Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Prairie State Games Troubles

On 4/30/06 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports “When the Prarie State Games left Fairview Heights two years ago for suburban Chicago, the organizers thought that they had ensured the games longtime health. But that deal with the new host city, Bensenville, Il., ended in acrimony and a lawsuit just one year into a three year contract.” Maureen Moore, CEO of the games, said that Bensenville had provided spotty logistical support during the last years games and that it refused to pay the $70,000 annual hosting fee. Bensenville officials claimed that the games had failed to deliver $18,000 as a part of the profit-sharing agreement and was withholding sponsorship money from the city. Moore said she “briefly considered moving the games to Bloomington but that would pose too many logistical problems”.

Does any of this sound familiar to Peoria when it hosted the games for one year back in 1994? On 11/16/94 Dave Eminian, JS sportswriter wrote “troubled games to leave Peoria for the third host city in three years. The games have a poor administration record under the Moore’s.” (Maureen’s husband also draws a nice salary and expenses as president of the foundation). The games have an operating budget of $565,000 coming from a combination of state grants, sponsorships, registration fees and funding from host cities. With the games due to start on June 22, Moore is quoted as saying “It has been a challenge to put the games together without a paying host for the first time since 1994.” So far, only Edwardsville had committed $5,000 to supporting the games. The article further states that the games still had $77,000 in outstanding debts since September, 2005.

In June 1999, a Journal Star sportswriter wrote, “Same story, different town. The Prairie States Games are in hot water again.” After the games left Peoria with a stormy relationship and owing $40,000, they landed in Belleville. The local paper confirmed that Moore had not filed a financial statement since 1996 while operating under the name of Illinois Health and Physical Fitness Foundation. The JS writer continues “Frankly her act stinks. It’s high time the state holds Moore’s feet to the fire. If she has nothing to hide, and the books are in order, then the state should at least force her to keep up with the paperwork and meet her legal deadlines. The businesses and individuals from whom she solicits money-they run the risk of trouble with the IRS if their supposedly tax-exempt donations go to an unregistered outfit---are owed that. Otherwise, it’s time to close down this rinky-dink operation.”

Why am I writing about this? I was the person solicited as a volunteer to coordinate the Peoria games. Problem was I couldn’t get Mrs. Moore to tell me what I was supposed to coordinate. I was told I needed anywhere from 1000 volunteers to as few as 250. I had over 200 volunteers by May 1 but venues and sites were not selected and Mrs. Moore appeared to be spending her time in Peoria dining or raising money. I realized the games were a good idea but poorly organized. I felt I was going to be the scapegoat so I called a meeting with Greg Edwards, then in charge of the Peoria Convention Bureau, Jerry Crabtree, Kirk Wessler of the JS and members of the Tri-County Sports Board and said I had to resign if I couldn’t get cooperation. A week later nothing changed. I resigned only to get a blistering reprimand from Barbara Mantz Drake of the JS who, by her own admission, didn’t have the foggiest idea of what was going on. On July 3, 1994, Eminian again wrote that “Prairie Games were not up to speed”. Phil Salzer, now on the Peoria County Board, is quoted as saying “running behind schedule in the PSG’s is normal. It’s always been kind of haphazard.”

I have never worked in, run a business or be involved very long when things are run in a “haphazard way”, especially when I can’t do anything about it. Whenever I asked Mrs. Moore when we could get together to do some planning, she would just say “loosen up”. I did, I stepped aside and Jim Polk stepped in. Bill Spears said “I decided to throw my hat in the ring and try to help. Merle had most of this done anyway, and the people slotted.” On July 3rd, Spears said “We are a little upset that we were just getting information this week from the Prairie State Games Moore’s. They seem upbeat. But you wonder if they ever get it together. I would say that their meetings don’t run like clockwork for people who have been running this thing for 10 years.” The games left Peoria after the 1994 games..

On 4/07/04, the JS sports desk again wrote “A note of advice to burgs around the state that might be listening to “Queen Maureen Moore’s sales pitch: Talk to anyone in Peoria-and I mean anyone—who dealt with these people in 1994 before you bid, or you will live to regret it.”

On 1/4/03, Richard J. Hobin, whose name didn’t appear on my PSG volunteer list, in a “letter to the JS editors”, tried to blame the failure of the games on me. Mr. Hobin just “happened to be a brother-in-law” of an elected official I was running against. Jerry Crabtree, a Bradley coach who was paid to do work for the Prairie State Games, also attacked me in a personal letter. Eat a little crow Jerry, and I hope you got paid. A letter dated 11/1/1994 that I sent to JS Editor Jack Brimeyer asking why the JSEB was attacking me still awaits an answer. At least I have a comment box on this blog site. By calling press attention to the shoddy performance and questionable finances of the PSG, I am proof of the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished”.

For those of you, who have had good experiences with the games, I hope you continue to participate. The games are not the problem; it is and has been problems with the management. Time for some major changes.


Cal Skinner said...

Did these games used to be called the Jr. Olympics and sponsored by the Illinois Jaycees?

prego man said...

I'm sorry, but I never did understand the need for "The Prairie Games." Who cares? Isn't there enough sports crapola going on for everyone? From high school to Little League to park district stuff, the opportunities are ENDLESS. Who cares if a 57 year old can run the marathon and get a ribbon for it? There are PLENTY of marathons all over the country for that person to run. We need "The Prairie Games" like we need a school at Glen Oak Park.

Merle Widmer said...

Hi Cal,

When I did some coaching in the Bloomington area, my grade scdhool teams participated in Jr. Olympics. When I entered the business world in 1956 in Peoria I tried to get interest in starting Jr. Olympics but found little interest. Then I was out of state for four years and when I camae back to open my own business, I didsn't seem to have the time. First I heard of the PSG was when I heard they were coming to Peoria from Champaign because Peoria had outbid all others. Only later did I findout they were asked to leave Champaign. I do not know their origin but hoped that some of my readers might know.

Hey prego man,

You are probably right but I still particpate in Senior Tennis tournaments but only in the well run out of state tournaments or local events like the Tri-County . We older guys do it because we still love to meet, eat and compete.