“In actuality, if they (City of McKinney Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces) don’t give us the spring season, they’ve given us a death sentence. We can’t come back from that,” McKinney Little League Baseball President Lonea Gilbert said.
The league’s status has been placed on the chopping block since Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Director Lemuel Randolph informed the league earlier this month that its 2014 spring season has been cancelled.
In a letter addressed to former league president Jimmy Dempsey on Nov. 11, Randolph explains why the decision was made. He said it was due to instability within the board, poor finances and the cancellation of the 2013 fall season, which Randolph called a “poor decision.” For those reasons, he said the league will not be able to use city fields in 2014.
In the letter to Dempsey, Randolph said McKinney Little League can go through the application process to be a sanctioned youth sport once again in 2015, but its submission will be “considered but not guaranteed.”
Randolph, who has been serving as Director of PROS since 1997, said the city reviews its memorandum of understanding with sports that use city fields on an annual basis, including both McKinney Little League and the McKinney Baseball Association. The agreement between the city and little league has been in place since 1996.
Randolph said that after reviewing the league’s board and its decision to cancel the fall season, it was in the best interest of the league to take the year off to restructure management, its board and establish sound financial practices.
The league, however, sees missing the 2014 season as an action that could cost them its future. Gilbert said the cancellation of the spring 2014 season would cost the league its charter with Little League International, thus making the league non-existent.
Gilbert said the city is passing judgment on the prior board and its members, but the only ones being affected are the children, and hopes the city gives her and the new board a chance to re-establish the league.
“We’re killing a dream … we don’t want that dream to be killed,” Dempsey said.
McKinney Little League Changes
Gilbert said the new board of McKinney Little League — which was put in place during the Nov. 17 meeting — is working to rewrite its bylaws and constitution, and create a charter for the league. Gilbert will present the league’s case to play in 2014 to Randolph on Monday, Dec. 2.
The Charter must be completed by Dec. 31, and registration for the spring season begins Dec. 1. Dempsey said parents don’t usually enroll children until January or February, but the league needs to be able to use the fields in preparation for the season.
Gilbert said if the league is denied the chance to return to the diamond in 2014, she plans on petitioning the city, and is ready to draft letters to former President George W. Bush and former Texas Rangers Executive Nolan Ryan (both alumni of little league baseball) asking for their support.
“For me, I’m willing to whatever it takes to save this league,” she said.
Dempsey, who was named interim president of McKinney Little League in August following the resignation of former president Ed Leps, said the issues penned by Randolph were items the league was addressing and trying to fix.
Trouble Earlier This Fall
One of the main concerns Randolph stated was the cancellation of the fall season, which Dempsey said is optional and something several leagues do. He said McKinney Little League uses the fall league to keep players on the field year-round, with more one-on-one interaction between coaches and players.
Dempsey said the decision to cease operation and cancel the fall league was not unanimous, explaining he voted against the cancellation of the fall season, but circumstances surrounding the board and its members caused the league to shut down in an effort to rebuild.
Dempsey said the league contacted MBA on July 24 — four days prior to making the decision to cancel the season — to see if MBA could absorb the additional players. He said the decision gave the league and its coaches ample time to accommodate the influx of players from McKinney Little League.
He said the two leagues worked together to extend MBA’s registration period so McKinney Little League could issue refunds, and issue those funds to the MBA for registration with the league.
Gilbert, who was nominated and elected president during the Nov. 17 meeting, said it is not McKinney Little league’s intent to bring MBA into this situation and drag their name through the mud, and explained that MBA and Little League are two different products – a point she hopes to make to Randolph during in hopes to bring the league back.
“We have nothing against the MBA…two totally different products,” said Dempsey, who explained the new board and Gilbert want to reach out and work with MBA.
Dempsey, who coached in MBA and has a son that’s played in both MBA and little league, said this situation is eerily similar to a situation that occurred in 2006, when MBA cancelled its fall season and Little League had to absorb hundreds of players.
Gilbert said the league, whose president in 2006-’07 was city councilmember Ray Ricchi, had to absorb 425 extra players before the season. He said that MBA was dealing financial issues that season and Little League absorbed the players, but MBA did not have to go through an appeals process that season and were allowed to come back in the spring season the following year.
“It was just, `Welcome back,’ ” Dempsey said.
What Would a One-League McKinney Look Like?
Dempsey said there has been a growing rumor the city wants one baseball league, and by Little League shutting down the fall season, “we gave them the ammunition.”
McKinney got a peak at what one baseball league would look like, with MBA having to field 27 teams in the fall league. Dempsey said he coached in a division with six teams in the fall, three of which shouldn’t have been allowed to play.
“How many teams are we talking about being in one association?” he said. “That’s going to be huge in the spring to have just one baseball association.”
Dempsey said that the division for 9-to-10-year olds had 27 teams. And he questioned the ability to schedule playoffs, manage rosters and create All-Star teams with so many children, adding said there were several games that ended up 12-1 and 10-0.
“Where’s the competiveness? Where’s the fun in that? I have to question that,” said Dempsey, who said the fall season is historically around 60 percent of what spring registration is.
Dempsey added that while it was unexpected for MBA to have to accommodate space for several hundred players, MBA received additional funds from new players to pay for more equipment. “They keep on saying the MBA did this great thing and took in all these kids, and it is — it was great for them to go and do it — but I don’t think it was a hardship,” Dempsey said. “They got the registration fees. They bought the equipment. It was just more to do.”
Another issue addressed by Randolph was the financial situation surrounding McKinney Little League Baseball, which reportedly has around $1,500 in its bank account. Randolph said he has “heard noise” of accusations against Leps for mismanaging the money.
Dempsey said the report stating the league has $1,500 is correct, with Gilbert saying there was a lack of knowledge and interest in how to fix the league with provisions set out in their constitution and by-laws. “I think at that point, their vested interest was no longer in the children,” Gilbert said.
It was estimated in that report that Leps took around $20,000 to $30,000 from the league, purchasing equipment on a personal credit card and reimbursing himself with league funds. In an email to TSB on Nov. 19, Chad Barker, Sergeant with the McKinney Police Department, said the Criminal Investigation Division received information and records on Leps, but cannot comment any further on the matter. TSB has reached out to Leps and hopes to interview him about his tenure with Little League Baseball, including the accusations against him.
Dempsey said there was definitely sloppy paperwork and mishandling of money. But Dempsey said that, to his knowledge, there is no evidence Leps, or anyone else, embezzled funds from the league.
Gilbert said she has no knowledge of what happened in respect to the prior board, but noted the league is changing its bylaws to be proactive and avoid any further allegations in the future.
She said all purchases for McKinney Little League business will be made through McKinney Little League checks, and any purchases made by a personal credit cards will not be reimbursed. Any checks being used to purchase equipment or to be used for the league will need to be signed by both herself, and new league treasurer Robby Harrison, Gilbert said. Previously, checks used for league business had to be signed by either Leps or the former treasurer, not by both.
Gilbert added she assumes at some point she will be subpoenaed for records, but has no further knowledge of any allegations against Leps or former board members.
And the allegations made against Leps was just the first pitch in this drama.
Dempsey said a personal feud between Leps and former safety officer and league coach Michael Bennent “started this whole thing.”
“It was a personal feud between Mike Bennent and Mr. Ed Leps,” he said. “These two got into a squabble and Mr. Bennent went after Ed Leps in trying to get him ousted as president because of all these accusations.”
Dempsey said Bennent addressed the board regarding Leps, but when the board took no action, he went to the city instead of dealing with the issue in house.
The chain of events that followed has forced the league into a tough financial situation, with Gilbert saying the league is currently seeking sponsorships, because they did not have the influx of funds the fall season brings.
How To Make It Work
The creation of the charter will cost the league around $5,100, Gilbert said. She and her husband plan on using personal money to support the league because without a charter, Gilbert said, there is no league. “Spring is the wheel that makes everything go, but fall is where you make the money,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey, who is now the league’s new Safety Officer, said purchases made in the spring season are made by the funds the league collected in the fall season, and the league usually saves the money it makes in the spring for further expenses and future seasons.
But with no fall season, the league has no additional funds to support the spring season. Dempsey said approximately $15,000 to $17,000 is brought in annually through sponsorships.
With a new president and new board of seven, Gilbert said the league is doing all it can to align itself with Little League International.
She said the league reduced its board from 14 to the league-recommended amount of seven. It is creating an action plan that covers child protection programs, safety awareness and CPR training, which at least one coach must receive once every three years.
The league is attempting to enact a concussion training and testing program, also. “I don’t see any baseball program in this area that’s doing that,” Gilbert said.
Dempsey said no former board members are involved with league business in “any capacity,” and the league is already planning community events to help bring back McKinney Little League baseball. “I feel like God has placed this on my heart, this passion that I didn’t even know that existed for Little League Baseball until Jimmy asked me to [become president],” Gilbert said.
Despite the letter to Dempsey addressing the leagues issues, Randolph said he feels the league can rebuild and fix its problems. “I have confidence they’ll be able to resolve those issues,” he said.