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Hasta la vista, parks and rec

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California’s budget crisis could take a big chunk out of local parks departments in unique, ugly ways. From the Auburn (Calif.) Journal:

Auburn Area Recreation and Park District officials could be forced to layoff [sic] employees and reduce maintenance at area parks if the state seizes property tax revenue from the already struggling rec district.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed suspending Proposition 1A, the 2004 measure that set up constitutional protections for local revenues. However, a provision allows the state to suspend Prop. 1A and “borrow” up to 8 percent of local government’s property tax revenue. This borrowing could continue for three years, and then must be paid back with interest.

But there is concern by many local agencies that the state will not have the resources available to pay the borrowed money back in three years.

During the district’s board meeting Thursday, directors adopted a resolution finding that a severe fiscal hardship will exist if these additional revenues are seized.

“The board unanimously agrees that through prudent management by the district staff, the residents of the district have continued to receive a sustained level of quality and performance,” said Chairman Curt Smith. “The next ‘cut’ if it occurs will affect the services and facilities we offer.”

The state’s action will cause the district to reopen its approved budget, which was already based on an estimated reduction in revenue due to the current negative economic forecast, to make cuts. These cuts could include layoffs, employee furloughs, decreased maintenance and operations and reductions in direct services to the public.

“While I feel that this (Prop 1A suspension) is an exercise in futility, I am hopeful the state will find other ways to balance their budget besides going after local property tax money,” Director Scott Holbrook said.

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Gov. Schwarzenegger, looking for park district money. And Sarah Conner.

California voters on May 19 rejected a proposition backed by Schwarzenegger that would have raised taxes as a means of closing a $42 billion budget hole — well, at least by $27 billion. Not that parks and recs/youth sports is alone in getting dinged by California’s cratering economy, but this is a pretty stark example of how bad things have gotten/are getting.

Hopefully the youth culture won’t kill their dog

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Most bands that see someone cop their image are immediately on the phone to their attorney to get a lawsuit good and ready. But most bands, as has been abundantly clear through a long, storied and quirk-filled career of college alternative, telephone-based, TV theme and children’s music, are not They Might Be Giants.

Two guys named John (like the two guys who make up They Might Be Giants) named their Seattle T-ball team after the band, using the images from their first children’s album, “No!” (It’s a word you end up saying a lot when you manage T-ball.) The two Johns in TMBG were so excited, they started a contest in which they will sponsor 10 more teams, anywhere across the nation.

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Photo of the Seattle T-ball team comes from a parent who submitted it to the band. I presume if the band is OK with a team using its image, it’ll be OK with me doing the same (fingers crossed).

The band is having you send your pitches (no pun intended) to littleleague@tmbg.com. You need to include your city, state and zip; the name of the local sports organization; the ages of your team members; the size of your team (presumably, number of players, not actual sizes of players, though both might be helpful); and anything else the band should know.

Band member John Flansburgh is quoted on the band’s site saying: “If a pizza parlor or a super market can sponsor a team, why can’t a rock band? We’ve posted a free shirt offer on our web site, and as new teams form we’re going to post their group photo alongside the Seattle team. We only have t-shirts to offer right now, but if we can get hats too, we’re up for that.”

Given the troubles many leagues are having attracting sponsors, this is a great offer, presuming your legal isn’t halfway over already (maybe the offer will be good for next season if it’s too late). I’m amazed more entertainment aimed at children, or even their parents, haven’t turned to youth sports sponsorship. “Night at the Museum 2″ probably could have sponsored every team in every sport in America for what it spent on TV ads, and reached just about as many kids and parents. I’m sure TMBG is doing this sponsorship contest out of the goodness of its heart. But a band that won a Grammy this year for its children’s album is reaching the right market handing out T-shirts to T-ballers.

However, I am emailing the band to find out if they understand what youth sports sponsorship entails. I’m curious how the two Johns (the T-ball coaches) got to pick the shirts. Depending on the league, TMBG is going to have to do more than hand out free T-shirts. Is the band willing to pay $200 to see “Phillies” on the front and “They Might Be Giants” on the back? I’m sure there are a lot of league boards that are going to have conniptions over the thought of the uniforms not being uniform.

Sports radio does something other than call for the manager’s firing

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Millsap, Texas, population 350, was looking at possibly having to shake $20 out of every man, woman and child to pay for the $7,000 theft of equipment from Millsap Youth Athletics. That is, until a talk radio station two counties to the east, in Dallas, took up their cause, what with their good heart and so much time on the air being freed up since Terrell Owens left town.

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Um, that’s Millsap, not Milsap.

The folks at ESPN 103.3 raised $3,000 on the air through bids on a sports ticket package until an anonymous listener called in, off the air, to pledge $5,000.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

[Millsap Youth Athletics secretary Rita] Switzer was profoundly grateful.

“Whoever this anonymous donor is, I love you, I love you, I love you,” she said.

Switzer said smaller donations have come from residents across North Texas, both pledged on the telephone and sent through the mail.

Switzer said the community’s response to the theft is teaching the children about the good in people and how positive things can come out of bad.

“Before every meeting we have, the first thing we do is we pray. We pray for God to watch over the kids and for him to allow us to be the best we can be,” she said. “I feel this is an answer to those prayers.”

 I was just crying the whole time I was listening. They talked that story up like we were big-leaguers.”

Millsap isn’t the only youth sports organization to get a helping hand in a crisis wrought by theft. The Blue Island (Ill.) Little League has shaken a lot of helping hands after it lost $3,000 in food and equipment in a concession stand burglary. One man gave the whole kaboodle. The Chicago White Sox kicked in $500 and free tickets for the players. Other parents and other leagues kicked in some money, as well.

It’s nice to know that in a crisis, you can find friends in unexpected places. Especially if you can get the word out. Seriously leagues — if you suffer a sudden loss, let the world know so someone can help.

Live from one of America’s unemployment crisis epicenters

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Continuing this blog’s unplanned tour of America’s boomtowns-turned-bust (following Bradenton, Fla.), I come to you from Elkhart, Ind. Well, I think the Starbucks I’m sitting in is in Dunlap, technically, but it’s still part of Elkhart County. That’s where the job market has crashed like an RV hitting a brick wall, quite likely literally, given how the area’s dependence on recreational vehicle manufacturing has dragged it under.

The Elkhart-Goshen area’s (Dunlap is smack dab in between the two cities) unemployment rate in December 2007, the beginning of the recession, was 4.7 percent. Now it’s 18.8 percent. Thanks to so many plants closing down, Elkhart apparently is moving to the No. 1 spot for EPA Superfund sites, a story the Elkhart Truth plans to publish in Sunday’s paper. Elkhart-Goshen’s unemployment isn’t the worst — step right up, Mackinac County, Mich., with your 28 percent — but it’s the highest rise in the country. Hence, that RV-hitting-a-wall metaphor.

But you probably knew all that, thanks to President (and candidate) Obama’s frequent appearances in Elkhart, and the scads of news stories using the area as the living, breathing, nonworking metaphor for America’s economic struggles. Though I would like to alert ProPublica that a grocery store sign advertising 10 cans of Manwich for $10 is not a sign of economic apocalypse.

My job, as I mentioned earlier on this here blog, is to use Elkhart as the living, breaking, nonworking metaphor for how America’s economic struggles are affecting youth sports. As I also mentioned earlier, I won’t be divulging everything I learned, not with MSNBC.com paying me to divulge them as part of its Elkhart Project. I will say this — if you just looked at the scene around the area’s baseball and soccer fields, you would never know there was a recession. The fields are full, the kids are concentrating on the game (or on the dirt), chilly moms are wrapped in blankets, stressed-out dads are standing by themselves and grunting, parents are gossiping, others are telling their kids what a good job they did, others are asking why their kids what they didn’t hear them yelling to pass the ball.

I’ll spare other details, but suffice it to say that Elkhart is a living, breathing, working (not just nonworking — most of the people I talked to are employed, as are most people in Elkhart) metaphor for what parents are doing in these hard times — everything they can to get them on the field. These aren’t pushy parents who dream of pro stardom bringing the family out of its misery. They’re sincere parents who want to give their children the most and best they can, and if the children want to play, they’ll cut back on eating out or something else to get them to play. And if they can’t, there are grandparents, friends, leagues and others willing to help out.

It’s hard not to root for Elkhart after you’ve spent a little time here. Since World War II, it’s been an immigration station for people wanting a better life — first Southern whites, then African-Americans, and lately Mexicans and Central Americans. They know high gas prices and tight credit will probably never bring the RV industry back to what it was. But the story they want to tell is not that they’re victims. It’s that they’re hardworking, skilled people who are ready to punch the clock again once someone gives them a clock to punch.

In fact, some of them are coming back, now that local RV manufacturer Gulf Stream is entering a joint venture to build an electric hybird pickup. Hopefully, that’s not only a sign of a coming turnaround for Elkhart, but also a living, breathing, working metaphor for the rest of the country getting back on its economic feet.

Count him in

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For the youth sports leagues who lost money trusting it to Terry Drayton’s Count Me In, a savior has emerged… Terry Drayton.

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That’s right, bitches. I’m gonna own 2009 after all.

From John Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) at TechFlash, who has done a great job breaking news on the Count Me In saga:

Let’s call it a comeback. Count Me In founder Terry Drayton is leading a new effort to buy back the assets of the troubled online payment processing company.

The move comes a little more than three months after Bellevue-based Count Me In was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy by some of its non-profit customers for losing roughly $5 million in registration fees.

Drayton has now emerged as the leader of an entity called Rainier Software that appears to be in the pole position to buy the assets. It’s the latest twist in a saga that has drawn considerable chatter on this blog. According to court documents, Rainier recently made a $200,000 “stalking horse bid” for Count Me In’s domain names, technology, contracts and other assets.

The owner whose incompetence and/or malfeasance (depending on what league you talk to) led his company to bankruptcy and screwed up the finances of organizations across the country gets to buy Count Me in back for a song? This can’t be legal, right?

Oh yeah, it is, though by the time you get through the ridiculousness of how this can happen, it’ll make sense that the trustee assigned to the Count Me In bankruptcy is named Ed Wood, because the process seems as strange as an Ed Wood movie.

Basically, what happened was. On March 20, about three months after Count Me In was forced into bankruptcy, a company called Rainier Software filed something called a financial statement, or UCC-1. It’s filed by a lender with the state’s secretary of state as a means to secure property owned by the debtor. So Rainier Software was saying it lent money to Count Me In, and that Count Me In put up property as collateral — thus bringing it to the head of the bankruptcy line as a secured creditor. Ed Wood was OK with this because he determined that the youth leagues who used Count Me In, and were still using it, would be out more money if the company shut down than if he allowed it to continue on.

Meanwhile, Ed Wood was determining that he couldn’t find a buyer for Count Me In. Ed Wood “determined that businesses of the type and sophistication of the debtor’s are dominated by a few businesses, including the debtor,” according to the latest bankruptcy court filing. “The Trustee has been in constant contact with most of these companies, but only one company, Rainier, negotiated a purchase and sale agreement.”

The operator of Rainier? None other than Terry Drayton.

So for $200,000, less the approximately $49,000 discount Rainier (Drayton) gets for its secured-debt level on Count Me In (Drayton), Rainier (Drayton) is first in line to buy the assets of Count Me In (Drayton). Rainier (Drayton) has 60 days to give the court a list of contracts from Count Me In (Drayton) plans to assume — meaning the possibility exists that leagues that are owed money by Count Me In (Drayton) not only might never see it again, but that they might be tossed overboard by the new owner, Rainier (Drayton).

Of course, a “stalking horse” deal such as this means that others can bid a higher price and take Count Me In (Drayton) out of the hands of Rainier (Drayton) — as long as Rainier (Drayton) gets a break-up fee of $65,000.

John Cook’s story notes that the Washington Secretary of State has gotten numerous complaints about Drayton. But all of this, while crazy, appears to be perfectly legal. Which means your league could soon be perfectly fucked. And that’s why Drayton is a serial entreprenuer who gets on magazine covers, and you are not.

I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders…

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…and them parents, them parents, they’re ’bout to drag me dowwwwwwwwwnnnnnn.

Someone who knew a little something about the perils of the striped shirt.

Nate Ulrich, sports columnist for the (Munster, Ind.) Times, learned why the Indiana High School Athletic Association and just about everyone who needs officials have trouble finding them — because you spend a lot of time and pay a lot of money for a gig that offers crap pay and crap from everyone else around you.

He spent two hours at a recruiting fair, four hours studying for his certification exam, two hours taking it, and one hour buying his uniform, activities that took place over the course of more than two months between his appearance at the fair and his hiring for his first games. He spent $227.90, $182.90 of it for the official zebra wear and whistle. The pay for Ulrich’s first assignment, back-to-back sixth-grade AAU girls basketball — $40.

Before his first game, Ulrich’s partner for the games told him two things. One, don’t sell out your partner, no matter how bad the call was, because that person “is your only friend in the gym.” Two, that junior-high parents are “evil. … At that junior high level, weird things happen.”

Ulrich, by his own admission, failed to hear a time-out call from one bench during the first game, and heard about it from that coach and score keeper during the game, and heard about it from the manager of the facility hosting the game, who had heard more from the coach and score keeper. Fun!

The second game was better, except that Ulrich’s ref partner told him he had to be more assertive. “A lot of times you were blowing your whistle like a little girl.”

Of course, you expect in any new job you’re going to screw up or be hesitant. Although Ulrich could have signed on to be a nuclear plant manager and gotten more margin for error from his colleagues.

Ulrich’s conclusion:

During my drive home that night, I contemplated whether I’d ever work another game. I don’t think I will.

I made $40 for two hours of work. I was sweaty and exhausted, so it was definitely a good workout. And I was fortunate to work with an understanding [partner] … .

The bottom line is I just didn’t enjoy it.

I am glad I mustered the guts to try officiating, though. I saw the game from a new perspective, and I attained a newfound level of appreciation and respect for the men and women who have been doing it for years.

If you think can you do a better job … I encourage you to go through the process I did and see for yourself.

No, better yet — I dare you.

Ulrich more than 250 people went to the recruiting fair, so apparently many are daring. In these times, $40 is $40, and six gigs like that will at least pay for the test and the uniform.

Written by rkcookjr

May 3, 2009 at 5:42 pm

The youth sports stadium game

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If you thought the competition to build massive sports stadiums was just for cities that were, well, cities, then you are correct. As long as you think of those stadiums only for professional teams. Smaller towns and suburbs are drooling to replicate the success of Blaine, Minn.’s National Sports Center, or merely trying to attract big tournaments that fill hotel rooms and restaurants with rude kids running wild (at least that’s what I’ve seen and heard in the hotels I’ve stayed in that were hosting kids playing youth tournaments).

For example, the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., reports in today’s edition that a $60 million youth sports facility is under consideration. It would have, as the paper notes, “a 3,000-seat baseball stadium, soccer fields and a football/track facility.” That would make it the biggest construction project in Springfield since the monorail.

If $60 million in a city of about 117,000 sounds like a lot, how does $60 million in a suburb of about 24,000 grab you?

That’s the pricetag Westfield, Ind., is putting on its proposed complex, which would be located a 5K run from where I’m sitting now (my parents’ house in Carmel, another north Indianapolis suburb.) The complex would consist of a 4,000-seat multipurpose outdoor stadium (which would also be used to attract an independent minor-league pro baseball team), indoor sports facilities, and baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse fields. It would be part of a $1.5 billion development with retail, housing, hotels and a golf course already there, money to be raised in a public-private partnership.

Wow.

The youth sports stadium game is like the big-time stadium game in that burgs known for little or nothing (as Indianapolis was when it beefed up its Olympic sports facilities and filched the Colts in the 1980s) are using the facilities to make some sort of a name for itself. For example, Westfield, known nowhere outside of Indianapolis and barely known within it, wants to be known as “the Family Sports Capital of America.”

As Westfield Mayor Andy Cook (no relation to your humble blogger) told Indianapolis TV station WTHR: “To our knowledge, there are two there facilities similar to this. One is in suburban Minneapolis. The other is in Disney World.”

See, there’s Blaine lust again. As for Disney World, apparently Cook is hopeful that someday a Super Bowl winner will yell, “I’m goin’ to Westfield!”

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Come in to Westfield, the Happiest Place on Earth.

I must admit, I admire Westfield’s gigantic civic nards in proposing this project, especially in this economy, even though Westfield is a fast-growing burg.

There are plenty of stories out there bragging about how much money youth sports is bringing to various small towns. If you need an exact number, you can always call someone like Patrick Rishe, an economic professor at Webster University in St. Louis, who is making a side business assessing an economic impact number just like people used to do for pro sports stadium projects.

Of course, a lot of those pro sports numbers are in serious dispute, like this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer (via The Sports Economist) states:

In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I [Rick Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor] studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives’ success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents’ economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited “success cities” such as Denver and Cleveland.

The argument for youth sports stadiums over pro sports stadiums is that they’re cheaper to build, and that they attract almost all out-of-towners rather than taking money from one local entertainment venue to another. The argument against is that given the relative size of the towns, the money being spent is the equivalent of what a big city pays for a big stadium. And you can’t assume everyone will stay in your town’s hotels, or spend as much money as you think they will spend. Plus, it seems slightly creepy to base a major part of your city’s economy on kids playing games.

However, it’s doubtful this (fools?) gold rush is ending anytime soon. To symbolize where we’re going, Vero Beach, Fla., is looking at converting Dodgertown, the old Los Angeles Dodgers spring training site, into a youth sports complex.

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