Fiesta Bowl volunteers don't deserve stain from scandal - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Fiesta Bowl volunteers don't deserve stain from scandal

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 1:36 pm | Updated: 10:01 am, Wed Dec 14, 2011.

Soon enough, when all the investigations and possible legal actions are wrapped up, perhaps more people will be penalized for their roles in the Fiesta Bowl scandal than the top bowl officials who are now off its payroll.

Perhaps some people will be fined or go to jail. And maybe some elected officials will suffer political penalties.

Some well-known East Valley names are among those under suspicion.

But the worst result of the Fiesta Bowl debacle won't be punishment for anyone responsible, as deserved as it might be.

What will be much longer lasting is that dripping, rotten tomato tossed right at that yellow-and-orange logo that's been one of the most enduring symbols of what is right with Arizona. This scandal has made a deep, penetrating stain that will take many, many years to fade.

Today, stinking tomato juice runs down the faces of thousands of volunteers at Fiesta Bowl events. Each year, these kind folks gave of their time and talents at these events for two reasons:

To help raise the millions of dollars these events bring in for charity. And, to be part of the Fiesta Bowl, one of the greatest of our home-grown ideas.

If you've lived here long enough to have re-plastered your swimming pool, you'd know that the relatively recently established bowl, whose first game was at Sun Devil Stadium in 1971, was the result of a united Arizona business and government community. These leaders created an event that gained national fame for how it helped transform this Valley into a major metropolis.

Over the years it became the model for all other such games as it went from minor postseason contest to host of the major college football national championship. Year after year at press conferences called by teams coming to the Fiesta Bowl, head coaches would testify not just to our nice January weather, which a lot of places have, but to say that nobody treats a visiting team as well.

You hear that, and it makes an Arizonan feel good in ways that are rare lately: that we're known for hospitality and organization and leaving a lasting impression with visitors. Now the era of feeling good is over.

We can be rightfully appalled, as we have been this week, by investigators' findings that bowl funds paid for a $33,000 birthday party for now-fired CEO John Junker; paid $13,000 toward the wedding of his aide, Kelly Keogh; paid $1,200 for Junker's night with associates at a strip club. Appalled by findings about alleged handouts of free trips and tickets. Appalled by suspicions about reimbursements of bowl employees' political contributions.

It's looking more and more as though a number of people forgot that they were working for a non-profit organization designed to promote our beautiful state nationally and help so many people here at home, many of whom cannot help themselves. And that's shocking.

But right after that shock comes the shame. That while thousands of volunteers were donating time and energy for the greater good, some people might have been thinking that spending money that isn't theirs on themselves was just the way one does big-time bowl business.

That may well be the start of some discussions about whether big-time bowl business needs to be significantly changed. We can only hope the bowl is now on the path of reform.

Meanwhile, we should not take out on these charities our rightful anger at this outrage. The transgressions of a few people at the top of the national United Way organization many years ago was felt by local United Way chapters who had nothing to do with the sins at the national office. And those local poor, ill and disadvantaged suffered for years due to lower contributions.

So please, keep giving and - this might be the hardest part - keep volunteering.

The best cleanser for this rotten tomato is continued support for the 40 charities helped by the Fiesta Bowl by its true loyalists, its volunteers. It will show the nation once again that we are bigger than the problems, even the scandals, which beset our beloved Arizona.

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Mark J. Scarp is a Tribune contributing columnist. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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