Lou Lippa wants to give the children of Chesterfield County a choice when it comes to playing youth football, but forming a new league hasn't been easy.
Lou Lippa was getting tired of all the conflict at his son's youth league football games in the Chesterfield Quarterback League (CQL). Not on the field, but on the sidelines. "Coaches screaming and yelling, degrading children, parents fighting with each other," Lippa says. As a kid, Lippa had played football with the Metropolitan League, a youth league that has teams in Henrico, Hanover, Goochland and several other area counties. He remembered that the Metro League fined or suspended parents and coaches who got out of line. So last spring, he began the process of bringing the Metro League to Chesterfield County. The county requires new leagues to appoint a board of directors, incorporate as nonprofit, and start working on rosters. If those things happen, the county's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) grants the new league cosponsorship, which gives the league and its players official access to county fields and facilities. It seemed so simple at first. But what started out as a simple plan to give boys and their parents a choice of fall football leagues became a yearlong struggle between Lippa's upstart Metro League and the 40-year-old CQL. In the last year, the county has changed the way youth leagues must operate. And even though Lippa finally won the right to manage his league, its days may already be numbered. A year ago things were moving smoothly for Lippa. He was working with Metro Commissioner Mike Woody, his board was in place, and he attended the April 2, 1998, meeting of the PRAC and expected the commission to rubber stamp his application for cosponsorship. What Lippa got instead was a local government Little Big Horn, and he was General Custer. Representatives from all of the CQL's 33 associations, or teams, showed up at the meeting and blitzed Lippa. According to the minutes of the meeting, all of the CQL's association presidents spoke out vociferously against the formation of a new league. The PRAC voted down Metro League cosponsorship, effectively banning it from organizing youth football. Both the vote, and the denial of a league that met the county's requirements, were county firsts. "It was a blood bath," recalls Steve Jones, one of three of the eight PRAC members at the meeting who supported the Metro League's right to form in the vote. Jones says much of the CQL's early opposition was based on misinformation that exploited county residents' fears of urban crime spreading into the suburbs. CQL representatives stated in the meeting that the Metro League would be busing in Richmond kids to the county to play with Chesterfield kids and use county facilities, which Lippa and Woody say is nonsense. "I was shocked," Lippa says of the meeting. "I was only applying for cosponsorship, which I met. ... The question to the county is, other associations have started, and did not go through this." Mike Golden, Chesterfield County's director of parks and recreation, eventually overturned the motion and granted the Metro League cosponsorship shortly after the meeting. He says the county couldn't deny a league that met its requirements. County Supervisor Jack McHale agrees with the decision. "They're entitled to a [place to play], and appropriate help in getting started. ... It's not a question of who was here first." But Jim Beck, the president of the CQL, says there aren't enough fields for the CQL's teams, let alone for teams from a new league. And he's worried that the Metro League's presence may hurt some of the smaller teams within the CQL. He says that if even one or two players switch from the smaller teams of the CQL to the Metro League, those teams may fold. "They have the right to be here, you can't deny them the opportunity to do this," concedes Beck. "If there's a new kid on the block, see how it does, but while you're doing that, take care of the kid that's been here for a while. [They can't] just walk up, have the gates wide open, and partake of the treasure." Parks director Golden has been working over the last year to fashion an acceptable agreement between the two leagues, one that addresses the fears the CQL has regarding its smaller teams, while still giving parents a choice and Lippa's league a fair shot. He's even brought in a ref of sorts into the huddle a mediator to help the two leagues come together. "The sad part of it is, it really should be about kids, and having the opportunity to play sports, but it's turned into something else," says PRAC member Jones. An agreement was reached in late March, which, in part, restricts the Metro League from recruiting from the five smallest regions in the CQL for three years. "It seemed like that was a good way to both make sure the existing league was viable, and make it possible for the new league," says Golden. But the game clock is ticking for the Metro League. Last fall, the county changed its rules so that a league now needs 100 players to receive county cosponsorship. Golden says the change had been in the works for a while and wasn't connected to the Metro League's formation. Lippa is suspicious. In 1998 his league enrolled 53 kids. In 1999, he expects about 70, still 30 or so short of the new 100-player minimum. By contrast, the CQL has about 2,700 boys in its membership. Mike Woody, the Metro League's commissioner, says he is continually surprised by the struggles of Chesterfield's Metro League. "It's hard to believe you can't open a new association without everybody getting upset," Woody says. "This is America." Woody compares the opposition to the Chesterfield Metro League, and some of the misinformation that fuels that opposition, to the county's opposition to extending Richmond bus lines into the county. "We're not even using Richmond [players in Chesterfield]," Woody says. Lippa doesn't like the county-imposed restrictions, but he's determined to see the league through. He says he's already had calls to play in his league from parents of children in the restricted districts, and that it's a shame he can't offer them the choice he wants to. "It's a violation of choice in the U.S. It's unfair," Lippa says. "We're not here to take their leagues over," he explains wearily. "We're going to move on, and hopefully the people will have a choice to
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