As we enter the first fall with divided youth football organizations in Rome/Floyd County, there’s been a few surprise developments involving some of the main players.
What started as an appeal from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Georgia to the Rome City Schools system to assist with a nationally recognized “year-round educational enhancement program” called Project Learn almost became something else. As 97 percent of the 3,000-plus students served each year are part of the Rome school system, the clubs’ outreach even amid strained relations was deemed necessary if local kids were to be properly served.
The city school system’s response was gracious — and came with a pledge of an additional $30,000 “in funding … for operation of this program,” wrote Rome Schools Superintendent Lou Byars in an email to J.R. Davis, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs on July 21.
That email and several other documents tracking the evolution of the request and resulting decision from the Boys and Girls Clubs’ board were the subject of an Open Records Request filed by Hometown Headlines late last week after we received word about the $30,000 offer. The documents were provided Wednesday afternoon by Chris Twyman of Cox, Byinton, Twyman & Johnson, the firm that provides legal services for the school system.
The opening of the request to the school system includes the following:
“A proposal to Rome City Schools requesting assistance with the implementation of Project Learn at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Georgia. Project Learn is a research-based after-school homework assistance and summer learning program, particularly focuses on low income and at-risk students. The Project Learn program will provide the support that hundreds of young people in our community need to grow academically after school and during the summer to prevent summer learning loss, while learning personal responsibility and valuable lifelong skills.”
Below please see the response from Byars that included the finances:
In basic terms, the $30,000 offer was rejected. The Aug. 7 letter by Gaines Dempsey, current the president of the clubs, to Byars makes no mention of the donation. Other aspects of Project Learn — including internship opportunities for Rome High students as well as an agreement for city-provided transportation for students from North Heights/Main Elementary to the South Rome Boys & Girls Club after school each day — won board approval.
What we have yet to learn is from where the $30,000 would have come from. In our Open Records request, we asked for the following:
“Specific minutes of any Rome Board of Education discussion (caucus or meeting) regarding this topic as well as specific votes if it went before the board.”
No minutes or notes involving the seven-member Board of Education were included.
We have asked for a comment from Byars or others in the school system. We did not make that request until 8 p.m. Wednesday after receiving the package at 3:34 p.m. Other obligations kept us from having time for a “hard” read of the documents until early evening. We will add any comment today should one become available.
Dempsey, in a statement Wednesday evening, said the club remains interested in expanding its relations with Rome City Schools to better serve the clubs’ children.
“The Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Georgia serves an average of 400 children daily. This includes a safe and supervised environment, academic support and our food program which served over 100,000 meals in 2016. Many of our members are also students in the Rome City School System. Both the Boys and Girls Club and the Rome City Schools have a common interest in giving our kids the best chance to succeed,” says Dempsey.
“For decades, the Boys and Girls Club’s main fundraiser has been our youth football program, in conjunction with the Rome Floyd Recreation Department. The football program helps to financially support our overall operation. With changes in the local youth football landscape, our program has been impacted. These changes focused the need for better communication between the Boys and Girls Club and Rome City Schools. We have been in communication with Rome City Schools to discuss ways that we can work together in the future. This has resulted in better transportation for our members from school to the clubs and future internships for students interested in education pathways. These talks have been informative and we hope they will be beneficial for our members and our community.”
President – Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Georgia
You can read each of the key three documents sent in response to our Open Records Request by clicking the following:
A) The Project Learn appeal.
B) Superintendent Lou Byars’ response and offer of services and funding.
C) Gaines Dempsey’s response to Byars.
It has been a tense 12 months in private and public circles as those involved in youth organizations, youth sports and the public education systems here dealt with the expected backlash from the launch of the Rome Youth Football Organization.
Operating under an umbrella of the Rome Middle and High school teams, the area’s youngest athletes — elementary students ages 7 through 10 — suddenly became the targets of something akin to a tug-of-war between the Youth Football camp vs. the traditional relationships offered by the Boys and Girls Clubs as well as Rome Floyd Parks and Rec.
At initial registration last spring, the Rome group promised free “Riddell helmet, pants and shoulder pads provided by Rome Youth Football.” The parents and guardians of the Rome Unified athletes mostly pay their own way, registration, jerseys costing upwards of $35 and other fees.
The Unified football program had been a revenue source for the Boys and Girls Club, providing some of the funds it needed to serve upwards of 3,000 children each year. The main issue was that the new Rome Youth group was absorbing the funds needed to care for some of the players that would leave Rome Unified.
The matter quickly escalated after one organizer wrote that “the Unified League (the board of the Boys and Girls Club and the Rec) initiated this with an inferior product.” Boasting about the Rome-fueled resources, he concluded, ” When all you have to eat is a sandwich, you eat it but if there’s a buffet, with sandwiches on it, how many still select the sandwich? We have a sandwich and a buffet now, see you April 9th.”
The backlash has included the cancellation of some long-standing advertising contracts and related support, continued tense words and other fallout as the 2017 youth leagues get under way.
It likewise will be an issue in the Nov. 7 Rome Board of Education elections.