It started with the Reading Rage soccer team, then the Reading Royals hockey franchise came next. From there the Raptors and the Express came along to give the area outdoor and indoor football.Of course the Reading Phillips have been around forever to fill the Minor League baseball hole in Reading. That meant all that was left of the major sports was basketball.
Enter the Reading Railers. This is the inaugural season of the Railers, as well as the Premier Basketball League. According to owner and general manager Kay McGee, the first season has been a good one so far.
"I'm just thrilled with the success of the season," said McGee. "We have received a lot of good advice from the Reading Royals, the Philadelphia Phillips and other area franchises to get us off on the right foot. I'm very grateful to everyone who has helped us out."
McGee was approached more than a year ago with the idea of buying a franchise. McGee was not just plucked out of thin air. She is the daughter of Herb McGee, the winningest active college coach in the country at Philadelphia University.
"I've been around basketball my whole life," said Kay. "So when I was approached with the idea of buying a basketball team, I loved it."
The group that pitched her the idea backed out, but she was hooked. She wanted to buy a franchise, so that's exactly what she did.
The franchise was originally going to be part of the American Basketball Association. But problems arose in that league, so she took her franchise, along with the Rochester and Maryland franchises (also from the A.B.A.) and went to the newly formed Premier Basketball League.
"It turned out to be a very good business decision for us," said McGee. "We're very happy with the league we're in."
Reading was McGee's first choice to place her franchise. She saw that the Reading Phillips are the gold standard for Minor League franchises and the city was also the home of several other teams as well.
"Coming to Reading was an easy decision," said McGee. "Reading is one of the best Minor League cities in the world."
Next on the agenda was to pick a name. Channel 69 in Allentown contacted her about holding a contest to let the fans pick a name.
She liked the idea and was even more pleased with the team's new name ' the Railers.
Next on the list was to draft the players on the team. That included their number one choice, Jared Mills, a Central Catholic grad.
Now with everything in place, the Railers were ready for their first season. But McGee wasn't going to be satisfied with just starting the PBL season. She wanted to do something special.
"If we were going to come out, we wanted to come out big," she said. That led to the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader. It featured a high school game between Boyertown and Reading, a college game between Albright and Alvernia, then the match-up between the Railers and the Maryland Nighthawks.
More than 2,000 people were on hand to watch the event that raised money to fight cancer. To top it all off, the Railers won their initial game, 119-100.
"It was a great day and a huge success," said McGee. "We are grateful to the community for making it a success."
On January 5, the Railers played the Jacksonville Jam at the Sovereign Center in the first PBL game of the team's history. The 104-101 loss was a tough way to start for the Railers, but it was a competitive and exciting game. That's what McGee is expecting from all of the games.
"We're struggling a bit on the court," said McGee (2-5 in the league and 3-5 overall). We would have a much better record if the games were only three quarters. We've lost a lot of our games in the fourth quarter. But we're a brand new team playing against established teams. We don't expect to win every game."
On January 18, the Railers introduced their new mascot-Spike. The slightly pudgy, but lovable creature was created by
David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic.
Spike is just part of the show at the Sovereign Center that includes a dance team, giveaways, promotions and other entertainment at the games.
"We've received a lot of help from the other area franchises," said McGee. "We want to stand out and be different, but we also want to do it right. So far it's going great. We have more sponsors than I ever thought we would have at this point, and the fans always have a great time at the game."
The bottom line is to get people out to the games and have them enjoy their evening. "If people come out, they will come back," said McGee. "That's something I'm sure of."