Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Battle begins for Red and Black name
When Thomas Shultz filled out the application to join the Northeast Football Alliance on Sunday, he listed the team name as the Watertown Red and Black.
With the NFA approving Shultz's request, it meant two Watertown Red and Black franchises co-exist — on paper anyway — possibly setting up a legal battle for possession of the oldest semiprofessional football team in the country.
Shultz said Monday that a legally binding contract signed last year will allow him to keep the registered name of the Watertown Red and Black in the NFA.
George Ashcraft, head coach of the original Red and Black, said a contract with Shultz was never signed and any talks ended between the two last January. Each side has sought legal representation to resolve the issue.
"I say he's got nothing," Ashcraft said. "It's in an attorney's hands. It's silly to think there are two teams called the Watertown Red and Black. My team is moving forward."
The original Watertown Red and Black began operations in 1896. The team is run by Ashcraft and chairman Robert Freeman. The team initially joined the Empire Football League in 1975. The Red and Black spent 23 years with the EFL before jumping to the New York Amateur Football League for two seasons. The club returned to the EFL and has been a member since 2000.
Shultz, who is the owner of Re-Sale America, said Ashcraft approached him in 2006 about running the Red and Black. At the time, Shultz was a backup tight end with the team and didn't consider the offer. Shultz said he accepted Ashcraft's request the following year and managed the franchise.
"We legally transferred the team to a new corporation, registered it as the Watertown Red and Black, and I ran that operation," Shultz said. "A couple months later, he said that I was out, and he was taking it back over."
Shultz said the franchise spent approximately $12,000 on equipment and machinery for programs, clothing and memorabilia. He said the equipment will now be used for his team.
Shultz's Watertown squad is one of three north country teams that will compete in the NFA's Central Division this year. Former EFL member St. Lawrence Valley and Massena are participating in the 15-team league.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Shultz said. "I definitely believe that it's going to be the big league and prosper. It will take football to the next level, and we expect to be one of the powerhouses in the state."
Ashcraft has coached his Red and Black squad for 17 seasons, and they've advanced to the EFL championship game in the past two years. Watertown won its only EFL title in 1980.
"I'm excited about moving forward with the EFL," Ashcraft said. "The teams that are in this league have been around, it's a strong league, and it's been successful.
"All of this confusion is silly, and it shouldn't have gotten to this point," Ashcraft added.
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