Team mom runs the best pro football team in Texas

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

The title “Team Mom” takes on a different meaning when it comes to Stephanie Tucker.

She spent the week in Oklahoma City, sitting with other moms and watching daughter Kaitlyn compete in a national dance competition. Between dances, she was on the phone, keeping tabs on the two fitness centers she owns. She also was putting the finishing touches on a new business, which will offer wellness plans for Panhandle residents.

Oh yeah. One more thing.

While juggling all of that, Tucker was making arrangements to get the Amarillo Venom, the indoor football team she owns, to Wichita, Kansas, to play in tonight’s Champions Indoor Football championship game against the Wichita Force.

For Tucker, owner and general manager of the state’s most successful professional football team of the last five years, juggling life around the playoffs isn’t unusual.

The Venom won championships in 2012 and 2013. They lost in the semifinals in 2014, before faltering last year with a 7-6 record and missing the playoffs.

Tonight’s game is the second meeting between Wichita (11-2) and Amarillo (10-4) this season, with the Force winning the first 59-51.

Tucker sees her team as an extension of her family and is proud of its accomplishments in the same way a parent dotes over children. She’s fiercely protective of her players, helping them find offseason jobs to make ends meet. She’ll also tear into a player if, for example, he doesn’t wear a knee brace and re-injures himself because of it.
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Tucker, a native of nearby Groom, caught the sports management bug when she was 16.

Working on the family farm, she accidentally plowed up a long stretch of her dad’s fencing. He promptly fired her from her farm job. She got a job answering phones part-time at the offices of the Amarillo Dallas, a now-defunct independent baseball team.

Within weeks, the teen Tucker was the team’s de facto promotions director, staging on-field contests and other non-baseball entertainment. She studied management and marketing at Texas Tech but spent her post-college years moving around the state as husband Toby Tucker lived the itinerant life of a high school coach.

The Tuckers had moved back to the Panhandle when, on a rare weekend with no youth sports obligations, they went to a Venom game.

It was 2011. Indoor football has been played in Amarillo since 2004, with the team changing either name, league or owner every few seasons. (It echoed the indoor football era in San Antonio, which ended in 2014 when the Arena Football League’s Talons went out of existence.)

High scores have always been part of the indoor football game, which is played by eight-man teams on a 50-yard-field. The game was created and marketed as a way to satiate football addicts during the off-season.

Fans, however, never paid much attention, resulting in teams that have always struggled to stay solvent.

The idea behind the league has thrived, ironically, in the traditional game. The modern 11-man game — at all levels — is a living, breathing homage to indoor football, with lots of passing, porous defenses, and high scores.

Back on Tucker date night, Stephanie spent the game sharing with Toby some of her sports marketing ideas. She had always dreamed of owning a professional team. By the end of the game, the couple had decided to put a bid in for the Venom

For the Tuckers, indoor football has been an immediate success on and off the field.

Besides winning, the Venom draw between 1,000-3,500 fans per game. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a nice-sized crowd in the Panhandle.

The league has a $3,500-per-game salary cap, Tucker said, to keep costs down and keep all of the teams viable in the long run.

She has no regrets.

“It’s been a roller coaster couple of years,” she said, “but it’s been fun.”