Burgh Defenders arena team ‘childhood dream’ for hip-hop artist owner

“I’m living out part of a childhood dream,” said Washington, head coach and part owner of the Burgh Defenders, an expansion team that plans to play this year in the American Arena League.

Home base is Robert Morris Island Sports Center on Neville Island where the team will play five games, starting March 30 against the New England Bobcats, Washington said.

Washington, who played football, basketball, tennis and baseball at the former Oliver High School on the North Side, is backing the team with his own money. “Hopefully, we can get some sponsors on board. Either way, we’re here to play ball,” he said.

Washington, who also goes by his hip-hop persona, Tjuan Benafactor, said the first of nine games will be March 23 on the road against the West Virginia Roughriders. The season ends June 1 at New England.

He said he has 14 players under contract, including players from Woodland Hills, Baldwin, Brashear, Langley and Allderdice. Many have played semi-pro football in Western Pennsylvania.

Washington said he will pay players between $100-$200 per game, but he has offered $400 to Mortty Ivy, 32, who played at Gateway, West Virginia and in the NFL, including parts of the 2011 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“He said he’ll think about it,” said Benafactor, who plans to hold a tryout camp Feb. 3 at Green Tree SportsPlex. He needs about 10 more players to fill out the roster.

Ivy wouldn’t be the oldest player on the team. That distinction could go to 35-year-old Michael Holloway of Baldwin.

“Thirty is the new 20,” he said.

Gregory Oliver, a 5-foot-5 running back who said he ran a 4.2-second 40-yard dash at George Washington High School in Manhattan, said he will do almost anything to play indoor football in Pittsburgh.

”If I have to move up here, I will,” he said.

Indoor football is an expensive business venture, a fact underscored by two failed Pittsburgh franchises that played in the more-established Arena Football League, which has lost several teams over the years. The Gladiators in the late 1980s and Power, who disbanded in 2014 after four seasons, played at Civic Arena and Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) to mostly sparse crowds.

Washington’s team hopes to succeed on a much smaller scale, but he estimates a budget of $10,000 per game, including $5,900 for rent and $1,700 for converting the ice rink into a 50-yard football field.

Meanwhile, he’s not worried about the rafters that hang from the ceiling.

“We don’t plan on kicking a lot of field goals,” he said.

Ticket prices range from $5 for those who don’t mind standing to $500 for a party of 30, with catering available. Reserved seating is $18 and general admission $16.

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