Boosters Turn on H.S. Coach
By R.J. Anderson, Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing.
Ask Dan Caponi, Head Coach at Baldwin-Whitehall High School in Pittsburgh for advice on working with booster clubs, and you will hear a very long, frustration-filled story. When he gets to the end, the take-home message will be clear: make sure your school covers all its bases when it comes to booster club oversight.
Caponi's story began in September 2005, as he entered his 13th season with the team. That summer, he had gifted the baseball booster club $3,500earnings from the summer camps he hosted at the schoolthat were earmarked for field improvements. But when he requested those funds to buy soil mix for the varsity baseball diamond at the booster club's first fall meeting, he was turned down by a 7-6 vote.
At the next meeting, a discussion over whether to buy the team hooded sweatshirts or jackets turned contentious, with Caponi, the club president, its treasurer, and about half the members eventually storming out. The remaining members immediately voted in a new president and vice president.
The ugliness escalated in the days that followed, culminating in a $25,000 lawsuit filed by the club's new leadership. They claimed that the former treasurer and Caponi's wife sabotaged the remaining boosters by calling a local bank that housed the booster club's account to cast doubt on the new leadership's financial standing. In response, the bank froze the booster club's account, leaving nearly $8,000 in limbo. The lawsuit was thrown out of a local court, but the plaintiffs have since appealed to the state supreme court and are still awaiting a response.
Caponi believes all the bad blood can be traced back to recent personnel decisions he made affecting several club members' sons. "I think it came down to three or four members who don't like me on a personal level, and wanted to make life difficult for me," he says.
With the relationship between Caponi and the new club leadership all but severed, the athletic department had a hard time cleaning up the mess because there wasn't a formal policy addressing the booster club's chain of command. When questions arose as to who had final say over the moneythe head coach or the boostersthen-Athletic Director Lou Angelo told boosters their job was to support the coach, but he could not point to policy stating that.
Eighteen months later, although the booster club has been dissolved, Caponi is still dealing with fallout from the failed relationship, especially since the court appeal remains outstanding. "I've never had a problem with boosters before this," says Caponi. "Usually the president of the club would call me up after the elections and ask me for a list of what I wanted. This time the boosters were telling me how they wanted to spend the money. I feel that no matter what I had asked for, they would have said no."
How might Caponi have avoided the booster trouble? Dave Hunter, recently retired Athletic Director at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga., says having bylaws that clearly define a booster club's pecking order is key to avoiding problems. "You want to keep the bylaws simple, but there has to be a structure in place that recognizes the coach as the club's authority figure," says Hunter, who lends his services to high schools nationwide through Hunter Athletic Consulting. "The club members should start by answering to a president or treasurer. But the coach should have final say in how money is spent."
If disagreements do arise, Hunter says the bylaws need to include a chain of command for airing grievances. "If there's a problem between the coach and the club, the athletic director should step in and solve it," he says. "And if that doesn't work, the bylaws need to dictate that the principal has the final say in any booster club matter."
When a booster club is drawing up bylaws, Hunter says the coach must take an active role in the process. "Most clubs have an executive committee that consists of the president, the coach, and one or two other people," he says. "The coach has to be a part of that executive committee in order to keep a finger on the pulse of the club."
Hunter says a policy also needs to give the athletic director latitude for disciplining boosters who misbehave. "Is there an iron-clad rule for what deserves a suspension? No," says Hunter. "But if a booster is causing problems and hurting the program, the athletic director has to be able to say, 'enough is enough' and suspend that person from the club. If all else fails, there needs to be a protocol for disbanding a booster clubs that proves to be harming the program it's supposed to support."
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Coaching Management, FundraisingForSports.com's sister publication.
Dave Hunter offers more tips on organizing booster clubs. Visit "How To Create a Structured Booster Club."