FLINT – The ownership group at Perani Arena — Costa Papista and Rolf Nilsen — took its next big step on Monday showcasing its arena and the Grand Blanc and Genesee County area to the Ontario Hockey League Commissioner and other key stakeholders. That leads up to the Feb. 2 meeting in Mississauga, Ont., where the OHL will vote to either approve or deny the sale of the Plymouth Whalers to Papista and Nilsen.
The pair welcomed OHL Commissioner David Branch, Dr. Bob Neville, owner of Peterborough and Chairman of the OHL board, Rick Goetz, owner of Guelph and member of the OHL Executive Committee, Craig Goslin, owner of Saginaw and member of the OHL Executive Committee and Ted Baker, OHL Vice President. The group toured Perani Arena along with Perani staff members Jeremy Torrey, Terry Christenen, Susana Wright and Kyle McCree.
“It was a really good day for David Branch to gauge the level of support in the area for the Whalers,” said Papista. “It’s going to be very exciting to rally the whole area. We toured the arena to start the day and it went very well.”
Grand Blanc Community Schools was next on the tour stop, as Papista and Nilsen are targeting Grand Blanc High as the school of choice for the Whalers’ players. All will be required to live in billet homes in Grand Blanc. College-aged players will not have to meet that requirement and will seek their own living arrangements as they attend U-M Flint and Mott Community College.
Grand Blanc principal Jennifer Hammond met with the group along with her support staff and City Manager Paul Brake, said Papista, then the OHL stakeholders toured the billet home neighborhoods. Lunch followed at Da Edoardo-North in Grand Blanc.
“Grand Blanc Community Schools has stepped up to offer to be the school of choice for the incoming Whalers’ players,” said Papista.
“Billet homes will be sought for the players and we need 22 at this point,” said Papista. “Grand Blanc is a big community with lots of homes for host families for our players. We want to reach out to the communities. The host families are critical to host our players for the later part of August through the end of March, plus playoffs. It’s a seven-month commitment. In a perfect world, we want one player per family, but if we have to double up, we might have to.”
“We discussed our programs and what we have to offer as a school district with the team on Monday,” said Grand Blanc principal Jennifer Hammond. “We are very proud of what we have to offer and all career paths are offered at Grand Blanc. We have a great place to learn, to build relationships and with these kids coming from all over the state and the world, our diversity here at Grand Blanc with our own diverse student body and staff will make for a great environment for the hockey players that could end up in our district.”
“I was told these hockey students likely move on to either the NHL or to college, not to necessarily play hockey, but for academics, so I feel it’s a great relationship and good for everyone,” Hammond stressed. “It’s good for us, good for the community and good for the overall Genesee County area.”
Hammond also said that typically the counselors at the school deal with 500-550 kids. One counselor will be assigned the group of new students in a specific transition program to help them acclimate to the new school, social settings and whatever else they may need.”
The next key people on the itinerary were Genesee County officials that included Flint Mayor Dayne Walling; Tim Herman, CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber and Economic Development; Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell; Jamie Curtis, Board of Commissioners Chairman, Genesee County; Janice Karcher, Vice President Economic Development, and Cheryl Defrain, President of Genesee County Regional CVB.
A visit to Mott finished out the day and the guests returned to Canada. Papista then turned his attention to the letter-writing campaign for Monday’s big meeting.
“A letter writing campaign is underway from local chambers via board members getting letters of support and those will be presented on Monday in Toronto,” Papista said. “Anyone who wants to contribute to that before Monday’s meeting can contact me for the template at firstname.lastname@example.org,” Papista said.
If the sale is approved, Papista said a naming contest will occur and a major season ticket and sponsorship campaign will begin. Of note, the OHL has already stated that the name Generals cannot be used as the Oshawa Generals already have a successful franchise in Canada and the league does not allow competing names for teams.