Part 2 Something is Wrong Here

I

When the Oshawa Intermediate tryouts rolled around in April 2015 there was some concern about the status of the son since the previous year’s release travesty was not truly resolved.  I had asked the father to coach the team with me; he was fully approved by the association to do so.  However, his son was currently trying out for the local junior teams and there wasn’t any guarantee that he would be playing for Oshawa.  I really wasn’t too concerned about the situation, and here’s why:

The son was not released for the reasons he requested, therefore a release was not ‘granted’ in any sense of the word as used in the OLA release form; he was expelled from the association by the then Rep VP because of some perceived issues with his father.  The son was not release ‘to’ any particular club; the effect of his release was that he was simply kicked out of the association without any hearing on the merits of that decision.  The rationale for the release contained a blatantly false characterization of the father who, despite the condemnation, was still a productive and participating member of the club.

All of these things were serious violations of several clauses of the OLA rules and regulations in effect for the 2015 season including:

B3.08 – OLA CODE OF CONDUCT

Particularly:

Members of the OLA shall refrain from actions, comments or behaviours, which are disrespectful, offensive, abusive, racist or sexist. In particular, behaviour, which constitutes harassment or abuse will not be tolerated and will be dealt with under the OLA’s Harassment Policy & Code of Conduct.

OR3.01(b) Harassment means any behaviour by a person engaged in any paid or volunteer role or function with the OLA that is offensive to any person, group of people, and is a violation of the issues covered in Article OR3.01(a) of OLA Rules and Regulations.

OR8.05 Any Club, Minor Association, person, or player who shall knowingly insert or cause any false information to be entered on a playing certificate, game report sheet, or any document, book or record which relates to the affairs of the Club, Minor Association or the Corporation may be expelled from the Corporation by the Board of Directors.

MR3.08 All agreements with the OLA regarding releases will be honored provided that such releases are made according to the regulations.

I was confident that given a presentation of the facts, a rational person would clearly see the injustice done to both the father and son and deem the release to be null and void.  Besides, as I had re-assured others, the reasons for the troubles of the father and son in the first place – the persons with the personality conflicts – had departed the association; the former Rep VP was now the new Zone Director, and the coach had taken a position elsewhere.  The whole nasty affair was behind us and it was a new season.

I want to pause here to ensure a point is clear:  it goes without saying that a not-for-profit sports organization providing services to the public has a keen interest in following their own rules.  Principles before personalities as it were.  I completely understand that rules and regulations are subject to interpretation and that not all outcomes can be expected or anticipated, thus there is some leeway in interpreting the rules and, when doing so, fairness in mind is the best approach.  The OLA calls this “natural justice.”

I also believe that organizational bylaws, policies, rules and regulations apply to everyone, including those running the organization.  There are no exemptions provided for OLA directors and executives in the OLA bylaws or rules and regulations.  While it may be human nature for inconsistencies to be introduced into the application of fairness, there comes a point when the infractions are so numerous, the evidence of wrong-doing so clear, that to ignore these things results in a condition of cognitive dissonance in the minds of those responsible for reviewing a given situation.  In other words, fairness goes out the window.  This is the situation that I stepped into on April 21st, 2015.

II

By the time the Intermediate tryouts came around, I had already selected the Midget team and had arranged the schedule so that the Intermediate floor times immediately followed the Midgets.  Since I was coaching both teams this was a good and flexible option agreed upon by the association.  It was also one of the “demands” I had made the previous year when offered the Intermediate coaching position.  I also had club-approved assistant coaches and team managers, and everyone was ready to go.  April 21st was a Tuesday and I had a one hour Midget practice scheduled at 8 PM, followed by the first Intermediate tryout at 9 PM.  Children’s Arena was very busy that night.

The turnout for the Intermediate tryouts was very good.  However, since Oshawa had gone with the on-line registration pilot the previous year, this caused some headaches with registering Intermediate players in time for the tryout.  As a general rule, Intermediate players are usually the last to register for minor lacrosse because many of the players are busy trying out with Junior teams.  Once the Junior teams make their final cuts, the remaining players will then drift to the Intermediate tryouts.  In past years when I had coached the Intermediates, this was never an issue since we had paper forms on hand for the players to register before the tryout.  With the new online system, while some players had registered earlier, many had not and this kept the Intermediate team manager busy ensuring players were registered. She was assisted by the club’s Director of Box Lacrosse, who was there to help her and to watch her son, who also trying out for the Intermediates.

While all this business was going on in the arena lobby, I was out on the floor conducting the Midget practice.  Halfway through, I turned the practice over the assistant coach so I could prepare for the Intermediate tryout and greet some of the players.  I proceeded to the lobby and shortly after I was surprised to see father and son arrive since I figured the son was a sure bet to make a local Junior team.  As it turned out, like several other players, the son had not registered, so I had his father register immediately, which he did on his smartphone.  While registering his son, the Director of Box Lacrosse had come over to check with us and both the she and the father mentioned that some people might question the registration of the son due to his release status from 2014.  I explained that it should be no problem since the release was only for the 2014 season and was likely null and void anyways.  Besides, if there was an issue or question about which club the son belonged to, we could easily clear it up the next day.  Father registered the son and we took the floor for an excellent tryout.  The future was bright for the Oshawa Intermediate team.

III

The next morning I received an email from the club registrar, copied to the team manager, the new Rep VP and the Director of Box Lacrosse, in response to an email from the team manager the previous night.  The manager had provided a list of players present at the tryout asking about the player’s registration status because she did not have access to the on-line registration data:

“Hi Guys: I still have to do a formal check but I’m really surprised to see —–son—– on this ‎list. Is this the same —–son—– that played for us and we released to —–other club—–? Please tell me he had a release in hand before stepping on the floor? Or tell me I have the kid mixed up. We could be in a lot of trouble if it is”

I responded that it was indeed the son and explained the reasons why he was allowed to tryout with our team.  I also explained that, “…—–son—- is an Oshawa kid who was put at the center of a situation that was between his father ( who is our Intermediate coach this year) and two people who are no longer with our association.   If you need to fix this, please do, but before Thursday please, since that is when our next tryout is.”

The registrar then replied:

“Let’s say for arguments sake that you are right (I have to run this up the flag pole), we have to follow proper channels. As your Registrar, I must do my due diligence and inform you that everyone involved may have to face some consequences. If you had informed me sooner, we could have avoided any issues. I am afraid however strong or justified your augment is all of it is void because we did not follow proper protocol.

The simplest approach would have been to request a release from —–other club—–. That would have been the cleanest. Without this release, allowing —–son—– to go on the floor may be considered tampering (regardless of the error argument).”

I replied back that while I understood her concerns, the simplest approach would have been to correct the situation from last year before the current season started, something the club executive failed to do.  However, since I was convinced that the 2014 release could not withstand any sort of rational scrutiny, I was not too worried about the outcome.  The son would be playing Intermediate in Oshawa, that I was certain of.

Note that in her messages, the registrar introduces two very important concepts: that just arguments are invalidated in the face of incorrect procedure; and that a tampering charge could be the result.  I was about to find out how prescient our soon-to-be beleaguered registrar really was.

When the registrar’s initial email came in, the first thing I did was text the father to seek a release for his son from the other club.  That was, at least, if the situation could not be corrected and the playing rights of the son not resolved, at least the proper protocol would be initiated and likely expedited given the circumstances.  (The father sent in the release request later that day.)

By mid-morning, the Zone Registrar replied with her opinion that the 2014 release stood as unconditional.  She stated, “Regardless of whether it was an error or not, the player was unconditionally released.”  The Zone Registrar then went on to say that the son must seek a release from the other club.

I disagreed with her perspective of course stating there is no article in the OLA rules and regulations that provide for kicking a player out of the club ‘unconditionally.’  Indeed, the word “unconditional” is only used twice in the minor section of the OLA rules and regulations, in article MR3.11:

“No rep player may be conditionally released more than once to the same club. If a club releases a rep player to the same club a second time, that player is unconditionally released to that club.

A player released to play House League may not play Rep for that Club seeking that player’s release, either as an AP or otherwise, without the releasing club’s written permission. Any player released to play house league may be released more than once to the same club without becoming unconditionally released.”

My reply to the Zone Registrar:

“No one is saying ignore last year’s release, but acknowledge the fact that the unconditional part of the release was done in error and proceed along those lines.  

—–son—– applied for a one-year release and was given an unconditional release.  There is only one – and only one – explanation to how this release was force upon the player and that was an unresolved personality conflict between the coach, —–coach—–, then VP of All-Star, —– former Rep VP—– and —–son—–’s father, —–father—–.  Everyone in Oshawa Minor knows this, it’s not a big secret.

There is no article in the OLA Constitution that provides the right for an association to force an unconditional release on a player who is requesting a one-year release.  None.  If someone can cite some sort of source for this act, please feel free to correct me.  My read of the entire section MR-III shows that when requesting a release in the first year, the release is conditional that the player returns to the association the following year.  Does —–son—–’s release request from last year indicate that he was requesting an unconditional release?  I have word from his father that it certainly did not and that he was specific about this in the release hearing.  Was the release hearing minuted to prove either claim?

Now, if —–registrar—– or —–new Rep VP—– would like to reveal that —–son—– or —–father—– faced a disciplinary hearing last year from the Board of Directors of Oshawa Minor Lacrosse, per the article 2.03 or article 3.03 of the OMLA Constitution, I will stand corrected.  Written proof, by way of the minutes would need to be submitted.  However, I don’t believe there was any disciplinary hearing and that the decision to force this unconditional release was made unilaterally, without the consent or proper authority of an informed OMLA Board of Directors and used as a way to bypass the requirements of the OMLA Constitution, a sure Code of Conduct offense.  (keep this in mind)

Be that as it may, and seeing that the appeal time period had run out for —–son—– regarding this issue last year – because it was tied to a Code of Conduct charge against —–former Rep VP—– – it is what it is.  You have your paperwork and I can respect that.  But because a grave mistake was made in handling this whole issue, it is incumbent on the OMLA to fix it, and fix it quickly.  If you need to discreetly secure —–son—–’s release from —–other club—–, please do so immediately or make arrangements for an expedited process for —–son—–.  The fact that —–son—– has signed up with us this year in good faith is a clear indication of his intentions.

As it stands now, refusing —–son—–’s registration will open another appeal period for —–son—– and —–father—–, which will expose members of OMLA to some serious Code of Conduct charges, not only from OMLA (as attached – see the bottom section), which will require multiple disciplinary hearings per article 2.03 of the OMLA Constitution, but likely result in serious Code of Conduct charges per the OLA, risking not only dirty laundry being exposed, the sullying of the reputation the OMLA, but likely result in memberships being terminated in both the OMLA and OLA.  Who on earth needs this?!?

See where I am going with all of this?  Perhaps a little more verbose that what I tried to explain below, but just as real nonetheless.  We have an Oshawa player, who has been with us from the beginning, whose father volunteered many hours to build OMLA in both City League and All-Star, being denied re-entry into Oshawa minor, because of an erroneous and spiteful bit of end-run paperwork done by a person who is no longer with the association.  OMLA is in the wrong here – we have to clean up this mess – and we need to quickly correct it as a matter of principle in order to serve the best interests of the player.”

In addition to the son not having his release from the other club, there was also question about whether all of the other players attending the tryout were properly registered.  The registrar sent an email that afternoon pointing out that four players, including the son, were not registered.  I was to find out later that the club’s Director of Box Lacrosse, who was present at the tryout, had a text conversation with the registrar about player registrations, but by the time the tryout began, the registrar was no longer responding to the text requests from the Director.  Understandable, of course, but very key in how this part plays out in my story.

All of these messages were copied to the various interested persons, the current Rep VP, the Zone Registrar, the Director of Box Lacrosse and the Intermediate team manager.  It was a philosophical matter, a clash of principle over personalities, but was resolvable by the father and son seeking their release from the other local club and attending tryouts when this release was secured.  I disagreed that this step was even necessary, but at the end of Wednesday, April 22 that is where it stood.

IV

MR10.13
Suspension of an individual by the Corporation shall cover his or her activities in all phases of lacrosse unless specifically stated otherwise at the time of suspension.

This article from the OLA rules and regulations is pretty straight forward; when the OLA suspends you, they suspend you from everything unless any exceptions or conditions given at the time when you are notified of the suspension.  I figure that when someone is put in charge of an important position of any organization, they are familiar with the rules of that organization.   The rules give the person the authority, it is incumbent on them to know them competently enough to carry them out. I think this is simply common sense.

Before I go into detail of what happened to me on Thursday, April 23, 2015, I would first like to divert to a side-story in order to illustrate what happens to OLA members when they encounter incompetent and/or vindictive administrators.

You will recall that on the night of the Intermediate tryout, the team manager was being assisted by the cDirector of Box Lacrosse, whose son was trying out for the Intermediate team.  The Director of Box Lacrosse was also one of those hard-working volunteers who had been with the Oshawa club since its inception in 2011.  She has been involved doing one thing or another; she was the team manager during that year the father coached the midget team.

As a then single mother raising sons playing competitive sports, she had always relied on sacrifice and creativity to ensure that her boys played sports, that they had a good time and that she made a contribution not only to a positive experience of his kids, but for all the other kids as well.  Her family has been involved in lacrosse for a very long time in Oshawa, they are well-known.  However, she too had somewhat of a clash with the then Rep VP of the club the previous year, but she left it as bygones.  Does this sound familiar?

In March of that year, while I was conducting the Midget tryouts at the Oshawa Civic Fields, she was watching her youngest son tryout for a younger age division.  Nothing unusual about that, parents did that sort of thing.  As she was the Director of Box Lacrosse for the club, she was also there in an official capacity, helping out at registration, making sure the tryouts went smoothly, the same sort of thing she had been doing all the previous years with the club.

Just after noon on Wednesday, April 23rd, she received a notice from the Zone Director that she was suspended for allowing her son to participate in the tryout without being registered, something that she greatly disputed since she was there during the registration process.  There was some concern as to whether the registration fee was correctly assigned to her younger son and could well have been a simple mix-up, but regardless of the circumstances, she was suspended and ordered to a hearing.  In the email, the Zone Director states, “Since you deliberately disobeyed the OLA rules of proper registration of players you are indefinitely suspended until a hearing is held with the Zone 6 Discipline Committee.”

So let’s review the circumstances of this situation, so we are clear on what he Zone Director means about  “OLA rules of proper registration…”

–        She was the Director of Box Lacrosse for the club, and was helping out register all players and coaches that were to take part in the various tryouts for the different age groups that night;

–        She went to watch her son tryout out for a team;

–        She was neither a coach, manager, assistant or anything else with that team, she was there as her son’s mother.

Here is the pertinent OLA rule about “proper registration:”

MR2.14
Any player and/or bench personnel not registered who shall participate in Corporation sanctioned competition shall forfeit the game and be subject to a fine of two hundred ($200.00) dollars and suspended until dealt with. (see MR10.10)

One would expect it to be common sense that before handing out suspensions from an organization, especially a youth sports organization, the administrator – in this case the Zone Director – would be familiar with the OLA rules.  In this case, the person suspended was neither a player nor bench personnel and no OLA sanctioned competition had taken place.  In fact, one could justly argue that a tryout for a team that had not even registered with the OLA, did not constitute jurisdiction for the OLA in the first place.   Make no mistake, the Zone is an adjunct administration wing of the OLA, they do not exist as a separate entity. So why this overreach from the Zone, suspending a person without first a hearing or some sort of recourse to the dispute?  Was it a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy?

The end result of all of this is that the mother was so disgusted with the situation, she stopped volunteering for the club and her son stopped playing lacrosse.  He plays baseball now.

V

Taking a volunteer position is rewarding especially when volunteering for a youth sporting organization, such as a lacrosse club or association.  However, many volunteers will take up a position within a club or association board of directors without truly understanding that their behavior must meet a standard duty of care which is usually based on the observation of three principles:

Diligence. Act reasonably and in good faith. Consider the best interest of the organization and its members.

Loyalty. Place the interest of the organization first. Don’t use your position to further your personal interests.

Obedience. Act within the scope of the law. Follow the rules and regulations that apply to the organization.(from Board Members at volunteer.ca)

Most will see these principles as common sense, things that normally good people do and, for the most part, they would be right.  The twist here is that lacrosse clubs and associations in Ontario, those that are members of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, are legal entities called Not-for-profit corporations, or NPOs.  In 2015, NPOs were governed under the Corporations Act of Ontario, even though the Not-for-Profit Corporations Act was on the books, it was not then in force.

What I mean to point out here is that Ontario lacrosse clubs and associations that are NPOs were not only legally registered corporate entities, but they also have legal responsibilities.  Members, especially members of a club’s board of directors, can be liable if the rules are broken or not followed, thus the OLA have limited liability clauses in their insurance policy that is applied when one registers with the OLA and, upon registration, everyone waives the right to take legal recourse against the OLA.  These measures are taken by the OLA to reduce the harm that can be done to the corporation when something goes wrong and indemnifies the board members and volunteers against lawsuit.  These are normal and reasonable measures that most sporting organizations take.
What the legal indemnification does not do is exempt the OLA, or any of its athletes, members, board of directors, or volunteers from moral obligation, especially when it comes to the principles as outlined in the standard duty of care.  Thus the OLA has policies in place, also reasonable, to mitigate the risks of poor behavior including a harassment policy, a criminal reference check and various codes of conduct.
It goes without saying that when you are a member of an NPO board of directors you have a duty of care and whether that duty is legal or moral, it still exists.  The OLA has done very well at indemnifying members against the legal risks, as they should, but one has to wonder if this legal indemnification hasn’t resulted in the perception among certain members of the OLA Board of Directors that it also negates any attention needed for the moral risks.  If so, this is very problematic for the organization since it allows members to act with impunity and fairness goes out the window.
In Section III of the OLA Code of Conduct is the following statement:


“The OLA endorses the principles of natural justice and due process which allows any individual the right to a hearing and an appeal of any action which affects their rights.”

Despite being ambiguous in wording, the concept of natural justice is raised as the guiding principle for how discipline and disputes are dealt with.  Definitions of natural justice abound for anyone looking, but the University of Waterloo Faculty Association has a good explanation:

1. People have a right to be heard: they must have a fair opportunity to present their case whenever their interests might be adversely affected by a decision;

2. The ruling must be made by someone free of bias;

3. The judgment must be based on evidence, not on speculation or suspicion, and the decision must be communicated in a way that makes clear what evidence was used in making the decision.
Most people will be familiar with these principles having experienced them in some form at one point in time or another, either through work, school, or some other organization.  Again, they appear as common sense to most.  I too have had experience with natural justice, mostly in work settings, but also with my experiences with the OLA.
Currently, the OLA has a document posted on their website entitled, ‘Discipline/Complaint Process,’ which outlines the steps taken for dispute resolution, the various appeals and fees required.   Later on we will see how this document is a result of my taking them to task, but for now it is safe to say that the only thing this document suggests is the first bullet above, a right to be heard.  There is no definition of natural justice publicly posted by the OLA, no emphasis on ‘fair opportunity,’ ‘free of bias,’ or ‘based on evidence.’  There is no reason for them to, since they are not legally obligated and, as for moral obligations, well they are not legally obligated in that regard either.  This is very problematic since the absence of a strong moral or ethical obligation towards fairness could cause a serious distortion of the justice process and result in unfair decisions based on personal bias, hearsay or whatever other reason someone could dream up.
Of course, a volunteer in a NGO sporting organization cannot be expected to be perfect, or rule perfectly fair 100% of the time.  However, there ought to be expectations that anyone acting in an official capacity on behalf of an organization would at least have an idea of some basic concepts of fairness, natural justice and the rules and regulations of the organization; or, at the very least, be able to comprehend and correct mistakes when they are pointed out.
As I have explained, I was already experienced with the concept of natural justice and I was just as familiar, either directly or indirectly, with the collusive way in which it was applied by members of the board of directors of the OLA.  It also had occurred to me that this method of dealing with disputes applied to everyone that was unfortunate to be subjected to it, whether it worked out in their favour or not.   An unfair disciplinary process results in unfair decisions; this was (and still is to this day) my attitude when that email message came in from the Zone Director on the morning of April 23, 2015:

From: —–Zone Director—–

Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2015 11:53 AM

To: todd

Cc: —–Club President—–; —–Club VP—–;—–Club Registrar—–;—–Midget Coach—–;—– new Rep VP—– ; —–Club Director—–;—– Club Treasurer—– ; —–VP House League—–; —–OLA VP Minor—–; —– Chair of Zone Disciplinary Committee—–; —– Zone Registrar——;—– Assistant Zone Director—–

Subject: Suspension of Todd Powless

Good Morning Todd;

It has been brought to my attention as the Intermediate Coach you allowed 2 unregistered players on the floor to participate in the OMLA Intermediate tryouts. You also knowingly allowed a —–other club—– player on the floor without a release from their Club.  As you are aware it is against the OLA rules to allow an unregistered player or a member from another club to step on floor without a release.

Todd; as an OMLA coach and OLA Member you are to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the OLA. The Zone expects a coach to put the well being of our athletes first.  We also respect that any individual who has been accepted as a member by a club or OLA must abide by and comply with ALL rules or consequences will be taken.

By allowing unregistered players on the floor they are uninsured and therefore ineligible to try-out.  Any O.L.A. member and/or club found tampering with players or obtaining releases for players or not otherwise complying with intent of the residence rule regarding releases shall be suspended until dealt with and/or forfeit their bond and be fined one thousand ($1000.00) dollars. The player(s) will not be eligible to sign with the team with which he (she) participated without permission.

Since you deliberately disobeyed the OLA rules of proper registration of players you are indefinitely suspended until a hearing is held with the Zone 6 Discipline Committee.

As of today you are not allowed on the floor or bench with this team or any other team within the OLA.

You will be contacted within 72hrs by the chair of the discipline committee. This committee will be held by 3 neutral Zone 6 Council Members who have no connections with Oshawa.

Yours in lacrosse,—- Zone Director—–

Next: Part 3 Target and Isolate