In their fourth season, the Amsterdam Zephyrs are struggling to stay afloat amid rising costs and little help from sponsors or their hometown.
The amateur football team consists of more than 40 players between the ages of 18 and 28 who have decided not to go away to colleges that have football teams and instead are attending local schools such as Fulton-Montgomery and Schenectady County community colleges.
“This gives them an opportunity to still play football,” Tony Marotta said.
Coaches and players are all volunteers and participate with the team “pretty much for the love of the game,” Marotta said.
Marotta said the team’s largest expenses are renting the field at Wilbur H. Lynch Middle School and bus transportation for the team to away games at places like Montreal and Watertown.
Each season costs team president Marotta and vice president Rick Sager between $15,000 and $20,000.
Unlike the other, more popular amateur team associated with Amsterdam, the Mohawks baseball team, the Zephyrs are a nonprofit organization. Marotta said he tries to do things for the community, including holding a benefit game every year for someone in need.
Also, the Zephyrs are getting a lot less attention from the city than the Mohawks. Marotta said the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency did give the Zephyrs $25,000 to start, which was quickly spent on uniforms and goal posts for the field at St. Mary’s.
“We’ve asked, but they haven’t given us anything,” Marotta said. “Every year they say there isn’t enough money in the budget.”
While Marotta said he is glad about what the Mohawks are doing for the city, he admits he is a little bitter toward them.
The Amsterdam Mohawks in their fifth season expect to attract 30,000 people to Shuttleworth Park, where the team plays its home games.
Brian Spagnola, co-owner of the Mohawks, said that while the city hasn’t directly given the team any money, AIDA gave the team $25,000 to start and $130,000 to make improvements at their home field. Spagnola said the team recently put in about $600,000 worth of improvements.
Because of the Mohawks’ popularity, the city is now working with the Amsterdam Fire Department to assess traffic, safety and parking issues at Shuttleworth Park.
“We’ve grown too big too fast,” Spagnola said. “It was an unanticipated problem with the traffic and parking so we’re trying to work something out.”
Mayor Ann Thane said she anticipates the Mohawks will have even greater success next year and is being proactive with the city’s approach to the traffic and parking issues.
Thane said she expects a better plan for the park to be presented to the Common Council this fall.
Spagnola and co-owner David Dittmann attribute the Mohawk’s success to the family atmosphere and entertainment at each of the team’s home games, including activities for children between innings, beer for adults and even fireworks displays.
Marotta said he is trying to make Zephyrs games a family experience and the team has incorporated a dance team.
“We’re trying to create a family atmosphere,” Marotta said. “We’re on school property so there is no smoking or drinking so there are no rowdy people to deal with. It’s just clean fun.”
Marotta said the team is actively looking for sponsors. Currently, the team has a handful of local sponsors including Reality Check, Crystal Ristorante and attorney Paul Wollman. The team has collected about $1,000 in sponsorships.
“That’s not even enough to cover a bus,” Marotta said.
For now, Marotta said the Zephyrs are still hanging on.
“We’re working at it. Hopefully we’ll just keep getting bigger and better,” he said.
The next Zephyrs home game at Lynch Middle School is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, against Watertown. Admission costs $5.