Memphis,TN-On Monday, the Racine Raiders board of directors voted to join the Gridiron Developmental Football League (GDFL) for the 2023 season. The 2023 season will mark the organization’s 75th year of operation. The team previously spent 11 of the past 12 seasons in the MidStates Football League (MSFL).
“We’re excited to bring the Racine Raiders brand back to a national landscape,” said Raiders board president Matt Nelson. “This promises to make our 75th season special for our fans, players, coaches, volunteers, and sponsors and we can’t wait to get started.”
The GDFL currently has over 30 teams spread out across the contiguous United States. The league was very impressed with the Racine Raiders organization throughout the process and emphasized their knowledge of the history of the team and what the Raiders mean not only to the Racine community but to this level of football.
“We’re very excited to add a high-caliber organization with such a rich history and championship pedigree to our national platform,” said GDFL president Charles Thompson. “We know that entering their 75th season, the Raiders have consistently been a top-level team on-the-field while also being a model organization to emulate off-the-field.”
The process to choose a new league was an exhaustive one. The Racine Raiders formed a league search committee three months ago. The committee initially researched over a dozen leagues and narrowed that list down to six leagues.
Members of the committee were then assigned to have phone and email conversations with each of the six semi-finalists. The committee then narrowed the list to three leagues. Each league was invited to have a virtual face-to-face meeting with the committee. This meeting allowed the leagues to become familiar with the Raiders and the Raiders search committee to ask very specific questions of league leadership.
“The committee was thoroughly impressed with every league’s presentation,” said Vice President of Marketing Don Wadewitz, who led the search committee. “Each league had some very strong positive messages and great operations.”
Wadewitz said the GDFL best matched what the Raiders were looking for in a league in terms of professionalism, league start date, and rules. The league goes so far as to offer virtual education sessions for owners that better prepare them to run a team and a business.
“The GDFL isn’t run as a semi-pro league,” said Wadewitz. “It’s run as a professional league that serves amateur athletes, much like the Northwoods League for baseball in our area.”
Travel was a big concern for the Raiders search committee. With rising costs, long road trips are very expensive. The Raiders took the lead in building an Upper Midwest division from the beginning of the league search process. The Raiders search committee have been in contact with other teams in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota to share updates on the Raiders search and understand what other quality teams were looking for in a league.
“From the start of the process, the Wisconsin Hitmen said they were going to do whatever we decided was best for the Raiders because they needed this rivalry,” said Wadewitz. “Once we told them our board’s decision this past Wednesday, they immediately followed suit and applied and were accepted into the GDFL upon our recommendation.”
The Raiders search committee is still working on building a strong division that will help limit travel in the regular season. The committee understood the reality of travel in the postseason in a league that offers the closest thing to a true national championship at this level of football.
“We’ve never been into one game bowl games four months after your season to lay claim to one of a handful of national titles,” said Wadewitz. “The search committee and board of directors like the concept of a national league where, if you win it all, it’s a legitimate national championship.”
The Raiders are hoping that the upgrade in league rejuvenates fans and sponsors who will see some new teams coming through Historic Horlick Athletic Field as well as some old favorites during the 75th anniversary season in 2023.
“This is an exciting time in the 75-year history of our organization,” said Wadewitz. “Fans really loved when we played in the more regional leagues like the Mid-Continental Football League and the more national North American Football League.”
The Raiders 2023 season will start in May with league games beginning the first Saturday in June.
The GDFL started in 2010 and is based in Memphis, Tenn. The league currently consists of over 30 teams from 15 different states. The Syracuse (NY) Strong are the reigning GDFL champions.
The Racine Raiders are a 501c(3) not-for-profit organization. They are the oldest minor league sports franchise and second oldest non-college sports team in the State of Wisconsin, celebrating 75 seasons in 2023.