Making a Semi-Pro Murderer

Whenever I attend Racine Raiders semi-pro football games, I can count on overhearing interesting conversations from fellow spectators. One kid was bragging to other kids that he knows all the Raiders players. Turns out three of the players coach his football team. Still impressive.

I’ve overheard typical comments about bad reffing and missed opportunities, and even how the opponents’ equipment manager forgot the helmets to explain why they’re wearing mismatched helmets from the home team. And and people carry on about the corny the PA announcer is. Wait, that’s me.

So I was really surprised to overhear the reason why the Raiders had to scramble to replace the team they were scheduled to play that night. The 82 Chargers from Cincinnati were a last minute non-conference addition. The scheduled team, the Illini Panthers, were kicked out of the league midway through the season.

The story of the Panthers demise starts out unrealistic and quickly dives into something premeditated and vile. As I overheard it from the lady sitting behind me:

The team’s owner and one of its players were involved in the armed robbery of a bank a month earlier in June. (uncomfortable chuckle). They fired on a security guard and killed him. (Oh my God, what?) The Mid-States Football League (MSFL), upon discovering this, kicked the Panthers out of the league (no brainer).

Yahoo!Sports reported, ‘Hailey Gist-Holden, 26, owner/coach of the Illini Panthers, and James Anthony King Jr., 24, allegedly ambushed First Midwest Bank guard Richard Castellana, 55, as he was walking on the sidewalk. They allegedly shot him in the face in the June 11 incident in Gary, Indiana.”

They ventured forth and robbed the bank, walking away with $9770.

Ricky Castellana was gunned down for less than $10 grand. He was retired 35-year Cook County sheriff’s deputy. Chicago is in Cook County; it goes without saying he was no stranger to violence.

Score board at White Sox game,
June 14, 2021

It’s not uncommon for retired cops to take a job as security guard to supplement their income. Castellana left behind a wife, a son, a daughter, a mother, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews, and friends. He planned to attend the White Sox game with his family on Monday, June 14. He was killed on Friday but the team honored him at Monday’s game.

King got as far as a nearby wooded area when he was apprehended. King, who is from Miami, Florida, was found in a nearby wooded area hours after the attack, per the affidavit. Police said they found a backpack with cash and a .40-caliber handgun near his location, the Sun-Times reported.

At the time of Castellana’s funeral, police were still looking for another suspect in the murder and armed robbery. Gist-Holden, after leading police on a chase where speeds got to 140 mph, crashed his car. In Georgia.

Yahoo Sports
Semi-pro football team owner/coach kills security
guards, robs bank to cover team bills, FBI says

Gist-Holden tried to make a deal with the FBI to become an informant to work off his charges. Yeah, pass. The FBI filed a 17-page affidavit in this case and the U.S.attorney will ask the Department of Justice permission to seek the death penalty. 

Weirdly, between the time of the robbery and the arrest of Gist-Holden, the Illini Panthers wrote an all-caps screed on the Facebook page accusing the MSFL on being unfair and unsavory.

THE ILLINI PANTHERS WILL NO LONGER COMPETE IN THE MID STATES FOOTBALL LEAGUE. THE LEAGUE ISSUED A DISTURBING STATEMENT REGARDING THE ILLINI PANTHERS, TO PAST (sic) BLAME FOR THEIR INSUFFICIENT AND LACK OF EFFORT IN TAKING CARE OF LAST WEEK’S GAME MISHAP WHERE REFEREES WERE NOT ASSIGNED TO OUR GAME. FAMILIES, SUPPORTERS AND TEAMS WERE LEFT OUT TO DRY FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE WAS AN INTENTIONAL MISTAKE.

They go on but the final paragraph was serious sociopathy: LASTLY, AS WE KNOW FOOTBALL IS A BUSINESS, IF THE MSFL DOESN’T TAKE CARE OF THEIR TEAMS WITHIN THE LEAGUE, HOW COULD A TEAM SURVIVE OR EVEN THRIVE? THE ANSWER IS TEAMS WON’T. WHICH WOULD EXPLAIN WHY 3-5 TEAMS HAVE FOLDED WITHIN THE LAST 2 YEARS IN THE MSFL, SOME BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL REASONS BUT WITH THE ADDITIONS OF OTHER TEAMS, SOME HAVE FOLDED OR LOOKED FOR OTHER LEAGUES BECAUSE OF LACK OF PROPER LEADERSHIP AND OVERALL FAILED BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS.

The Racine Raiders were formed in 1953 but disbanded in 1975 because of financial troubles. In 1979 the Racine Gladiators were formed but, as a for-profit organization, were unable to keep pace with costs and folded in 1985 despite huge success and two national championships. But in 1986 a group built a community-owned nonprofit organization again called the Raiders.

Semi-pro teams come and go. It’s a difficult business with all the sports and entertainment choices available to the public. Unlike affiliated Triple A, Double A, etc teams, there isn’t a MLB team providing resources.

It’s unimaginable to think that premeditated murder, armed robbery, and a dangerous high-speed chase would make solvent a struggling semi-pro team. Even if they somehow pulled it off, I guarantee it would be a bandaid on the team’s financial troubles. Plus it’s the exact opposite of sportsmanship and the values of community teams.

It makes me proud of the Racine Raiders organization, who have managed through trail and error and resourcefulness to put together successful competitive teams that display sportsmanship and community spirit.

RIP Ricky Castellana!

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