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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Municipalities and Travel Sports Organizations

Many towns have athletic associations. Most, if not all, of their by-laws state that the associations are to benefit the kids from the town. Sounds simple, right? Many travel organizations benefit by having the local towns dedicate land for fields. Sometimes, the local towns parks and recreation departments maintain those fields. Sometimes, the towns let the associations run refreshment stands so that they can generate income. And, of course, the associations have various fundraisers, all under the general theory that they will benefit kids from the town.

But, it's not all that simple. You see, many travel organizations have kids playing for them that aren't from the town. Sometimes, many kids, and, at times, a majority of the kids. Many of these organizations' finances are not transparent to the municipalities with whom they identify, so it's not clear how they are allocating their monies -- for town kids or for the travel kids. So, you might ask, how has this evolved, and why does this happen? You also might ask why the associations aren't dedicated (almost exclusively) to building the skills sets of the kids in the towns so that they can play for their school teams. Well, you might be behind the times.

Here are a few things to think about.

1. No One Really Rides Herd on These Organizations. Theoretically, a state's attorney general has the jurisdiction over non-profits incorporated in their states, but, as you could imagine, local associations that publicly state they're helping kids aren't prominent enough on the radar screen. That said, occasionally in your local newspaper you do read of a district attorney's bringing charges against a power or two in an association where the funds don't add up because, well, a person in authority has embezzled them. That's awful, and almost everyone who gets involved in one of these organizations isn't looking to pilfer their money to spend on their own material goods. That said, no one really rides herd on these organizations to see if they're living within their by-laws (assuming, of course, that the by-laws require them to serve local kids and local kids only), and most of these associations aren't audited, so it's hard to tell whether the people who run them are dedicating the monies raised to local kids. First suggestion, if you live in a town where public monies are used for these organizations, ask for a full accounting, especially if the local town is spending money or dedicating land to support them. Again, many are doing the right thing, but some might have forgotten their mission.

2. Ambitious Adults Want to Play Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi and Manage the Local Version of the Yankees. Why? Because every other organization does it, and kids will travel for an hour or two to play for an elite team, a team where a coach is known to feed kids to college programs, a team with a good track record. So, other organizations get the bug, other dads want to coach elite teams, and then they start to scout and recruit. Even at the age of 10 or 12. Why? Because it can be frustrating taking teams of local kids only and not having a good goalie or striker, not having a fastpitch softball pitcher who can throw strikes or a cleanup hitter who can hit the ball into the gaps or over the fence. So, how do you solve that problem? Recruit. Put up posts on the usual message boards, tout your commitment and then put up the best team possible. The question, of course, is for whose benefits these teams are run? For the towns who dedicate the fields and sometimes pay for their maintenance? Or for the egos in the local associations who feel compelled to run "elite" teams, even if it means not helping local kids improve or cutting a kid who lives at the corner in favor of someone from 25 miles away if somehow that will help the local team do better at nationals (and news of how well these "local" teams do seldom comes back to the entire town). Second suggestion: Towns should do a full audit to ascertain how many kids on the travel teams are from the town and how many are not. If they don't like what they see, they should charge (much more) significant user fees of the associations (or prevent the recruitment of out-of-town kids altogether) and, also, negotiate to make sure that there are developmental programs for local kids, especially because a) that's what towns are chartered to do, b) in the age of two-career families and long commutes, isn't it saner to provide outstanding programs for the local kids so that parents don't have to transport them because there's no room at the inn, so to speak, locally, c) because in the age of saving on energy, why take part in a rat race where many residents are going to burn gasoline by driving their kids a half hour each way several times a week for practices and d) because the economy dictates that town monies not be wasted on flights of fancy of adults who are seeking glory at the expense of the town, which is what many organization heads are doing when they recruit their kids from all over. Remember, none of the kids who are recruited from outside the town care one iota about the town, and neither do their families, except when the local coaches who recruit use a town's facilities as a tactic to recruit the "elite" players (as in, "our fields are some of the nicest anywhere").

I harken back to going to travel softball games and seeing parents with the "five o'clock wake-up call on a weekend morning" stare at game after game. By the way, they're the only ones at the games, and there might be one parent per kid and perhaps some (unlucky) siblings who are compelled to attend and are bored out of their minds by having to watching three games over eight hours (that's softball). I contrast this to the championship softball game in my local rec league, in the senior division, where about 200 people showed up to root on their neighbors and friends. That's what community resources should be all about, period, and not to cater to the egos who run associations that recruit far and wide to suit their own purposes and egos without much, if any, regard for local kids. Remember, those powers that be do make sure that their kids get spots on the local teams, even if no one else's kids from the town do.

Those who run the organizations will contend, "well, we do it because everyone else does it, and when you think about it, we all take everyone else's kids." Heck, prosecutors love that type of argument when they're trying to clean up an industry. They don't excuse the second and third companies who committed felonies when they argue, "well, everyone else did it, so we had no choice." No, instead, they use those excuses to reform an entire industry. Analogously, that's what should happen with these travel organizations -- before the insanity runs rampant, parents are in their cars for five hours a day and communities' assets continue to be wasted on kids from elsewhere. And, by the way, what are we teaching our kids? Some kids in our community have played for teams in four different travel organizations in four consecutive years. What are they learning? What bonds can they possibly be forming? What about loyalty, commitment, dedication, building a good organization? None of those values are being taught.

Instead, what the parents who are committed to running this way of life are saying is "every family and kid for himself." The last time I checked, "every man for himself" was an order given to a rifle company fighting on the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest after they failed to hold against an overwhelming force and had to figure out -- on their own -- how to pull back and get safely behind Allied lines. It's an order borne of desperation -- reluctantly given -- and not one used in stable situations where the future should be positive and bright. Believe it or not, parents call coaches to lobby for their kids at the expense of others, some parents root only for their own kids and some coaches coach only their kids. Why does that make sense/why should that be the model?

So, when the local organizations ask for support for fields, fences, sheds, turf, what have you, ask this question -- for whose benefit will all this support be?

The answers might well surprise you.

And you might want to take a stand for community.


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