In its 12 seasons, the Bloomington Edge has gone through numerous changes — two team names and five league affiliations chief among them — but leaders say the professional indoor football team’s core mission has remained the same since its founding.
General Manager Charles Welde said the organization and its players have always strived to provide Central Illinois residents with top-notch intergenerational entertainment that appeals to diehard sports enthusiasts and the casual observer alike.
But Welde said the Edge also provide an important role in the community by frequently stepping outside the walls of its venue, the Grossinger Motors Arena (formerly U.S. Cellular Arena), and providing outreach through a variety of platforms.
“Our mission is to be as involved in the community as much as possible,” Welde said. “We consider ourselves a community-first organization.”
The Bloomington Edge has been a staple in McLean County since the team made its first kick early in 2006. Initially, the franchise was known as the Bloomington Extreme.
But a change in ownership a half-dozen years later also prompted a change in the team’s name. Since 2012, the team has gone by its current moniker — a nod to Heller Ford’s naming rights. The “Edge” name is a tie-in to the Ford Edge automobile.
The local franchise has also cycled through a number of leagues, due in part to larger scale consolidations. At its birth, the team was part of the United Indoor Football League; three years later, it became a part of the Indoor Football League.
Subsequent affiliations included the Champions Professional Indoor Football League for two years and, in 2015, the X-League Indoor Football organization. Since last year, the Edge have been a part of the Champions Indoor Football League.
In its current iteration, the Edge has 25 players under contract at any given time, 21 of whom are on the active roster. The team’s regular season runs through most of the spring, beginning in early March and wrapping in late May or early June.
“We run similar to an indoor league for a hockey or baseball team,” Welde said, pointing to the shoestring operating budget when compared to the NFL, NBA or MLB.
Because costs are kept low, the Edge typically compete against nearby league teams. The exception, Welde said, is during championship games.
But running on a small budget has its advantages. The Edge and teams of its ilk have carved out a niche of allowing fans to interact with players in a way that never would be possible in the major leagues.
“At the end of every game, everyone can come down and meet the team,” Welde said. “It’s pretty awesome for the kids. It’s something they remember. It’s a big thrill for them.”
While spectators run the full spectrum of ages, Welde is quick to point out the Edge’s core demographic is children in junior high and under.
Because the games have such strong appeal to the youngest members of the community, Welde said, “there’s constant interaction” throughout the course of any given game. Activities in and near the spectator areas include face painting and giveaways.
As the Edge contemplate their upcoming 13th season, franchise organizers have announced a series of new initiatives that deliver further on the mission of community outreach.
Early this month, the team forged a partnership with two local organizations: the Normal Parks and Recreation Department and the Bloomington Knockers youth football team.
James Wayne, assistant director of business and recreation operations for Normal’s parks and recreation department, said the decision to partner with the Edge was an easy one to reach.
“It’s an opportunity to develop new activity offerings like the one-day football camp, and that is a win-win situation for us and the local community,” Wayne said in a statement.
As the new partnership takes hold in the months ahead, Wayne said he is looking forward to raising further awareness of the programs and activities Normal’s parks and recreation department has to offer the community.
“We are committed to increasing awareness about our great facilities and programs, and this new relationship with the Edge can assist us with that endeavor while also growing their brand here in Central Illinois,” Wayne said.
He added, “We can continue to create new fans of both our organizations.”
—- Bloomington’s indoor football team puts community first —