MUSKEGON – During every West Michigan Ironmen home game, there is a break between the first and second quarters to honor a Hometown Hero.

It might be a medical professional or a police officer or firefighter. The team loves to share the spotlight with people who do good things for the community.

But on Saturday night, during the Ironmen’s league championship game against the Michigan Avengerz at Trinity Health Arena, the Hometown Hero ceremony will be a little longer and a lot more personal, because the team will be honoring someone very close to its heart.

The really tough part is that the hero won’t be there to hear the sincere and heartfelt words of love and respect.

Scott and Anita Niswonger

Scott Niswonger, better known to Ironmen fans as the beloved mascot “FE the Foundry Bull,” was tragically killed on May 10 when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a vehicle. He was only 45.

He was returning home from a little league baseball game, where his best friend’s son had played, when the accident occurred.

He will be represented during the Hometown Hero ceremony by his wife, Anita Niswonger, his stepsons Nate and Heith Seewald, his best friend Ricky Sanchez and other family members and close friends.

Niswonger was very excited about the upcoming championship game, according to Anita. He had already ordered a case to hold the championship ring he knew he would get if the Ironmen won, she said.

“I might cry the whole time,” Anita said. “He was so excited about this game. It’s going to be very bittersweet, but he would want us all there, for sure.”

He was the guy who…

The loss came as a shock to everyone involved with the Ironmen, from owner Mario Flores to the front office personnel to the players and coaches and beyond.

They knew Niswonger as the guy who took it upon himself to do countless tasks for the team, game after game, season after season.

He was the guy who purchased the mascot outfit, created the character of FE, and wore it for every home game for the past five or six seasons.

FE is the symbol for iron on the periodic chart, and “The Foundry” is the nickname the team gave to Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena.

“I had no idea what to do as the mascot,” Niswonger explained during an interview with last season. “I watched a few YouTube videos of other mascots and decided I wasn’t going to be like them. I just give a lot of high-fives to the fans, go into the seats to have pictures taken, and maybe drink a beer with them.

Photo/Jeremy Clark,

“I am probably the only mascot around that will sit and drink a beer with you! Some fans will see me drinking a beer and bring me another one!”

Niswonger was the guy who built a high-power tee-shirt cannon to shoot souvenirs to fans. He said it was so powerful that he once knocked a fan’s beer out of his hand with a flying shirt.

He was the guy who took it upon himself to customize the trailer where the team stores its equipment.

He was the guy who went to the trouble to lay out the players’ equipment in the locker room before games, just to make them feel like the pros they are.

“He had their jerseys, pants, everything laid out for them,” said Ironmen general manager and former head coach Nate Smith. “He just wanted them to have that experience.”

Photo/Jeremy Clark,

Niswonger was the guy who was always there early to help roll out the turf and prepare the field before games.

He was the guy who hosted a lot of parties at his house for Ironmen players, and even had a few living in his home they were in town for the season. That hospitality kept several good players coming back to the team every year, according to Smith.

He was the guy who had an Ironmen tattoo on his left arm.

“The first game of the season a few years ago, we shut the other team out, and me, being a loudmouth, told the guys on defense that if they did that again the next week, I would go get an Ironmen tattoo,” Niswonger explained during the interview last year. “Well, they did it again, and midway through the fourth quarter I noticed that the defensive guys were giving me that look, so as soon as the game was over I scheduled to have the tattoo done.”

‘This one is for FE!’

Niswonger was always there for the Ironmen, and of course the team assumed he would be there on Saturday to watch them battle for a second straight Great Lakes Arena Football league title.

Now all they can do is honor his memory and try very hard to win.

In addition to honoring Niswonger as the Hometown Hero, the Ironmen players will wear a special sticker on their helmets in his memory, and team staff will wear special tee-shirts.

“There’s a big hole that will be left,” Smith said. “Some of the jobs we can have people step in and do, but not the way he did them. He was an integral part of what we were doing.

“Everything he did for our organization was definitely a labor of love. I know it sounds cliché, but he embodied the Ironmen spirit. He loved being the mascot. He loved making people smile. He was very special.”

Photo/Jeremy Clark.

Ironmen head coach Terry Mitchell said a lot of the players were at Niswonger’s memorial service, as well as several former players who traveled from as far away as Texas and Louisiana to say goodbye to an old friend.

“It hit us really hard,” Mitchell said. “Scott was a big part of the Ironmen. He did everything. We couldn’t thank him enough.

“This guy had a big impact on the players and on the community. He is going to be missed.”

Anita Niswonger remembers the first game that she and Scott attended, back in the Ironmen’s inaugural season in 2016.

They were just like any other fans at that game, but they both fell immediately in love with arena football and the way the Ironmen put on a show and related to the fans.

Photo/Jeremy Clark.

“After the game, we saw how they opened up the floor so people could come down there and be with them,” said Anita, who volunteered for many seasons in the team’s merchandise booth while her husband served as the mascot. “All of the players were just standing there, talking to the fans and having pictures taken with them. It was so exciting to be up close and get to know them. We loved it and wanted to be a part of it. Scott was really smitten with it.”

Since that night, all the work Scott did for the Ironmen was really not work at all because of the passion he felt for the team, according to Anita.

“It’s really not work if you love it,” she said.

When asked what her message would be to the team going into the championship game, Anita kept it simple:

“Ironmen, this one is for FE! Go get em!”  eddie