Court intervenes in youth football fiasco

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

When a court has to suspend football playoffs for a league of children age 10 and under, perhaps things have gone too far.

A dispute over an assistant coach with a criminal background led the Prince George's County Boys & Girls Club to force an Oxon Hill team to forfeit all its wins, rendering the team ineligible for the club playoffs. The Oxon Hill Boys & Girls Club sued, filing for a temporary restraining order that put the entire playoffs on hold while things were sorted out.

The Oxon Hill team even held a sit-in, with coaches and players taking the field before the first playoff game and refusing to budge. "If we can't play, nobody plays today," Oxon Hill Boys & Girls Club President Erika Freeman said during the protest, according to the Prince George's club's complaint filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court.

Every Boys & Girls Club coach is required to pass a background check before the season starts. Oxon Hill assistant coach Thierno Johnson didn't pass but continued to coach anyway, according to the complaint.

"Oxon Hill was using an illegal coach, so we forfeited their games," said Prince George's County Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Calvin Massie. "We were just following the rules."

According to Freeman, however, the Prince George's club knew before the season had started that Johnson had failed his background check. Oxon Hill didn't get word that the team was disqualified until three days before the playoffs were supposed to begin, she said.

"When asked why he didn't forward this information when he received it before the start of the football season, Massie replied 'he's been busy,' " she wrote in an affidavit.

In a letter posted on Facebook, Johnson said he pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon following a fight he got into in college in 1993. He said he never received the letter that informed him of his failed background check. "I will accept any punishment handed down on myself because I made the mistake 20 years ago," Johnson wrote in the letter. "But having these children punished because of it will be a disgrace."

Johnson has taught in the county's public school system for 15 years and has coached football for 11. He had been approved by the background check process four times prior, Freeman said.

After the playoffs were halted, Circuit Court Judge Sherrie Krauser told the two sides to come to an agreement.

"For the sake of the children, she asked us to work something out," Massie said. "We compromised and gave them a play-in game."

The Oxon Hill team played -- and beat -- Camp Springs, which would have taken its place. The team then lost to Laurel, eliminating it from the playoffs.

"We weren't 100 percent happy with it," Freeman said. "But the team got to play."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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Matt Connolly

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner