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Santa Cruz Warriors Give Explosive Debut to a Packed House

"We just proved we are as good at saying yes as we are at saying no," Fred Keeley.

Even if the new Santa Cruz Warriors hadn't won their first home game Sunday night, the team scored a major victory.

For the first time in modern history 2,505 people turned up for a professional team sports event in Santa Cruz, paying $15-$35 to fill a sparkling new arena that was built in only 12 weeks.

Many said it was a huge turnaround for a city that was known for turning down mainstream projects, such as the proposed La Bahia Hotel and convention center, which bit the dust last year because neighbors didn't want to allow it to be 15 feet higher than allowed.

"We just proved that we can be as good at saying yes as we are at saying no," said County Tax Collector Fred Keeley. "This is wholesome. It's families. It's great."

Keely was among thousands of locals who not only saw the team win its debut, but saw an entertainment spectacular that included American Idol finalist James Durbin singing the National Anthem like it was a classic rock tune, trick bicyclists doing daredevil somersaults, indoor fireworks, dance groups from Oakland that had the crowd shrieking for more, the Warrior girls cheer team, Mav'Rick's, the turtle mascot.

And – oh yeah – a basketball game by a hungry and graceful team that is in first place in the Development League with a 6-2 record.

"This is so great for everyone in the city," said John Mootz, whose family owns Aldo's restaurant. "I never thought I'd see anything like it here."

He brought his 11-year-old son, Connor, and they rode a pedicab to the game after parking on Front Street.

The rain helped solve what could have been a parking disaster, as the biggest shopping day of the year combined with the sold-out game could have made parking almost impossible. It wasn't. Many found street parking and others filled the free lot at the County Administration Building on Ocean Street and took a shuttle to the arena.

Team president Jim Weyermann beamed like a proud parent as he watched the last seconds run out on the home town win.

Weyermann, who had lived in Capitola, was one of the people who inspired the team's owners to move them from Bismarck, North Dakota to Santa Cruz.

"I'm incredibly proud," Weyermann said after the game. "It's an inspiring moment in a life and you don't get many of those in a career. You don't get many opportunities to significantly change the landscape of a city. I really think that's what we did here tonight. We changed Santa Cruz forever."

The spirit was all over downtown as people went to restaurants and bars after the game ended at about 8 p.m. and talked about it on the streets.

"Thank you so much," one man said as he passed former Mayor Don Lane.

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