Retired NJ State Police sergeant, dispatcher bring arena football back to Trenton: Jersey Flight

By David Foster, The Trentonian

TRENTON >> A pair of retired New Jersey State Police employees will try to do something never accomplished: Make a professional sports team flourish at the Sun National Bank Center in the capital city.

Samuel Davis Jr. and Kyna Felder-Ruiz will bring professional arena football back to Trenton with their team, Jersey Flight. The team will play in the newly created National Arena League (NAL), which started its inaugural season last month.

Neither Davis nor Ruiz are deterred about the failed sports team experiments at the arena since its inception in 1999. Giving them time to get settled in, the owners announced the team’s formation a year before Jersey Flight is expected to start playing March 2018.

“We’re spending more time and effort on actually planning out so it’s done the right way,” said Ruiz, who is a retired state police dispatcher. “It was announced a year earlier solely for marketing efforts and giving us time to build our fanbase, to connect with the community, to raise the dollars that we’re going to need to successfully run a whole season. I think that the other teams before us didn’t work out mainly because of poor management.”

Ruiz worked with Davis, a former New Jersey State Police sergeant who retired in 2015 after 28 years on the force, the past three years to bring an arena football team to New Jersey. The pair, who are also business partners and run a tax business in Plainfield, form the first African-American 100-percent-owned sports franchise in the state.

Davis said he fell in love with arena football when he was an agent for professional football and basketball, representing more than 30 guys while still working as a trooper.

“I liked the excitement of the sport, the close connection it has to its fans,” Davis said last week. “I like how you can relate to the community through arena football. It’s high scoring and high excitement.”

Life for professional sports teams at the Sun National Bank Center have left a series of tombstones.

In August 2015, the Trenton Freedom, a member of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL), became the third indoor football team to fail at the Sun National Bank Center, lasting one year longer than the previous two.

The Trenton Steel called the 8,000-seat arena home for six games in 2011. A decade earlier, the Trenton Lightning lasted just one season.

Sustaining the longest run as a sports team in the Hamilton Avenue building, the Trenton Titans, a minor league hockey team spent 14 years at the center before suspending operations in 2013.

The Philadelphia Soul, of the Arena Football League, did play one of their home games last year at the Sun National Bank Center.

To make a push in the Trenton community, Davis and Ruiz also launched a nonprofit organization, Jersey Flight Community, to create positive social impact in the capital city.

“We don’t want to be those people who come in and take,” Ruiz said. “We’re going to give back to the community. We need to find out what the needs are around the arena and surrounding city.”

On the business side, Jersey Flight is already a member of the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce and will sponsor its annual golfing event this summer.

When asked what drew the owners to Trenton, Ruiz responded: “We’re Jersey’s team so why not pick the capital?”

“Trenton is in the process of a renaissance, a comeback of their own,” said Ruiz, who was an standout high school basketball player at St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City. “We want to be able to just take part in the revitalization of New Jersey in general but especially our capital.”

Currently, there are eight NAL teams spread throughout the U.S., including one from Mexico. When Trenton Flight joins next year, there will be 12, with the hope to expand to 20 teams by 2019, said Dean Stevenson, the team’s director of creative and strategic development.

“We want to bring the Sun back to its glory from the standpoint of the excitement of arena football,” Stevenson said. “The NAL is establishing a very solid groundwork for the future of arena entertainment. It’s not just about filling the seats and bringing some cash in. It is about how we can help the community, how we can bring this together with the community and unfortunately, the previous arena teams really didn’t do that.”

Tryouts will be held in the summer over three different locations in New Jersey. There will be 30-something players on a roster and the games will be 8-on-8, Stevenson said.

Season tickets are currently on sale.

For more information, visit nationalarenaleague.com or call 1-877-339-2338.