Calif. baseball team under investigation for 'pay-for-play' tactics, lack of transparency in fundraising

Calif. baseball team under investigation for 'pay-for-play' tactics, lack of transparency in fundraising

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Calif. baseball team under investigation for 'pay-for-play' tactics, lack of transparency in fundraising

A San Diego school is being investigated for allegedly having a “pay-for-play” culture within its baseball program that also includes a lack of transparency in how it uses funds collected.

The San Diego Union-Tribune tells the in-depth story of the Torrey Pines (San Diego, Calif.) baseball team, a group that is 24-6 overall and 12-2 in the Avocado West League this spring. But the team’s play on the field has little to do with the investigation.

The Union-Tribune details an email from the program’s liaison that went out to program parents on Feb. 21 which included a fundraising ask that appears to be relatively larger than those of other public school programs. Included in the email that had an underlined sentence about a parent/coaches meeting that included “Please bring your checkbooks,” was this line:

“We are asking again for a MINIMUM donation of $695,” read the next line, in bold letters.

The email, per the Union-Tribune, explained that “each year it costs over $85,000 to run the Torrey Pines baseball program” and cited various expenses. The email further stated that despite previous fundraising of more than $40,000, money was still needed to cover costs. While calling the contributions “completely voluntary” and tax deductible, the email added, “The program would not exist without your generous support and (in bold) we were grateful for 100% participation from our families last season.”

Torrey Pines parent Wendy Gumb has been at the forefront of bringing this issue to light. She told the Union-Tribune she was floored by the manner in which the baseball program at a public school asked for money.

“Students don’t have to give that money, and I don’t think people in our district understand that,” Gumb said when she spoke in front of the San Dieguito Union High School District board in March, according to the Union-Tribune. “People don’t want to be strong-armed to donate money. And if we’re going to be strong-armed, we should know how the district is spending it. The district needs to be more accountable for how the money is coming in, and how it’s going out.”

Gumb was curious about this issue before the email was sent out. On Jan. 3, she delivered to San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) a 16-page document as a request to investigate the Torrey Pines baseball program, also sending a copy to the CIF San Diego Section office.

Per Gumb’s request, according to the Union-Tribune, SDUHSD hired a third-party investigative company, The Sobel Group, to look into her concerns. The inquiry began in late January and is ongoing.

Among Gumb’s assertions, per the Union-Tribune: that there is a “pay-for-play” culture at Torrey Pines; that there is a lack of transparency in how the Torrey Pines Foundation and baseball program use money collected from parents; that the Torrey Pines baseball program built batting cages without proper approval, and that students’ access of the cages has been limited at times by club teams using them; that walk-on club coaches on the coaching staff at Torrey Pines have undue influence on the selection of players in the program.

“When I first started this, I didn’t want to impede on anybody’s well-being,” Gumb told the Union-Tribune. “I don’t want anybody to lose their job. But good grief, there has to be some accountability and a line drawn. To me, it’s not that difficult. It’s a public school. There are transparency and accountability rules in place to protect the kids.”

Gumb’s son was cut from the team this year, according to the Union-Tribune.

Per the Union-Tribune, the Torrey Pines baseball email was written by volunteer liaison Rex McGuire.

Nicole Baril, the Torrey Pines Foundation’s paid executive director for 1½ years and occupies an office at the school, said that asking parents for donations has become a standard practice at the school.

“A lot of the cost of the programs is put back on the parents,” Baril told the Union-Tribune. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t need to exist. The state and the district would fund things. When you’re in a community with parents who want extra coaching, or for their kids to participate in extra tournaments, parents get involved.”

Torrey Pines head coach Kirk McCaskill says he wants transparency while emphasizing that the program is honest about how it uses the money brought in.

“Do we raise more money than other schools? We probably do – for all of our sports,” McCaskill, the 56-year-old former Major League pitcher, told the Union-Tribune on April 26. “I think it’s the natural demographics that kind of kick in here.”

You can read more of the Union-Tribune’s thorough look at the fascinating investigation of Torrey Pines here.

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