Grappling over Bad Dawgs

Parents, coaches, board members can't agree about wrestling program

In February, Joe and Lori Hef--ton and Ben Crippen accepted positions on the Moffat County Youth Wrestling Board because they wanted to help with the Craig program.

What was supposed to have been about supporting young wrestlers has become a fight they say they could never have imagined.

"This is the saddest thing I've ever seen," said Lori, the board secretary/treasurer. "I've had threatening phone calls and parents threatening to take me to court. It's all because of a lack of communication."

The saddest thing she's ever seen is what has happened with the Bad Dawg wrestling program. Coaches, parents, former board members and the current board are at odds about the program's future and can't agree on anything, from bylaws to breaks for wrestlers.

With finger pointing, misunderstandings and everyone trying to do "what's best for the kids," no one involved has a clear picture of the future for a wrestling team that was created to help children get to the next level in Moffat County.

The history

Ten years ago, youth wrestling in Moffat County was a freestyle program. Out of the freestyle program, a peewee league was launched.

"Those two leagues weren't enough for some," Debbie Tomlin said. "We got together and started the Bad Dawgs."

The Bad Dawgs program was designed for wrestlers who wanted to commit to the sport for a longer season than the freestyle and peewee seasons, which both take place in the spring.

Wrestlers on the Bad Dawgs had the opportunity to practice and compete from October through May.

In fall 2002, it was voted in a public meeting to join all three separate programs under one organization -- Moffat County Youth Wrestling Club.

There is no disagreement on that point. But soon after, the problems came.

Bylaw bickering

John Mann, a former member of the Bad Dawgs board and coaching staff, said that when the three clubs merged, it was understood that both the freestyle and Bad Dawg programs would continue to operate under a separate board. The job of the Moffat County Youth Wrestling Board would be to oversee the peewee program and the funding for all three programs. That meant money raised from all three programs would go in a single pot.

A copy of the program's bylaws supports Mann's understanding that freestyle and Bad Dawg would operate under a separate board. Bylaws also include statements that there would be two public meetings a year to discuss Moffat County Youth Wrestling and its three entities.

The bylaws aren't dated and contain no signatures.

"We're in the process of having the board members and people who were present when the merger happened sign the bylaws," Mann said. "I couldn't tell you why that wasn't done originally."

Tomlin, although uncertain whether those bylaws were a part of the original merger, agreed that the intent was for the Bad Dawgs to have a separate board.

Mann, vice president Al Scheller and secretary/treasurer Jill Eriksen resigned from the MCYW board in January 2005.

Tomlin said she "took it upon myself" to fill the board. She asked the Heftons and Crippen to step in.

"I originally laughed when they asked me," Crippen said. "The next time they asked, I decided to help. I'd been a coach for six years, but an injury kept me from doing that, so I thought I could help that way."

Eriksen handed over the secretary/treasurer paperwork to Lori Hefton and in September gave her a CD. Eriksen said both included a copy of the bylaws that were given to her when she took office.

"I've never seen any bylaws," Hefton said. "I couldn't read the disk I received, and I never saw it in the paperwork either."

Crippen also said he hasn't seen the bylaws.

"I can't find proof of there ever being a separate board for the Bad Dawgs," he said.

Deciding about Dawgs

Without knowledge of the bylaws, the new board didn't know that the original intent was to allow the Bad Dawgs to govern themselves.

Lori Hefton said the new board met with several Moffat County School District employees to talk about youth wrestling.

"It was my understanding that there was concern from them that there was some burnout from too much wrestling," she said. "We have a son who never wants to wrestle again because of too much when he was little."

She said they also talked to members of the Grand Junction youth program who said they take a month-long break in January to give wrestlers a rest.

"We thought it might be worth it to give the wrestlers a break in January," she said. "Then they could continue with the peewee program in February."

Bad Dawg registration forms refer to a "fall wrestling program."

The decision to have January off had been made before the season began.

"I thought that I had a conversation with (coach) Billy (Bingham) about the break in January," Hefton said. "I guess we hadn't because he didn't know when we discussed it in December."

Miscommunication

Bingham has been a Moffat County Bad Dawgs wrestling coach as long as his sons Jake and Mikey could wrestle. Jake, the oldest, is 10. He planned to take the Bad Dawgs to two national tournaments in January this year, but in December, he said he learned that wouldn't be the case.

"I was told there would be no Bad Dawgs," he said. "Lori told me that the Bad Dawgs were no more, but it was in front of the kids so we didn't talk about it any more."

Bingham said that on Dec. 29, three days before the Who's Bad National Championships in Denver, Crippen told him the Bad Dawgs were done after the tournament.

"There was never any intent to end the Bad Dawgs permanently," Crippen said. "I just told them we were going to take a break in January."

Hefton agrees with Crippen.

"I think the Bad Dawgs is an awesome program," she said. "We would never terminate it."

After Crippen's conversation with Bingham, the Bad Dawg coaches and parents called a meeting. The Bad Dawgs said they invited the MCYW board members. But board members said they weren't aware of any meeting.

"I would have gone to that meeting if I knew about it," Hefton said. "I want to hear what people are saying. I've only received two phone calls and the rest is through the grapevine."

In the meeting Tuesday, members of the Bad Dawgs decided that they wanted to become a separate entity.

"We have a lawyer and the papers to become our own nonprofit group," Bingham said.

For the kids

All of the adults involved from past and present have a similar goal, which is to cater to the good of the children wrestling. The head butting comes in when no one can agree on the best way to achieve that.

"Our numbers have gone down since I've been a part of the program," Crippen said. "We are trying to get numbers up and part of that is to prevent burnout."

The Bad Dawgs had 12 wrestlers sign up this year. Crippen said he had seen 20 to 30 Bad Dawgs in the past.

Hefton agreed with Crippen that the wrestlers need time off.

"There are so many options out there, kids are doing two or three sports a week," Lori Hefton said. "We wanted to give them a break."

Bingham countered that with: "I don't need numbers to run a good program. You should have seen how happy our wrestlers were at the Monster Match on New Year's Eve. They were having a blast. This ain't about me, Ben Crippen, or the Heftons -- it's about the kids."

George Griffiths, a Bad Dawg coach and parent of two wrestlers, said he thinks the pressure put on Craig's elite is excessive.

"Our kids aren't pressured nearly as bad compared to others," he said.

Mann said it's not up to a board member to decide what's best for a child.

"If a kid wants to wrestle for nine months, he shouldn't have to take mandatory break," he said. "At the same time, if a kid doesn't want to go for a weekend he shouldn't have to."

Coulda, shoulda

Crippen said he takes responsibility for never having a public meeting about the change for the Bad Dawgs.

"I understand how people can be upset about the restructuring, but I never thought there would be such a problem," he said. "We should have had a public meeting, and it's my fault."

The new board said it is in the process of organizing a public meeting in the spring.

"We are about the betterment of this program," he said. "I've heard so many conflicting stories I don't know what to think. I would like to have an open meeting and discuss the bylaws and what else exists I didn't know about."

Hefton said if she had to do it over again, she would have communicated better.

"All it would have taken was a couple of calm phone conversations," she said. "Now the whole thing is blown out of proportion."

Chance to talk

A meeting is in the plans, though it may be too late because the Bad Dawgs met and voted to leave the Moffat County Youth Wrestling program.

"I would like to see everybody cooperating, communicating and not fight," Hefton said.

One thing is clear. Despite some of the misunderstandings, no one wants to disband the Bad Dawgs.

"This is a good opportunity for kids who want to advance," Griffiths said. "It's a mess, and it's a shame what has happened. People need to get together and have an adult conversation. Then, if there's a decision to be made, we're in a democratic society, things should be voted on."

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