John Pettit, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Iowa Barnstormers indoor football team, passed away on Christmas Eve. The family confirmed the news with a statement on social media and said that he passed away "peacefully and surrounded by love." They listed the cause of death as COVID-19.
"There are no words to express what an incredible and loving husband, father and grandfather he was and there are no words to express how much we miss him," the family wrote, per KCCI Des Moines. "John was one of the kindest men to ever live. If you knew him, you loved him — unless maybe you were trying to negotiate with him. He left a mark on whoever he met. He treated strangers the same way he would treat his family. There are countless people who considered him to be a father figure or a best friend."
It is with tremendous sadness that I inform you of the passing of our leader, John Pettit. John served as COO of the Barnstormers since we brought the team back in 2008. It is impossible to think of the Barnstormers without thinking of John. Please read: https://t.co/y4TpMWZn2k pic.twitter.com/tOr1ROvP28— Iowa Barnstormers (@iabarnstormers) December 29, 2020
Jeff Lamberti, the principal owner of the team, released a statement on Facebook and reflected on Pettit's contributions to the team. He said that the late COO had been with the franchise since it returned in 2008. Lamberti called Pettit the "heart and soul" of the team and said that it was impossible to think of the Iowa Barnstormers without thinking of him.
"Needless to say, our hearts are broken right now," Lamberti said in the statement. "Please keep Janice, Jaclyn, Juliann, his grandchildren, and the entire Pettit family in your thoughts and prayers. John’s circle of friends spanned the entire country and beyond. He was respected throughout the entire professional sports world."
Pettit's family will not be holding a service for him at this time. Additionally, they requested that people make donations to one of three organizations instead of sending flowers. They listed ARL of Iowa (Animal Rescue League), Puppy Jake Foundation and the Diabetes Memorial as options.
The Iowa Barnstormers originally began operations in 1993 but became an official Arena League expansion team in 1995. The team found immediate success, reaching the playoffs three consecutive times and the championship game twice. Although they fell short of glory both times. However, the Barnstormers sparked attention due to the presence of Kurt Warner, the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
The Barnstormers sold to an ownership group in 2000 and only lasted one more season before ceasing operations in 2001. The team remained inactive until Lamberti and a group of investors brought them back. The Barnstormers played in the 2008 season and remained active in Arena Football until the league filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and ceased operations. The Barnstormers are now part of the Indoor Football League.