January 29, 2020
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- If you attend Rochester Lancers' games either at the Dome Arena or the Blue Cross Arena over the years, it was made possible by a hard-working staff at both venues.
As it turns out there was one person outside the organization who has symbolized both arenas. That is Jeff Calkins, who is general manager at the Dome Arena and help a similar post and was vice president of business development at the BCA.
For his efforts and working relationship with the Major Arena Soccer League club, Calkins will be among 20 individuals who will be inducted into the Lancers Wall of Fame prior at halftime of their match against the Baltimore Blast in Henrietta, N.Y. on Friday night.
Calkins said he was honored and also gave credit to his staff for that relationship with the Lancers.
"It's always nice to be recognized, but this is nice because it's recognition to the overall team success," he said. "In any event that we have, we become the fabric of it, we become part of it. That the Dome staff and the team is recognized for their work. I appreciate it and my staff does. We're proud to be hosts for the Lancers and part of the league. It's great for us."
Calkins' relationship with the Lancers started in 2011, when team owner Salvatore "SoccerSam" Fantauzzo brought back the Lancers to play indoor soccer.
"As building manager, you want to be able to represent the community, the reason why people want to live in Rochester," he said. “In my opinion a big part of that is the pride that goes into local teams and the name of Rochester, the Lancers, Amerks, Nighthawks or whatever. You want the community to feel part of that team and as lead manager representing that building, that was another element that we could help bring into the facility and offer to really provide a sense of pride for the community.
"In the meantime, you work with a great group of people, a lot of dedicated people, especially in Sam's team, the people that surround him. It's a very loyal, a very dedicated group. It's fun to work with. I appreciate the opportunity work with them as well. From a building standpoint, it's good to have that partnership. I've always looked at it as a partnership with Sam and the team to be able to put forward that effort to help the Lancers survive and help the Lancers create a special feeling around the community. It was a sense of pride for us, too."
The Dome's environment makes it a special place for indoor soccer. It's the usual lighting for the game, but when the Lancers score a goal, the roof lights ignite the celebration, flashing blue and gold, the colors of the team.
"You can't control the play on the field, but you can control the atmosphere around it," Calkins said. "I really like the atmosphere here for Lancer games because everyone seems to be into it. You're close enough to the action. The lights are a really cool feature. We try to integrate them into any event that we have, especially for sporting events. It really captures that excitement on the field."
Given his roles of making sure the venue is running ship-shape, Calkins admitted he hasn't been able to watch many sports -- indoor soccer, hockey, basketball or lacrosse, for example -- because he has had a building to run.
"I don't always have the luxury of watching the game," he said with laughs. "I enjoy the interaction with the team. The Lancers always had good character, good people, good souls that are part of their team. The one thing that I appreciate from Sam's standpoint is he appreciates the fact who the person is, not just the soccer player, but as a person. Can he contribute to the team, but also in the locker room, the community? I always liked the interaction with the team. Even at practice or warm-ups, that's what I appreciate and like, interacting with [head coach] Doug Miller. We always have that sense of wanting it to be successful and wanting, from my standpoint, to make them feel welcome that they know they're welcome at the Blue Cross Arena or the Dome Arena in that we want them back. I get more enjoyment out of that, knowing that we've accomplished that. It really is being a part of that that really invigorates us."
For Calkins, it has been the team’s success at various levels that have stood out for him at both venues.
"There are a lot of them," he said, "the Amerks' Calder Cup runs, the introduction of the Nighthawks, the re-introduction of the indoor Lancers. Those are great moments because I love sports. Being part of the formative years of those teams is fun, just being part of the development and being part of their growth. Between the Nighthawks, Lancers and Razorsharks, I guess we did something well enough to help them survive. It's always fun to see their success. It's always good to have them in our community, that there are teams that wear their crest in behalf of Rochester, and you become part of that excitement, that local fever that becomes part of the fabric of our community. That’s exciting. Win, lose or draw, it's a great feeling to be part of a tradition like that."
Calkins, who grew up in Alfred, N.Y., came to Rochester to teach physical education at a local parochial school. "Ironically, right across the street from Donuts Delite, which Sam now owns," he said with a chuckle.
During his four-year tenure at the school, Calkins took up a part-time job at the BCA, then called the War Memorial, in security.
"I just enjoyed the atmosphere," he said "I love sports anyway. I really got involved in it. At the time the general manager offered me an opportunity to leave teaching and mentored under him, a few different roles that I took there."
In 1984, he left teaching the starting working at the War Memorial before becoming general manager in 1987. It was a role that Calkins held until June 2018. He eventually spoke to the Dome Arena owners and became GM in February 2019.
"One of my first conversations was with SoccerSam," he said. "That was one of my first events [Lancers], actually. It was good to be reunited with Sam and the team. It was nice. It was a great relationship ever since the beginning. He made me feel at home. It was a nice reunion."
On Friday night, the Lancers will return the favor to Calkins.
Tickets for the game can be purchased at RLancers.com or at the Dome Arena on game day. If you can't get to that match, you can catch the Lancers against the St. Louis Ambush at the same venue on Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m.