It’s almost the start of season-2 for the Bed-Stuy Crusaders, Bedford-Stuyvesant’s first semi-professional football team, and they’re feeling pretty good.
It’s a bit ironic, considering they finished their debut season 0-10.
But all of that is water under the bridge and lessons learned for the team, said Tywan Anthony, owner of the Bed-Stuy Crusaders.
At age 30, Anthony is the youngest owner of a semi-pro team in the city, a factor he admits placed him at a disadvantage initially, particularly from a business standpoint. In fact, the first semi-pro league he applied to flat-out rejected the Crusaders from participating, before they were finally invited into the the Triborough Football League.
“A lot of the other owners looked at me like, ‘What do you know about football and owning a team?’” said Anthony. “And it was rough, because when you have a group of young neighborhood guys from 18-35, it’s no telling what you’ll get. You can never estimate how players are going to react to something, on or off the field.
“But you have to have a real love for the game, because the business aspect is hard.”
In that first year, aside from trying to build the team and practice for games, Anthony realized he needed a staff. And although the players’ membership dues covered a lot of the expenses– including uniforms, helmets, equipment and referees– it failed to cover other unexpected, emerging costs, such as vendors, ancillary equipment, transportation and insurance. Oh, and not to mention, the cost and the politics of finding a home field on which to practice and play:
“Semi-pro teams have a lot of problems with getting fields and venues,” he said. “There are enough high school fields to go around. But you need to have a good insurance policy before they let you on. One school quoted us at a $4 million. I understand they want to protect themselves, but we’re not playing at Madison Square Garden.”
They did eventually find a practice field, at New Utrecht High School in Bay Ridge.
“We contacted a lot of high schools, and finally, New Utrecht said ‘yes,’ they were more than happy to accommodate us. And although we’re so grateful that we have a home, we want to play in Bed-Stuy.
Anthony said, from the start, they reached out to Boys and Girls High School, but as of yet, they have not responded: “I have continuously and vigorously called them and emailed, but they will not return our calls or emails. So that kind of sucks that we have to go all the way out to New Utrecht to practice.
“Why can’t we play in our own community, in Bed-Stuy? Boys and Girls got a brand-new field from the NFL. But the high school football team doesn’t even use that field. They go to Old Boys High to play, because doesn’t their field doesn’t have enough seating.”
Still, despite having to practice in Bay Ridge, Anthony says they are grateful, and they will push forward. This year, the team dues have increased enough to cover all anticipated costs, and they have a few, new financial backers. They now have a small staff, Head Coach Vincent Walker, a Defense Coordinator and Co-Executive Dan Melnick, Treasurer Donna Kinslaw and a new general manager, a woman, June Uom. “She’s great! She’s like a drill sergeant,” says Anthony laughing.
It was a very steep learning curve for the Bed-Stuy Crusaders in their first year. But Anthony believes they’re over the hump, allowing them to better concentrate on one thing, which is winning games.
“In the two years that I’ve been in operation, there have been about five teams that have started with us and failed,” said Anthony. “I think it says a whole lot that we’re still here, we made it through, we’ve bonded as a team, and we’re in a much better financial place.”
“The way I see it, we give you a platform to demonstrate your athletic ability to NYC. We can take guys from around-the-way that have been disenfranchised from the mainstream or college football. And if you are college age and can be disciplined and come out and play, you have a chance to play collegiate football.”
In fact, Anthony pointed out, one of the players right now is talking to Rutgers University about playing for their team.
“I didn’t know any of these guys before this,” said Anthony. “But being on the field with these guys and watching everybody evolve, not just as players but as people, has been the best part. They became a major part of my life.“Instead of hanging out, we’re on the field now after work. Now we’re all talking over Facebook, telling jokes, talking about funny things that happened on the field.
Aside from finally winning a few games, Anthony said, his primary goal is to let the community know that they have a semi-pro football team in their own backyard.
“This is Bed-Stuy, the home of Biggie Smalls, a lot of big-name people; this place is epic around the country,” said Anthony, excited. “Just like we’re known for our Brownstones; I want the community and the entire country to know we now have a semi-pro football team here too in Bed-Stuy: The Bed-Stuy Crusaders!”
The Bed-Stuy Crusaders will hold a Media and Community Day on Sunday, April 19, 6:00pm, at Vodou Bar and Lounge, located at 95 Halsey Street. The Media Day will serve as a mix and mingle introduction of the players to kick off their new season, which starts with their first game on May 2.