The struggles and triumphs of the Glendale Bears Youth Football and Cheerleading organization read like the pages of a Hollywood script.
The group fell victim twice to embezzlers, leaving the organization broke. Then, the young players had a defeating season last year with no touchdowns. Their luck, however, turned around this year and they nearly won a conference title.
During the last seven years, the nonprofit has worked hard to overcome major financial woes stemming from a breach of trust.
The Bears’ former president and former treasurer defrauded the organization of tens of thousands of dollars in separate incidents, leaving its board members to deal with mounting bills and unpaid debt.
However, a group of devoted parents and volunteers stepped in to help restructure the organization, slowly paying off debt, obtaining sponsors and, most importantly — making the organization’s financial records available to the public.
“It was hard because the trust was gone,” division coach Juan Monzon said.
Some parents took their children out of the organization, while others stayed and “fought through it,” he said.
Soon enough, the Bears’ financial situation began to turn around and new players started joining the league.
The group, whose players live in Glendale, La Crescenta, Burbank and the Los Angeles region, competes in the San Gabriel Valley Junior All-American Football Conference.
The Bears, founded in 1969, has several football divisions, including Junior and PeeWee squads, for players ages 6 to 13. There are also five division cheerleading squads.
However, last year proved to be a struggle for the Glendale Bears Gremlins.
The team lost every game. The players didn’t score a single touchdown.
The defeating season left many players unmotivated for another year, said Monzon, who heads the Gremlin squad.
But this year was different.
Driven to put the losing season behind them, Monzon and his coaching staff began conditioning early this year.
They met with the players’ parents and tried to motivate them, too.
“Win or lose, it’s fun and it’s for the kids,” he said. “It’s just for the love of the game.”
This season, Monzon “felt better” and the players were eager.
They came back stronger than ever from the struggling season, said conference representative Alex Ramirez, whose 10-year-old son also plays in the league.
The squad went from losing every game to being undefeated. But their winning streak also meant they had to face the La Cañada Gladiators last month for the conference championship.
In that game, the Gladiators defeated the Glendale Bears 45-13.
While the loss was deflating, Monzon said it also motivated the players to want to keep going.
At the Dec. 17 Glendale City Council meeting, the team got a chance to enjoy their win with city officials.
Mayor Dave Weaver presented the players with a commendation and pins.
“I commend the excellent year your team has had,” he told them. “It must be a wonderful feeling to have made it as far as the championship game.”
For the Bears, the winning season and organizational changes reaffirms their mission.
“We are not looking into the past,” the group’s president Cynthia Perez said. “We are looking into the future and how to improve.”