has embraced it for a long time.
“It exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was in large part with the support of the community,” said David Kowals, General Manager of Fire and manager of Firelake Arena, the team’s stadium. “Except for a few teams in the Midwest and East, we were among the league leaders in attendance and were among the frontrunners in terms of the (central) conference.”
It didn’t hurt that the fire brought on an exciting kind of basketball that led to a regular season record 18-6 win in the first three playoff games before being eliminated by eventual Central Conference champion Shreveport Mavericks in a best 2-of-3 series of the second round That lasted all three matches.
“I think what worked was the entertainment show and we were able to highlight the different dance teams,” Qualls said. “The Fire Girls was the most popular dance team in the league and was an award set by fans. This was awesome. They were a very professional girl dance team. Three of them are college level dancers.”
Qualls credits Aonisty Parks, dance team coordinator for Fire and owner and manager of Shawnee’s Dream Catcher’s Studio.
“She and the girls made it happen with a level of professionalism. Bring it to the table.” Qualls said.
As for entertainment as a whole, Qualls believes there is room for improvement.
“Our first year was very overwhelming. Our actual focus was on the actual match and making sure everything was working.” “We are looking forward to more first-half action for next season, along with perhaps having back-doors parties before the match and having some entertainment after the match. We have learned that we need a more interactive program at halftime.”
The organization certainly handled things well in game time situations. There was one time in a home game when the 24 shot clock, located above each backboard, was down before a match. These clocks were replaced by television screens placed at the end of each hall. Those screens served as a shot clock and a convenient backup.
In contrast, in one Fire Road game, shot clocks were not working and only one clock was placed on the scorer’s table which uncomfortably resulted in a lot of shot clock violations.
Qualls believe in the importance of attending the Potawatomi Fire game.
“We think we made good concessions at an affordable price and our ticket price was just right,” said Coles.
General admission tickets were often $10, but over Memorial Day weekend there was $5 available for back-to-back home games. Playoff prices were only $12.50 for general admission.
“I think we’ve created a solid foundation to build on,” Coles said.
The TBL schedule was an embarrassment in 2022. In the nine-team Central Conference and 24-game schedule, Fire played three of the teams—Enid Outlaws, Rockwall 7ers, and Little Rock Lightning—six times each and did not play conference foes the Dallas Skyline and Waco Royals.
“The league promised to fix a few things. They made some scheduling errors. Coles, who said he expects that to improve for 2023, said: “We shouldn’t play three teams six times.
Qualls says the organization is listening to the fan base.
“We are getting great feedback from fans. We would like to increase attendance by at least 20%. We want to have more fan base with an enhanced club-like group.”
The Fire is also looking to create rides with its fan base for road games.
“With gas prices on the rise, we’re thinking of introducing a bus or caravan system to go to road games,” Coles said. “A road trip to Dallas can mean a game at 5pm and a nice dinner afterwards. We can do that especially with Enid. We’ve created a good in-state rivalry and are easy to travel with. It’s our TBL’s Bedlam series.”
For the March-May 2023 season with June qualifiers, Qualls is already excited about what’s in store.
“We are back bigger and stronger than ever. Good family event…Good night of entertainment,” Qualls said. “I would like to tell those who attended the games to encourage others to give us a chance.”