LORAIN — The Cleveland Gladiators still play their home games at Quicken Loans Arena but the team now makes its true home in Lorain.
The Arena Football League team opened training camp Monday in its new home at the All Pro Athletic Center, formerly known as Rival Sports, in Lorain.
With a full 100-yard indoor field that includes padded, inflatable practice walls to mimic the 50-yard AFL field, and facilities including locker rooms, meeting rooms, a weight room, cafeteria and team offices all on site, the Gladiators now have one of the top facilities in the AFL.
“This is incredible. It's the best situation, practice-wise, I've ever been in,” said wide receiver Collin Taylor, a four-year AFL veteran who spent the last three years in Iowa. “We always say it starts at the top. Management has provided us with an opportunity to practice somewhere like this where we can practice, work out, eat and hit the weight room all in one place. We have no excuses not to succeed.”
The Gladiators start the season March 15 at Pittsburgh, while their home opener is April 4 against Taylor’s former team, the Iowa Barnstormers.
Since the Gladiators moved to Cleveland from Las Vegas in 2008, the team has practiced at the MultiPlex in Warrensville Heights on an indoor soccer field that was formerly an ice rink.
The team is owned by Dan Gilbert, who also owns Quicken Loans Arena’s two primary tenants, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters.
“The All Pro Athletic Center is unbelievable. It gives you such a professional feel,” Gladiators coach Steve Thonn said. “Not that where we’ve been the past four years wasn’t good but we have so much room to get our work done here that it makes for a great practice atmosphere. If this isn’t the best facility in the league, it’s right near the top.”
Thonn, who is also the team’s Director of Football Operations, should know. He has been in the AFL since 1988, first as a player and then as a coach.
“The groundwork for the move was done by our front office, which reached out to All Pro Freight when they took over. We looked at this place over a year ago so I knew this was out here, but they put the deal together.”
Eddie Tisdale, All Pro Athletic Center’s vice president of operations, said the facility was looking for a signature tenant to raise its profile in the area and the Cleveland Gladiators are a perfect fit.
“Anytime you can be associated with a professional organization, especially one like the Gladiators that’s run at a top-notch level, it’s an amazing opportunity. It gives a cornerstone to hang our hat on when we’re marketing to the community,” Tisdale said. “We’re trying to do some cross-marketing with the team and find ways to get the community involved. It’s just a matter of sitting down and seeing what ideas we have and comparing them to the ideas they have.”
All Pro Athletic Center is also used on a daily basis by local baseball, softball and soccer teams looking for an indoor training facility during the harsh winter season.
Wide receiver Dominick Goodman, who is beginning his fourth season with the Gladiators, thinks a new home could help the team improve on last year’s disappointing 4-14 record.
“Everything we need is right here, and having those inflatable walls here is going to save a lot of wear and tear on our bodies over the course of a long season,” Goodman said.
Defensive back Joe Phinisee said a facility such as All Pro Athletic Center could even help the Gladiators attract free agents to Cleveland down the road.
“It’s like an NFL facility,” he said. “It’s a one-stop shop. We have everything we need under one roof. When you have an A-1 organization and facility like this, word gets out around the league and guys will hear about it and want to come here and capitalize on it.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.