Families involved with the nonprofit Loudoun Soccer organization have received final word on refunds for the cancelled spring season: There will be none.
Instead, parents who had paid the roughly $170 registration to play in the spring rec season have two options. They can either receive an $82 credit for future Loudoun Soccer programming, or they can “donate” the already paid fee to the organization.
Expectantly, parents who were already upset over what many saw as a weeks-long runaround from club leaders were angered by the decision.
“Imagine ordering a pizza online for delivery and paying for it, only to be told that not only were they not going to deliver it because of COVID-19, but they were going to keep your money,” Fred Avila, an Ashburn resident, told the Times-Mirror. “That is in essence what the Loudoun Soccer Board of Directors decided to do to all the families that paid registration fees for their child to play in the spring soccer season.”
Loudoun Soccer parent Mark Heinrich said he sees the situation as “Loudoun Soccer basically stealing” from his family.
“Loudoun Soccer has done nothing for us this spring besides sending some e-mails with zero substance, in my opinion as well as in the opinion of many others that I have talked to,” Mark Heinrich wrote to the Times-Mirror. “That was fine with me provided that I get a fair refund if the spring season was cancelled. What Loudoun Soccer is saying that they are doing here is certainly not fair and is in no way a refund. I don’t pay $82 for nothing. I didn't pay money for weak online soccer videos that I could search out on your website or social media site. We have used better soccer videos that are free on YouTube. While I can understand an administrative fee of maybe $25-$30, I cannot understand $82.”
Loudoun Soccer representatives said their decision on refunds is final. Rob Russell, the vice president of the organization's Board of Directors, said the move was driven in hopes to ensure that the organization can resume full operations in spring 2021.
While the organization hopes to resume programming in the fall, the Board of Directors is preparing financially as though fall operations will be impacted by the pandemic, Russell said.
“We may not satisfy everybody, and I don't think we can satisfy everybody,” he said. “[But] I feel very confident – and I have no doubt – that we made the decision we made in good faith with the health of the entire club at the forefront.” (Read Loudoun Soccer's original statement on refunds below.)
Russell and another representative, board member Neal Thurman, told the Times-Mirror mortgage payments at the organization's complex off Sycolin Road, salaries for the club's staff and maintenance costs have accounted for ongoing expenses.
None of the organization's approximately 20 to 25 staff members have seen a pay cut or been furloughed during the pandemic, according to the Loudoun Soccer representatives.
Loudoun Soccer, which serves more than 7,000 kids in the county, received Payment Protection Program funds from the federal government, but Russell said the PPP funding was already factored in the refund decision.
Asked whether he felt the decision not to give refunds was a fair one, Russell responded, “Given the information we had and given the objective we sought, yes, I believe it is a fair decision.”
Still, some Loudoun Soccer parents – including those who say they won't return when the organization resumes normal operations – have suggested filing a complaint with the Virginia Office of the Attorney General. On a private Facebook page devoted to the situation, one member said two complaints have already been filed.
Avila said Loudoun Soccer generated more than $6.2 million in revenue, according to the 2017 Loudoun Soccer 990 financial report. He called the whole situation “grossly unjust.”
“In the middle of an economic crisis, many cash-strapped families could really use the money,” Avila said. “Do the right thing Loudoun Soccer Board, refund the money that doesn't belong to you. I'd understand if they kept 25 percent to cover overhead, but to keep 100 percent is not right.”
Parent Stephanie Dacko Mull, who along with Angela Goodman met with Loudoun Soccer representatives to discuss concerns, said she wants to see changes from the club's leadership.
“We wanted the board to hear us about the wrongdoings of their organization and then do something about it,” Mull said. “While we were heard, we don't have faith that much, if anything, will change. Personally I'm all about action. Don't complain, don't pretend to hear concerns, don't make empty promises without any intention to change behavior. Take action. So for me, unless they are willing to change their ways, then I'm done with them.”
Goodman called the club's leadership "out of touch" and said "they don't understand how out of touch they are with the community as a whole." (Read her full statement below.)
" ... to sum up the meeting, it could've been better, it could've been worse," Goodman said. "They listened, they showed ownership in the decisions they made. Will they change anything regarding the credit, we don't think so. They cannot afford it, unless the fall season does happen. Maybe then they can offer larger credits, but I wouldn't count on any changes."
Statement from Angela Goodman:
"Our meeting with the Board of Directors lasted roughly an hour and 15 minutes. For those of you who have not seen the agenda we presented to them, it is in another post so that you can review.
Overall the meeting was open and informative. We started the meeting asking whether or not they planned to answer all of our questions so that we could quickly remove ourselves in the event they wanted to provide some type of block to the information we requested. Thankfully, they did agree to answer all our questions and listen attentively to our concerns as a collective unit.
The Board members were very candid with information. Yes, the did receive PPP funds to continue their non 1099 payroll. For those of you not familiar with this program, there are very strict stipulations in place for the usage of these funds (2.5X monthly payroll average). While they received a hefty amount, it was put in place to pay their employees and utllity costs. Please keep in mind, it can only be used for each employee up to $8K per month. That means the gap over and above must come from Organizational dollars. While they can keep salaries at any level they choose, they can only use the PPP for a portion for those making over $100K annually. These funds must be used in an 8 week window so it is limited and they cannot spread it beyond the 8th week (at this point in time). I am very familiar with this funding because I received it in my business. As for any other funding, they have applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan that has not been granted to date.
Once we moved on to the other operational questions, we did learn that each program stands on it's own two feet financially. That being said, that is why they chose to refund some programs 100% - they literally did not incur any costs associated with those programs prior to their start and thereby could refund them. I did advise them that while those programs may not have any direct costs associated with them, they should all be funding the Overhead costs associated with staff salaries, etc. The light bulbs went off and then they quickly dismissed with the fact that those programs bring in such little revenue, it would not have made a dent in the costs associated with Rec and Travel. They did advise that due to the costs of the business, and the likely potential for not having a Fall season let alone a Spring season, they have run their financial plans to fund the positions they need until Spring 2021. Given their PPP funding and it's timing, they have not mandated any furloughs or salary cuts at this point. Their staff is still working and maintaining their pay until they otherwise cannot. We did discuss that they need to NOT REPEAT the lack of communication and timing on their decision making. This is where the meeting turned to the main issues at hand...
We then began to discuss the decision making process that lead to where we are in the present. What took so long? Why communicate people could request refunds and then take away that choice. Long and short of it, they did own up that they made a mistake. They did not communicate their financial standings well in the beginning. They are effectively functioning in a situation where they could afford a season with no play but not two seasons with no play. Their reserves are not enough to cover continuing to pay staff and the remainder of their expenses without a Fall season. They could have come out and said that in March, suspended the season, provided transparency and given everyone a choice. They didn't and they regret that now. How much they regret it, who knows, but they do, they owned it last night. They have learned from it enough to regret it but the question is, did they learn enough to do different and be better? During this point in the conversation we emphasized, emphatically, that the reason they are in the predicament they are in is because they took away people's vote, their right to choose. That's really why we are here - no one in Rec got a choice, not from the minute go and not now. Everyone is ready to slay the organization simply because they didn't give enough information to educate and provide a choice.
During the next part of the conversation we pretty much had enough data to realize they cannot afford to give everyone their refund back. They spent money coordinating a season that fell apart a week before it started. While they didn't have the Parts and Rec fees, they had the uniform cost, the labor for planning, the coordination expenses, etc. At that point, they could've called the season and made a refund choice but because the program is so large, they just don't have enough. Stephanie and I could have continued to hammer them but neither of us saw the point. We communicated that the will lose players, they will lose coaches, they will lose donors over this. They seem to be remorseful but only time will tell. We told them they aren't even doing right by their volunteers who were shafted on more than one occasion and that they need to fix immediately. We shared that we do have coaches, parent liasons, etc in the group and whatever ties are likely lost. We also communicated that some want to file complaints with the Attorney General due to believing they have misappropriated funding. They heard it, they responded physically, and had little to say. Essentially now they have done so much damage they do not know what to do.
In closing of the meeting they asked how to keep the lines of communication open, that they often ask for Parent input and they don't get it. I told them they are missing it - they have tons of volunteer coaches - listen to them, hear what they say, ask an opinion and do something with the feedback. They are out of touch, they don't understand how out of touch they are with the Community as a whole. We addressed issues with donors as well and that they don't even realize that they have issues there as well... Survey Monkey is a good place to start...
So to sum up the meeting, it could've been better, it could've been worse. They listened, they showed ownership in the decisions they made. Will they change anything regarding the credit, we don't think so. They cannot afford it, unless the Fall season does happen. Maybe then they can offer larger credits, but I wouldn't count on any changes.
Bottom line is that we attempted to turn it around. We talked about optics and perspective and communication and crisis management. We do not believe their course will be altered, but maybe they will do something. So, in the mean time, do what you feel is best for you individually. I suspect the media coverage will die down. After talking to them, I do not believe anyone is cashing out illegally - i think they are a group of men who did what they thought would be best for the organization and they fell on their sword with communication and crisis management. Their decisions missed the human component of this pandemic outside of the organization - they did ok inside, they continue to pay their staff..."
Statement from Loudoun Soccer on decision not to grant refunds:
"Dear Loudoun Soccer families,
We hope you and your family are safe and healthy, and that you enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day Weekend. This message is a follow-up to the announcement we made on May 4, which shared the disheartening news that our Spring 2020 Rec and Adult League seasons were canceled, and promised additional details by May 13. We appreciate your patience as we worked to finalize our review process and develop our plans in light of that decision.
You enrolled your child(ren) this season, expecting a traditional soccer experience as we all did, and, regardless of why that did not occur, that experience simply could not take place.
Therefore, Loudoun Soccer Board of Directors will enact the following plan for families with children enrolled in our Spring 2020 season:
• Families have all been impacted by this crisis differently, none more so than those who are most vulnerable. As a result, all families who received financial assistance this season have been issued full refunds of their fees to provide immediate help.
• All supplemental programming (Spring Break camps, Junior Development Program, Rec TTA, 7U Pre-Academy, Speed/Agility training) and TOPSoccer (special needs) given the designs of those programs, will be refunded in full by May 31, 2020.
• For players enrolled in Micro (Pre-School), Minis (Pre-K and Kindergarten) or Rec 1 (Grades 1-2) as a primary program, the following options are available:
• Credits: A credit of $82 may be claimed by completing this short survey between now and June 30, 2020. Once processed, this credit can be applied to any future programming (camp, seasonal registration, clinic, etc.) between now and December 31, 2021.
• Donations: Families who are willing to donate their registration fee in lieu of a credit may do so. Donations are tax-deductible to the full value of your registration fee and will be used to assist players in need of financial assistance, as well as to support the free after-school programs we provide to Title I schools in Loudoun County. In normal years, we offer more than $125,000 annually in assistance to enable families with financial need to participate in our programs. We anticipate an increase in need for assistance in Fall 2020 and beyond. No action is necessary to convert your registration fee to a donation. If we have not received a response to receive your credit by June 30, 2020, the registration fee will be treated as a donation. A gift receipt may be provided, as will our heartfelt gratitude.
• Adult League team captains will be contacted separately via email regarding their credit.
• We will provide additional guidance with respect to our Travel and ECNL programs by May 20.
This plan balances the need to support our ongoing operations with the financial needs of our families. The good news is once we can safely return to the playing field, we will be ready to serve our community as we have for the last 42 years, with our dedicated and experienced staff in place.
Our staff and Board are working closely together to ensure the future of Loudoun Soccer. Please know that the health and safety of our participants and families is more important than ever. As our staff prepares for the Summer programming and the launch of Fall registration, we are working with local, state, and national organizations to ensure best practices are adopted and new protocols are in place for all of our programs and participants (players, coaches, parents, and referees).
Our Club is committed to offering these soccer opportunities, not just for the chance to play this beautiful game but for the priceless benefits youth sports offer – the rewards we receive from effort, commitment, teamwork, and growth, and the life lessons that are taught along the way.
Our goal and mission for the last 42 years at Loudoun Soccer has been to Develop Champions for Life. This remains our north star, and we look forward to continuing that mission with you.
Loudoun Soccer Board of Directors"