Parent takes youth hockey association to court



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Posted on November 14, 2012 at 11:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 14 at 11:18 PM


Every parent with a child who plays sports has heard the complaint in the middle of a game: "You're not being fair to my kid!"

But some North Texas youth hockey parents are saying the people who control the entire sport are being unfair to hundreds of kids.

The story begins with how big time hockey came to Texas. And it ends in the courtroom.

The Dallas Stars are the founding fathers of hockey in North Texas. When they moved to Dallas from Minnesota 19 years ago, the team began planning a dynasty.

StarCenters for kids' hockey were built across the region, some with public money.

Leagues were formed in the Stars' image.

When the pro team brought home a Stanley Cup in 1999, the sport's popularity blossomed. Gradually, new leagues formed and the Stars were no longer the only game in town for kids' hockey.

Now, critics say the structure that grew out of the Stars' system is cutting others out — for the gain of the old guard and to the detriment of hundreds of kids who play the game.

"What's going on is affecting everybody, throughout hockey," said Bob Greene, a Keller hockey parent. "The last year-and-a-half has been miserable."

For the last 18 months, Greene has been part of a lawsuit with the Texas Amateur Hockey Association (TAHA) on behalf of his hockey-playing son, Saxon Greene.

The lawsuit charges TAHA with "arbitrary, capricious and fraudulent" behavior in preventing Saxon's team, the Dallas Ice Jets, from playing in a high level hockey league.

If the Dallas Stars are the founding fathers of North Texas hockey, the actual government is TAHA. TAHA's critics say the Association has been acting like a "good old boy" network for the Dallas Stars.

"There's organizations. And the people with power, and with the money, are going to make sure that what they want to happen, happens," said Cooper Johnson, whose son is also on the Ice Jets.

"A lot of them are affiliated with, or work for, the Stars," added Bill Cardell, another Ice Jets dad.

Although the Ice Jets are mentioned in the lawsuit, they are not the only team which has been affected by recent TAHA decisions.

"I'm not sure fair play was intended," Greene said about TAHA's decision. "I think it was a country club mentality."

That "country club," Greene alleges, consists of people in power on the TAHA board who are connected to the Stars as coaches, and through the rinks they control.

Ice is power in north Texas hockey. The Dallas Stars directly or indirectly control 12 out of the 20 major ice rinks in North Texas. By controlling who plays at what rinks, critics say, the Stars' friends can control which coaches make money, and — ultimately — how much money the Stars make from their rinks.

That can be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per rink.

Jim Lites, the president of the Dallas Stars, is part owner of one rink that benefited from the TAHA decision.

Keith Andreson, who works for Lites, was president of TAHA when the decision was made; a conflict of interest, critics say.

TAHA counters that 11 board members voted unanimously against the Ice Jets, and Andreson wasn't to blame.

"They want to drive traffic to very specific rinks," Cooper Johnson said. "It all comes down to the money."

"It doesn't make it fair; it doesn't make it right; but I understand that happens," he added.

Reggie Hal is the current president of TAHA. He is a salaried coach, paid by the Stars. In a controversial deposition this summer, Hall said he had no obligation to youth hockey players and no obligation to youth hockey parents.

For their part, the Stars point out that youth hockey has grown 1,000 percent since they came to town.

Vice President Ed Reusch maintains the Stars have done nothing wrong. "As far as this organization and impropriety that may exist with TAHA, it's simply not true," he said.

Earlier this year, TAHA made another decision that angered some parents: It eliminated an entire league, and created a new, much smaller one, which plays only at Stars' rinks. It's called the Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League.

Ed Reusch said the new, smaller league was necessary because youth hockey talent was becoming diluted in North Texas. "There were too many [teams] to be competitive nationally with other cities that were a little bit better structured."

Critics said hockey went from a competitive democracy to a dictatorship, which the Stars control.

Ed Reusch said any team can play any other, but that's not what Ice Jets dads say.

"They do not let us play them," said Kyle Drumm, an Ice Jets parent.

Bob Greene's lawsuit is seeking more than $200,000. But more than that, he wants parents on his side to get a hearing.

TAHA says hundreds of parents are on its side, and the organization has done nothing wrong.

The association wants the suit, now 18 months old, thrown out of court. A hearing is scheduled for next month.