Members of several branches of the Prince George's County Boys and Girls Club, Inc., have expressed concern in recent interviews over the organization's financial, disciplinary and communications policies.
The major concerns about the club, which has 23,000 members in 34 locations around the county involve the following [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
A bidding procedure for the right to sell balls to clubs. Sporting goods store owners and managers said it is influenced "by politics" and "by a system" that channels most of the bids to one store, Marlow Sports, Inc. The owner of Marlow Sports, William Cann, and a salesman, Eli Blank, are on the club's board of directors.
The use of more than $140,000 set aside to pay game officials and umpires over the past two years. Funds to pay umpires are derived from dues paid by club participants. But local club officers said umpires frequently have not shown up for games and the clubs have not been reimbursed.
The admissions policy to playoff games played at club-owned Sports Park Field in Mitchellville. Members said the current policy is arbitrary and unclear.
An allegedly lax attitude toward discipline of players, teams and parents who display unsportsmanlike conduct. One club member said the result has been to create a situation in which there is "no policy at all."
Voicing concerns also expressed by others, George Brooks, a past president of the Berwyn Heights club, said. "There have been constant complaints this year" about a number of club operations. "These things have been building for many years. Clubs are fed up because of the way they're handled. It seems like nobody will do a thing for the individual clubs."
Brooks said local club presidents have met to discuss "how to get more input" into the office of executive director Joseph Vernon, an employe of the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. Vernon operates the club as part of his job, which is to oversee all Prince George's County sports programs.
The Prince George's County Boys and Girls Club, Inc., is not financed by the county. It derives its funds from dues and admissions. It is run by a 56-member borard of directors, which will expand to 68 "whenever we get the volunteers," according to Vernon.
In response to complaints by local clubs about lack of input in the past, the board this year invited members from "all 34 units" to join. "All they have to do is say, 'I want to become a member of the board.' I've never heard of anyone being turned down," Vernon said.
Board members may reinstate themselves annually, subject to approval by the rest of the board.
The Boys and Girls Club is a tax exempt organization, and like similar organizations, it is required to report its finances to the Internal Revenue Service annually in order to justify its tax exempt status. Tax exempt organizations are also required by the IRS to keep adequate financial records for a minimum of three years. Vernon said the club has had "no problems" with taxes and that "we follow whatever the law says."
Concern about the club's bidding procedure has surfaced in light of the fact that during the past two years, Marlow Sports, Inc., a sporting goods store in Marlow Heights, has won more than $27,000 worth of bids for the sale of balls to the club.
In 1977, Marlow won bids to supply basketballs, baseballs and footballs. This year Marlow was outbid only once - for a soccer ball - when the only other bidder, Soccer International, won the bid, according to Vernon.
This year, Marlow won bids to supply clubs with three sizes of footballs, two sizes of basketballs, softballs and baseballs. The total price of the bids was $15,073.06, according to figures supplied by Vernon. In all cases except the softball, where Marlow shared the bid with Rips Sporting Goods, Marlow was the only bidder.
In 1977, Marlow was paid abeat $12,156 from items sold to clubs after winning bids, according to Vernon, who said that complete club records on bids are not available for years before 1977.
A store owner who said he has submitted "maybe a half dozen" bids in more than a decade, and never won any of them because "I know that deals are being made," explained the alleged "system" as follows:
"A store gets the club to approve specifications for a particular ball. The store then calls the manufacturer and orders the ball made to those specifications. The store tells the manufacturer to stamp a certain identifying number on the ball. That store is then the only store in the area with that number on the ball. When invitations to bid come out, they identify balls by make and number. If you don't have access to a ball with that number, you can't bid on it."
The store owner said this identification procedure has been followed "a number of times" and "I've had distributors and manufacturers tell me they've done it for Marlow."
Vernon acknowledge knowing of such a system. he described it as "normal," although he noted, "We put the invitations out, but the sad part is that sometimes only one retailer responds."
Cann, who has been a board member for 18 years, explained that the process "could be followed by anybody who just rolled up their sleeves and got involved with the (club's) program. From time to time we've made up a specific item that no one else had - a specific ball to fill voids. I have it stamped with my identification and put on the bid.
"I have no conflicts. I have nothing to do with bid openings," Cann said.
"Marlow's bids are lower than anyone else's; that's why they've won them," said Eli Blank, director of Sports Park. "When you're big, you can charge less. My work with Marlow has nothing to do with bids. My selling is not involved with the boys' (or girls') club. Some people distort what you're doing."
Both Vernon and Cann admitted discussing the quality of certain balls in the past, but neither man felt the discussions constituted a conflict of interest.
"Whenever I've discussed business, I've done it as a businessman, not in the guise of a board member," Cann said. "If any time the board feels I'm in conflict, they can let me know. I have nothing to do with procurement (for the club)."
"Nothing is worked out ahead of time (before bids)," Vernon said. "I might need an opinion about a comparable item from someone who knows, so I might go to Mr. Cann."
Vernon said a club may use a substitute bal if his office determines it is "of the same quality" as the approved ball. But he added, "No one has ever done it (brought in a ball to be approved)."
Brooks said that, when he was president of the Berwyn Heights club, "we were required to buy certain make balls that could only be gotten through Marlow. People have gone to Vernon and shown him comparables, but they were told no."
"The club switches regulation balls every year and the clubs have to buy them to have them available for games," said Jim Kearney, executive director of the Langley Park club. "Actually, you can frequently get a better price on a comparable ball at a local store."
"I guess people might question Billy (Cann) being on the board and getting the bids for his store," Vernon said. But he added, bids are submitted in sealed envelops, they are all opened on the same day, and bidders are invited to watch the opening of bids in his office, although they rarely show up.
When first questioned about bidding procedures, Vernon said, "We send out invitations to every sporting goods store in the county." He later said "23 to 25" stores received invitations. Later, he showed a reporter a bid list of 12 stores.
Officials at one store on the list said they had never received an invitation. Several others said they have submitted bids in the past, but have never won any. Two store owners refused to comment because, as one put it, "I don't want any trouble with the boys club."
Club members have also expressed concern over general financial management. The club operated at deficits of $15,587.46 and $13,403.39 in the past two fiscal years, according to its financial statements.
"We carry the losses from year to year and do the best we can," said Vernon. "Last year, the clubs agreed to raise the membership (fee) from $5 for the first two children in a family and $2 for all others to $7 and $4."
Local clubs are also concerned about the failure of the Boys and Girls Club to provide umpires and game officials on a regular basis. The club's financial statement shows expenses of $70,086.27 and $70,077.50 in fiscal years 1977 and 1978, respectively, for umpires and officials.
Clubs claim umpires frequently do not show up for games, and in midseason this summer, the girls' 13-and-under softball teams throughout the county were notified by Vernon's office that they would no longer be provided umpires.
Jack Mowatt, head of the Greater Washington Area Softball Umpires Association, which serves the Boys and Girls Club and several other leagues, said the problem is due to the fact that "we just didn't have enough umpires." Mowatt said clubs do not get charged for games in which umpires are not provided.
Venon said his office informed local clubs that spectators who filled in as umpires were entitled to $5 pay for their services, half what an official umpire would receive. If individuals did not want the money, Vernon said, the club would be entitled to a refund. But, Vernon added, "The money we take in is not enough to cover the cost of officials."
At a recent meeting, Barbara Zimmer, Vernon's program coordinator, reportedly told coaches that the club did not pay the Greater Washington Area Softball Umpires Association when it cancelled out on the girls' games.She reportedly said she was unsure if the money would be refunded to local clubs, according to Jim Shoup of the Clinton club, who attended the meeting. Zimmer could not be reached for comment.
Shoup said, "We paid out $8,000 in membership dues this year and we've had so many games without umpires it makes you wonder what kind of support you're getting. I ever umpired games myself, called in the results, and asked them to forward the money to me. That pay has never appeared."
Mowatt said, "Most coaches call the Boys (and Girls) Club and let them know when an umpire doesn't show. We only bill them for games we umpire. I don't have their money."
Questions about the financial and operational aspects of Sports Park Field, a 40-acre facility owned and maintained by the club, have also been raised.
When the park opened five years ago, according to Vernon, the club established a policy of charging $1 in admission to people over 16 years of age for playoff games. That money is used to defray "officials' fees, lights and upkeep of the property," Vernon said.
Since neither tickets nor receipts are given to spectators for their dollar, local club members have questioned whether accurate accounting procedures can exist. "Those are members of the board of directors or people appointed by the board who are collecting that money," Vernon said. "You have to have faith in people."
Some club members say the admissions charge has angered and embarrassed them.
Tom Kulczak of Berwyn Heights said he recently refused to pay the $1 admission for his wife to see the girls' softball team he was coaching in its playoff game. Eli Blank, Sports Park's director, refused to turn on the field lights and called the police, Kulczak said.
Before the police arrived, Kulczak said he would only pay the dollar if Blank would write him a receipt on club stationery. Blank agreed.
"People should know about having to pay to get into the Sports Park, because I hadn't even heard about it," said Norman Lamb, commissioner of girls' softball in New Carrollton, recalling an incident that occurred last summer. "A friend of mine had a team playing, so I drove about six kids from the neighborhood out to the game. I hadn't brought enough money to pay whatever they said the admission charge was, so they let us in for a little less."
Blank does not feel a change or clarification in the Sports Park admission policy is needed. "Every club knows about it," Blandk said. "Some just don't want to accept it."
Clubs can vote to have the admissions policy changed, Vernon said, but "then they might not be able to have the park," which he said requires approximately $10,000 a year to run. Club records show that $1,474.20 and $2,300 were collected from admissions to playoff games at Sports Park in the past two fiscal years, respectively.
Kulczak and others complain that the admissions policy is too flexible, noting that playoff and non-playoff games are sometimes being played on adjacent fields.
"All people have to do to get in for free is say they're not going to the playoff game," Kulczak said. "Once they're in the park, they can go to whichever game they want. Also, if it rains and people need to get their money back, how does the club know who paie and who didn't?"
"Sure, it's absolutely possible that someone might say they're going to one game and wind up going to a playoff game for free," Vernon said. "But you can't doubt a person's word, can you?"
In case of a rainout, Blank said, people who ask for refunds get them or "they can come the next day and tell us they paid the day before and we'll let them in."
Brooks said he was particularly concerned about what he considers Vernon's failure to enforce discipline on "clubs for violating rules," or maintain communication with local clubs.
Several times in the past, Brook said, players and fans have suffered injuries in game-related altercations. In addition, Brooks said, "I was coaching my baseball team and during the game a parent came to me and said my car had two flat tires. Another car had glass bottles under its tires. My team and the people with them had to be escorted out by police."
Brooks said he called and wrote to Vernon about the incident. But he said no action was taken in that case, or in any other where he filed a complaint.
Vernon said he does not remember the specific incidents Brooks mentioned. "These things are very difficult to prove," Vernon said, noting that the involved parties usually blame one another. "All people with complaints have to do is write to my office and tell the facts as they are. I'll check them out and get back to them."