Thunder's Townsend has a mission Owner promotes success on, off pro game's floor

November 20, 1997|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Dennis Townsend was sitting on a portable counter in the lobby of Du Burns Arena last Saturday, admiring his latest purchase, when a stranger asked him a question that's been posed to him time and again from friends and colleagues: Why would you want to buy the Baltimore Thunder?

"Definitely not to make money," said Townsend, who has made his share of that from his thriving commercial real estate business. "I believe indoor lacrosse can succeed in this town, but if you're talking about monetary success, that's not the goal.

"Any money that we would make will be plowed back into the lacrosse community."

Jim Ulman, the team's new general manager, shares Townsend's vision and believes that local ownership -- something the Thunder lacked during its 11 seasons in the now-defunct Major Indoor Lacrosse League -- can make a difference both in the National Lacrosse League standings and the Thunder's bottom line.

"In the past, the marketing was designed from [Prairie Village] Kansas, where the league offices were, and they had a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy that only worked in some cities," Ulman said. "The MILL promoted the violent nature of this game and that's just a piece of it. People around Baltimore think of lacrosse as an art that combines finesse, style and speed and that's what we want to show."

Townsend, who came to the practice looking more like a coach than an owner in his shorts and sweat jacket, said his mission is to use lacrosse to promote success, on and off the field, among both his current players and the next generation of lacrosse stars.

"I'm not out here to teach players how to necessarily win games, but to try and teach them how to win later in life," said Townsend, 53. "I'd like for people to say, 'That's the most successful team off the field, and oh, by the way, they are the champions.' "

The Thunder hasn't owned that title since 1987, when it captured the crown in the MILL's inaugural season. More disturbing is the fact that Baltimore, a hotbed for field lacrosse talent, hasn't had a winning indoor team since 1991.

Despite the Thunder's dismal record, Townsend believes his coaching staff, led by head coach John Tucker, has pinpointed the source of past problems and is poised to turn things around during this, the NLL's inaugural season.

"This is a completely different game than most of these field players are used to and you have to get them focused on precise fundamentals," said Townsend, a former player and longtime assistant coach at Johns Hopkins.

"We're spending hours and hours just shooting because, in the final analysis, that's the game."

Ulman agreed, adding: "Shooting is completely different in this sport. You're not shooting at a goal that's 6 feet by 6 feet, so you can't just crank from the restraining line and hope it hits a rock and goes in."

Thunder forward Tony Millon, a seven-year veteran of the professional indoor game, doesn't view Townsend as a meddling owner, as some may, but rather as one who understands the game and the market his team represents.

"Dennis is so successful at what he does, you can't help but listen to what he says," Millon said. "A lot of what he does in lacrosse comes directly from his heart and his love for the game. It's a refreshing change."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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