Wheelers kicked to curb when hotel abruptly closes

Originally Posted Online: April 13, 2009, 9:26 pm
Last Updated: April 17, 2009, 2:29 pm
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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com
Instead of the rest and relaxation offered by an off day, "Victory Monday'' instead became "Moving Day'' for the Quad City Steamwheelers.

The local arenafootball2 team's 26 players and one assistant coach were forced to evacuate Davenport's Riverside Plaza Hotel at River Drive on the east edge of downtown.

Hotel management for the former Howard Johnson's informed the team's front office at 7:30 a.m. they would be cutting power to the building and shutting their doors for good, with patrons required to leave.

By late morning the automatic front doors and elevator no longer worked, and the building was dark, players reported. Calls to the hotel went unanswered.

"They gave us two hours to find a new place to live,'' said Wheelers general manager Shawn Brown, who spent most of the day on the phone, seeking alternate accomodations.

"It was a terrible situation. Our guys were kicked to the curb with no warning. Fortunately, one of our great friends and sponsors, Rod Williams at EconoLodge, stepped up and said, `I want to help.'''

So the team spent its off day, earned with Saturday's 69-48 win over Milwaukee, moving belongings to the northwest Davenport motel, where many players were housed last season.

"We would have been back there this year, too, but frankly, the price was right at the HoJo,'' said Brown, whose team receives a $20,000 af2 stipend each season to help provide housing for the players.

Brown's challenge is finding a hotel willing to trade sponsorship and advertising in exchange for some, if not all, of the annual housing bill.

"They wanted the exposure, and they needed the tennants,'' Brown said of a deal too-good-to-be-true. "But this is a case of getting exactly what you pay for.''

Free housing and meals helps offset the $200 weekly game checks players earn, Brown said.

"This is supposed to be an off-day for the players and our planning day in the office for Game Day,'' Brown said, eyeing a home date Saturday with defending Midwest Division champ Green Bay. "But, instead, we had to deal with this distraction.

"I feel terrible for the players, having to be uprooted like that. It's an unfortunate situation. But at least I know now they're in a place now where they're going to be safe and not have the power turned off on them or the doors shuttered behind them.''

New practice home, too: The Wheelers are moving to a new practice home today, but the players won't mind relocating to these digs.

With the pro hockey season done locally, the Wheelers officially move in for their first practice of the season this morning at Moline's i wireless Center.

Davenport's OS Sports Complex houses training camp and early-season workouts for the team. "The Bubble on Brady'' also is there in case the Wheelers are displaced by an event at the i-wi. The trouble is, the "Bubble'' does not feature slack nets, goal posts or the sidewalls associated with indoor football.

"It's huge for us to finally get in there,'' Biladeau said. "It's easier to adjust playing in the confines of the game when you do it every day. It's especially important for the young guys, like (receiver) Deonte Sharp, who is learning the game and learning how to catch the ball off the net on kickoffs. We hadn't been able to do any of that work until now.''

Milestone for Walker: QC's 36-year-old receiver, Jack Walker Jr., became the eighth af2 player to reach the 900-point career plateau with a pair of TD grabs over the weekend.

"I have to congratulate my teammates for that,'' Walker said. "Without (quarterback) J.J. (Raterink) throwing the ball, and the line keeping him clean, I wouldn't be there.

"It's nice joining an elite club like that. But I'm happiest we bounced back from a bad weekend (losing the previous weekend at Tennessee Valley) and got a victory we needed in front of the fans here.''

Walker is in his fourth season with the Wheelers. He's also played in the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League.

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