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TAUNY to honor Red & Black, model boat builder, lake’s dances

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For George Ashcraft, the Red & Black is about more than football.

That belief is demonstrated when he’s contacted by players inquiring about the team. Many of them are in the Army. They email or call Mr. Ashcraft, telling him they’ll be serving at Fort Drum and would love to play for him.

“That means a lot, to get phone calls and emails from Afghanistan and the Middle East, where they are fighting a war for our freedoms. Those young men know they are coming to Fort Drum and I haven’t even met them. That alone keeps that door in your heart wide open — that you are going to help somebody who needs something more than just the daily routine.”

He adds, “We all gotta have something.”

For Mr. Ashcraft, the Watertown Red & Black, the oldest semi-professional football team in the nation, is about tradition and family.

“My personal opinion is that is what has hurt our society,” he said. “People got away from tradition.”

Traditional Arts in Upstate New York will honor the Red & Black, one of three “masters of local traditions” Sunday afternoon at its Salute to North Country Legends. Also being honored are Frank White, model wooden boat builder from Canton, and the summer Schroon Lake square dances in Essex County.

The public is invited to the awards ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday in Kingston Theater at SUNY Canton. The awards recognize individuals, families and community groups that have mastered traditional north country arts and customs and remain committed to passing them on to future generations.

In its early decades, the Red & Black, established in 1896 and a member of the Empire Football League, featured the sons of immigrants who worked in local factories and young men who had been star players in local high schools. More recently, more than half of the roster has been made up of soldiers from Fort Drum. Devoted Watertown fans call it a cultural institution.

“It’s nice when people from out of town come to our venue at the fairgrounds and they comment about everything that goes on, right from the music with the DJ, to our concessions and to the way the field looks because the city does an outstanding job on the grass field,” Mr. Ashcraft said.

Mr. Ashcraft, in his 22nd year as head coach, said many people are under the impression that the city owns the team. But he said Red & Black, a nonprofit organization, is successful because of a dedicated board of directors, volunteers, sponsors and community support.

“This is an expensive sport,” he said. “To play the game is about $2,000 a week.”

The coach said it’s also key to support players. For example, he said the past couple of years a couple of young players joined his team who “did not prevail” when they were members of the Watertown High School football team.

“They came to me as 18- or 19-year-old kids, and they didn’t care what they could do, they just wanted to be part of it,” Mr. Ashcraft said. “A couple of those kids now are a big reason why we’re in the second round of the playoffs.”

Mr. Ashcraft was interviewed two days before he and the team traveled to Plattsburgh to play the North Stars in the second round of the Empire League playoffs. They lost 20-13.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Mr. Ashcraft said of the opportunities he likes to give players. “When they come to me, I say, ‘Just keep on working.’ If they are working and doing the best they can do, I’m not going to kick them to the curb. I let them find out for themselves.”

All involved in the team become part of an honored tradition, something Mr. Ashcraft is constantly reminded of. The 1973 Carthage High School graduate played two seasons for the Red & Black before he suffered a career-ending broken leg in 1975.

“A lot of people I played football with, many of them are still around. You see them and shake hands. There’s the bond. There’s something that happens,” he said.

mini-boat builder honored

Canton resident Frank White, 94, grew up hearing stories of logging camps and river drives from his French-Canadian grandfathers. He has spent a large part of his life outdoors — hiking, fishing and paddling on or near local lakes and streams. His passion for canoes has taken him on solo trips on major rivers in the American West and the Canadian bush. He was one of the founders of the annual Rushton Canoe Races in Canton, where he has competed almost every year for more than 50 years.

After retiring from a career as a florist in 1984, he took up model making, starting with kits of such famous vessels as Henry Hudson’s Halfmoon, the USS Constitution and the racing schooner Blue Nose.

Mr. White builds from scratch and has created a remarkable variety, such as whale boats, Lake Champlain sailing barges, a catboat (a small, single-masted sailboat), a Venetian gondola and several canoes, including a Peterborough and a birch bark. His favorites, however, are his own versions of Rushton canoes, of which he has completed a half dozen. He continues to work on models today and enjoyssharing his love of local history and waterways.

Schroon Lake dances

Since the 1930s, year-round residents and summer residents have gathered every Wednesday evening in July and August in a lakeside park in Schroon Lake to “do-si-do” and “Allemande left” until dark. The tradition continues, even as square dancing has decreased in popularity elsewhere. As many as 200 people attend each week, with three, even four, generations taking part.

The musicians and callers come to Schroon Lake from a wide geographical area. Schroon Lake, in the town of Schroon, Essex County, is in the eastern portion of Adirondack Park and to the northwest of Lake George.

At the dances, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn the basics and for teenagers and young families to participate.

There is even one dance locals call the Zodiac that’s such a favorite it’s a requirement each week and nearly everyone gets into the act.

The Salute to North Country Legends, and the related research and field work, are supported by the Sweetgrass Foundation and the Corning Incorporated Foundation.

the details
WHAT: The 20th annual Salute to North Country Legends, presented by Traditional Arts in Upstate New York
WHEN/WHERE: 2 p.m. Sunday in Kingston Theater on the SUNY Canton campus. There will be an audiovisual profile of each recipient and musical entertainment
COST: Free
MORE INFO: To learn more about TAUNY, the TAUNY Center in Canton and the North Country Heritage Awards, visit www.tauny.org
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