Bowley resigns from leadership positions over field flap

Citing dissatisfaction with City Hall decisions, a longtime Costa Mesa youth sports advocate confirmed Wednesday that he has resigned from his sports leadership positions.

Gordon Bowley had been serving as president of Costa Mesa United and as chairman of the Costa Mesa Youth Sports Council. His resignations were effective March 18.

Bowley, a Costa Mesa resident since 1968 and former coach for youth baseball and soccer, was Costa Mesa United’s president for the last seven years. He has chaired the sports council since its inception six years ago.

In an interview, Bowley, 76, said his resignations stem from City Hall’s “poor management decisions, which resulted in negative effects across the board,” and a “loss of confidence” that his groups are true partners with the city’s executive leadership.

“I am speaking on my behalf, and not the Costa Mesa United board of directors,” Bowley said. “My personal feelings toward my city and its leadership have changed significantly in the last 60 days.”

He cited a decision in February affecting the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex, in which a private flag football program associated with former NFL quarterback Matt Leinart displaced other groups for the coveted Friday night spot.

The Leinart league, a “Group 3" user, was approved to have the complex’s baseball-softball fields on Friday nights instead of the city’s men’s softball league and Costa Mesa American Little League. A third group, Newport-Mesa Girls Softball, at first lost its Friday night spot, but later retained it.

Men’s softball, which had TeWinkle on Fridays for 25 years, and Little League were moved to other nights.

City leaders said at the time that their decisions were within management’s purview, did not violate policies and that the job of allocating field space in Costa Mesa is a constantly tough one — comparable to placing “10 pounds of flour in a 5-pound bag,” according to one city official.

They also cited the Leinart organization being “a well-run, community-oriented program” that also provides sponsorships and funds to local nonprofits and schools.

Dissenters of the Leinart decision, including former city Recreation Manager Bob Knapp — Bowley’s son-in-law — contended that it indeed violated Costa Mesa’s field-use allocation policy, which has historically prioritized “Group 1" users such as the Little League or its equivalent, like the city leagues, above others.

Bowley blamed city CEO Tom Hatch for the Leinart decision, saying he was “disappointed in the manner in which Mr. Hatch arbitrarily decided to bump or relocate three Group 1 users and the men’s softball league” in favor of the former Mater Dei, USC and NFL player’s group.

Bowley said Leinart’s program didn’t even need TeWinkle this spring.

“They could’ve played their seventh- and eighth-graders at their Newport Beach facility,” he said.

Hatch never approached the Youth Sports Council about the decision, Bowley said, and even though he may have the authority to make the call, that doesn’t make it “right.”

In a prepared statement, Hatch said the city does not want to comment on Bowley’s resignation — Costa Mesa United and the Youth Sports Council are not city entities — but has plans to review and address the complaints since the Leinart decision at TeWinkle.

“The city has a shortage of lighted athletic fields and will work hard with all interested parties to balance the field space needs of both youth and adult sports,” Hatch said Wednesday. “We will find a way to accommodate adult softball at TeWinkle sports complex on Friday nights this summer and in the future.”

Though Knapp told the Daily Pilot that he quit his recreation position partially because of the Leinart decision, Hatch wrote in a confidential Feb. 18 memo — which the Pilot reviewed — that there was more to the story.

Hatch contended in the memo, partially written in response to the Pilot’s story on the Leinart decision, that Knapp accepted a “likely fraudulent” letter last September that waived about $50,000 in fees for Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights, another flag football league that operates out of the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex, not far from TeWinkle.

Hatch wrote that Knapp’s acceptance of the letter was in clear violation of council policy approved last summer, which changed Friday Night Lights’ status so that it would have to pay fees to use Jack Hammett fields.

Knapp denied knowing that the letter’s contents were misstated, or that he did anything to help Scott Mahaffy, the league’s Newport-Mesa commissioner. Hatch contended that Knapp and Mahaffy — former rowing partners at Orange Coast College years ago — are close friends. In response, Knapp and Mahaffy both said they are not.

Friday Night Lights has since started repaying some of the $50,000 and is working out other details.