The limited amount of personnel in Tucson, including Sugar Skulls team president Jay Gonzales, had to be laid off recently because of the financial constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but co-owner Cathy Guy reiterated today that operations will continue in 2021.
“We’ve already committed to the (Indoor Football League) for the 2021 season,” said Guy, who owns the team along with husband Kevin Guy, the head coach of the Arizona Rattlers.
“Like most other small businesses across the United States, we’ve had to make some tough decisions, which include how to reduce our expenses so that we can move forward.”
Gonzales, the team president since last August, when previous president Mike Feder stepped down, confirmed this week that he is no longer with the organization because of the budget cuts. The Guys and Gonzales parted on amicable terms with Gonzales understanding the move had to be made given the financial situation of the Sugar Skulls and the IFL after the pandemic forced the season to be canceled.
Cathy Guy, who handles the day-to-day business operations for the Sugar Skulls, mentioned she was hoping Gonzales would return in 2021 in the same capacity. Gonzales said that is not an option because he wants to build trust in clients of his rejuvenated media and public relations firm Arizona Legal Technologies, LLC.
Gonzales also mentioned he is devoting more time to his writing and editing for BizTucson magazine and to being a co-host (with Steve Rivera) on the radio show “Eye on the Ball,” which is weekdays from 6 to 7 p.m. on KVOI (1030-AM).
“We let (Gonzales) know that we understand he has family obligations, and that moving forward, we would have liked to bring him back, but we have heard that his plan is to just move forward with his business,” Cathy Guy said. “And that’s fine. We knew that was a possibility. but obviously as owners, we needed to make decisions that will keep our business going.”
Business was booming in 2019, in Tucson’s inaugural season. The Sugar Skulls’ average attendance of 4,170 at the Tucson Convention Center was one of the best in the IFL.
The Sugar Skulls advanced to the playoffs, losing in the first round 50-47 at the Sioux Falls Storm, despite being a new team with an ever-changing roster of players who had limited experience playing with each other.
“We are making plans for 2021 and starting to look at what our season-ticket campaign is going to look like,” Cathy Guy said. “Obviously, in order for us to stay in business, we need the community support. We need to get people out to the games, and if you haven’t been to a game, they’re very exciting.
“There’s really not too many sports where it’s an interactive experience like it is with the Indoor Football League.”
Dixie Wooten, who coached the Iowa Barnstormers to an IFL title in 2018, was hired to replace Marcus Coleman as head coach. Wooten started to help sign some of IFL’s top players such as former league MVP Daquan Neal, a quarterback with Iowa, along with Neal’s ex-Barnstormers teammate Jajuan Harley, a safety.
Local products were slated to be on the team such as linebacker Robert Metz of CDO, defensive back Cam Gaddis of Santa Rita and Pima College, recevier Edgar Poe of Cienega and lineman Antonio Rosales of Tucson High.
Sugar Skulls running back Mike Jones, one of the top players at his position in the IFL in 2019, was also expected to return.
Cathy Guy mentioned that Wooten will be retained and she foresees him having many of the same players come back next season.
“We are actually looking into signing (Wooten) into a multi-year deal so we know that he is going to be a constant presence with the team,” she said. “The head coach is the person out in the community, so he’s going to be the constant. The roster does change, but I’m sure he’ll be bringing back the names that people are going to recognize.”
Cathy Guy added that she senses that when operations return to normal and the Sugar Skulls are back at the arena next season that Tucsonans will show an overwhelming amount of support. She pointed out that in a survey on the team’s Facebook page that 92 percent of the respondents indicated they will return to the TCC to watch the games when the team plays again.
“The Sugar Skulls are becoming more well-known, so there is a lot more excitement,” she said. “I understand with the way that Tucson has seen other sports teams come and go, there might be that thought process that the Sugar Skulls are going to be one of those teams.
“But our commitment from the beginning has been to be in Tucson for the long haul. We initially signed a five-year lease with the Tucson Convention Center. So our plan from the beginning has been to stay in Tucson.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.