EDUCATION

Rogue travel teams cause concern in youth basketball program

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

Two parents expressed some concern over policies related to gym use by non-school sports teams. Bob Gray and Susan Graham-Gray spoke to the Greencastle-Antrim School District school board on April 5. They were dismayed that part of the Youth Basketball Association elementary school programs had been taken away from the booster club. The boosters continued to sponsor the grades 3-6 Saturday morning games over the winter, but the grades 4-6 traveling teams had been "disassociated" from the boosters. The club, in which Gray was vice president, had not been directly notified of the change of sponsorship.

The couple alleged that some improprieties had occurred under the separated YBA program. As a result, they worried that children's best interests and safety were at risk.

Gray asked, reading from a prepared statement, whether a team not affiliated with G-ASD needed written permission to use a gym for practices. Would fees be charged for facility use? Could closed door practices be held, with no parents allowed inside? Would the volunteer coaches of an outside team have to pass the same clearance checks as school volunteers? He also had evidence that a coach advised the young players not to tell anyone where they were practicing. He submitted an email from a coach, also a school employee, that a Sunday practice would be held in the high school gym, but parents should drop off their son and come back, so fewer cars were in the parking lot. He had seen one coach park at the elementary school and walk across campus so his car wouldn't be seen at the high school.

"We are all in favor of having these programs under the protective umbrella of the school system," Gray wrote. "We simply want our children to have the safest environment possible."

Details

Gray elaborated on his accusations at a later date, fully aware that people would consider his complaint "sour grapes" since his son was not selected for an AAU team after the regular traveling team season ended.

In November Gray had heard second-hand that three people affiliated with the school district had pulled the traveling teams from YBA, reasoning it was too expensive for the district and there was limited gym availability. The coaches for the fifth and sixth grade teams had scrambled to find practice sites for the winter, since they thought they could no longer use the schools. They found churches to use for practice, but one team eventually started going into the schools. Parents were not allowed to stay at either locale. Last year, with the booster club in control, parents could watch travel team practices, but that ended under the new system.

"This is my problem," Gray said. "I doubt one of the coaches has ever had clearances. Do waivers for the church hold up in the school gym? It's just wrong."

He wondered who would be responsible if a child suffered an injury during practice at the school, particularly if officials were not aware a team was there. It bothered him that tax dollars were paying for the gym time.

He indicated that retaliation was initiated if anyone spoke up about the policies. He also foresaw trouble for the young players in the future.

"There was no fourth-grade travel team this year because there was no gym to practice in. If this pattern holds, there will be no fourth- or fifth-grade team next year. We've killed the program."

Boosters curious

Gray notified the boys Booster Club in November that the travel team had been pulled out from under them. "They were shocked."

At the April meeting, members still didn't know what was going on. They wanted to keep kids enrolled in YBA to build up the basketball program.

High school varsity coach Gary Martin didn't see a problem. "They paid rent. I just want kids to play ball."

No one knew who was in charge of the travel teams. "The boosters run YBA. Travel is part of it," said one member.

They had discovered that the travel team coaches discouraged the boys from signing up for Saturday morning YBA, because that's when they scheduled their own practices.

"That makes no sense," said another booster. "That takes money out of YBA's pocket."

The group found the system in place for years had worked well, with the boosters in charge of Saturdays and the traveling teams. They wanted them back.

The bylaws of the Greencastle-Antrim Basketball Association, also known as the boosters, states its purpose is to supplement the district's program. Membership is open to all parents, alumni, faculty and friends of G-ASD. It promotes all levels of participation, including boys varsity, junior varsity, middle school and youth basketball programs.

School response

Athletic director Vicki Ritchey said YBA did not fall under the purview of the athletic department. YBA put in facility requests when it wanted to use the gyms, and there were plenty available. She was unaware of where the travel teams practiced. As far as the AAU team after the regular season, it had not paid rent for gym use, but would next year. A facility rental policy for all school properties was adopted by the school board in January, to take effect June 1. Organizations that did not remit proceeds to the school district would have to pay to use space, custodial services, security, or any particular necessary services.

Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover investigated the situation. He said school personnel did indeed use the schools for travel team practices without properly reserving the gyms. In effect, the coaches and teams were trespassing. He said the issue had been addressed and would not happen again.

By the same token, for years teachers and coaches did enter the buildings after hours if they had a key. But times had changed, Hoover said, and the expectation was that now they must follow the same procedures as the general public in using school property.

He didn't know why the coaches didn't stick with YBA, but thought there may have been a misunderstanding about the rental policy, which had not yet taken effect. From June forward, though, an independent travel team would have to pay to practice in the gyms, while those under YBA would not have to.

Hoover also spoke to the clearance issue of the coaches. If a person was also a coach of a middle or high school team, he/she would have passed the security checks. Parent volunteers of the "disassociated" teams might not have been screened. And if a player on the rogue travel teams had been injured on school property, the liability would have fallen on the coaches, since they were present without permission, he added. Also, whether a practice was closed to parents was outside the school's scope of control.

Because of the safety net provided by YBA, Hoover also hoped the travel teams were back under the boosters' jurisdiction next year.