Jr. Raiders facing possible league expulsion

Lacrosse: Okotoks' fate to be decided at hearing on Tuesday

By: By Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Monday, Dec 17, 2012 07:08 pm

Okotoks Raider Leighton Gibson fends off a check from a Calgary Mountaineer. The Raiders are facing a possible exodus from the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League at the behest of the league's three other teams.
Okotoks Raider Leighton Gibson fends off a check from a Calgary Mountaineer. The Raiders are facing a possible exodus from the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League at the behest of the league's three other teams.
Wheel file photo

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The Okotoks Junior A Raiders are facing possible expulsion from the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League pending a hearing Dec. 18.

The other three members of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League’s (RMLL) Junior A division — the Edmonton Eclipse, St. Albert Miners and Calgary Mountaineers — passed a motion to expel the Raiders from the league at a Dec. 5 meeting, according to documents leaked to the Western Wheel.

“We take it very seriously and it was not a decision that was made overnight,” said Miners’ head coach AJ Johma, one of the original complainants against the Raiders. “At the end of the day we had to do what we thought was in the best interest of the Junior A league and lacrosse in Alberta.”

The Miners coach said the working relationship between the Raiders and the other organizations in the league reached a breaking point this past season.

“The interaction between the Raiders and the league, the three teams plus the commissioner (Greg Lintz), over the years has been acrimonious and difficult all the time,” Johma said. “We’ve now gotten to a point where we don’t have the resources either volunteer wise or financially interest wise in continuing to have these disagreements and fallouts with this organization.”

The Raiders were penalized last summer for playing with more than the maximum number of import players leading to a number of hearings. The Okotoks organization was also penalized for using illegal Junior B players during the 2012 RMLL post-season.

The Raiders have also been the class of the Alberta Junior A circuit over the past several years with championship titles in 2005, 2010 and 2011. They brought the Minto Cup to Okotoks in 2011.

Johma has been at the forefront of the movement to expel the Raiders, but insists his views are shared by the Eclipse and Mountaineer organizations.

“I’m the one that is in a sense taking the lead, but the Miners have no greater impact than the other two (teams) do,” Johma said. “All three groups have felt a need for this for some time.”

Raiders owner and general manager David Fehr said the motivations behind the measure to kick his team out of the league are of a personal nature.

“Next thing you know we get a document saying they’ve got together and decided they’re going to kick us out and here are the reasons and there’s about 25 reasons,” Fehr said. “And by far the large majority of the stuff is innuendo, slanderous and out-and-out lies.

“It’s heinous, it’s absolutely ridiculous and it’s all personal. Those other three teams are about ready to destroy our program and destroy Junior A lacrosse.”

The RMLL allows for the expulsion of a team by league membership, as per league bylaw section 4.03.4, in the event a special resolution is passed by two-thirds of the members of the league.

“We’ve made all kinds of compromises like we’ve done for the past 10 years, but we’re not going to let them push us around anymore,” Fehr said. “We’re standing our ground on it.”

Johma said the initial motion to have the Raiders kicked out of the league would have been withdrawn had the organization agreed to dismiss Fehr, governor Jennifer Pollock and assistant coach Dave Pym.

“They’re trying to gut our team and there’s no grounds for it,” Fehr said. “They think they can get my coach, my governor and myself out of the way and they’re going to be able to continue to do whatever they want.”

The Raiders owner said he’s been proactive in trying to mend the tenuous relationship with the other members of the league since the organization was founded in 2002.

“For 10 years we kept saying let’s sit down and talk about our differences and our philosophy of growing the game and what we have to do to get together,” Fehr said. “And their attitude is it’s three-versus-one. I’ve been told that directly to my face by the group.”

The expulsion is subject to a RMLL executive hearing, which was heard on Dec. 18 by league treasurer Earl Caron.

RMLL president Bill Sucha and vice-president Duane Bratt recused themselves due to a conflict of interest as both men are executive members of the Mountaineers.

Pollock, the Raiders’ governor and legal counsel, will speak on behalf of the organization at the hearing. In a phone conversation on Monday, Pollock didn’t want to speculate on how the hearing will transpire.

“We’ve put together our response to the claims that have been made against us, many of which weren’t supported by the facts,” said Pollock. “And then we’ve made our response to the legal argument to whether or not we’ve had a fair hearing because the other teams voted before they ever heard from us.”

In the wake of the threat to the organization, the Raiders received an outpouring of support from the lacrosse community including from Calgary Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride and British Columbia Junior Lacrosse League president Ken Wood.

“I just cannot see how removing one of four teams, and a successful one within your league, demonstrates a commitment to growth and development to the rest of the Junior A larger communities,” said Wood in a letter of support for the Raiders.

Okotoks Mustangs vice-president of organizational development Clint Bymak acknowledged the contributions of the Raiders in an impassioned letter of support.

Bymak stressed the importance of the Raiders in supplying staff and players to contribute in coaching, evaluations, camps, community events and in bringing the Minto Cup to Okotoks in 2011.

“In my opinion there is not one valid argument that can be made to say that removing a team from a town and a division will ever benefit the game,” Bymak stated. “To grow lacrosse in Alberta is not important to some like it is to others and targeting a club to try and send messages is only hurting the kids and the community they play in, which in our town is not at all acceptable.”

The RMLL hearing was held after the Western Wheel’s deadline on Dec. 18. Look for updates to the story in the Dec. 25 issue of the paper or at www.westernwheel.com.


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