Originally created 03/09/06

Success of Spartans depends on owner



The next person to call Jimmy Young crazy certainly won't be the first, but for a fleeting moment the marketing of his latest acquisition didn't seem entirely insane.

"We were almost the only naked, ice-skating football team," said the local mortgage banker/bar owner/sports entrepreneur of his flung-together arena football team. "We had no uniforms, no equipment and no field."

While the idea of unclothed football players sliding around the floor of Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center doesn't appeal to me, it certainly would have been a novel addition to the local sports landscape.

Alas, the Augusta Spartans will be just another dressed-in-black indoor football franchise when they make their home debut Friday night against something called the Florence Phantoms. Personally, the Augusta area needed another low-level arena football team as much as Washington Road needs another stoplight, but who am I to tell a fool how he should part with his money?

If Jimmy Young had the means and the mindset to commit in the neighborhood of $200,000 to bring a niche sport back to the area, and he can attract a couple of thousand like-minded spectators to join him seven nights a year, more power to him.

It will take all of Young's considerable strength to make the American Indoor Football League's Spartans work. The past two weeks since he was essentially railroaded into buying the franchise have proven that.

"I'm just kind of holding on for dear life," Young said as he hustled to make sure the opener actually happened. "To tell you it's not a struggle would be telling you a lie. Because it's really a struggle."

It has been since the day Young was bamboozled into buying the Spartans in the first place. The Georgia Bulldogs skybox-holder was excited about the prospect of indoor football returning to his hometown and was eager to help them out any way he could. Then he heard coach Bubba Diggs announce on a local radio show that Young was buying the team and the hook was set.

"They kind of put the knife in my back and from then on it was a done deal," Young said, laughing. "We would not have a team here if I hadn't bought it. I've seen the way the league would have run this team and it never would have happened."

We can argue all day about whether that would have been such a bad thing, but Young is right about that.

The fledgling league painted a rosy picture of how everything was in place and ready to go and all it needed was a local owner to step in and take over. Young has discovered since just how far from "ready" the Spartans were.

Helmets were delivered to the restaurant they were eating at immediately before the opening game last Friday in Asheville, N.C.

Uniforms were purchased just this week.

The $50,000 field he bought couldn't be delivered, forcing Young to rent a carpet from the Raleigh, N.C., franchise just to play Friday's home opener.

Young printed up T-shirts that read: "No uniforms. No equipment. No field. No problem."

"You gotta laugh at this stuff," he said of the "30 hours a day" he's spent trying to pull this off.

You also gotta admire Young's enthusiasm even if it proves to be misguided. His wife of 36 years, Rose, threatened to divorce him when he bought the team and then went out and sold a sponsorship to a local car dealership.

The 59-year-old Aquinas grad and owner of The Dawg House bar is passionate about what he's doing. He attended every single Augusta Stallions game before the af2 team folded in 2003 after three seasons, and Young just wanted to bring it back.

"I like this stuff. I really do. I want it to work," he said. "I'm not going to make any money in this thing but we're going to have a good time. We can survive in this market.

"They're going to kill me for saying this, but this is not a hockey area, it's a football area. This is the kind of thing people in Augusta want. They want a football team we can identify with."

OK. While I might have preferred fans supporting some of the local high school teams with their disposable income, if Augustans want indoor football then Young is the right man to bring it to them.

Crazy or not, he is committed.

"We're not going to be like the Stallions and after three years fold up our tents and leave," he said. "If we can do as good as they did, we'll be here forever ... hopefully."

The only thing Young promises won't last forever is the name Spartans. It came with the down payment, but if there's a next season he plans to change it to something like the Junkyard Dawgs.

It would be a fitting moniker and would probably sell more merchandise than tickets.

Now if they were naked and on ice ...

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.