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Team and League History

February 20, 2017
  Owner Art Clarkson announcing the Birmingham Bulls
will return to the ice in 2017
The Pelham City Council agrees to a lease of the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena for a new Southern Professional Hockey League team that will begin play in October 2017.

The lease is pending final approval by the city’s attorney.

The team, likely to be named the Birmingham Bulls, will be owned by Art Clarkson. His ties to Birmingham professional sports date back many years. Previously, Clarkson brought back professional baseball to Birmingham in 1981 when he secured the Southern League's Montgomery Rebels franchise and relocated them to Rickwood Field as the Birmingham Barons. After selling his ownership in the Barons in 1989, he brought hockey back in 1992 with the Birmingham Bulls, a member of the East Coast Hockey League. Clarkson sold his interest in the Bulls in 1998 and then became involved in various indoor football leagues through the years.

An application to the SPHL has been submitted and approval should be received in around thirty days, Clarkson said.

SPHL president Jim Combs said he appreciates the history of hockey in Birmingham and is currently reviewing the proposal for the new team to join his league. "Birmingham is a great market. I'm very familiar with the town and very familiar with Birmingham hockey." He is in the process of reviewing the team's ownership and checking out the business plan and Pelham's arena. "We have to check out all those things before approval can be given. I'm very familiar with all that they're doing, and they seem to be heading in the right direction."

Pelham City Council members called the move “a logical next step” for the city, which has experienced significant growth in its youth and adult hockey leagues over the past few years. Alabama and UAB hockey clubs also play all of their home games at the arena. City Council president Rick Hayes said the city has been working toward getting a professional hockey team for about two years.

     Southern Professional Hockey League logo
Clarkson said he initially wanted the new hockey team to play at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex's Legacy Arena, which is where the ECHL Bulls played. "Our initial thought was to go to the BJCC and were in contact with them back in May. We wanted to get into the building, but we were not getting any response. We were given every reason in the book that we couldn't do it," Clarkson said.

According to BJCC director of communications Cindy Crawford, the arena did discuss the possibility of bringing hockey back to the downtown area. "The BJCC discussed on several occasions with Mr. Clarkson the possibility of hockey returning to Legacy Arena at the BJCC, which has a long and proud hockey history, including being the venue in which Gordie Howe scored his 1,000th goal. Following initial discussions culminating with decisions necessary by Mr. Clarkson, the BJCC did not receive any further communication. While many steps remained to fully evaluate the opportunity, discussions could not progress without communication from Mr. Clarkson."

“We will make this successful. There’s no doubt about it," Clarkson said.

But to be successful, some upgrades will need to be made to the Ice Arena. Pelham Civic Complex facilities manager Danny Tate agreed that the facility has been in need of upgrades for some time now. Hayes presented ideas about expanding the seating within the main arena and possibly incorporating corporate boxes. With the main arena having a seating capacity of about 3,000 people, Hayes said about 800 additional seats are needed. “The professional hockey team is not the only reason for needing to add more seats,” Pelham mayor Gary Waters said. “With the annual tree lighting and graduation we don’t have enough seats. With more seating we won’t have to limit the number of people students can invite to graduation as strictly.” In addition to adding more seating, upgrades would need to be made to the interior of the building also. With the endeavor still being in its early stages, the council doesn’t know how much the upgrades might cost. “This is a great addition to our facility,” said Erik Hudson, Pelham Civic Complex hockey director.

Waters says the city is dedicated to the venture. "We don't have a sufficient number of dressing rooms or concessions stands, and will need to add approximately 250 more seats to the main arena. We've been assured that we would have hockey by the fall of 2017, and I'm counting on that. I'm 100% behind it."

  Head coach Jamey Hicks
The Pelham Ice Arena was home to three other professional hockey teams, the Alabama Gunners in 1998, the Pelham Prowlers in 1999, and the Alabama Slammers in 2003. The Prowlers were the most successful, winning the Southern Elite Hockey League championship in their only season.

February 11, 2017
Clarkson introduces former Birmingham Bulls player Jamey Hicks as head coach.

Hicks played 335 games while with the Bulls from 1996 to 2001, and was the league's Most Valuable Player in the 1997-98 season.

Clarkson said that Hicks brings the kind of attitude and knowledge needed for success with the new team. "Jamey's a quality guy, who was captain of the team when he was in Birmingham. He was a MVP, a high scorer, and has experience as an assistant coach. He's excited to be reconnecting with Birmingham."

Hicks is excited to be returning to the Magic City. "One of my highlights of my playing career was wearing the 'C' for the Birmingham Bulls, and I intend to bring the same work ethic, respect for the game, and level of commitment to my new position within the organization."

June 2017
     Columbus Cottonmouths logo
Early this month, the owner of the SPHL's Columbus Cottonmouths, Wanda Amos, sells her franchise to the Birmingham Bulls ownership group.

In that transaction, the league gained the rights to the Columbus, GA market.

Amos had owned the franchise for seventeen years, and the last thirteen of those by herself. The Cottonmouths have lost money nearly every year they have owned the team. Most years the losses neared, or exceeded, six figures.

Amos had been trying to sell the franchise for some time, and when no buyer could be located Amos alerted the league that she was ceasing operations after the 2016-17 season. On May 3rd, the league made the announcement.

Prior to the announcement, the league and Columbus city officials thought they had a buyer for the team but the deal could not be finished by the deadline.

During the 21-year history of Columbus Cottonmouths hockey, head coach and general manager Jerome Bechard has been involved with the franchise. He was the first player signed by founding owner Charlie Morrow. When Bechard hung up his skates, he moved into the coaching front office positions, always as the face of the franchise. During his playing days, Bechard was also with the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls and was a favorite of the fans.

October 2017
  Southern Professional Hockey League   
    Birmingham Bulls
    Evansville Thunderbolts
    Fayetteville Marksmen
    Huntsville Havoc
    Knoxville Ice Bears
    Macon Mayhem
    Mississippi RiverKings
    Pensacola Ice Flyers
    Peoria Rivermen
    Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs
  xxx   xxx   xxx  
  xx   xx   xx  
Birmingham Bulls logo   Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Huntsville Havoc logo
Knoxville Ice Bears logo     Macon Mayhem logo      Mississippi RiverKings logo      Pensacola Ice Flyers logo
Peoria Rivermen logo   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo        

Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: August 17, 2018