FLINT, Michigan—The Bucks’ success during their inaugural season in Flint didn’t stop at their USL League Two championship win. Days before 2019 ended, Dan Duggan, CEO and chairman of the Bucks, and Costa Papista, president of the Bucks, were named the league’s co-Executives of the Year.
The award, which is presented to top executives in the league for their commitment to their team, staff, and community, was given to Duggan and Papista at the United Soccer League Winter Summit in Orlando, Florida.
Duggan and Papista are no strangers to the world of sports. Duggan, who started his career in soccer at the age of 12, has been one of the founding fathers of the sport in Michigan. He was inducted into the USL Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Michigan Soccer Association Hall of Fame in 2010. Under this guidance, the Bucks have won four USL League Two Championships, the fourth being won last year at Atwood Stadium in Flint.
Papista, who’s had a significant presence in the Flint sports scene as the president of the Flint Firebirds hockey team from 2014 to 2018, also presided over the Dayton Bombers and Saginaw Spirit, before shifting his professional focus from hockey to soccer.
According to Papista, the city of Flint, Atwood Stadium and the then-Michigan Bucks were a match made in heaven. When he first saw Atwood Stadium, he knew it was the ideal place for an elite soccer team. After his time with the Firebirds was over, Papista reached out to USL League Two in hopes of bringing a team to the historic stadium.
The league directed him to Duggan. “Over the course of multiple meetings this idea was hatched … to do this project together. To relocate the storied Michigan Bucks franchise to Kettering’s historic Atwood Stadium in downtown Flint. What a perfect fit,” said Papista.
Both men saw the potential Flint had as a home city for a League Two team. Its location within the state made Flint an ideal hub for the many soccer families in the area with no local team to root for.
“The team already had so much history, just as the stadium did. As a soccer fan and soccer parent, I knew that mid-Michigan was home to many youth soccer players and soccer families,” said Papista. “We felt there were enough soccer families and kids to give the Bucks a running start."
And run they did. The two executives, along with the entire Bucks support staff, team members, coaches, and fans were able to usher in a season full of excitement for the team and the city.
The sheer number of attendees proved a major upgrade for the Bucks, whose prior stadium, Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac, had a permanent seating capacity of 1,650 compared to Atwood’s 11,000. The change allowed the Bucks to boast one of the largest stadiums in the league.
Of course, those numbers mean nothing without fans filling the seats. The radical increase in capacity opened the floodgates for fans old and new to pile in without fear of spilling out into parking lots or being relegated to watching from behind a chain-link fence. Those loyal River Rats, as some devoted fans started calling themselves, made league history when the showed up over and over again to the Bucks’ games.
“Having an opening game in early May of over 4,500 fans and a championship game with over 7,000 fans has never been done at this level of soccer anywhere in America and was not expected in our first year in Flint,” said Duggan, when asked about his thoughts on the Buck’s first year in a new city.
The large and consistent turnouts excited Duggan and made him eager to continue the Bucks' relationship with Flint and its citizens. “We look forward to building on this wonderful foundation as we continue to develop future professional soccer players right in front of our passionate fan base,” said Duggan.
Papista agreed. According to him, the city welcomed the Bucks with open arms, ready to make them part of the city. “The community has embraced us – community leaders, civic leaders, and the local businesses. Everyone has been supportive, encouraging, and helpful. The entire area has made us feel welcome.”
The two men have taken no time to bask in the glory of their accomplishments throughout the year. Both of them have plans for the 2020 season, all of which include further ingraining the Bucks into the Flint culture, whether it be through civic engagement or giving the city yet again one more thing to brag about.
“We’re going to continue to grow and build our brand, our outreach, and fan base. We want to introduce more kids to soccer by offering free learn-to-play clinics. We want to be another source of pride for Flint and Genesee County,” said Papista.