2/15/2008 - Presumedly seeking revenge against the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League for calling it quits in the middle of the season, several players with the Jamestown Vikings trashed the historic Vikings Lodge on the corner of Washington and West Fourth Street early Thursday, leaving most of the building in shambles.
Trash and debris were everywhere, especially on the second and third floors where the stench of beer and rotting food was almost overpowering. Bar stools were smashed through doors, and virtually every piece of glass in the building had been shattered, the broken shards unavoidable underfoot.
‘‘They were on a drunken rampage,’’ said Greg Moran, a building inspector with the city Department of Development, who was called to the scene once police learned of the destruction. ‘‘I was absolutely appalled. ... Some of this stuff is probably irreplaceable.’’
For police, the first sign of trouble was a chair that had been thrown through the storefront window facing Washington Street. When police arrived to investigate, they found the place a wreck and more than a dozen people — players as well as their friends — passed out drunk throughout the building.
‘‘We were called here early this morning at about 7:30 after we received a report that a chair had been thrown through the window,’’ said Lt. Todd Isaacson of the Jamestown Police Department. ‘‘The unit on scene initially observed a significant amount of criminal mischief as they entered the building. ... After the officers arrive at the scene, they realized that numerous players were involved and additional assistance was needed.’’
Police removed the individuals from the building after they had been identified.
Isaacson and other officials with the Jamestown Police Department spoke to reporters in the ballroom on the third floor of the century-old, four-story building. The ballroom was littered with junk and paint had actually been thrown about the space, but luckily, the intricate woodwork that decorates the hall remained intact.
‘‘To see the condition of this building was more than disappointing,’’ said Det. Art Osterdahl, who has been a member of the Order of Vikings for more than two decades. ‘‘When I was downstairs, seeing some of the rooms the children used to play in, it really hit close to home.’’
Mid-Atlantic Hockey League officials announced Wednesday that they would be cancelling the rest of the season to re-organize and start fresh in 2008-09, though many of those associated with the league believe that is unlikely to happen. Ticket sales were reportedly extremely low for three of the new league’s five teams — though they were reportedly much more competitive for the Valley Forge Freedom from Oaks, Pa. and the Jamestown Vikings.
But across the board, the league has reportedly been buried underneath a growing pile of debt with thousands of dollars owed to players. That has resulted in hostile relations between players and league officials like Andrew Haines, league president and Vikings owner.
Many believe the hostile relationship was what drove the players to trash the Vikings Lodge late Wednesday, though officials with the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena said they made it clear to them that Haines did not own the building.
‘‘It has historic significance to everyone,’’ said Michael Ferguson, ice arena general manager. ‘‘I said this building had been there for generations in the community, and one of the excuses I got from one of the players was, ‘Well, we didn’t believe that. We thought it was Andrew’s.’ ’’
But Ferguson said he didn’t believe that excuse, since he had told players repeatedly that Haines didn’t own the building. The building is actually owned by a Florida resident who acquired it when it was auctioned by the Order of Vikings in recent years.
In the early 20th century, the building was home to the Eagles Temple, and then to the Jamestown Business College. It wasn’t until 1941 that it was sold to the Order of Vikings.
The owner is reportedly en route to Jamestown to inspect the damage.
Ferguson was saddened to learn of the season’s sudden cancellation and offered the arena’s help to the players in the wake of the announcement — though he was not prepared to get the call early Thursday and learn what some of the players had done.
‘‘I’m ashamed, and it broke my heart when I walked in this morning,’’ Ferguson said. ‘‘When we addressed the team yesterday when they had been abandoned by the league, we were trying everything we could to support them.’’
But not all the players were involved, according to Ferguson.
‘‘To tell you the truth, a good portion of the team had already left town. A lot of the players already knew they weren’t going to get money out of the league and had already packed up,’’ Ferguson said.
For Zach Kane, a Jamestown native who played as a defenseman with the Vikings, that’s the worst of it — the fact that the wreckage of the Vikings Lodge has hurt the reputation of the entire team, even those who weren’t involved with the incident.
‘‘They more or less disgraced themselves and the team,’’ said Kane, who had a handful of players who wanted no part in the mayhem over at his family’s house that night. ‘‘The players were fed up from the beginning. ... But still, what happened last night had no reason for happening.’’
Police say they will work with the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office and pursue charges against those involved with the incident. Most importantly, according to Isaacson, they hope to ensure the building is restored to the condition it was in before the players relocated there.
‘‘Obviously, the goal here for everyone in the community is to get this up to the way it was,’’ said Isaacson, who conservatively estimated the damage to be at least $25,000 and described the act as ‘‘egregious’’ and ‘‘intolerable.’’
Though many of the players have left town, Isaacson said police will be able to make contact with them if need be. He also said it is possible that some of those responsible may end up serving jail time.
‘‘I don’t think that would be a stretch,’’ Isaacson said.