March 13, 2012
In a move calling to mind the remake of the movie “The Bad News Bears,” a surprise donation from a strip club is helping to keep the financially troubled Lennox Little League rolling for one more year.
But unlike the 2005 “Bears” remake, in which the teammates were forced to advertise a sponsor called “Bo-Peeps Gentleman’s Club” on their uniforms, the jerseys of the 40 or so teams in the Lennox league will not bear the logo of the Jet Strip.
And the Jet Strip’s $1,200 donation certainly doesn’t mean the league’s existential struggle is over. In fact, the league president says the organization serving at least 300 kids still needs a miracle.
“It feels good to be from Lennox when people do stuff like that,” said Roberto Aguirre, who has held the volunteer post for four years. “At the same time, the future is very scary for us, because (the donation) is a one-time deal.”
Located in an economically depressed area in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport, the Lennox Little League is buckling under the weight of several new regulations and fees imposed by the K-8 Lennox School District, Aguirre says. The school district owns all the ball diamonds in the mile-by-mile community.
Although the league and the school district are attempting to work through their issues, Aguirre says the dispute has taken a heavy toll on player participation and delayed the start of the season by three weeks.
Whereas the season usually opens in February with a ceremony that includes live rock music, hot food and inflatable jumpers for the kids, the 2012 season opened on Saturday on a low-key note: just a few balloons tied to the chain-link fence and a first pitch.
“We’re all bummed and sad,” Aguirre said. “It’s even kind of embarrassing.”
In December, the school board doubled the per-day fee it has historically charged to the league for the use of those fields to pay for a security guard.
The $1,200 contribution from the Lennox strip club – presented to the school board two weeks ago – as well as a $1,000 donation from the league in Westchester and another $600 from the Lennox Coordinating Council is enough to cover the increase in the Lennox league’s fees for one year.
But the bigger issue has to do with selling snacks, Aguirre says. Midway through last season, the school district, citing concerns about public health, quashed what has long been the league’s financial bread and butter: selling grilled foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs at the games. Now the league is restricted to selling packaged goods.
“People don’t want candy, candy, candy – chips, chips, chips,” Aguirre said. “They want hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries.”
The school district, whose top administrators could not be reached for comment last week, has attempted to strike a compromise, installing a drain for a legitimate snack shack to be built amid the cluster of fields near Lennox Middle School. And a local nonprofit organization called YouthBuild has stepped up to the plate by offering to build the snack shack free of charge.
So what’s the problem? To purchase the materials, the league is going to have to raise $65,000. That’s a tall order in an urban town so impoverished that the league offers a payment plan so families can afford the annual $85 per-player fee.
“We’re looking up in the sky and hoping for something great,” Aguirre said. “If this snack stand happens, it’s going to be the best thing that could happen for our league.”
Relations between the school district and the league remain tense. League volunteers are miffed, for instance, by a request from the district to view the league’s financial records.
“I want to turn around and say, `Look, this ain’t our job – this is something these guys do out of their hearts,” Aguirre said. But he added he is happy to comply. “I think (the school officials) just don’t know simple things, like what a dozen baseballs cost. A catcher’s helmet costs $68. Guess what, I need a lot of helmets. They don’t see that part.”
School officials have said they are well aware of the shortage of green space in Lennox and do their best to accommodate the league and other nonprofits. But they say that, in recent years, more and more unpermitted groups (not the organized leagues) have been using the fields for pickup games.
The district has hired a security guard to keep better tabs on the fields, and the fee increases – from $150 to $300 a weekend for the entire league – will pay for that guard.
As for the Jet Strip, whose parent company is Lennox Entertainment – which also owns Bare Elegance in Hawthorne – this is far from its first foray into local philanthropy.
The company typically contributes on the down low.
“We don’t really like to brag about it,” said Jet Strip General Manager James Wallace, who for 15 years has served on the all-volunteer Lennox Coordinating Council, which acts as a kind of unofficial proxy for a city council in the unincorporated town.
In the past, entities have been reluctant to accept charity from the nude entertainment clubs.
In 1999, Bare Elegance raised up to $10,000 in a charity golf tournament, but couldn’t find a home for the donation; nonprofit groups such as the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation refused the money. In 1993, the American Red Cross begged off a $5,000 offer from the Jet Strip.
Over the years, the Jet Strip has donated frequently to the Lennox Coordinating Council, which has redistributed the money to its pet causes, such as scholarships, the annual Lennox Family Festival and self-defense classes.
“They’ve always stayed in the background,” said Maria Verduzco Smith, a retired Xerox employee who has served on the coordinating council for 34 years.
It was Smith – not Wallace – who told the Daily Breeze about the Jet Strip’s contribution to the Little League.
“I told (Wallace), `Hey, it’s about time we get you out of the background and let people know you care about the community,” she said, adding: “They don’t do anything illegal. It’s a business. To each his own.”