COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – With the deadline to find a new owner expired, Columbus' long-time hockey franchise won't be on the ice.
The Cottonmouths announcing the team is suspending play for the 2017-2018 season, leaving a vacuum for both sports fans and the community.
The franchise posting a statement on its Facebook page, which reads, in part, "the Cottonmouths will be ceasing operations for the 2017-2018 season on May 31st, 2017."
Current co-owner Wanda Amos has been looking for buyers since first announcing the sale back in March. Unfortunately, the team did not meet the league-imposed deadline of May 1 to find a new owner.
"[The league] can't hold up the other teams and their schedules," Amos said. "They need to get their schedules so they can go ahead and get their promotion spots."
The decision, Amos said, to move on from a team and family she's known for 17 years, was nothing if not tough, but she could not ignore the signs that showed the franchise kept losing money year after year.
"We love hockey. We love the community. It's never really been about the money, but you can't continue losing money," she said.
News Leader 9 caught up with several former players who've made the Fountain City their home. While they understand the business side of the decision, they're holding out hope that the Cottonmouths will be back.
"Hopefully the city will gather round and support them," said former player Doug Mann. "If we have another chance, let's get the attendance back to what it was back in '96, '97, '98."
Orrin Hergott, another former Cottonmouths player, told News Leader 9 the team's announcement was a "hard pill to swallow."
"Hopefully," he said, "things work out for the following year. Time will tell."
Jon Dorman and the Columbus Civic Center staff will now have to fill 28 days, set aside for Cottonmouths home games, with concerts and other shows.
Dorman, the center's director, hopes the team can find someone who'll keep this entertainment in Columbus.
"We're certainly sad to hear the news that they're taking a season off, and we're certainly keeping our fingers crossed that new ownership will step up soon and that this won't be long term," he said.
The business community also understands what the Cottonmouths bring to the city's economy, and what could happen if it shuts down for good.
"It will definitely be a loss," said Brian Anderson, president, and C.E.O. of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
"It'll be jobs lost because of people that supported the organization. There'll be the loss of that entertainment value. I think we're all going to have to measure what that loss is."
There is still hope, whoever, the Snakes can stay in town. Wanda Amos told News Leader 9 the team's in negotiations with a prospective buyer.
She added there's no deadline on an agreement, and this would be contingent on reaching a suitable lease agreement for the Cottonmouths to play at the Civic Center.