October 26, 2014

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Money issues spark breakup

MEDINA — A group of parents say they broke away from Medina Bees Youth Football and formed their own league over a lack of “credible financial accountability,” among other issues.

Parents involved with the new Medina Gridiron Football League said they decided to leave Medina Bees Youth Football after they discovered there were two lawsuits filed against it this year in addition to past lawsuits and debts to vendors.

“We saw a lot of things deteriorating and started to hear complaints of parents and vendors not being reimbursed,” said Tony Fischer, a member of the Gridiron board. “There has been good football provided to the community, but it got to the point where we felt at what expense?”

This year, PNC Bank filed a suit against MBYF in Medina Municipal Court for $5,215.78 unpaid on a business credit card, and food vendor Albert Guarnieri & Co. Inc., filed a lawsuit for $2,172 for unpaid services. Both cases are pending, court records show.

In a recent interview at The Gazette, MBYF Director Mike Butts said the league has $53,000 in outstanding debt and acknowledged bookkeeping in the league “is not good.”

In 2010, he said the league received approximately $60,729 in fees for the 800 to 900 kids registered.

“All of this costs money, and we’re not charging what it costs,” he said.

In 2010, the registration fee was $95, he said, but it has been raised to $105 this year.

MBYF is under the umbrella of nonprofit American Youth Football Inc., said Rob Deck, head of football operations for AYF. The league is not required to report to AYF in any way, financial or otherwise, Deck said.

Financial troubles

Bank statements in the PNC case show charges to Ohio Edison for $440.05 on Aug. 1, 2007, and for $253.95 on Nov. 28 that year, though the league does not have any offices.

In a phone conversation, Butts said he was not sure what the charges were for.

Until March, Butts was the only person authorized to write a check for the league because it did not have a board of trustees.
Butts, who formed MBYF in 2002, attempted to create a board earlier this year, but parents now part of the Gridiron league say he was not forthcoming with finances.

“We met with Mike, demanded there be a budget and full disclosure of finances, and that we be compliant as a nonprofit,” Fischer said.

He said Butts only acknowledged $12,000 in debt and provided the board with the league’s finances hand-written on four sheets of notebook paper.

Following a March 9 meeting, nine Gridiron board members sent a memo to Butts outlining their reasons for forming the new league. They cited a lack of “credible financial accountability” and strained relationships with unpaid vendors.

“The organizational structure of MBYF is fragmented and does not adhere to the normal course of a non-profit,” the memo reads. “This organization is run more as a company solely owned by you.”

Among MBYF’s estranged vendors are equipment-seller All American Sports Corp., which filed a lawsuit against MBYF for $9,678.44 in April 2010 and was awarded the full amount; and Discount Card, which filed its suit in November 2010 and was awarded $4,900, court records show.

From Discount Card, Butts ordered 3,000 fundraising discount cards, amounting to 6,000, but MBYF only paid $1,000, according to court records.

Another vendor, Buckeye Graphics, was awarded $3,000 in a lawsuit it filed against MBYF in 2009, records show.
To remedy the league’s debt, Butts said he formed another board this year and appointed a financial director, who is now authorized to sign checks for the league.

Often parents would hand him payments at games, and they were “all thrown into a bag” that made it difficult to properly keep track of money coming into the organization, he said.

Part of the problem was the lack of good volunteers, Butts said.

“We’ve had a lot of people who have stepped up and are willing to help now; and I think if anything positive has come out of this, it’s a lot of people who know the quality of the program want to help continue that program,” he said.

Refunds

Some parents who spoke with The Gazette said contact with the league is difficult. One, Medina resident Shannon Manacapelli, said she sent multiple emails asking for a refund for an adult jersey she ordered but never received.

In February 2010, parents were allowed to order adult jerseys to match their child’s for the fall season for $40.

Butts said MBYF put in an order for the children’s jerseys to Houston-based Takbo first, with the intention of ordering the adult jerseys later. The children’s jerseys were shipped but he said he was unhappy with the quality. He said he put a stop on the check sent to Takbo.

A spokesman for the company said the $11,170 check Butts sent was returned as insufficient funds, and e-mailed a copy of the check stamped NSF to The Gazette.

Manacapelli said she asked for a refund for the adult jersey in October 2010 but did not receive one until April after several emails were sent to Butts and his assistant, Sarah Dodd.

Parent Kim Shamrock, also from Medina, said she never received a jersey, a refund or a reply from Butts.

In one email, Dodd told Manacapelli that Takbo went out of business, and Manacapelli replied she found that was not the case after calling the company.

Dodd said MBYF was told by Takbo’s suppliers the company was out of business.

Resignation

In the All-American Sports Corp. case involving payment for football gear filed on April 16, 2010, Butts, formerly a personal-injury lawyer, was slated to represent MBYF in court.

In a Medina Municipal Court document filed on Oct. 20, 2010, Butts said he repeatedly tried to “resolve the issue of defective helmets, including numerous helmets which suffered catastrophic failures during use.”

However, on Oct. 19, 2010, Butts submitted his resignation as an attorney to the Ohio Supreme Court. The resignation was forwarded to Disciplinary Counsel, according to court records. The results of the counsel’s findings are sealed.

After his resignation was accepted on Jan. 26, Butts did not provide another attorney in the All-American case, which magistrate Charles Lawrie ordered him to do, court records show.

Lawrie issued a summary judgment in favor of All-American Sports Corp. on March 18, according to court documents.

MBYF supporters

Parents sticking with MBYF say Butts has a passion for coaching. Even those breaking away from the league said in their memo that Butts’ “ability to succeed on the field is second to none.”

Laura VanDrei, an MBYF board member, said those forming Medina Gridiron “turned their backs” on the league when Butts needed help solving financial problems. She added many programs and activities are provided to the league free of charge.

“He offers speed and agility three times a week for kids who want to improve their skills, and I have friends whose kids are on scholarships because they financially couldn’t afford to have their kid play,” VanDrei said.

Until this year, anyone could check a box on registration forms that said they were unable to pay sign-up fees. Now the league only allows those receiving free or reduced school lunches to play for free or a reduced fee, Butts said.

Despite the league’s financial problems, Butts and Dodd said they are intent on paying off MBYF’s debts and moving forward.
Dodd said registration for fall football has begun and revenue is already better than last year’s income from fees.

“Whatever they do, it’s not going to affect our program. It’s not even going to affect our numbers,” Dodd said.

Gridiron board member David Clardy said his league has filed for nonprofit status. Sign-ups for fall registration have begun.

The league also is under the American Youth Football umbrella, he said.

“At the end of the day, none of us went into this thinking we would start a new league,” Clardy said. “It’s a tough situation to be put in.”

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@medina-gazette.com.