FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Fear…doing what I do I’ve felt it often. My own insecurities, the harshness of others, even for my physical well being. It’s always there in some form. When I first saw the Marksmen’s hashtag #FearTheFox it made perfect sense. To the other teams it’s a warning and to their fans, it’s a rallying cry.
Walking into the Crown Coliseum for the first time I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the old concrete and metal building mixed with modern upgrades. The care and thought that went into the new additions made evident a tremendous pride in their team. The new scoreboard hung in a place of honor at center ice, the new ribbon boards were almost too bright against the dull gray walls. It gave the building a young, clean, fresh feel while maintaining its history.
The rest of the building was just as surprising. In the basement, dimly lit concrete hallways gave way to one of the most remarkable rooms I’ve ever been in – the Fayetteville Marksmen locker room.
The space was bright and clean with the Marksmen logo everywhere. Charcoal gray carpet, white walls, and light colored wood stalls. The pride in their brand is palpable. The room is probably fairly good size, but with a larger than life fox with glowing red eyes suspended from the ceiling, everything felt small.
It took me a while to build up the courage to walk into that room. I was a stranger to most, an intruder in their sacred space. I finally went for it, stared around in awe, took a few photos, and left the way I came. I stood out in the tunnel that leads to the ice for a moment to collect my thoughts and watch the guys buzzing in and out. If I hadn’t been so nervous it would’ve been comical how they all gave me the same exact look. Mild shock, slight confusion, dawning realization, all followed by some level of panic somewhere along the lines of “There’s a camera and I don’t know what to do with my hands!”
I saw Fayetteville forward Taylor Pryce and Derek Sutliffe from the visiting Macon Mayhem in the hallway. As former Mississippi RiverKings forwards I’ve known both of them for a while, and I’ve taken countless photos of each, but they both panicked and just started laughing when I pointed my camera their way.
Once everyone, myself included, got comfortable and found a flow, I started noticing things. Joe Osaka, a forward, removed his shoes each time before entering the locker room. I asked him about that after the game, curious to see if it was superstition or respect. He informed me it’s the great respect he has for his team, stemming from his Japanese heritage. Captain Jake Hauswirth spent most of his time in the locker room stretching, doing push-ups, and silently observing everything around him. It was clear he saw everything and wouldn’t hesitate to step in if any one of his guys was even slightly out of line.
Dillon Kelley, the Marksmen goalie, was full of energy and bounced between laughing with his teammates, playing the drums on his pads, and staring stoically off into space lost in thought. I’ve always been fascinated by goalies, what they do is amazing. They see everything in a game before it even happens. They have to know angles, math, psychology, physics, how their teammates play, how the opposing team plays… PLUS they have to move freaky fast all while having people chuck frozen rubber biscuits at them.
When Marksmen Head Coach Jesse Kallechy came in to give his pre-game talk I had no idea what to expect. In the movies, a coach will come in and start screaming, breaking clipboards, and throwing things at people. I had spoken with Kallechy previously and I didn’t think he’d behave like that, but maybe that’s what you have to do to fire up a hockey team, I don’t know. What happened instead left me with tears in my eyes and in awe of where I was and what I had witnessed.
”What is this?” he asked the silent room, pointing at the orange cones and tape measure lying in the middle of the floor. The guys stared, trying to work it out. So did I. Was it something hockey-ish?
Distance to set up a certain play?
The length you should slide on one knee for a proper celly?
No, it was the remarkable length of Usain Bolt’s stride, which was just under ten feet. Kallechy went on to tell them that Bolt’s stride is what made him unique and unbeatable, and every single player on his team has a ten-foot stride. They don’t need to do everything, they don’t have to try to win every game alone. If everyone recognizes and remembers what their own unique ten-foot stride is, they’ll be unstoppable. Telling them all to stand up, he threw a puck to someone and told him what his ten-foot stride is. That guy then threw the puck to a teammate and told him what his was, and on and on it went until everyone heard from a teammate what makes them special and unique.
That is what it’s all about.
It hit me in that moment, standing in the corner of their locker room, watching them build each other up under that slightly terrifying red-eyed fox that there are two different types of fear. The first is what people generally think- being scared, but the second is so much more than that. It’s to have a sense of respect and awe, to submit to something greater than yourself. So yeah, be afraid.
The Marksmen are young and talented and absolutely relentless, but more importantly, they hold each other up and show one another loyalty and respect. They are living breathing examples of what it means to #FearTheFox.
The Marksmen have dealt with a lot of adversity – re-branding, new ownership, insane head coach turnover – and a long road ahead of them. It’s a good thing teammates have each other’s backs; being far from home, family, and friends. Change is oftentimes painful and difficult, but hockey players don’t give up. They will keep reminding each other what their ten-foot strides are, and they’ll keep pounding away little by little in the road to respectability. They’ll have at least one fan cheering for them every step of the way.
All Photos courtesy Kori LaVire/The Sin Bin