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Missing Gate Receipts A Reminder of Need for Oversight Of Youth Sports Organizations

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It seems as if a week doesn't go by these days without a story coming across my desk about money being embezzled from the coffers of local sports teams or lack oversight by a board of directors.

On Friday, it was the case of $4,176 in gate receipts that mysteriously disappeared after a September 2011 high school football game in Huber Heights, Ohio.  Hundred dollar bills

While the Wayne High School athletic director and football coach, Jay Minton, hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing, he has agreed to personally repay the money, since it went missing on his watch, if it isn't found or someone doesn't step forward with the funds (hmmm,,,let's see). 

In a case of too little, too late (or is it better late than never?), Minton told the Dayton Daily News that several new protocols have been put in place to ensure that it did not happen again.  "It's like Fort Knox around here now," Minton told the newspaper.

The story does, however, raise questions about the degree to which independent youth sports organizations - many of which handle thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars - have put into place the kind of "Fort Knox" controls Minton says will now be in place at his high school.

This is an issue about which I have written extensively in the past, both on MomsTeam, in my book, Home Team Advantage, and in the op-ed pages of newspapers.  

I guess it's time to revisit the subject again.

Here's what I wrote in the Boston Herald  on January 20, 2007, exactly five years ago to the day the missing funds story broke in Dayton:



On Tuesday the former president of a youth baseball league in Tewksbury (MA) was indicted by a Middlesex grand jury for allegedly stealing over $400,000 from the league.

An isolated instance? Not at all.

That same day, January 10th, newspapers in Idaho were reporting on a youth baseball official pleading guilty to embezzling money from the organization and newspapers in Ohio were reporting on a woman found guilty of duping local businesses out of donations to the Middletown Pee Wee Football Club.

In fact, stories of youth sport embezzlement appear in the media almost weekly. Youth sports organization embezzlers do not discriminate: Football, baseball, cheerleading clubs have all been victimized. In fact, Massachusetts holds the dubious distinction of being the first to give the phrase "soccer mom" a connotation beyond the political context when, back in 1982, the Associated Press (Oct. 14, 1982) reported a "judge has found a husband guilty of looting $3,150 from the treasury of the Soccer Moms booster club in Ludlow headed by his wife."

Youth sports have become big business, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees at the community level every year. Most youth sports organizations are run like small - and, in some cases, not-so-small - businesses, with officers, boards of directors, bylaws and annual meetings. Yet most operate with virtually no oversight beyond their volunteer boards of directors, and their often lax financial controls make them easy and tempting targets for thieves. All youth sports organizations, not just those that are organized as non-profits - which are required to file annual reports on their finances and fundraising activities with the state division of public charities- should be required to make public financial disclosures so parents and other interested parties know where all the money goes.

Because youth sports institutions have traditionally been self-regulating and independently financed, they often escape formal scrutiny or accountability. Youth sports program need to provide for greater input from parents, make their mission statements, bylaws, and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of board members and other administrators publicly available, provide for term limits for directors, holds open board meetings, and engage in benchmarking.

In most places, youth sports organizations (YSOs) don't own their own facilities; they use taxpayer-funded fields, diamonds, tracks, pools, and courts instead. In order to use them they have to obtain permits. This makes them subject to public oversight by the permit-issuing authority, in most instances the town or municipality's parks and recreation department, which should establish guidelines to govern their issuance.

One of the most effective ways to start a community dialog about establishing guidelines to govern the issuance of permits to YSOs is to establish a youth sports task force with representatives from a broad cross section of the community participating in a series of forums to address the question "Are we doing the best that we can for our children with our current sports program?"

Addressing this question will inevitably raise such issues as early specialization, the appropriate age for sports cuts and competitive tryouts, the best way to recruit and train paid and/or volunteer coaches, the stratification of children based on their perceived abilities and skill level, background checks for all paid and non paid adults over the age of seventeen, the way independent YSOs interact and co-exist with and relate to school-based programs, and how permits are issued to use town-owned facilities.

To promote a community dialog and make the process as inclusive as possible, task force representatives can attend PTA meetings in elementary schools, hold a community-wide forum, and develop a survey to send to residents to allow every interested person an opportunity to express his or her opinion.

The objective should be to develop an independent Youth Sports Council and a youth sports charter to govern the use of publicly owned facilities.

The time has come for the silent majority of parents in this country who want a youth sports system that serves the interests of children, not adults, to stand up and ask their elected officials to return the power of the permit to the people. It may be the best way to achieve reform and accountability.

 Questions/Comments? Reach me at delench@momsteam.com