'Family-friendly fun' is local Mill Rats owners' goal
Mar. 18—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Four local families who are minority owners of the Johnstown Mill Rats say the collegiate baseball team's fourth season will be the most enjoyable yet.
With a new video board for fan interaction, a new home plate suite, and top collegiate prospects playing for the Mill Rats at Sargent's Stadium at the Point in downtown Johnstown, the local ownership group has been excitedly spreading the word at their workplaces, churches and children's Little League games.
As the Mill Rats experience has expanded since its inaugural season in 2021, so has the local ownership share of Johnstown Family Entertainment, the entity that owns and operates the Prospect League franchise.
While the franchise was founded by three outside owners who direct the team's financial strategy and operational planning, Johnstown natives Chad and Jill Gontkovic; Bart and Stacy Vickroy; Matthew and Bristy Perry; and Alex and Melissa Pozun form the local ownership contingent of Johnstown Family Entertainment.
The Gontkovics are owners of Coal Tubin' Pennsylvania, an outdoor recreation outfitter in Johnstown, specializing in whitewater rafting, river tubing, biking adventures and adventure shuttles in the Alleghenies and Laurel Highlands region.
Chad Gontkovic is a combat systems officer aboard the EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft as part of the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.
"We've had two years to understand the market and get the word out about the Mill Rats," he said. "People have forgotten what it's like to have a baseball team in Johnstown."
That will change, he said, as he and the other local owners work toward their common goal of providing affordable, fun, quality baseball experiences for families.
"We are experience-based people," he said. "We are thinking about the whole experience — what you are doing before the game, where you are parking, and what you are doing after the game.
"If you go to other areas of the country, people are doing this left and right, so when people say these types of things are a long shot in Johnstown, we scoff because we think it's short-sighted. ... The Point Stadium is beautiful. The city is invested on their side as a great partner with us with the new video board. The experience is going to be top-notch, so we are pretty excited about it."
'We take feedback'
The Gontkovics and the Vickroys became the first local owners to jump on board at the start of the Mill Rats' second season.
"I'm pleased," Bart Vickroy said. "That first year was tough, coming on the heels of COVID. Last season, when we came on board, we improved attendance and activities and things like that, so I was very pleased with results."
Vickroy, born and raised in Johnstown, works in the health care information technology arena.
"We are minority owners, so it's more about guidance with local leadership, understanding the community and what people want as far as activities that we do," he said. "We take feedback from locals. The four of us are raised in the community. We understand how people think, what people want. We have a relationship with the community, so we can take feedback and turn that feedback into a reality."
The local owners work with the outside owners who founded the Mill Rats, including Bill Davidson, president of the Prospect League and chairman and part-owner of another Prospect League franchise, the Lafayette Aviators.
Johnstown native Dr. Matthew Perry said Davidson has a lot of experience in the industry and brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.
"The goal of the ownership group is to have local representation," Perry said. "That's where Bart, Chad, Alex and I come in from various angles, but we all have the same common vision of growing the team and providing entertainment for folks of all ages."
Perry became an owner last fall after taking his family to some games last season.
"We had a blast," he said. "I really enjoyed meeting different folks from the community, watching some great baseball, and seeing the community really rally around the Mill Rats."
Perry is an emergency room doctor and has spent his entire career at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, where he currently serves as chairman of the Emergency Department. Bristy Perry, his wife, worked as an ICU nurse for several years before staying at home with the couple's three children.
"We thought becoming owners would be a positive investment into the team, stadium and the community — in a way, giving back," Matthew Perry said, "and we are enjoying it so far."
Dr. Alex Pozun, emergency medicine physician at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, works with Perry and has become the newest local member of the ownership group, having joined at the end of February.
"Bart and Chad got involved at the beginning of last season — Bart and Matt are good friends," he said. "Matt asked me to join as well. For me, it sounded like a good opportunity to help the Mill Rats organization grow while keeping some family-friendly entertainment in town. My wife and I talked about it and saw it as an opportunity for us to help the city."
Pozun said he grew up going to Point Stadium to watch the Johnstown Steal and then the Johnstown Johnnies minor league baseball teams in the 1990s.
"It was always something I cherish from my childhood — spending time with my family on summer nights at the ballpark," he said. "I even have a baseball from when the Johnnies won the team championship."
Now he says he's working to provide that experience for his children — and all children in Johnstown.
The Mill Rats' home opener is at 7 p.m. June 9 against the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints.
The team plays on the road May 31 through June 7, with stops at Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Danville (Indiana), Terre Haute (Indiana) and Chillicothe.
"My goal is to keep building a fan base," Pozun said. "We'd love to see the stadium full every night. The Mill Rats are a new organization. The big thing is getting the word out there.
"There are still people who don't know there is a baseball team here in Johnstown, so the biggest thing is word-of-mouth and getting that out to our friends and family and to the community to let them know we have some family-friendly fun here in town."