RIDGEFIELD, WA (KPTV) – Nearly 80 fastpitch softball teams in the Pacific Northwest want their thousands of dollars in tournament fees refunded after they say they paid the state director for USSSA for those events, but say the money just disappeared soon after that online payment.
Ryan Bushnell is the founder of Octane Fastpitch, a girls 14U and 16U softball organization based in Ridgefield.
He says they paid $3,000 in tournament entry fees to USSSA Washington State Director William Knoppi Sr. in October for upcoming tournaments, including one this upcoming weekend in Centralia.
Bushnell says the website directed teams to pay through a company called K23 Sports, which USSSA says was a separate company run through Knoppi Sr.
But in November, he learned Knoppi Sr. was fired by the organization and the money was nowhere to be found.
“I read this email and they're saying that we cannot honor the payment because it was through K23, and I'm like, that's not right,” Bushnell said.
Confusion spiraled. Where did the money go?
Bushnell says he tried to get their teams’ money back.
“So, I started investigating a little bit," Bushnell said. "We tried to email K23, no response. We called K23, no response. I'm like, well, are we in the tournament or not? Well, we need everyone to repay. I'm like, that's not going to happen. And I talk to the coaches and they're like, we see we're on the schedule, now we're not on the schedule, what's going on?”
Shortly after, USSSA released a statement saying it terminated Knoppi Sr. after learning he was recently charged with a felony and it was conducting an internal investigation.
On Wednesday, FOX 12 spoke with Strojan Kennison, USSSA’s interim director, over the phone. Kennison said USSSA is covering the costs for this weekend’s tournament and is hoping Knoppi Sr. will refund at least 80 teams for their entry fees for tournaments through early spring.
“Bottom line is that USSSA is going to make sure that these kids are playing these events that they were promised to take place and we're not going to this overshadow their opportunity to play softball,” Kennison said.
Kennison says USSSA is fronting nearly $15,000 in entry fees for the upcoming tournament in Centralia.
Kennison says all teams who paid entry fees through Knoppi Sr. and have not received a refund will be able to play in all tournaments as long as they show a receipt and proof they’ve tried to reach him to get their money back.
Kennison also says Knoppi Sr. was taking payments for several other upcoming softball tournaments - between $60,000 and $70,000 worth of tournament fees that are nowhere to be found, including payments he says were taken after his termination Nov. 15.
“We just want to handle this at the lowest level, make sure that we get the funds to the appropriate area for the services that are rendered to make sure that the politics and business are kept out of the youth sports and the kids are the ones that are being taken care of here being able to play the game of youth fast pitch,” Kennison said.
For Bushnell and his teams, he says they’re still frustrated, confused and say they have never dealt with something like before in competitive fastpitch softball.
“Our team motto is one team, one fight, and we discussed as a group last night when we say one team for this, it's for everybody,” Bushnell said.
FOX 12 tried to reach Knoppi Sr. over the phone but he did not return calls.
USSSA released a statement Thursday, saying Knoppi Sr. has been suspended from the USSSA organization and, effective immediately, USSSA will no longer sanction any future events affiliated with K23 sports.
The rest of the statements says:
Our national office has already appointed Washington Executive State Director Strojan Kennison as Washington's interim State Director. Kennison is an 18-year veteran of our organization with a phenomenal track record. He has my fullest confidence and I have no doubt he will exceed expectations in this role.
We realize you likely have questions concerning these recent changes. And we are working hard to provide you with as much guidance as possible, as soon as possible, with the greatest consideration and care for our athletes.
What I can tell you is that our national office has stepped in to underwrite 100 percent of the operating costs for this weekend's Toys for Tots Fastpitch Tournament in Centralia, WA. As such, Washington USSSA will be operating the event at the NW Sports Hub indoor facility as planned on December 6.
All teams currently registered for the Toys for Tots Fastpitch Tournament will be permitted to play, and attendees should see no changes made to their tournament experience as a result. Teams should also note that this weekend's event is no longer affiliated with K23 Sports but is still sanctioned by USSSA.
We have also been notified by the NW Sports Hub indoor facility that they will no longer host any previously scheduled tournaments in partnership with K23 Sports, but that they would like to do so in partnership with USSSA. As such, USSSA Washington has agreed to take over the operations of four events scheduled for January, February and March. Similarly, these tournaments will no longer be affiliated with K23 Sports but will be sanctioned by USSSA.
Additionally, we at the national office are aware that some teams have paid entry fees to K23 Sports for future tournaments previously associated with USSSA. Our national office has agreed to provide a full credit to any team who has paid an entry fee to K23 Sports for a USSSA-sanctioned event that has not yet taken place.
In order to obtain a full credit, USSSA will require proof of payment dated on or before December 5, 2019, for events taking place through June 31, 2019. These entry fees must have been made to K23 Sports directly for previously USSSA-sanctioned tournaments in order to qualify. Our Washington office staff will become the point of contact for receiving and processing these requests, and we ask for your patience as we work expeditiously to provide a fair and equitable solution to those affected.
Moving forward, please direct any inquiries and requests related to Washington USSSA to email@example.com.
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