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Sports Kids Meet Off; Program to Stay Alive

Times Staff Writer

Former Olympian Bob Mathias said Friday that his Irvine-based Sports Kids organization has called off its summer games for children in Mexico because the group has no money to stage the event. But he said the Sports Kids program will be kept alive because “it’s too good an idea to drop.”

“I’m really disappointed (about) what happened,” Mathias told The Times in a telephone interview. “We are going to regroup and plan bigger and better for next year.”

Mathias, the first person to win back-to-back Olympic decathlons, in 1948 and in 1952, said that Sports Kids cash problems were the result of a Texas financier’s failure to make good a promise to donate $5 million. The summer event, called Earth Games, was scheduled to begin Aug. 13 in Tijuana and run for 10 days.

Sports Kids official Chuck Foster said he has notified sponsors and others that the games will not be held. He said similar notification will be sent to more than 50 countries that had confirmed that they were sending children to the games.

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“We have run out of time,” Foster said. “If you can’t do the games right, it is best we postpone them until we can do them correctly.”

The organization figured that it needed between $350,000 and $485,000 in cash to stage the games. Officials said more than $1 million in non-monetary contributions for the Mexico games had been received, but that cash was still needed to stage the event.

According to the group’s books, Sports Kids had a negative balance of $5 in its checking account Thursday and its current liabilities were listed at $550,000. Much of the deficit was in salaries owed to full-time staff members who have never received a paycheck, officials said. Sports Kids was founded about 18 months ago by Mathias.

Sports Kids officials said they were introduced to Houston businessman Michael A.C. Makris in January through a charity broker who described him as a multimillionaire who wanted to donate a large sum of money to a nonprofit organization devoted to the development of children.

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When Makris failed to make the first installment of the $5 million, Foster said he began checking with prominent people that Makris said he knew well. None of them knew him, Foster said, adding that he later learned that Makris had a criminal record and had served two prison terms for fraud and perjury.

In a telephone interview, Makris acknowledged that he had served time in prison, but contended that his convictions were “politically motivated.” Makris said he would give Sports Kids $5 million if Foster, whom he called a poor administrator, resigned.

In a letter dated July 12 to Sports Kids staff members, Makris wrote: “I was and I am still interested in funding, personally, the entire program.” But he added that before he deposits $5 million, Foster would have to resign. Makris said he had offered Foster $100,000 to “peacefully leave.”

But Foster said he doesn’t believe Makris has the money, and Mathias agreed:

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“We thought he was the white knight, someone who really wanted to help young people.” Mathias said. “We still have these goals; apparently he does not. We don’t want to deal with those kinds of people.”

Mathias said the Sports Kids staff “checked out Makris pretty thoroughly. We were just fooled by him.”

Last month, The Times reported that Sports Kids owed about $80,000 to former Irvine City Councilman C. David Baker. After Baker was convicted of forging a check to finance his faltering congressional campaign last year, he performed community service work for the organization and ultimately accepted a full-time job, although he resigned in April.

Mathias said Baker was a “wonderful guy who liked kids,” but that he did not “work out with our organization.”

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Foster said Sports Kids had agreed to Makris’ request not to raise money from any other sources. But he added that the organization will return to traditional fund-raising efforts now that the $5 million is not forthcoming.

“We are all disappointed, but we will regroup and set our goals for next year,” Mathias said. “The concept is just too good an idea to drop.”

The Sports Kids program focuses on the character development of children from 5 to 12 through participation in sports.


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