For a decade, local football fans didn’t have to go to Columbus, Cincinnati, or Cleveland to watch a game. In 2006, the roar of the crowds and the thrill of the game happened at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Marion County Fairgrounds.
The Marion Mayhem, a professional indoor arena football league, made its way to Marion because it was the perfect location. Four friends out of Canton, Ohio, were approached by the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) to invest in a team. The men loved football and were interested in the opportunity. After researching several locations, they decided the Coliseum was the ideal spot. Marion offered a central location in the state and many local football fans, so the Marion Mayhem was born.
This was the first professional football team in Marion County since the NFL’s Oorang Indians of LaRue played their only home game at Lincoln Park in 1922 and ended their final season in 1923. The Mayhem owners found local staff to assist the team. Jill and Wayne Chitwood not only loved football, but they loved Marion and hard work, too. Wayne had expertise in painting lines on football fields at River Valley for ten years before joining the Mayhem. Jill became the team’s official photographer.
With tailgating, contests, and the Marion Dancing Divas, each home game was an experience.
It was exciting to have the only central Ohio indoor football team playing right here in Marion. Many local players were recruited to the team, including Bryceson Lawrence, a graduate of River Valley, who currently operates Phase 6 Strength Training in Downtown Marion. Lawrence was awarded 2009 CIFL Defensive MVP. Players also included William Patrick Reece II, a graduate of Marion Harding High School who held the record as Harding’s all-time leading rusher.
Both Chitwoods worked their way into more advanced positions. Wayne became the team manager and Jill was the operations manager. The two were deeply involved in all aspects of the Marion Mayhem. The Mayhem had their best season in 2009 when they went 9-4 and finished in first place in the East Division of the CIFL, according to a Mayhem news release.
Financial stressors ended the Mayhem in 2010. New owners LaMonte and Shavonne Coleman picked it up and renamed it the Blue Racers in the CIFL before moving leagues several times. LaMonte Coleman served as president and also as head coach for several years and was 2014 CIFL Coach of the Year. He brought a wealth of experience as a former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and as National Indoor Football League Offensive Player of the year in 2001.
The Blue Racers appeared in two championship games and won a division title. The Blue Racers won all regular-season home games in their last two seasons. In addition, members and coaches were involved in the Marion community, including taking part in Downtown Marion clean-up, raising funds for Turning Point, and volunteering at local schools.
The Chitwoods did make a brief departure from Marion to purchase their own team, the Northern Kentucky River Monsters. Chitwood and Coleman had a friendly rivalry when their teams played each other in Marion. The Chitwoods felt a calling to come home and help the Blue Racers with their final season.
Chitwood said that she still is in contact with many of the players who called her “Mama C.” The strong bond with the football players remains today.
The Blue Racers suspended playing in 2016. Jill said that low attendance, low ticket prices, and a lack of sponsors led to the team’s demise. Still, it left fans, players, and team members with many great memories.
“I loved the experience,” Jill recalls. “I learned a lot, met a lot of great players, and would do it again if the opportunity came.”
Until then, the Chitwoods run Sights Unseen Travel and take pride in reminiscing over Marion’s indoor arena football teams.