WREG investigates illegal “youth sports” fundraisers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In oversized shoulder pads with their helmets bobbing around, dozens of children powered through another Spring practice.

The South Memphis Gators practice at the Riverview Community center.

"Good work Tay Tay! Good work," yelled Coach Alan Thornton.

He stood on the sidelines wanting the best for his players.

"We are trying to get up to date equipment," he told WREG. "A lot of stuff we have is outdated. Outdated helmets and outdated equipment."

Coach Thorton said he's trying to change that.

"Since we are in this low-income area, I only charge the kids $25. Most of them don't even pay that. We do a lot of fundraising. Wash cars, sell water bottles," he said.

Thorton said they rely on donations to help buy equipment and jerseys.

"You need a lot of help. We did a fundraiser Saturday, but only raised nothing but $200," he said.

It's why he gets riled up when he sees kids holding helmets asking for money in traffic.

"They standing this tall. Probably got a mustache like me," he said. "You all are giving my organization a bad name."

For weeks, WREG spotted group after group in busy intersections ask for money for their sports team.

One crew was at Lamar and Winchester.

We watched them during rush hour weave between cars, but we never saw an official jersey, flier or coach.

"What team are you with?" asked a WREG crew.

"Bay Area Sparks," said one of the kids.

We couldn't find a Bay Area Sparks in Memphis.

The closest thing we found was the Bay Area Spartans little league team.

They told us, "those aren't our players," and they're trying to avoid that kind of fundraising, because it's unsafe.

We saw another pair pace the median at Shelby and Millbrach.

We asked them questions too.

"We are fundraising for new jerseys and helmets," said one of the teens.

They went on to say they were with Trezevant High School.

"Where is your coach?" said a WREG crew.

"He's in the parking lot over there," he said.

We watched the teen cross the street, get into an adult's car and take off before we could ask any more questions.

"For one, it poses a lot of physical safety and concerns," said Highland Oaks Principal Monica Bates.

Bates said her students would never ask for money in the street.

"We would never ask a child, and I would very, seriously doubt any school would ask a child, to stand out without an adult being there," she said.

Not to mention, the school's bookkeeper Akimi Jones said the district has strict rules and oversight when it comes to fundraising.

"[It] has to go through the superintendent to make sure they are notified and aware of the fundraiser you're doing, what's the purpose and what your hoping to accomplish," said Jones.

Same story for other school systems.

Green Dot said anyone you see on the street "is no way affiliated with them" even though one group we saw collecting money in helmets claimed they were with Fairley's football team.

Green Dot said in part, "It is not our policy to allow students to fundraise in traffic or any area unsupervised by an adult.'

"That's public solicitation. That's supposed to have a permit to do that at all. I have been doing this a awhile and have never seen one of those situations where they had a permit," said Memphis Police Colonel Darrell Sheffield.

He said their main concern is safety. He said it's illegal to be in the street.

"Pedestrians in traffic is not safe. Someone is going to get hurt if they continue to do that," he said.

He said if you stop to donate, you can get cited for obstructing a road.

Sheffield said if you feel uneasy, ask for their permit or coach, but he suggests just donating to a youth organization.

WIth no schools or teams fessing up to this fundraising practice, people like Coach Thorton wonder where the money is going.

"They don`t need to be doing that, because they are making it harder for the people who need the help," said Thorton.

Help his team could surely use.

If you'd like to help them with their fundraising efforts, email sharonda.gill@att.net.