The Ekin ave site in New Albany Indiana is a great place to play table tennis. You can’t beat the price and convenient playing opportunities. However due to a lack of foresight and poor leadership, there are serious questions about the long term use of this great facility.
When I started playing there about 27 years ago play was limited to the west room (about 3000 sq. ft.) above the Boys and Girls club. The club had to pay something like $27/hr to the parks dept. to open the door and utilize the playing area. The gymnastic club occupied the 3000 sq ft adjacent east room.
About seven years ago, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, the gymnastic club and the parks dept. moved out and left the east room vacant. The club somehow ended up with two keys to the front door. As a result we essentially were given exclusive use of over 6000 sq ft. of open space with wood floors perfect for table tennis.
Talk about Serendipity! That’s like winning the lottery. Why would the city of New Albany let the table tennis club occupy 6000 sq ft of space with utilities and restrooms facilities for nothing?
It turns out; the City of New Albany spent a lot of money on handicap access bringing the downstairs Boys and Girls club into compliance a few years back but probably figured the cost of installing an elevator to the second floor just wasn’t worth it. Without handicap access to the second floor, renting it out by the city had the potential to result in lawsuits.
So….. Because the table tennis club had a long respectable history with some positive press, courtesy of Gary Schroder and Paul Holligier, they decided to let us stay without a lease. Gordon was never shy about boasting about the C501c3 nonprofit status of the club to the players during group meetings, so the city was probably under the impression that the club was a non-profit. It’s reasonable to assume, creating public good was part of the decision to give us keys to the front door and a free ride.
For the next three years however, table tennis play at Ekin continued to be on Wednesday only and the club used the vacated east room for storage. On Sunday’s I played at the Graceland Church in New Albany. Jeff Napier was the coordinator and the only church member. Attendance dropped off when, due to his erratic sales schedule, the gym wasn’t always open for table tennis play on Sunday.
I asked Jeff if we could move the Sunday play at Graceland to Ekin Ave and take advantage of the mostly empty east room. I assured him I would be responsible for it being open every Sunday if I could get the key from Jeff Smith. He reluctantly agreed because the uncertainty of not knowing if there would be play or not was a problem for everybody. Jeff Smith gave me the key and the OK for setting it up, but I got the feeling he didn’t care whether it worked out or not, just so he had another reliable key holder to open the club.
The floor in the east room was rough and uneven so I spent two days patching and sanding down the grooves to make it more playable. Terry Crowell and I added a fixture and improved the lighting at the far end of the east room. We worked on the air conditioner drain lines to eliminate the water leakage on the floor. I got a team of volunteers together to scrape off the peeling paint and get the place painted. It was dirty work, at one point the fire alarm went off and the fire department came. Later, Gordon bragged to some visiting New Albany officials how we worked hard to get the place scraped and painted even though neither he nor Jeff Smith had showed up to do the work.
I got with Paul Holligier at Beechmont who sent out an E mail to all the local players about the Sunday hours at Ekin, but even so, attendance was slow at first. There were several players that wouldn’t or couldn’t make the transition from the church to Ekin Ave. To boost attendance, I encouraged players at Beechmont, regardless of their skill level, to come over and check out the site at Ekin Ave on Sunday.
Terry Crowell was the best diplomat for new players; he always made newbie’s feel welcome regardless of their skill level. That’s critical if you’re trying to boast attendance and expect people to come back. Gordon Allstott who didn’t come on Sunday’s for about a year, generally ignored new players unless they were near his competitive playing level. Jeff Smith never showed up; even for a cameo appearance. Without a doubt, the success of the Sunday program was due to the effort and commitment Terry and I made when nobody else much cared.
Since we didn’t have any agreement with the city for the use of the building, it was obvious the club was on shaky ground. I wrote two letters trying to persuade Jeff , John and Gordon to make a donation to the city for roof repair and donate some money to the Boys and Girls club. There is a long list of organizations who donate to the Boys and Girls club, the table tennis club is noticeably absent . We would look considerably more worthy of this incredible gift given to us by the City if we had some “skin in the game.” By not responding to the letters, it was obvious, they didn’t think it was any of my business.
I reasoned the club belongs to everybody, not just three guys. If the club loses this facility, everybody suffers the consequences. Jeff’s idea of going down the road with twenty grand or so and opening another facility was just ludicrous. It would probably cost a million just to build, and twenty grand a year for taxes, insurance and utilities. If we moved into an existing facility and shared space with volleyball and basketball, our prime time, low cost playing opportunities would be gone.
With the success of the Sunday program, Cameron Luo wanted to start play on Fridays to give us three playing opportunities a week. But, because we only had two keys, he and I had to pass the key back and forth to ensure someone would be there at the appropriate time to open the door.
Soon after the Friday play started, the club donated ten grand to the City towards roof repair. Gordon, who opened the club on Wednesdays, started showing up early on Sundays and Fridays supposedly to sweep the floor. But, the floor wasn’t being kept clean, there were dead flies on the playing room floor in the east room for months at a time and a white ball would turn gray after a few hours play.
I thought it was probably a control issue with Gordon, he just wanted to get credit for opening the club. I reasoned,If we worked together as a team, surely we could do a better job of keeping the club clean, but Gordon didn’t want a group effort, that apparently would dilute his control of the club.
I got a quote of $3000 from a reputable electrician that would improve the overall lighting in the east room and get rid of the extension cords. To ascertain if this was a good use of club money, I took a quick survey from 14 random players. The survey ask the question: Using the recent purchase of two replacement tables (for a total of $3 grand as a yardstick), is this a good use of club money? 12 players said yes, 2 abstained.
When Gordon overheard what was going on he was livid. I wasn’t surprised; he had previously stated he would oppose any and all ideas I had for the club period. He said he would get with Jeff about an alternative plan to improve the lighting. I wasn’t surprised when Jeff ignored the issue entirely. I sent John Allen an E mail to see if he had an opinion on this issue. It was never answered.
There were occasions during the winter of 2014-2015 Terry and I met at the club to hit a few balls, I didn’t see the harm in it. Apparently, that made Gordon furious but he never said much to me about it. In early spring those opportunities stopped because Terry’s lawn service took up most all of his free time.
Around the first of July, Gordon called Terry (who was an excellent handyman) about replacing a light at the club. Terry called me because he didn’t have a key. When we got there we found the inside doors with padlocks on them. Gordon had the club all locked up to make a point that he was in charge! The whole thing was just a setup and an ego trip for Gordon. Terry, the best diplomat and handyman this club ever had, never came back to the club.
Why would Gordon piss off two retired guys with the time and desire to help take care of the club? It just didn’t make any sense. A truly nonprofit club would welcome any and all volunteer help they could get. ( I never received a dime for anything) This confirmed a suspicion I had had for some time; Gordon was getting paid to open the club and sweep the floor; it wouldn’t look good if other people were helping the club on a regular basis for nothing.
Of course it’s not illegal for the club to pay a member for services, but the deceitful way this was handled just wasn’t right. I figured, there had to be a backdoor financial agreement between Gordon and Jeff Smith. I turned in my key the following week and told Gordon and John, from now on, I’m here to play ping pong, that’s it.
Considering the lack of interest in the public good or spending money to improve playing conditions, it’s obvious the club has morphed into a for-profit to benefit Gordon and ? Unfortunately, that jeopardizes the clubs future at Ekin Ave in two ways.
First it’s illegal to dissolve a nonprofit corp. without surrendering all your assets. You can’t just decide to convert the club into a for-profit because it has become more profitable. Second; what would the city of New Albany think if the club dissolved the nonprofit status(and pubic goodwill) as a result of the Cities generosity? What would you do if you were the Mayor and this came to your attention?
It didn’t have to be this way. The club could have remained a non-profit and used excess funds for charitable purposes, like donations to the Boys and Girls club. It would be easier to recruit volunteers to clean and maintain the club if we (as a non-profit group) worked together for the good of the club. That’s what small club non-profits are supposed to do. By changing the club into a for-profit, we have jeopardized relations with the city of New Albany and created legal issues with the state of Indiana.
The root cause of all this is lack of transparency and leadership. Jeff Smith has been both president and treasurer (that combination was a bad idea to start with) for over ten years. He wants to run the club like he owns it. He doesn’t own it, the players are not his employees. He avoids play on Fridays and Sundays and has had nothing to do with promoting the expanded playing opportunities. Yet, he is resistant to suggestions as to how the money is spent.
Some questions need to be answered; Why hasn’t the club had an election or an audit in over ten years? Will there ever be a plan to promote the sport beyond a “good old boys club.” What are the club’s bylaws ? What are the club’s plans or goals for the next 2-5 years ? What are we saving club profits of over $6000/yr for? Maintenance fees ? You got to be kidding; it took 3 years to fix the men’s toilet!
For the players who pay only $3 to play on excellent club owned tables, it all seems like a great deal; the apathy is understandable. But, the value of those tables is meaningless without a facility to put them in. They have the same worth as a 40 ft boat restricted to your back yard. Our #1 financial priority should be to retain this great facility. If club money is not being directed to this purpose, players need to find out why. In this regard, present management seems to be deceitful and inept.
Post-script After a years absence, Terry came back to the club to play. Neither he nor I talk to Gordon. No club money has been spent on club lighting or anything else. Nobody seems to care where the money goes.