Soccer dad: Warriors' onion fundraiser stinks

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Indian Land High School coach, district say soccer program is not pay-to-play

By Reece Murphy

 The father of an Indian Land High School soccer player said the team’s annual fundraiser unfairly pressures students into participating and gives the appearance of a “pay-to-play” program.

But the team’s coach denies punishing students for not selling and says the allegation is a misrepresentation of the team’s fundraiser and the result of a poorly written fundraising letter.

The ILHS jayvee and varsity soccer teams’ Vidalia onion fundraiser is an annual affair, during which team members sell 10-, 20- and 50-pound bags of the sweet onions for $10, $20 and $40, respectively.

The fundraiser ranks among the largest at the school, according to the fundraising letter, with the potential to raise $10,000 for equipment, T-shirts, officials’ and tournament fees and new uniforms, among other needs.

Robert Reynolds, whose son is a first-year varsity soccer player for the Warriors, said he was caught off guard April 21, when his son came to him asking for $160 to meet his minimum sales requirement of $200.

“I remember my son mentioned ‘We have to do a minimum of 200 bucks,’ but I assumed it was the kids talking and the coach was just encouraging the kids,” Reynolds said April 22. “Last night, my son came and told me ‘I need to come up with $160 or I don’t get to play.’”

Reynolds said his son wasn’t the only player concerned about not meeting the minimum and said he had spoken with two other players, both of whom told him much the same. 

Reynolds said Warriors varsity soccer coach Adam Cole told parents and students about the onion fundraiser during the pre-season meeting, but said he didn’t know the minimum sales requirement was a serious concern.

Reynolds said he spoke with Cole, who told him the $200 minimum was simply motivational and that he’d been doing it that way for years.

Still, Reynolds said, the fundraising letter is pretty clear.

The letter

In the letter, Cole says players should try their best to sell as many bags of onions as possible. He sets a target sales goal of $350 per player, along with a parenthetical insert that says, “MINIMUM (sic) participation will be $200.”

“I consider this fundraiser to be a participation event – if you do not participate consequences will follow and playing time may be affected,” Cole said in the letter.

“If you choose not to sell onions, you may “OPT OUT” (sic) by paying the $200 minimum or paying the difference if the minimum funds are not reached by your child’s sales,” he says later in the letter. “Thank you for your time and commitment towards the Indian Land High School Soccer program.”

Reynolds said he was glad he had the financial ability to pay his son’s $160 balance, and didn’t really mind since it helped the team. 

The problem, he said, is whether intended or not, the letter implies that if you don’t pay, you don’t play, which bothers him.

“They made the team, now you’re putting a second criteria on it where if a player doesn’t make $200 in donations or fundraising, parents have to pay it to see their children play on the field?” he said. “This isn’t a fundraiser, it’s a payment to play. He’s just bullying the kids and saying ‘Either you make $200 for me, or you don’t play.’”

Coach, school officials respond

In an email to the newspaper, Cole stressed ILHS’ winning soccer program is not a pay-to-play program.

He said Reynolds was upset with him even before the fundraiser over decisions regarding starters and playing time. Cole said the issue was an attempt by Reynolds to “smudge my name and the name of this great program.”

Cole said Reynolds did not express his concerns three months ago during the player/parent meeting when the fundraiser was discussed or when the fundraiser was presented again a few weeks ago.

“Robert Reynolds has been informed by numerous people, including the athletic administration and the district office, that this is not a pay-for-play program; he is not required to pay a minimum or even participate; and playing time would not be affected if he chose not to participate or meet a fundraising goal,” Cole said in the email.

Cole said despite Reynolds’ concerns, he donated $230 to the program after he was assured he did not need to participate in the fundraiser or make any contributions.

“We would like to thank him for his generosity,” Cole said. 

Cole said he brought the onion fundraiser to Indian Land because it was successful when he played high school soccer.

He said the letter was written the way it was because, in his experience, these days, “If you tell a high school kid they do not have to do something – it usually doesn’t get done.”

Cole said it used to be that parents were the first to ensure their children met their obligations, but that all too often these days parents don’t hold their students accountable.

He said fortunately most of his players and their parents work hard, but he included the “opt out” for people who didn’t want to sell onions, but still wanted to contribute to the fundraiser.

Cole acknowledged the wording in the fundraising letter may not be appropriate motivation for everyone. He said he’s never adjusted the wording because it’s never been an issue before, but he’d already changed it for next year.

“I have corrected wording on the fundraiser form and will ensure that all involved understand that participation is encouraged, but not required, and that playing time will not be affected, nor will there be consequences,” Cole said. 

“ILHS soccer is not a pay-for-play program,” he said. 

“ILHS soccer is a great program with integrity, with good coaches, players and parents, that had a tremendous success thanks to the effort and dedication of all involved.”

Problem sorted out

Dr. Jonathan Phipps, Lancaster County School District director of secondary education, said he had spoken to both Reynolds and Cole about the issue and said it appears to have been sorted out. 

Like Cole, Phipps stressed the ILHS soccer program was in no way a “pay-to-play” program, something he said would not only be unethical, but illegal.

Phipps said he believes Cole was simply trying to motivate his players to take ownership of the team using the philosophy of any coach: If everyone on the team doesn’t play the game, you don’t win; and if a player isn’t doing their part, they get benched. 

“I think he equated that with the fundraiser. But he agrees that financially if they don’t meet the minimum that he isn’t going to hold it against them,” Phipps said. “And I believe him when he said in seven years as a coach, he has never punished a student on their playing time for how much they raised.

“Still, in my mind, those two things are so close that we need to stay away from them totally,” Phipps said. 

“All kids have fundraisers for sports, and it’s OK to do that if you’re going to reward the kid for doing it. But you can’t punish them for not doing it.”


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151