Mokena Park District President Dennis Bagdon said he's worried an incident last week where he said he was accosted by a Mokena Burros official is taking attention from where it should be—on the kids playing youth football.
He confirmed an account given by the SouthtownStar, which described an unnamed Burros board member yelling profanities at the president of the park district that, starting this summer, will rent fields to both groups.
"It's getting to the point where it's almost getting scary. I felt threatened last week," Bagdon told Patch on Tuesday. "It was inches away from physical violence."
He did not identify the official, but said the topic was the Mokena Jr. Griffins, a new youth football program coming to town.
A League of Their Own
For nearly 50 years, the Mokena Burros were the sole youth football program in Mokena. This changed recently with the formation of the Mokena Jr. Griffins.
Burros board President Joe Lentz, who was not the official alleged to have accosted Bagdon, declined to comment for this story.
Lentz told the SouthtownStar last week he was "very angry with the park district" because having a new football program was "impacting the lives of 600 kids" in Burros football, flag and cheer.
Bagdon said the new program should not hurt the Burros.
Between Main Park, Yunker Park and space off LaPorte and Schoolhouse roads, the park district has enough space for both programs, he said. When the Burros are home, the Jr. Griffins will be away and vice versa, he said.
"We've got enough space to put people," Bagdon said. "We're not worried about that."
Although the SouthtownStar reported Commissioner Jim Richmond is on the Jr. Griffins board, the park district does little more than rent the football fields and enforce the district's code of conduct, Executive Director Jim Romanek said.
"Our stance as the park district is we're just the facilitator for outside affiliate groups," Romanek said. "We're not going to get into that dispute."
Coach Pushed Player
A Burros coach last fall broke the park district's code of conduct by pushing a player to the ground and calling the child an insulting name, Bagdon confirmed.
"We worked it out and we moved forward," he said.
Jr. Griffins varsity coach George Metanias, who spent 15 years coaching for the Burros, said he and others have disagreed with current Burros leadership, but said rules about play time created the Jr. Griffins.
"It was a great organization," said Metanias, who is also a village board trustee. "We had some really good people running it in the past. I was part of helping the Burros build up. Unfortunately, over the last couple years things have changed, but that's not why we formed the Jr. Griffins."
The River Valley League, which includes the Jr. Griffins, the Frankfort Falcons, the New Lenox Jr. Warriors, the New Lenox Jr. Knights and eight other youth football, flag and cheer programs, allows heavier children to play "striper" or "double striper" positions with their age groups.
The league also offers a special "fifth quarter" and Wednesday games where children who might not otherwise be starters get to start, Metanias said.
"If people are happy where they're at, then they should stay where they're at. It's no big deal," Metanias said. "Nothing against the Burros, nothing against anyone else. It's just another choice."
Metanias said the new group is just another option for Mokena children who want to participate in football, flag and cheer without leaving town.
"If you have one restaurant in Mokena, can you say there can't be any other restaurants?" he said.