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Spartans up for sale by co-owners

The Southern Oregon Spartans, a junior hockey team based in Medford which plays its home games at The RRRink, is up for sale by co-owners Forest Sexton and Troy Irving.

Sexton and Irving, both passionate hockey fans, purchased the team in 2010, three years after the franchise debuted as the Rogue Valley Wranglers. Another co-owner, John Hanson, bought his way in a year later but recently sold his stake in the Spartans, who compete in the Western States Hockey League as a Tier II Junior A squad.

Sexton, the owner and founder of Spectrum Orthotics and Prosthetics Inc., and Irving decided after the most recent season to sell the team and announced the move on the Spartans’ website Friday.

Sexton said he and Irving are ready to pass the baton on to somebody else.

“We’ve been doing it for 10 years, man; it’s a lot of work,” he said. “And in order to do it well and have a good product on the ice and give the fans what they need takes a lot of effort and money. And quite frankly, we’re just tired. We have lives outside of hockey. It’s been a hobby, we’ve been happy to do it, but we just can’t give it what it takes to be successful any longer.”

Sexton said when he and Irving bought the team it was on the verge of insolvency and had to be shut down mid-season. To re-start the program, he said, they had to cover $150,000 in debt.

“We initially took the team to save it,” Sexton said, “that’s the only reason we ended up owning the hockey team, to try to keep hockey in the valley.”

Sexton said he and Irving would be willing to sell the team for $150,000 — a number that would cover both the WSHL’s $125,000 franchise fee and the team bus, which is worth about $25,000 — and hope the next owner is local.

For that, he says, the buyer will get a franchise that leads the WSHL in sold-out games (The RRRink’s capacity is just under 900 people), a dedicated locker room, more than 20 volunteers and a home rink that was renovated in 2014. The Spartans also have 31 sponsors listed on the team website, but Sexton is particularly proud of the team’s local following.

“We have a great fan base here,” he said. “Best in the Western States Hockey League by far.”

How did they build up that fan base after taking over a program that struggled through a disastrous 1-47 inaugural campaign in 2007-08 that included a 44-game losing streak?

“Just a good show,” Sexton said. “We just made it a good show, lively, entertaining. It’s a great place to go watch a hockey game, it’s loud and exciting.”

Sexton believes there are plenty of people in the valley who could foot the bill and keep the Spartans locally owned, but the question is whether there’s any local interest. And while he and Irving would rather keep it local, they’re advertising nationally, too.

“If somebody buys it nationally, they’re going to do it because it’s a business that they want to take over,” he said. “Locally, then we get to see a continued love for the sport and just the passion that goes with someone who just wants to see hockey in the valley, which is what we’d like to see happen.”

If no deal is in place by the end of June, the team would likely miss the 2019-20 season, which runs from early October to early March. Until then, the 23 players on the roster are still Spartans. If it turns out the team has to take a season off, the players will become free agents.

Led by leading scorers Axel Low and Eric Vanderhoff, the Spartans finished 18-29 last season, third in the Northwest Division.

“It’s the greatest place in the world to have a junior hockey team, I truly believe that,” Sexton said. “We just want to see it stay around. And anything we can do to make that happen would be great.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Ice hockey players on the ice