Stipends may be illegal

DOWNEY - CIF bylaws may have been broken and penalties could be levied by CIF on Warren High School's football program after former head coach Chris Benadom and his staff received possibly illegal stipends during the 2009 season.During his second year as head coach, Benadom and his staff may have broken CIF Bylaw No. 507 of CIF's State Constitution by accepting stipends from Warren's recently disbanded booster club. Checks were made out to Benadom and 12 others on his coaching staff. They were paid a total of $22,500. The staff included Dale Whisler, Steve Escobar, Chris Estrada, Jason Miller, Phillip Marquez, Anthony Figueroa, Chris Duran, Victor Murillo, Daniel Murillo, Ricky Gonzalez, Nate Colbert and Shawn Esparza. Benadom resigned on April 1, citing family reasons. The stipends were broken up into two stages, according to booster club records. During the end of July 2009, $14,000 in stipends was paid to the staff, including Benadom, and in December 2009, $8,500 was distributed to other coaches. CIF Bylaw No. 507 states that a coach shall not be reimbursed for coaching services from any source other than the school funds without the approval of the school's governing board, or in this case the Downey Unified School District board of education, nor be subject to any bonus arrangement dependent upon the success of the school's team. Benadom declined comment. DUSD board member Willie Gutierrez, during a phone interview last week, said the board approved no such stipends to be paid by the booster club. According to Thom Simmons, the CIF Southern Section's director of communications, neither Warren nor Benadom are currently under investigation. "If there was something going on, this is the first I've heard of it," Simmons said in a phone conversation Tuesday morning. According to Simmons, penalties can be as severe as the school losing its membership with CIF or as minor as game forfeiture. Possible rule violations are dealt with on a case-to-case basis, he said. While stipends were paid to Benadom and his coaches, it is possible that not all of them broke the CIF bylaw. The first set of stipends that were paid out in July 2009 went to a summer camp, according to Warren High School principal John Harris. Athletic Director Steve Hill said coaches are not compensated for camps held during the summer and the stipends that were paid out during July 2009 did not break any CIF rules. When asked about the second set of stipends that were paid during the wintertime to a handful of coaches, not including Benadom, Hill said that it is possible that rules were broken. "Nobody knowingly knew that 507 was being violated," he said. But he did acknowledge that it was likely broken. "It was an oversight," Hill said when asked why no one discovered the possible rule violation. "It was my fault." Harris added that the booster club is their own entity and that the school has limited control over it. The club had no formal agreement or contract with the football program or the school district. Former booster club president Cesar Lopez confirmed that stipends were paid to coaches at the coaches' request and that payments were also made in previous years. Lopez said that stipends were paid after coaches requested payment for services. The booster club then deliberated how much should be paid, and a vote was held to approve the payments. When asked if he or anyone in the booster club went to people outside of the club to approve the stipends, Lopez said that outside approval never happened and approval was kept within the group. Lopez said he wants to put the situation behind the booster club and wants to start over with the next coach coming in. "We want to move forward," he said. "The whole purpose is the kids." The stipends came to light when it was reported that the booster club was holding in excess of $15,000 from the football program after they were disbanded in January. According to Lopez and booster club member Debbie Fitzsimmons, the withheld money was not immediately turned over because of outstanding balances that need to be paid before returning what's left over to the program. Taxes also needed to be done before the money was to be turned over. According to Fitzsimmons, May 6 was when the taxes were completed and the money should be turned over to the football program shortly. While it's only speculation that this was another reason why Benadom resigned as head coach on April 1, there's no question about the bitterness that sections of the booster club and Benadom had for each other. This past January, Benadom disbanded the booster club to the club's disbelief, according to Fitzsimmons. After the boosters were disbanded, club officials had discussions with Hill and Harris about the legality of Benadom disbanding them and that's when the issue of stipends emerged. Hill said that he thought the issue was resolved but Fitzsimmons said the meetings were unproductive. Club members then attended meetings with DUSD superintendent Wendy Doty. Fitzsimmons said that Doty said an investigation would be done. Booster club members also complained to the board of education during a recent board meeting.

********** Published: May 14, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 4