Youth soccer club contends MCPS favors 'wealthy children,' files civil lawsuit against school leaders

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A local soccer club is taking Montgomery County Public Schools to court over claims of financial favoritism.

Rockville-based Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI) alleges MCPS top brass and the Board of Education have routinely granted wealthy soccer clubs access to their fleet of five artificial turf fields. In turn, MSI says less-advantaged children are left playing soccer on grubby fields at parks and elementary schools.

"It's made me sick to my stomach," MSI executive director Doug Schussler remarked. "You clearly have a very substantial advantage if you're from an elite athletic organization, or from the wealthiest communities."

MSI's civil lawsuit, filed July 1 in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleges MCPS unlawfully awarded three athletic organizations use of artificial fields at Richard Montgomery and Winston Churchill High Schools. Those clubs are the Bethesda Lacrosse Association, Bethesda Soccer Association and Potomac Soccer Association.

"The Board did not follow its own administrative regulations and procedures in making these decisions, the process by which these decisions were made was highly irregular and rife with conflicts of interest," the civil complaint states.

MCPS uses a 100-point scoring system to pair private clubs with its highly-coveted and pristine artificial fields. An applicant's financial bid makes up 40 percent, its program plan accounts for 30 percent, references are 20 percent, and club staffing constitutes the final 10 percent. MSI, however, claims MCPS leaders are transfixed on one thing alone---money.

"It's shocking that none of the other criteria was ever given any value; the only issue that was ever discussed was dollars and cents," Schussler added. "I call it serving one portion of the community with tremendous preference, and we want to know why."

MSI coaches around 15,000 Montgomery County children from a variety of financial backgrounds. Although the 43-year-old club has a traveling component, the majority of its 900 teams are low-pressure recreational squads. On the other side of the soccer spectrum sits the uber-competitive and wallet-pinching Bethesda Soccer Club, which maintains around 60 teams and 900 players.

MSI says despite the statistics, MCPS only awarded it access to Gaithersburg High School's artificial turf, while the much smaller Bethesda Soccer Club can now play at Richard Montgomery, Walter Johnson and Thomas Wootton High Schools.

"If you are members of a certain wealthy and elite community, you are a winner in a huge way. You now have access to multiple synthetic turf fields at high schools," Schussler remarked. "I would suggest that people remember there are a far greater number of kids who are literally playing on dirt and rocks."

In a prepared written statement, MCPS' Chief Communications Officer Brian Edwards said:

"This lawsuit is wholly and completely without merit and we will demonstrate that in court. It's extremely unfortunate for them [MSI] to personally attack MCPS employees with contrived accusations of conflicts of interest."

ABC 7 News asked MCPS for copies of "scoring criteria" it claims to have filled out during the most recent bidding process, in which MSI and the Bethesda Soccer Club took part. However, the school system would not produce the documents, saying it is part of its defense.

"Our proposals should have scored massively higher than those that were selected. Consequently, small portions of our community that are very advantaged are going to get yet another opportunity for enjoyment in quality and satisfaction, and the masses are just going to be further driven into the darkness," Schussler concluded.