CEFL Teams: Thonon Black Panthers of France

Photo: Guillaume Mouchet

When talking about a well respected rock-solid organization, Thonon Black Panthers are right there on top of that list. We had a great chat with Black Panthers' president, Benoit Sirouet, who gave us more insight on the Panthers' first steps in American football, as well as what makes his team - a team.

The current vice-champion of France will travel to Tirol, where they'll face SWARCO Raiders on April 13th, while on May 25th, Milan Seamen will be headed to Thonon.


Beginnings

The Thonon les Bains /Black Panthers/ were founded in 1987, by the current club president Benoit Sirouet and his predecessor Jérôme Garnier, with two others friends Nicolas Schopliansky et Frederic Meriguet. Since its creation, the club has grown from a small group of football enthusiasts to an organization that features both flag and tackle teams in several age categories.

The senior team currently competes in the French first national division or the “Casque de Diamant” – literally translated as the “Diamond Helmet”. The season runs from February until June and features a 10 game schedule, a national semi-final, and a championship game, all played under NCAA rules. In 2007, both the junior and senior squads reached their respective finals for the second time in club history.

National Champions 2004 Div 2, National Champions 2013, 2104, Eurpean champions 2013 (EFAF Cup) 2017 (EFL).

Thonon les Bains is nestled between Lake Geneva (the largest lake of Western Europe) and the Northern Alps. With 35000 residents, it is the largest of the French cities on the shores of the lake. Its central location provides an ideal springboard for brief sightseeing excursions: Thonon is only a 20 minute drive from Switzerland and a one hour drive from Northern Italy. Geneva’s international airport (50 minutes) offers several low cost flights to major destinations across the continent.

First “sponsor” was the City of Thonon, with a large contribution to our team over the years.

Photo: Guillaume Mouchet

Gearing Up

First practice was in 1987, on a sand field without any equipment.

First coach in 1987, Bruno Jolly, with a small experience between 1984 and 1987 with the team of then Anges Bleus de Joinville le Pont (near Paris).

Today, with the support of the city of Thonon, the club benefits from some of the finest facilities of any American football squad in all of Europe. While field-time is at a premium throughout Europe, our squad benefits from exclusive use of a beautiful grass field with an adjacent locker room.

Over the years, the club has made solid investments in field equipment and now boasts of three sleds, in addition to all the requisite light practice material (shields, bags, ropes, etc). Only a stones throw from the field are the club’s office, clubhouse and bar, a small video room, and the equipment room.

Over the years, a number of North-American players and coaches have brought their skills and love of the game to Thonon-les-Bains. Indeed, since the early 1990s, the Black Panthers have yearly recruited import players to boost their senior roster. First north American Head coach was Patrick Gregory (from Bishop University).

Photo: Guillaume Mouchet


Competing

Today, we have 6 programs actively competing. We have around 250 players and 20 coaches.

Flag +17 (regional competition) - U14 (regional competition) – U16 (regional competition) – U19 (National Competition) – Senior women team (Regional competition) – Senior (1st division and CEFL).


The People

Our secret to success: Working in a professional environment with a family spirit, for 31 years.

We compete at the highest level for the smallest town in competition (national and European). This is what surprises the football community.

Photo: Guillaume Mouchet

Community

This is an important point. The most important thing for 30 years - was for us to win the trust of partners, volunteers and the entire community.

We are present on all events in our city that helped us grow. We are present on many events in the region; and we organize many charity actions.

You have to give a lot, in order to receive a little!


Fans & Support

It's always easier to be supported after being successful and gaining people's trust.

Today, the club has help of more than 50 volunteers, 3 full-time employees, 80 private partners, in addition to the city of Thonon, the Haute-Savoie department and the Auvergne region Rhône Alpes for a budget of 530 000 euros. Each part cited is essential to the operation. It is our legacy of 30 years of work and stability.

Photo: Guillaume Mouchet

Looking Back

The lesson is that you have to keep the trust of people and decision makers.

Work by their side, help them and not think only of their project; it must be integrated into the society around us. We correct team and everyday mistakes; We must animate the team of leaders, give them the desire to give the best to their club because they are proud of it.

Today, we are recognized and respected to be put forward by our partners, because they are proud of us. You have to know how to seize the good opportunities and give them the means.

In 2005, the arrival of Larry Legault (Canadian HC from 2005 to 2016), was the best thing that happened to this club. He helped us structure it, guide it in a respectful work ethic. Larry paved the way for what this club is today: respect and envy.


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Disclaimer: This article is done as a partnership between Central European Football League [CEFL] and Touchdown Europe [TDEU], with the respected organizations participating in the CEFL 2019.

Media outlets can and are encouraged to re-post this article on their websites/blogs, as long as the disclaimer above is used. Thank you for respecting author rights.


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