Sunday, November 5, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Coach Edward “Speed” Alexander in a Bellwood baseball field this summer. | Sebastian Hidalgo
During a Sept. 5 regular meeting of the Maywood Board of Trustees, Coach Edward “Speed” Alexander stood at the podium reserved for public comment. He seemed spiritually and mentally exhausted, like a winded prize fighter concentrating on staying up while longing for the bell to ring, signaling a brief moment of rest.
This year, the Maywood BUCS youth football organization, of which Alexander is president, could not register enough players to field a team. He had been storing the organization’s equipment in the garage of a friend’s grandmother, but the house was about to be abandoned.
Alexander was in front of the trustees and the mayor to ask if he could store the equipment on the grounds of an underused, village-owned facility on the 1100 block of S. 11th Ave. in Maywood. The village eventually approved his request, contingent upon whether or not he could find a trailer to store the equipment in and could sign a waiver releasing the village from liability if the property was stolen or damaged.
But on Sept. 8, Alexander broke his leg and hasn’t been able to go check on the equipment. As of Nov. 5, Alexander didn’t know whether the equipment was still in the garage or not.
This has been a year that has tried the coach’s soul, but Alexander is also living through a time of positive transition.
Over the summer, while he was bracing himself to be without a football team, the longtime coach helped usher in the debut season for the Maywood-Bellwood Little League, of which he’s also president, bringing back organized youth baseball to an area that had been without the sport for several years. Registration for the league’s second season opens on Dec. 1.
As for football, based on several interviews with Alexander conducted throughout the summer, it would seem that he is on the ropes.
“I’ve given Maywood better than 30 years of my life,” Alexander said during an interview in June. “I’m 56 years old. I’d be lucky if I make to 86. I owe that to my wife and family, who have sacrificed and supported me to keep this thing afloat. The fight is just not there anymore.”
Alexander attributed the lost football season to a variety of factors, most notably the lack of support from the Maywood Park District, an unwillingness on the part of parents to contribute to the program (in time, energy, money and other resources) and the presence of a new local football organization that Alexander said had created an atmosphere of confusion that resulted in many BUCS parents taking their children to play football elsewhere.
A BUCS player runs the ball during a game in 2014 in Maywood. | File
The ups and the downs
Alexander’s days playing with the BUCS (an acronym that stands for “Because U Can Succeed”) predate its current form. What eventually became the Maywood BUCS athletic organization — which at one point or another has offered football, wrestling, baseball and basketball, among other activities — started out as a men’s flag football league that was founded in the 1980s by Charles Flowers and Frank Mullhorn, Alexander recalled.
He said he began playing in the league when he was 17 years old. Not long after its creation, the league’s founders converted it into a Pop Warner football organization and by 1993, Alexander was running it.
The year that he took the helm, Alexander said, he pitched the BUCS to former Maywood Park District director Al McKinnor, who began providing the program with institutional support. At its height, Alexander said, the BUCS football program boasted five teams for young people ages 7 to 15. Each team included around 25 or more kids, along with a cheerleading squad.
The support of the park district helped open the program to young people who may not have been able to afford the registration fee, which this year was $225 — the most the BUCS have ever charged for registration, said Alexander during an interview in July, when he had not gotten a single player to register.
During some years when the program was aligned with the park district, the fee was as low as $80. But with or without the park district’s support, maintaining the program has never been easy, the coach said.
It costs around $5,000 to administer the football program, which includes the money it takes to pay rental, league, insurance and other fees. For a long time, Alexander said, he came out of his own pocket to pick up the slack.
For several years, members of the football program manned a concession stand at Soldier Field as part of an arrangement that allowed them to see 10 percent of whatever revenue the stand brought in.
“For three years, we were able to raise $13,000 from doing that,” Alexander said, adding that the BUCS, which wasn’t a tax-exempt non-profit at the time, utilized the park district’s nonprofit status. The revenue from the Soldier Field arrangement would go to the park district. The district then gave the money back to the BUCS program, which would use it to purchase new equipment and for other program costs, Alexander said.
In 2013, when new park district commissioners Dawn Williams Rone and Terrance Jones were elected, the arrangement was suspended. McKinnor shortly resigned after their election and eventually the BUCS parted ways with the park district.
During an interview in June, Jones said that the split happened because he and his fellow commissioners decided to stop paying BUCS coaches, since neither the program nor the park district could afford it.
“We didn’t feel that we should be paying the coaches,” Jones said. “If the money was coming in and we were using the fees to pay coaches that would be understandable. But we looked into the finances of the park district and we were desperately broke. We learned that none of the money from the BUCS was going into the park district.”
Jones also said that a background check on Terry Gilford, one of the BUCS organization’s most important volunteers and coaches, discovered some unsavory elements from Gilford’s past, which Jones didn’t specify. The commissioner said that he gave Alexander an ultimatum — either let Gilford go or don’t count on the park district’s continued support.
Members of the Proviso Township Bills after a July practice in Maywood. | Sebastian Hidalgo
But during an interview in November, Alexander said that all of his coaches were volunteers who weren’t getting paid anything. He said that he was getting paid in his role as head of the BUCS organization’s numerous athletic activities. Alexander said that because the BUCS programs were quasi park district offerings, he functioned as something of a program director without the steady salary.
“Instead of giving me a position as a program director and giving me a salary, it was more beneficial to the park district for them to pay me a stipend throughout the seasons I coached,” he said. “I was the only person getting paid a stipend. None of my other volunteers were getting paid.”
Alexander, who controls the charter required for the BUCS to participate in Pop Warner, says that the park district owes him $5,000 in revenue that his program helped generate through its fundraising efforts, but that park district officials couldn’t locate when he inquired about the money. Jones said he didn’t know anything about the $5,000 Alexander is referencing.
When it came to Gilford — who was arrested and charged with murder in March after Maywood police alleged that he shot and killed a man in January — Alexander said that at the time he discussed Gilford’s background with the park district, nothing turned up that would have disqualified Gilford from volunteering and coaching.
“In Pop Warner and the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation, there is always a background check ran on all coaches, volunteers and participants and they saw nothing on his background that eliminated him from coaching,” Alexander said.
“When I asked Terrance if Terry did something to, around or with a child, Terrance said not to his knowledge. So, if he couldn’t give me anything, why would I get rid of one of my major volunteers who was out there every day throughout all the sports seasons? Now, what happened with him recently, I know nothing about. That has nothing to do with the BUCS.”
Now that the BUCS is no longer part of the park district, the financial pressure he’s feeling personally has been magnified, said Alexander, who works as a custodian when he isn’t administering youth sports.
Last year, when the BUCS fielded around 80 players, the program only realized $3,500 in revenue, which came from registration fees and fundraising. Typically, he said, revenue from registration fees would be around $11,000 in a given year. The rest would have likely had to come from Alexander’s personal finances.
“I’ve come out of my pocket with thousands of dollars before,” he said back in June. “Well, I can’t do that no more. We as a people need to start investing in our children. We don’t get involved, we don’t support when it comes to fundraising. We go down on our prices, but parents still tell me they can’t afford it. People always want something for free, but they’ve got an iPhone and the kids have Jordans on.”
At the same time that parent participation is hard to come by, Alexander said, what’s even harder to acquire is the support of the village government.
“I fight with other programs when we go out to play and then have to come home and have to fight with Maywood for facilities and support,” the coach said. “Mayor [Edwenna] Perkins is the only politician in Maywood who has ever given us anything, but there’s also no community support. We don’t get one red penny.”
Alexander did concede that the village allowed him to use the 11th Avenue facility to store his equipment. The village also allowed the BUCS to utilize some of the parks it controls and Proviso Township High Schools District 209 allowed the organization to play its weekend games on the Proviso East practice field.
Adding to the pressure on Alexander this year was the presence of a new football organization, the Proviso Township Bills, that the BUCS president claims solicited his players, offering to pay their registration fees in order to lure them in.
The Bills, an organization founded by the former head of the Melrose Park Gaels, had their debut season this year. The Gaels were kicked out of the Chicagoland United Youth Football League (UYFL), which is different from Pop Warner, after a brawl involving parents broke out at a football game last year.
In a July interview, Vincent Edwards, a Bills coach, said that the new organization had anticipated around 75 participants, ages five to 14, who live in areas across the western suburbs, including Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview, Forest Park, Westchester and Hillside. They also have a cheerleading component, he said.
Bills coach Vincent Edwards in Maywood after his team finished practicing in July. | Sebastian Hidalgo
Edwards, a former BUCS player himself, said that he only knew of roughly a dozen kids who defected from the BUCS to play with the Bills and all of them are kids that he’s been coaching for years. Edwards said at the time that the organization charged kids like any other organization, but offered to cover the registration fees for kids who couldn’t afford to pay.
Marcius Scaggs, another coach for the Bills, said that the idea to form a township-wide youth football organization came from an experience last November, when some BUCS players combined with Gaels players to compete in a tournament held in St. Louis. Scaggs said that the kids liked the experience so much that they began entertaining the notion of forming a unified front.
“At first I said no, we’re staying with the BUCS,” Edwards recalled. “Then I started to get calls from people saying, ‘We can’t do it without you.’ So, eventually, I asked my son, who said, ‘Daddy, I don’t care, it’s up to you.’ I asked my parents how they felt. We didn’t really want to leave the BUCS as much as we just wanted to come together.”
Scaggs and Edwards said they were willing to combine with Alexander and name the team the Proviso Township BUCS if it meant everyone being under one tent.
“We didn’t really want to leave the BUCS. We miss the BUCS. We just wanted to come together and to show these kids that we can be together,” said Edwards, who he’s known and looked up to Alexander since he was seven years old. “Speed just wasn’t ready to give up the ‘Maywood’ in front of the BUCS.”
Alexander said that he also wasn’t willing to give up competing in Pop Warner or ceding the leadership of a combined organization to the people who ran the Gaels, considering the program’s recent history.
The Bills competed this season in the Chicagoland UYFL and utilized a park in Maywood controlled by the park district to practice. They played home games at Walther Christian Academy’s field.
Responding to Edwards in November, Alexander admitted that he doesn’t know how many players left the BUCS for the Bills, but said that the new organization created a climate of confusion that resulted in many BUCS players sending their kids to play elsewhere, whether with the Bills or other organizations.
Edwards and Scaggs, however, said that they were trying to foster a climate of cooperation among parents and children in the western suburbs.
“We have to grow up and show these kids we can be together,” Edwards said. “These kids are friends and we want to let them come together. We don’t want to be in anybody’s way.”
A second wind?
Depending on how one looks at it, Alexander and his football BUCS are either doing the Rope-a-dope or they’re being setup for a knockout. Next season, the venerable program’s next round of struggle, will tell. Recently, though, the BUCS seem to have caught a break.
On Sept. 24, some players and parents on the Bills’ 14U division team, which includes players 14 years old and under, got into a brawl with an opposing team called the Oriole Park Falcons.
Scaggs said that someone on the opposing side mouthed a racial slur to one of his players. Some adults came out of the stands and started attacking his kids. The Bills responded by defending themselves, he said.
Bills coach Marcius Scaggs in July. | Sebastian Hidalgo
After the incident, all four of the teams within the Bills organization were kicked out of the UYFL in a move that Scaggs and other parents felt was unfair. He said that the league never reviewed the circumstances of the fight and that he believes the Falcons were never punished. Officials with the UYFL could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
“Not only did they kick our 14U team out, they kicked the whole program out,” Scaggs said in an interview in November. “We thought that was unfair.”
Scaggs said that, despite getting kicked out of the UYFL, the Bills have still fielded teams in independent tournaments. Last month, he said, the Bills’s Pee Wee team won first place at the Midwest Gridiron Classic in DeKalb. They’re also looking ahead to next year, when he said the organization’s board will decide to join either the American Youth Football League or Pop Warner next year.
“We’re going to keep going on and we’re going to keep winning,” Scaggs said. “The Bills are still here. We’re not going anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Alexander is waiting on his second wind. He said that he hopes that the trust and credibility he’s built up over the last three decades in local youth sports will be enough to lure back parents and players who have gone elsewhere for football.
Conscious that the Bill’s current predicament presents an opportunity for him, Alexander said he’s focusing on restructuring and coming back next season to try and field the BUCS, a program that is at an obvious low point.
As the venerable program’s helmets and shoulder pads sit precariously in the garage of an abandoned home or have gone missing — for the football BUCS, the present is either the quiet before an unrecoverable knockout or the lull before a comeback.
Whatever the case may be, Alexander is a fighter who is quickly tiring from the fight. As his leg recovers, wisdom and pith have replaced punch.
“We have to stop dividing and conquering ourselves, we’re our biggest problem,” Alexander said. “We get in our own way a lot of times. If we can work together we’ll create a positive atmosphere for youth, families and communities. It’s just that there are too many people who want to be chiefs and not enough Indians.” VFP
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