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OCT 21- OCT 28, 2014

Was Ward Made the Fall Guy in Mobile? Documents suggests Ward sold team before it collapsed

By Frank Parlato

October 21, 2014

Tarpons head coach Willie Gaston (l) and team owner Ray Ward.

Last week the Niagara Falls Reporter broke the story that Ray Ward, of the Town of Niagara, the man Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster selected as the preferred operator of the Sal Maglie Stadium on Hyde Park Blvd., had a checkered, if not disastrous, experience in Mobile, Al., in 2011, when he owned a professional indoor football team called the Mobile Bay Tarpons.

The team had a controversial and short-lived existence and media reports laid the blame on Ward, claiming he stiffed everyone from players, to fans, to equipment salesmen to the college stadium where his team played.

Last week, Ward told the Reporter he was a victim of circumstances and of a man named Roland Turner, of Mobile, a music promoter - who, Ward said, bought the team from him but failed to take responsibility, then conveniently put the blame on Ward when the team collapsed.

Our story last week put a temporary halt to Ward's hopes to gain control of Sal Maglie Stadium, as Dyster pulled the resolution to appoint Ward as the operator off the council's table.

We plan to pursue Ward's story this week, since his performance in Mobile might have a bearing on whether he may be the right operator of the city-owned stadium - one where, he says, if he gets the chance, he plans to field hundreds of little league baseball games and bring the largely abandoned and aging stadium back to life.

This week Ward brought documents, including a contract showing he sold the team before it fell apart.

Of course, there is little doubt Ward got in over his head in Mobile.

It was back in 2011, when Ward sold his Ray's Sanborn Pizzeria on Saunders Settlement Rd., and bought the Mobile Bay Tarpons, of the Southern Indoor Football League (SIFL).

He clearly did not have enough money to operate an indoor football team. But he started off pretty well.

Under Ward's guidance the team won its first two games, home field upsets over the Georgia and Abilene teams.

But the team folded after five games. The league folded by the end of that year.

What's in question is, when did Ward actually stop being the owner of the team?

After the second game, as Ward says, or after the fifth and final game, as the media reported in Mobile?

There is a big difference - in those three games -in the magnitude of Ward's failure.

Tarpons head coach Willie Gaston said that he and players never got paid for any of the five games.

Ward admitted he did not pay Gaston for the two games but said he expected that the new owner would operate the team and assume its debt.

Gaston told the Reporter that he doubted Ward ever had enough money to operate the team, saying Ward drove a "beat up jalopy" and made calls using a flip phone held together with duct tape.

Ward disputed the "jalopy" comment, and showed the Reporter a copy of his insurance policy at the time which showed he had a 1995, BMW 7401, a car he still owns, and which, by the looks of the picture Ward presented, is, while not new, not, in our opinion, a jalopy.

Ward's critics also said Ward left town owing the Mitchell Arena $30,000 for use of the stadium.
The Reporter was shown bills for the arena that suggests the $30,000 figure was untrue.
Bills, for the only two games played by the Mobile Bay Tarpons at Mitchell Arena, came to a total $7,100 not $30,000.
But Ward did not pay the $7,100 and arguably stiffed the arena. Ward claims the league misled him about the cost and how it would be paid and that Turner, since he bought the team for only $10,000, knew that that was part of the dea - to pay the stadium.

Gaston said that, on the day of the team’s third game, a road game against Abilene, in April 2011, Ward told him he needed to go back to New York in order to raise money to keep the Tarpons running.

But, according to a contract, signed by Ward and Turner, a copy of which was provided to the Reporter, Ward sold the team on April 1, a day before the Abilene game. When the Mobile Bay Tarpons played Abilene, Turner was the new owner.

According to Ward, he left town thinking Turner was responsible for the team going forward.
Meantime Turner, while possessing a contract that allowed him to legally own the team, moved slowly at actually announcing his ownership, or putting his name and reputation on the line.

Turner, not Ward, allowed the team to collapse.

It may have been the right decision since the league was clearly folding.

Turner delayed taking control over the team as he negotiated with the struggling league's management over getting concessions and rights from the league.

So, while Ward had left town, not even keeping his local Mobile telephone number, Turner, in retrospect, perhaps wisely, did not step up to take control of the team - which would have required investing money.

Meanwhile, after Ward left and Turner technically owned the team, the players propelled by their desire to play, went on to play three more games.

Lagniappe writer Johnny Davis wrote of Ward in May 17, 2011, a month and half after Ward quietly sold the team to Turner, "It looks like Ray Ward screwed ‘em….. He rode into Mobile a few months ago with big promises of establishing a legitimate professional sports team. In the end, it turned out to be a big sham… Here in Mobile, everybody was left screwed over: the players, the coaches, the season ticket holders, the sponsors, the Mitchell Center, local businessmen and pretty much anyone in the area who cares about Mobile…. Local businessman Roland Turner says he is out nearly $40,000 because of Ward."

But the reality is Turner was at least partly to blame.

Documents from the SIFL show that the SIFL thought Turner bought the team. A letter was sent by SIFL Commissioner Gary Tufford to 600 season ticket holders, saying Turner (not Ward) should be contacted if they wanted a refund on their season tickets for home games the team failed to play.

Turner admitted to Lagniappe that the SIFL spent weeks "drawing up paperwork” but ultimately the SIFL could not come up with satisfactory terms and Turner declined ownership.

He did not say - and perhaps he should have said it - that he told Ward he would assume control of the team.

Meantime, Ward says, had he known Turner was not going to assume control of the team, he would not have simply left town without at least explaining to the team that he could not continue.

He says he did not just leave Mobile and disappear.

In a city of second chances, such as Niagara Falls, Ray Ward perhaps deserves a chance at operating Sal Maglie.

He says he will do it without public subsidies and the city can certainly craft a deal with enough controls in place to ensure good performance or take it away from Ward.

Ward told the Reporter. “I’ve learned from the Mobile experience. I feel bad but I tried to do the right thing.”

Why not give him a chance to do the right thing here in Niagara Falls?

Mobile Tarpons wide receiver Lance Moore (4) pulls in a touchdown pass against Georgia Firebirds corner back Dominique Rich.






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Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina