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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
A prosecutor declined to pursue charges against the head of a local youth sports league, but the league's players have not returned to Catoosa County basketball gyms.
During a commission meeting Tuesday night, Ringgold Youth Sports Association Director Earl Epps confronted elected officials, asking why a ban on use of county facilities remains in place. So did some parents and coaches. So did some children.
"Prior commissioners chose to build these facilities to support the youth organizations of Catoosa County," Epps said. "Why do you now turn your backs on that vision?"
In April, after hearing complaints from a couple of parents of former players, Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker and Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee began looking into RYSA. They said they were not sure if all children in the league were getting equal practice time. Also, they believed Epps was running tournaments at county gyms without alerting the local government's administrators.
County Attorney Chad Young said he was worried that Epps was turning a profit at those tournaments, making money on the local government's property without any sort of contract. The concerns went so far that a prosecutor asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation looked into the case.
During an interview with a GBI agent, Epps said he does organize tournaments and the cash received is "personal money," He said he uses those funds to pay for team expenses and travel. On June 23, Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton wrote a letter to the GBI, informing them he would not pursue any criminal charges against Epps. On Wednesday, Epps declined to comment.
As the investigation began, the county commission banned RYSA players and coaches from using the gym. They are still not allowed back in. On Tuesday, for about 50 minutes, people associated with RYSA criticized the commission.
"You hear emotion in my voice because of the witch-hunt that I felt took place based around the rec association, toward [Epps] and toward the organization," said Dewayne Gass, a coach in the league.
On Wednesday, Commission Chairman Steve Henry said elected officials will vote on a new policy during the Sept. 5 meeting to make clearer rules about use of the county gym. He said Barbee should meet with the heads of every youth sports association and create times when each of them can use the gyms, so nobody can complain that use of the building is unfair. In addition to RYSA, Henry said three other organizations use the gym.
Henry said the commission also will create a fee schedule, charging a set amount for different events at the gyms. Practices, for example, will probably cost the amount of money it takes to keep the lights on. Hosting a tournament there may be more expensive.
Walker expects RYSA teams will be able to return to the gym after that.
"The county bears some responsibility in not fixing this a long time ago," he said. "This has been a problem that has festered, and we now have to address it. It's ugly but necessary. Throughout the process, the county will remain transparent."
Said Epps: "You took almost five months away from them. And for what? You just damaged them. You damaged our kids."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
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