IFL Athletes, Coaches Meet Troops During Fleet Week

Jerry Milani sent along the following:


Miletich, Rothwell, Miller, Patterson Among League Notables To Conduct
Clinics, Sign Autographs, Share Stories

NEW YORK, May 28, 2007 — The scene was one that seemed pretty
familiar to most anyone. It was a warm mid-spring evening and a group of
maybe 300 young men and women had gathered for a fairly social evening of
casual athletic competition. On one end, with the sound of music
filling the air, was a spirited whiffle ball game, while off to the side
several other groups tossed around a softball and a football while chatting
away the evening. About 300 yards away, a series of very competitive
basketball games, ranging from shooting contests to five on five
matchups, were attracting not just competitors but a rather large crowd of
interested bystanders. In another area still another group milled about
chatting up sports and talking about the upcoming plans for Memorial Day
Weekend. It could have been a park in any growing mid-sized community,
with a mix of men and women unwinding from their day jobs.

However there were two very big differences, both of which were as much
social commentary on the state of the world today and the progress of
the athletic world in general. The first was the location. All the
activity was taking place aboard the USS Wasp, the amphibious assault ship
leading the Naval procession into New York Harbor for Fleet Week. The
second difference, was that after about 45 minutes, a group of young
and buff Marines, both men and women, decided that the casual sports
interests of gatherings gone by was enough. They unrolled a series of
mats, placed them in the middle of the massive hangar bay, and implored
some very interested bystanders…MMA legends and IFL coaches Pat Miletich
and Renzo Gracie, Silverbacks undefeated heavyweight Ben Rothwell, and
IFL commissioner Kurt Otto…to join them for some instruction and
casual competition in the sport of choice of many in their age group, Mixed
Martial Arts.

What happened in the next 20 minutes is a reflection of what is
occurring not just on military ships, but in gyms and communities across
America. The crowd, both watching and participating in all the other
“mainstream” activates in the area, stopped and migrated over to both
watch and participate in the demonstrations for the next three hours. At
its midpoint, the group that ringed the mats and stood no less than
seven deep, all craning their necks to watch these masters of the
world’s fastest growing competitive sport ply their trade. Pickup basketball
and casual whiffle ball ended up where they seem to be going more and
more with this key demo, in a far back seat to the intensity and the
strategy of MMA.

The clinic in the hangar bay of the WASP, the 10th Navy ship to bear
that name since the 1800’s, was one of the highlights of a three day
adventure for a host of IFL athletes and staff, and was the latest in a
series of events that the IFL is staging with branches of the military
to support those men and women who do so much in service to their
country. In total eight IFL athletes…the New York Pitbulls’ Bryan Vetell
and Jamal Patterson, the San Jose Razorclaws’ Brian Foster and Josh
Odom, and the Chicago Red Bears’ Mark Miller as well as Gracie,
Miletich and Otto…joined “IFL Battleground” host Tiffany Fallon, ring
girls Lori Coolidge and Lauren Potter, 2006 Miss Maine (and IFL staffer)
Karissa Staples and former NFL great Sean Landeta…for two days of
meet and greets, instruction and autograph sessions aboard five ships
coming into New York for Fleet Week 2007. Those five ships; the Wasp, the
Winston Churchill, the Oscar Austin, the Stephen Groves and the Hue
City, gave the IFL a
chance to say “thank you” to over 3,000 servicemen and women, while
creating an unforgettable experience for all involved. The week was
capped off Friday night, when Patterson and Chicago Red Bears coach and
world champion Igor Zinoviev (himself a Russian military vet) signed
autographs again for the troops at the Fleet Week kickoff event at Webster
Hall in Manhattan.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was asked, but I can easily
say this is something that I will never forget and will implore all my
IFL teammates to try soon,” said Rothwell, who even got to take on the
Wasp’s Commanding Officer, Captain Michael D. Hawley, in a series, of
skill competitions aboard ship on the first night of the trip (Hawley
won two of the three events, a sign that Rothwell is not only a great
athlete but is a smart enough not to upstage his host in the middle of
the Atlantic Ocean). Even his coach, Miletich, who has been involved
instructing the military in various forms of training for over a dozen
years, was awed by the experience. “In my 13 years of working with
servicemen and women, I have never seen a group as receptive and
enthusiastic and the men and women of the Wasp,” he added. “This was a
pleasure to be involved with, and it is something that I am looking forward
to working with the IFL to continue and expand upon going forward.”

The Friday night meet and greet and the hangar bay clinic were the
latest in what was a very busy and productive week for the IFL working with
servicemen and women. The week prior, IFL coach and MMA legend Frank
Shamrock joined men and women for their “No Dough Dinner” leading
into the IFL Sears Centre event, and IFL coaches conducted a clinic and
autograph signing at the Great Lakes base prior to the Chicago event.
The military had a prominent place for the Sears Centre event, and then
athletes, staff and coaches flew directly from Chicago to Norfolk to
board the ships and spend two days talking and working with the men and
women prior to their arrival in New York.

The experience was beneficial not just the for IFL staff, but for the
servicemen and women as well. One of the most impressed was Ensign Ian
Lopez, an MMA aficionado and big fan of Gracie jiu-jitsu, who not only
got to spend time breaking bread with his hero Renzo Gracie, but got to
get some world class MMA instruction with the legend himself.
“It’s one thing to be able to watch the videos and shake the hands of
someone like Renzo or Pat,” Lopez added, “But to get to have them
instruct you and see the pride they take in helping us was a huge lift not
just for me but for all of us. It is something we will never forget.”

“These men and women lay it on the line for this great country every
day, they are the true heroes,” said Gracie, a naturalized American
citizen and New Jersey resident. “If this is what we can do as
athletes and coaches to take the time and support them and brighten their
days, then we all should do it. After all, people call us warriors —
these people are the real warriors.”

A worthwhile experience for all involved.

About the IFL

International Fight League (IFL) is the world’s number one
professional mixed martial arts sports league. IFL has its headquarters in
New York and offices in Las Vegas. For more information about IFL,
please see: www.ifl.tv