By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 6, 2006
The South County Raptors might suit up after all, at least for one more game.
Just days before the team of 12- to 14-year-old boys from southern Fairfax County was headed to the playoffs, their season abruptly ended when the league commissioner fired the head coach and an assistant coach -- all for moving his son from defense to offense in the final game of the regular season, according to the former coaches and players' parents.
Now, some league officials are coming to the team's defense. It won't be the championship they dreamed of winning, but plans were drawn up yesterday for the team to play in a bowl game sponsored by the Fairfax County Youth Football League this month.
League Chairman Mark Meana said yesterday that he notified the coaches that the Raptors would play in a game against the winner of their division or an all-star team.
"We're glad to do this," Meana said. "We didn't like this situation from the start. We have never been faced with a situation like this before, the personalization of one team, and so we can't change what happened, but we can do this."
Meana said that if the Raptors' players and parents go for it, the game would be played -- regardless of whether Dan Hinkle, the South County Youth Association commissioner who fired the coaches, agreed.
"If he doesn't let us use his equipment, we have already found other teams who will donate equipment and jerseys," Meana said.
Hinkle said yesterday that he would allow the Raptors to use the equipment. "I support [the league] trying to do something for the kids. I'm behind it 100 percent, using the equipment and the facilities."
In fact, Hinkle said, he would not stand in the way of letting the entire coaching staff return to coach the bowl game, although Meana made it clear that the coaches would return regardless. Hinkle would not comment on the dispute he had with the coaches last week. "I don't want to talk about it until I can review the situation with the Fairfax County Youth Football League," Hinkle said.
The football league is one of the area's largest youth sports programs, made up of 314 teams in various weight and age categories. Hinkle is commissioner of the South County Youth Association, one of 23 clubs in the league. Hinkle founded the association last year and funded the creation of 14 football teams within his organization, including the Raptors.
James Owens, who was the Raptors' head coach, said that he hopes the players decide to play in the bowl game but that he is still unhappy that his team did not get a chance to play in the playoffs.
"I am willing to coach the team if those kids want to play. The parents are going to have to make that decision. I think it is a good thing, but it is still not resolving the issue of [the league] dealing with [Hinkle]. They haven't dealt with him yet," Owens said.
During the preseason, Hinkle sent an e-mail to the coaches stating that his son, Scott, needed to play every play on defense.
"Scott does not sit out on defense -- ever," Hinkle wrote. "He goes in and stays in. That includes all practices, scrimmages and games. The entire league exists so he can play defense on the best team in his weight class. . . . He is my son, I own the league, and he plays every snap on defense."
After the coaches moved his son from defense to offense for the final game of the season -- an overtime win against Herndon -- Hinkle fired Owens and Assistant Coach Bill Burnham. Hinkle later offered to give the head coach his job back, but not Burnham. The players decided not to go to the playoffs against Herndon without the entire coaching team.
Meana said that Hinkle filled a large void in youth sports in the rapidly growing southern portion of Fairfax by creating the league. He said Hinkle initially asked to set up a league on the Loudoun County line but was told that the need was greater in southern Fairfax because of development around Lorton. Even though Hinkle lives in Chantilly, he agreed to run and fund the league.
Hinkle said he spent about $150,000 of his money to create the league.
Meana said that more children signed up for the league than Hinkle expected and that he had to scramble to find more equipment for the players. "It was a great success for the people in that area," Meana said.
Meana said that because of what happened between Hinkle and the Raptors' coaches, it is possible that a group of parents could come forward to take over running the South County Youth Association. He said the league would have to consider awarding the league to another group if one came forward.
"We are going to look at our bylaws and his application form to see if he has maintained the integrity of the organization as a member club, and we'll see where that goes," Meana said.
Many of the 23 clubs that make up the Fairfax County League are run by parent committees, but it is not unique to have one person run a club, Meana said. "It is not easy to do," he said, "and he asked for a lot of help from us on this and that, but whether he took the help, we don't know."
While the league continues to review its bylaws and try to devise a way to ensure that the Raptors' experience does not happen again, parents and players will get together today or tomorrow to decide whether they want to play one more game.
Michael Holland, 13, the team's middle linebacker, has already made up his mind. "I definitely want to," he said. "I'm pretty excited."