Elite bring minor league football back to Valley

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Elite schedule

Home games at Waitsburg High football field.

March 30 — Idaho Matadors

April 13 — Spokane Wolfpack

April 20 — at Columbia Basin Riverhawks

May 4 — at Wenatchee Valley Rams

May 11 — Snohomish Valley Vikings

May 18 — Palouse Thunder

June 8 — at Okanogan County Commandos

WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla Valley has a new football team.

The Waitsburg Elite, a new minor league football team comprised mostly of former high school and college players, are gearing up for its inaugural season in the Washington Football League this spring.

The Elite, who play their home games on Waitsburg High School’s football field, will play a seven-game slate this season against teams from around the Inland Northwest, including teams from Spokane, the Palouse and the Tri-Cities.

“We pretty much started it as a for-fun deal for guys and to help the community,” team president and co-owner George Martinez said. “We want to help other organizations out, whether it’s as volunteers or what.”

Players for the Elite are unpaid and must provide their own equipment, one of the expenses Martinez hopes the team will eventually be able to cover with proceeds from gates and fundraisers.

Game receipts will be split with the school district to pay for the use of the field.

The roster is a mixed bag, with some players as young as 19 and as old as 51, and about half of the players are new to the league. Many of the players attended area schools, including Martinez, who played quarterback for Touchet High School before graduating in 2002.

Although the Elite are only able to practice once weekly, Martinez said the level of play will be high.

“We only get to practice once a week, so this is more or less a hobby, but I would compare us to (an NCAA Division II) school,” Martinez said. “It’s a whole ’nother pace from high school.

“You get the full spectrum of guys — guys that just want to be part of a team, guys that played in high school, and guys that played in college,” Martinez said. “I even got a chance to play with a few guys that had been in the NFL — you get to see it all.”

Martinez came up with the idea to start the Elite along with co-owner Jeff Knowles after the pair played together for the now-defunct Hermiston Hurricanes (previously the Blue Mountain Stars).

Both Knowles, 27, and Martinez, 28, own businesses in Walla Walla and saw an opportunity to run their own team when the Hurricanes decided to take a year off after last season.

“The way it (the Hurricanes) was being run over there we knew we could do something a little higher quality and a little more well known,” Martinez said. “And also bring it home back to Walla Walla instead of having to drive an hour away.”

The duo explored homefield possibilities in Walla Walla, but settled on Waitsburg thanks to support from the school district and the city, which are allowing the team to use the high school’s football field.

The WFL, a football league associated with the Greater Northwest Football Association, plays full-contact football with modified high school rules.

Martinez (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) will quarterback the team, while Knowles (6-5, 220) will play tight end and defensive end.

The Elite start the season March 30 with a game in Waitsburg against the Idaho Matadors from Caldwell, Idaho. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.

Those interested in joining the Elite can contact Martinez at 509-200-6959, or coach Johnny Brown at 509-301-7161 for more information.

Practices run Saturdays from 1-3 p.m. at Martin Field in Walla Walla.

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