JACKSON – Around 50 members of the Team Jackson wrestling program came out to the Jackson Senior Center on March 9 to address questions and media coverage concerning public comments made during a recent council meeting.
The gathering led to a lively discussion addressing a variety of issues concerning financial transparency, the need for additional parental support, more coaches and a debate concerning the benefits of a board structure for the organization.
The meeting also touched on the group’s relationship with the township’s recreation department and how it is being perceived by the governing body.
During a Feb. 13 council meeting, parent Nicholas Russo, whose son is part of the Team Jackson wrestling program which is associated with the township’s recreation program, stated that he had questions regarding finances beyond the recreation program’s $50 registration fee.
He sought answers from the council and business administrator Helene Schlegel as to the $60 he said were additional fees. Schlegel said that while $50 does go to the township’s recreation department, that Team Jackson charges the additional fees he mentioned.
John Reese, the director of wresting for the township recreation department and who also serves as supervisor of Team Jackson joined Glen Pazinko, the group’s assistant supervisor, to host the meeting.
The two-hour meeting included an audience of parents and some children who are involved in the program. Reese said the purpose of the meeting was to set the record straight and address comments made by Russo during that meeting that were quoted in an article of The Jackson Times.
While attempts were made, The Jackson Times erred in reaching the correct organization’s leadership to respond for that article.
Reese defended Team Jackson and its financial transparency disputing Russo’s position that he had been denied access to financial records which were in the hands of the group’s treasurer, Stephanie Rucci.
Rucci said that anyone who wished to see any financial paperwork were welcome to meet up with her. A PowerPoint presentation was shown and a recording of Russo’s public comments at the council meeting were played during the evening.
“No one is required to purchase anything to be part of a team,” Reese said. Reese said that “three or four years ago we purchased their sweatshirts (for players who could not afford them).”
“How much is in the account?” Russo asked.
“The books are open for you to review,” Reese said. “Stephanie comes to practices with the checks.”
Rucci repeated that anyone wishing to meet with her concerning specifics of the accounts is welcome to meet her after practices or to arrange a time to go over them with her.
Reese said that Russo had previously brought up concerns of him and Pazinko receiving a salary for coaching, which was untrue, and that he and Pazinko do not collect any pay for their work as part of Team Jackson.
Team Jackson has 107 wrestlers this year who are of age groups from kindergarten to 8th grade. The group has eight coaches and four volunteers and has been in existence for 20 years. The group has two divisions of wrestlers, an A Team and a B Team, which encompasses different levels of experience and weight classes.
Reese noted that two years ago the program faced issues with the township regarding its status. He also noted that the township has had four different recreation directors in the last eight years which he expressed impacted the continuity of the program in relation to its connection to the recreation department.
Based on the Feb. 13 comments made by Schlegel and members of council, Reese said “we have a different understanding and that will need to be addressed following tonight’s meeting.”
Schlegel presented a prepared statement following the most recent council meeting which stated that Team Jackson was a separate organization and that the recreation department’s involvement was with wrestling as an instructional exercise and that any matches were not part of it. It noted any financial questions by parents needed to be addressed by Team Jackson.
“We need to have a sit down with them (the Council),” Reese said. “In September 2016 Jackson looked at decimating the program. The township did not want competitions but three quarters of those who paid want competitions.”
Russo and Reese disputed when financial information was sought prior to the Feb. 13 council meeting and the potential need to establish a board of directors for the group, as well as the idea of paying coaches due to the program needing more.
During the meeting, parent Daria Collins also voiced a need for the group to always be open with its finances as to avoid any potential perception of impropriety. She noted, however, that she had no concerns of anything being improper.
Financial totals for the last three years were outlined during the PowerPoint presentation. It showed figures for fundraising efforts, registration fees, singlet costs and a program where parents who could not afford the singlets for their children could have them on loan for free and return them at the end of the season.
“You need a board for oversight for checks and balances,” Russo maintained. Most of those assembled voiced disagreement with the need for adding a board to the structure of the group but did acknowledge that more parental input for tasks ranging from providing bagels at meets to rolling up mats for practice sessions was vital.
Parent Chris Wolf came forward to volunteer to become a new coach for the program. “I want to be involved. My three sons are involved in wrestling and my kids love what they are doing here. We need to get more parents involved.”
Joe Tomasello said “it comes down to the parents. When parents support the team, the team does well, and the program will thrive.”
Other ideas that came forward during the meeting included setting up a clinic for those who might be interested in coaching wrestling and seeking out former high school wrestlers who might wish to support the program as mentors or coaches.
“We need coaches, but we need help in many areas,” Reese added. “Our numbers are up this year by 15%. Last year our registration was 93.”
Russo reviewed the books following the meeting but maintains a need for a board structure to be voted on. Reese said that he planned to discuss the status of Team Jackson with the business administrator and council in the near future.