No cheers: Slow refund leaves sour taste

Before Rita Salsini, with her husband and three daughters, moved to Charlottesville last April, she scoured the Internet to get acquainted with their new home. After checking out neighborhoods, schools, and churches, she sought "to set up extracurricular activities so my girls could make new friends."

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Football League (CAYFL) sounded like a good deal– not so that her daughters could suit up and break gender barriers, but because CAYFL also offered cheerleading. As it turned out, however, what Salsini hoped would be a fun experience has left the family "with a very sour taste."

Salsini registered the girls on April 30 and paid $150 each, for a total of $450. She got a receipt, but claims that after that, communication with CAYFL shut down almost completely. Three emails to the group's secretary to ask about uniform fittings, she says, went unanswered; in the end, she found out from a friend where the fittings were to be.

Between July 24 and September 5, Salsini's chronology lists eight emails to CAYFL asking when cheering practice would begin. All, she claims, went unanswered. In the last unanswered message, she asked about a refund. Ten days later she asked again– but again, got no response. On September 20, she emailed Chris Curtis, who handles public relations for the league.

Curtis replied the same day to apologize for the delay. "We are refunding all cheerleaders their registration fees," he emailed, "due to our cheer coordinator quitting and not letting us know she quit until a few weeks afterward. We knew nothing until all heck broke loose."

Curtis then vented his frustration in great detail. "It takes 23 volunteers to help us make football alone work. No one was willing to step up and volunteer as coordinators, coaches, or even helping out for the cheer. Everyone is willing to help out if they can manage people and tell a bunch of people what to do, but they do not want to do any work."

After saying that Salsini would receive her refund "within the next two to three weeks," Curtis added that CAYFL would "not move any faster that since we are in the midst of getting the football finalized. If you attempt to push us faster, it will not happen because we have only so much time."

In her September 21 reply, Salsini thanked Curtis for responding. "I will hold you to your word," she wrote, "and expect my full refund of $450 by October 12," which was three weeks away. When no check arrived, she emailed Curtis on October 13. "We have already filed a complaint [with] the Better Business Bureau," she wrote, "and will continue to pursue this matter. We demand a refund immediately!" Curtis's replied, "You will get your money, you need to relax."

Instead of relaxing, Salsini contacted me. I spoke with Curtis on November 1, who said, "Part of the problem is that these people need to get off their behinds and get involved." I pointed out that Salsini might never been given the chance to get involved, since the program she'd signed up for had been cancelled. "We've refunded every penny, and nobody's been denied," he declared.

I reminded him that Salsini's $450 still hadn't been refunded, and he replied, "I said no one's been denied."

I also spoke with CAYFL president Gary Popovich, who claimed that checks were being sent out every week as the group worked its way down a chronological list. I asked him whether Salsini's $450 might be moved to the head of the line, and he agreed.

Popovich and Curtis's frustration is understandable; such leagues provide tremendous opportunities for area kids, and are totally run by volunteers. One fifth of CAYFL's kids play on scholarships, which adds fundraising to their long list of duties.

Salsini received her refund the following day. The check, she emailed to report, was dated September 23. "I didn't know," she added, "it took the mail so long from Crozet to Charlottesville."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.