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Phoenix ‘rising from the ashes’ to play again

Chippewa Valley team to play nine games in Northern Lights Football League

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March 18, 2024

EAU CLAIRE – A semi-professional football team is “rising from the ashes” in the Chippewa Valley – the newest squad to join the Northern Lights Football League (NLFL).

“We named the team (the Chippewa Valley) Phoenix because that’s what Phoenix do – rise from the ashes,” Jay Doyscher, who along with his wife Tanya co-own the team, said. “I wanted to give area players the chance to play a game they love and give the community something to look forward to.”

Doyscher – who is no stranger to semi-professional football – said there was another reason he returned to football team ownership.

“I love logistics, but this is not a thing we’re necessarily trying to retire on – it’s a business and fun,” he said “Putting all the pieces together is a challenge, but that’s what I like about owning a team.”

How it began

Doyscher – who grew up in Minnesota – said there has been a team of some sort in the area since 1996, and when he would return home to visit family he would often watch the games.

“In 2008, I was tired of seeing them run everybody over in the league – because they were good – so we started our own nine-man team in a league in Minnesota and built it into a highly-successful program.”

The roots of the Phoenix began, Doyscher said, started there.

“After building the team up, my wife and I – we have a screen printing business that was growing quite quickly – decided that was a reason to step away from the football team,” he said. “We sold the team to a previous player.”

Though he eventually stepped away from that nine-man team, which was a member of the Southern Plains Football League (SPFL), Doyscher said he remained involved with the league, where he still serves as its appointed commissioner.

“One of the things (the SPFL) does yearly is put on a big event at U.S. Bank Stadium, (the home of the Minnesota Vikings), where we bring in 24 adult teams and 30 youth teams,” he said. “It’s the Southern Plains Football League Pigskin Classic. We usually start working on that in late June or early July, and we were scheduled to have a team out of Eau Claire be a part of it.”

But the financial commitment, Doyscher said – “U.S. Bank Stadium is quite expensive to be a part of” – was too much.

That coupled with other management issues, he said, prompted the team to be removed from the event.

“When we did that, I had several players contact me with a coach’s name who (they said) I should reach out to,” he said. 

At that point, Doyscher said, he had to decide whether or not to figure out a way for the team to participate in the event under new management or “just scrap it and start new?’”

For various reasons, he said he and his wife decided to start a new team.

“My wife gave me the blessing to start a new team 3 1/2 hours away from where we live (in Fairmont, Minnesota),” he said. “We built the Phoenix in five weeks to participate in the (Pigskin Classic) so we didn’t have to scramble to find another team. From there, we’ve been building for the 2024 (11-man NLFL season).”

Doyscher said the team, which will play its home games at Carson Park in Eau Claire, has been practicing since the first week in February.

“We have a few (preseason games) soon, but our regular season doesn’t start until May 4,” he said. “We’re being reborn as a new team.”

Doyscher said there has always been an Eau Claire team in the NLFL, but “the Phoenix is completely separate from the old team, with a new name and new management.”

After playing in the NLFL in previous years, the Eau Claire Cowboys announced it will play in the Mid-West United Football League in 2024.

“The players and coaches who were committed and faithful and wanted good structure all transitioned over to us,” he said. “The Eau Claire City Council was nice enough to approve the team to play its games at Carson Park. We have seven home games and five road games. The league schedule is only nine games, so three of the games scheduled are non-league games.”

For a love of football

The players in the NLFL, Doyscher said, are not paid athletes – playing instead for the love of football and the camaraderie.

To make a long story short, he said, “semi-pro in the football ranks is used quite loosely.”

“Minor league football, semi-pro and amateur are all basically the same, and players are not compensated,” he said. “In most cases, players have to pay a stipend to play for the team – that’s how the team subsidizes its expenses.”

Because many of the players in the NLFL are from the Division II or III college ranks, Doyscher said “our players are still amateur status.”

“So, it doesn’t mess up college eligibility – if they have any eligibility remaining.”

“Some colleges are strict about it – they don’t want their players playing elsewhere, but some colleges say if you want to play and get more experience, go for it – knowing they might be putting their scholarship in jeopardy if they get hurt,” he said. “Most of the college guys we see are finished with their college careers.”

Behind the scenes

As previously mentioned, the Doyschers live three-and-a-half hours away from Eau Claire, but Doyscher said the team’s day-to-day logistics are in good hands.

“Recently, we hired Amanda McKinney as general manager,” he said. “She and I handle all the operations like sponsors, contractors, etc. Fred Hoversholm is the head coach and takes care of the football side of things. My wife is there to support Amanda and me.”

Doyscher said he will do his best to attend as many games as possible.

“I know Amanda will be at all the home games,” he said. “I still have responsibilities in the nine-man (SPFL) league that I need to honor as well. With the Northern Lights Webcasting Network – they’ll be live streaming all of our games, both home and away.”

Though Doyscher said some of the players on this year’s team call him “coach,” he’s not a coach.

“I’m not a coach – if I was a coach, we’d be running gadget plays the whole game, and that won’t get very far,” he laughed.

The team

Players in the NLFL have to be 18 years of age to compete, but Doyscher said that doesn’t mean all the players are “spring chickens.”

“Our oldest player is in the mid-to-upper 40s,” he said. “You would look at him and think he’s 35 – he’s in the gym all the time. A lot of guys, even at that age, enjoy playing, but they enjoy the camaraderie of their teammates more.”

The level of play in the NLFL, Doyscher said, “is better than a good high school team but maybe not as good as some of the 11-man elite teams in the state like the Racine Raiders.”

The Raiders, founded in 1953, are members of the Gridiron Developmental Football League and are the oldest minor league football team still operating in Wisconsin.

“The highest percentage of the players in our league come from talented high school (programs) who didn’t play in college or the Division III/junior college type of players,” he said. “There are also Division I and II players. Some of the Division I players have gotten time in NFL training camps, rookie camps, etc.”

Occasionally, Doyscher said, “you might even stumble upon players who played in the NFL.”

“Those players, at most, probably only spent a few years in the (NFL),” he said. “Even most of those guys end up in the professional arena level or go to the Canadian Football League, or something like that.”

As for the Phoenix’s head coach, Doyscher said “he’s an old-fashioned coach” who has been in the semi-pro and amateur football world for a long time.

“He’s a retired Marine and deputy sheriff,” he said. “He’s been involved in quite a few teams – the Eau Claire Crush, the Menomonie Thunderhawks and the Chippewa Valley Predators.”

Doyscher said Hoversholm has coached some players who have gone onto the next level.

“He has a great football mind, and the players love his old-school nature and no-nonsense,” he said. “We don’t have a motto as a team, but we go off three words: discipline, accountability and respect. If you can’t provide those three things as a player or staff member, you probably won’t be with the team long.”

The Phoenix will play its first non-league game April 6 in Minnesota.

For the complete schedule and more information, visit or visit the team’s Facebook Page.

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