UPDATE: Columbus Parks and Recreation Department suspends Innovative Sports Program in wake of audit

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 24, 2010 

In the wake of an internal audit, the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has suspended a city-run recreation program that fields developmental and elite sports teams.

The Innovative Sports Program “was temporarily placed on hold,” Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin said Monday.

The program came under fire last week when the city audit raised questions about up to $150,000 spent on the program.

Part of the program consists of developmental and elite teams in boys and girls basketball, boxing and track and field. The elite teams, known as the Georgia Blazers, have players from across south Georgia and north Florida and travel out of state to tournaments and games.

Goodwin could not say how many children participate in the program.

The Parks and Recreation Department has until June 8 to respond to the six-month audit, which was done by internal auditor John Redmond, who works out of Mayor Jim Wetherington’s office.

The mayor’s office did not request the program be suspended and did not know it had happened, Wetherington said Monday. The mayor declined to discuss the move until it could be brought before Columbus Council on Tuesday.

The under-17 Georgia Blazers boys basketball team is coached by Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams. That team, which is sponsored by shoe and apparel company Nike, is in the Nike backed Elite Youth Basketball League, according to ESPN’s web site. The league, which features many of the top high school basketball prospects in the nation, started this year with 42 teams from across the country. The Columbus-based team participated in league play in Hampton Roads, Va., in April and Houston a week ago.

The team, which has a 3-6 record in the first two weekends of league play, is scheduled to play in Los Angeles for the final league session this weekend. The tops teams advance to a season-ending tournament in North Augusta, S.C. The league is used to showcase players for college and professional scouts.

Asked if the team would be in California, Goodwin said she could not answer that.

On Monday morning, Adams referred all questions to Goodwin.

The 13-player Georgia Blazers roster on the ESPN web site lists one player from Columbus, Kendrick’s Tim Dixon.

The rest of the roster includes: Kentavious Caldwell, Greenville, Ga.; Malick Kone, Lakeland, Ga.; Dequante Jackson, Cordele, Ga.; Rasamuel Mahogany, Pineview, Ga.; Nick Marshall, Pineview, Ga.; Dominique Pollard, Richland, Ga.; Terel Hall, Dawson, Ga.; Emmanuel Ezoua, Lakeland, Ga.; Chris Walker, Bonifay, Fla.; Kruize Pinkins, Marianna, Fla.; Junior Gnonkonde, Lakeland, Ga.; Rontavius Gilbert, Albany, Ga.

Caldwell, who attends Greenville High School, is one of the top high school recruits in the nation, according to some scouting services.

The Blazers teams also compete in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments.

The Parks and Recreation audit outlined a number of concerns in the city department that has a $10 million budget and employs about 300 people in full-time and part-time jobs.

Those concerns had to do with the money controls in concession stands, hiring of employees who had previously been terminated and were not eligible for rehire.

In the breakdown of the Innovative Sports Program, the auditor recommended that the city stop funding the travel teams and they be funded or sponsored by a non-governmental source.

Redmond is scheduled to outline the audit process for council during Tuesday night’s scheduled Columbus Council meeting.

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