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Dallas Cowboys to Train in Oxnard

Sports: Football team will welcome visitors to summer practices, as well as offer family activities.

April 28, 2001|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — The Dallas Cowboys will not only spend two weeks at a summer training camp in Oxnard, but will also erect a community-friendly mini-theme park dubbed "The Dallas Cowboys Experience" next to football fields, team and city officials said Friday.

Under an agreement set for City Council approval Tuesday, the Cowboys' facility would go far beyond the spartan training camp the Los Angeles Raiders held near the same River Ridge Golf Club until 1995, when that team returned to Oakland.

Unlike the Raiders, who draped field fences with a secretive black tarp, the Cowboys plan to erect bleachers so hundreds of fans can watch their practices for free.

The Cowboys camp will include a host of Cowboy-related activities--souvenir booths, interactive football games, play areas for children, team memorabilia, concession stands and perhaps a traveling Cowboys museum, officials said. A $2 admission could be charged, but the proceeds would be contributed to local charities.

"There are a lot of big, inflatable bouncy things where kids have a lot of fun," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said. "It includes inflatable jumping rooms, games where you kick field goals and another where you throw a football and where you simulate running with the football."

A free one-day cheerleading clinic, headed by at least two Cowboys cheerleaders, is also on the team's agenda during two weeks of practices beginning Aug. 13.

"The Cowboys pride themselves on their community participation, and this is designed as family entertainment," Councilman Tom Holden said. "It's a good deal, and a lot less expensive than the previous attempt to get a professional sports team here."

In 1985, Oxnard lured the Raiders to town with a new 250-room suites hotel and a $1-a-year practice field lease. The City Council thought the Raiders' six-week camp would bring tourists and shove this onetime farm town into the big-city limelight. But when owner Al Davis closed practices, potential tourism dried up.

City officials were left with a 4.5-acre training field that is now used mostly on weekends by youth soccer teams. Oxnard's $144,000 annual bond payment for the field continues until 2016.

Under the Cowboys agreement, the city would spend up to $25,000 to repair two full-size practice fields and an adjacent 100-locker athletic building next to the Residence Inn hotel, and the Cowboys would pony up the same amount.

The city hopes the Cowboys' openness will pull to town tourists who would not come otherwise. The team practiced at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks from 1963 to 1989, and fans flocked to watch. That is one of the reasons the Cowboys are coming back.

"When we trained in Thousand Oaks, we developed a fan following in Southern California," Dalrymple said. "And Oxnard is familiar with hosting a training camp, so that's a big plus, too."

Oxnard won out as host over Cal State campuses in Long Beach and Fullerton because of conflicts with college athletic programs, Dalrymple said.

But the Cowboys chose Oxnard mostly for its cool climate, having endured 100-degree temperatures at its Wichita Falls, Texas, training facility for too many years. The team will practice in steamy Texas for three weeks this summer, before moving to Oxnard for two.

Oxnard officials say they will give the Cowboys a big howdy.

"It's a neat thing," said Otto Kanny, who operates the River Ridge golf course. "It's not going to cost the city much, and it's going to be the opposite of what the Raiders were."

In all, about 140 Cowboy players and staff will come to Oxnard, some for as long as three weeks. A news media entourage of 30 reporters, camera operators and technicians will accompany the team.

Operators of the adjacent hotel have said the team will probably rent 80 two-bed rooms, which would bring in at least $140,000 to $160,000, excluding food and services. But Kanny said he doesn't think the Cowboys will play many rounds on the city golf course.

"When the Raiders were here, it never really worked that way," he said. "The linemen are too big, and when they get done with two-a-day practices, they go back to their rooms and lie down. The only ones who ever came over were the kickers."

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