Mall Americans

A fledgling indoor-football league is a steppingstone -- for some, to the future; for others, to the past

The idea, he says, was to make Every Kid Counts the league's primary beneficiary while letting it dole out proceeds to--or coordinate promotions for--kid-related charities throughout the season. Among the benefiting agencies that AIFL officials name are the Single Parents Association, Sexual Assault Recovery Institute, Boys & Girls Clubs and the Police Athletic League.

Some folks have had the impression that a charity-of-the-week-type program is in place, in which the benefiting charity would receive a portion of Every Kid Counts' proceeds.

But the league so far has been in no position to offer charities anything other than promotional opportunities and donated ice cream, with attendance much lower than expected and what little money there is tied up in a dispute with landlord RSBP Investments. As a result, "We're always bailing water," Henige says.

The league has been unable to pay Every Kid Counts anything more than a $500 expense-reimbursement check, Perelka says. In turn, other charities say they have not gotten proceeds they were led to believe they would.

"We have not received any funds," says Ed Price of the Single Parents Association, a Scottsdale-based group with 400 members. The group was invited to be one week's beneficiary and set up an informational table at the game. But Price said proceeds from raffle-ticket sales that were to benefit the group never materialized because the league's dance squad revolted and refused to sell them.

Every Kid Counts has its glitches. Although it is registered as a tax-exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service, other credentials have fallen by the wayside: It is not registered as a charitable organization with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office and its nonprofit status was revoked by the state Corporation Commission in May 1995. Perelka was not aware that the organization's nonprofit privileges had been revoked until New Times brought it to his attention.

He is in the process of clearing up the matter. "This is kind of embarrassing," Perelka says.

Bob Ryan of RSBP Investments, which leases the facility from John F. Long, says AIFL officials have good intentions and a viable idea, but haven't found a way to make it sell. He says bad bookkeeping and poor decision making have mired the league in high overhead and unnecessarily high expenses, including an $800-a-week bill for referees.

However, Perelka says RSBP controls the finances and that the AIFL's hands are tied until the league sees the money, money that Ryan of RSBP says has been used to pay overhead expenses.

Had attendance figures in the preseason dreams of AIFL officials and RSBP Investments borne out, it's possible that charity intentions could have been fulfilled, too. Instead, it appears both went for the long bomb when they perhaps should have played more conservatively.

The dispute came to a head on April 10. Leveling charges of shoddy bookkeeping and office management, Ryan and RSBP tightened the reins on the league's daily use of the pavilion for football operations and barred the AIFL from using the offices, except on game days.

"This is not the plan we laid out in September," a disappointed Perelka says.

There is a guy from the outdoor Arizona Football League, a guy named Scott Lavender, who has earned a tryout with the Charlotte Rage of the Arena Football League. What he had to do to earn that tryout was be the premier player at his position in every game for an entire amateur-league season.

"If you can't dominate at this level, you can't get a shot at the next level," says Kevin Pakos, commissioner of that outdoor league.

John Griffin has a long way to go.
But when he looks back on his years in football, there is one game that stands out, one that spelled a change in mindset that he believes made him the player he is today.

Phoenix College was playing Ricks College, a low-level powerhouse junior college in Idaho that feeds Brigham Young University. On the 20-hour bus ride to Ricks, Coach Pat Lavin rattled strategy and pep. Everybody knew what he had to do.

But in the first half, in front of 3,000 rabid low-level powerhouse fans, Griffin got his butt kicked. He couldn't free himself to make a tackle. Coach Lavin, he says, yanked him out of the lineup, gave him a battleground stare and said: Did you come here to play football, or to get your butt kicked? Do what you have to do.

In the second half, Griffin says, he had six sacks and 13 tackles, numbers bordering on superhuman.

Says Lavin, who now coaches at Independence High School, of John Griffin, "I remember the name, but not the face or what position he played." When told of the verbal spanking he administered that whipped Griffin into shape, he pauses and asks, "What position did he play again?"

Memories, like dreams, have a way of adjusting with time, and whether the stats are right, it's the attitude Griffin says he carried away from the memory that he values.

"I had never played in front of that many people. I blocked out everything around me. Now the only thing I hear is that ball when it moves. That's the only thing I care about."

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