Clovis News: Sports

Falcons deal cold lesson to 4-H kids

A minor league hockey team held an anti-Fresno Falcons promotional night this week and of course sold 800 extra tickets.

When you go out of business midseason and leave the rest of your league hanging, people tend to remember. Nobody likes a quitter.

But you don't have to go to Boise, Idaho, to find lingering frustration with the Falcons. There's plenty right here, like those Fresno season-ticket holders who still haven't been refunded.

Oh, and more creditors that haven't been discussed yet: The kids. Yes, the Falcons owe money to children.

It happened Nov. 15, at a game the Falcons lost 2-1 to the Bakersfield Condors at Selland Arena. The Falcons were doing a promotion called "4-H Night," a fundraiser that worked like this: Local 4-H groups would sell Falcons tickets for the Nov. 15 game for $15, then the groups would get $5 back for each ticket. Also, each 4-H kid would get a commemorative hockey puck.

There were just two small problems, explained by Tracy Starich, a 4-H parent who organized the fundraiser for Kings County:

"We didn't get the pucks and we didn't get paid. No pucks. No money. Yeah, that pretty much covers it."

According to Starich, the Falcons never paid the Kings County group its $250. The other two county organizers say the same. Fresno County groups didn't get their $500, and the Tulare County groups never got their $730.

It's just $1,480 total, nothing compared to what many are owed, but it tastes the worst. It's a sad day when children realize that an adult's word isn't always good.

It was a fundraiser that turned out to be for the franchise instead of the four H's -- head, heart, hands and health.

The Falcons' employee who organized 4-H Night was laid off, and the ECHL franchise folded Dec. 22, midseason. The pucks weren't at the game, and as far as anyone knows, were never even purchased, though a 4-H mother in Tulare County who wants to remain anonymous swears she and her husband gave the Falcons several hundred dollars specifically to buy the pucks.

"Still, no one has contacted us," says Leah Spaulding, the Tulare County 4-H organizer. "A guy from the Grizzlies has contacted us, and he's trying to figure out what's going on."

So after all that, you want to know who you should really feel sorry for? Those Fresno Grizzlies employees who had to go right back to those same 4-H groups and ask them to be part of their "Ag Night With the Grizzlies."

"It's not an easy situation," says Shaun Northup, the vice president of ticket sales for the Grizzlies. "... Certainly there may be some people who make a connection with the ownership group, and have some negative feelings about how they were dealt with on the Falcons' side of things. But we are a different organization."

First off, everyone makes the connection. One is a minor league baseball team, and the other is a defunct minor league hockey team, but they had the same owners.

Yes, they are different organizations with entirely different sales staffs, but no matter how you tweak it, some 4-H kids got ripped off, and then the people who owe them money came back to ask for more. They just sent different middle men.

Neither owner, Brian Glover or Chris Cummings, returned calls, but the Grizzlies' ticket VP said what he's been telling the 4-H groups: "I can't specifically say when they're going to get their money. They will be receiving money that they can provide proof for. When that's going to happen, I don't know."

He's also trying to persuade them to trust the Grizzlies and sign up for their Ag Night on May 15, a fundraiser for local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups. And believe it or not, the Fresno County 4-H group said yes.

"I don't anticipate any problems with the Grizzlies," says Melanie Curtis, the Fresno County 4-H youth development program coordinator. "It was just a completely different experience."

The Grizzlies had an Ag Day last year that the Fresno 4-H groups loved -- it was done differently, with the groups never having to turn over their extra funds -- but the other counties didn't, and thus didn't have a good Grizzlies' experience to fall back on.

"I brought it up at a meeting last week," says Spaulding, the Tulare 4-H coordinator, "and everybody just kind of looked at me like I was crazy."

So yes, the applicable ECHL promotion of the week was "Fresno Falcons Suck Night" in Boise, not that they knew about the 4-H kids. The Idaho Steelheads offered cheap tickets and cheap beer and sold an extra 800 tickets Tuesday night. According to an Idaho Statesman reporter, the PA announcer only mentioned the Falcons once. The Steelheads didn't want to be too mean-spirited.

In retrospect, maybe they didn't go far enough.