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Rogue Valley Timbers take over Rogue Valley Cup

The Rogue Valley Timbers soccer club has created a tournament to replace the Rogue Valley Cup amid accusations by Cup founder and president Mike Dunn that he was "engineered" out of the event.

Timbers officials say that they did not break any rules and had local youth players in mind while forming the Rogue Memorial Challenge, which will replace one of the region's most prominent events.

The nonprofit Rogue Valley Cup, which has taken place in Medford over Memorial Day weekend for the past 19 years, has been credited with generating millions for the local economy. About 2,500 youths participate and up to 10,000 people attend, including siblings and parents.

But local soccer officials say the Cup, while supported and staffed by local soccer teams and families, was not returning that support financially.

Jeff Thomas, the president of the Rogue Valley Timbers soccer club and Medford School Board chairman, said that the Timbers (the group formerly known as the Rogue Valley Soccer Club) separated from the Rogue Valley Soccer Cup Association because leaders wanted more control of the money, for such things as covering registration fees for families that need help.

"It's about the money staying local with kids," Thomas said. "Ultimately we don't know how much (Dunn) gave and where it is. Show me a balance sheet ... . In the past we had no idea how much money was given.

Thomas also said the tournament had increasingly involved more local teams and fewer top-level teams from out of the area. That reduced the financial impact for the community in areas such as hotel stays and restaurant meals and meant local participants were covering more of the costs.

"As much as I wish (Dunn) could have stayed involved, ultimately 25 percent of the teams are from our club and 75 percent of the teams are Southern Oregon," Thomas said. "We need to make sure we are keeping that money locally to spend it on kids.

"We as a community, if we don't have control over the largest fundraiser in youth soccer here and the actual soccer club has no idea how much money comes in, how can I help kids?"

In a written statement, Dunn said that "funds from the tournament have gone back into the community in many ways, including player and team sponsorships at the club level, assistance to Medford Parks and Recreation and Medford school district for field development, equipment and maintenance and donations to local high school teams impacted by budget cuts to their programs."

Dunn claims the local club "engineered" the takeover with the Medford City Council.

Last December, the council approved the modification of an agreement between the Timbers and the Medford Parks and Recreation Department. The approval gave the Timbers — and not the Rogue Valley Soccer Cup Association — permission to use fields at U.S. Cellular Community Park and Fichtner-Mainwaring Park during Memorial Day weekend.

Rogue Valley Cup matches took place primarily at North and South Medford high schools, Fichtner-Mainwaring Park and U.S. Cellular Community Park.

"The city has no part of this," said Brian Sjothun, Medford Parks and Recreation director. "This is between the Cup and the (Timbers) club, but the club has the right to use the fields in accordance with the agreement."

Dunn, a former Medford resident who now lives in Eugene, said he was told by the Timbers club that only U.S. Cellular Community Park would be reserved by the Timbers, but then "the City Council voted on it and changed it to also include Fichtner." All fields were reserved by the Timbers by June, Dunn said.

Thomas denied that any rules were broken as the Timbers reserved the fields and pursued the opportunity to create their own tournament. Dunn said that Thomas' role in reserving the fields could be a "conflict of interest" because of his position on the School Board.

"Basically I can't fight the city hall and the school district," Dunn said.

But Thomas said the fields are public and not set aside for specific groups year after year.

"The board requested (the fields). Next year some other member may get them. There is nothing unethical about working for kids as a volunteer."

Kevin Primerano, Timbers director of coaching, said that club officials had a meeting with Dunn in August to see if a compromise could be reached.

"And (Dunn's) comment was, 'Do you want me to lead, follow or get out of the way?'" Primerano said. "We spoke with the board and felt like it was time to move forward."

For the last two years, the Timbers and Rogue Valley Soccer Cup Association have partnered on the tournament.

"Last year we said, 'OK, we have half the field and you have half the field,'" Dunn said. "We were more than happy to collaborate. They said, 'We don't want you to give money to other entities. We want 100 percent of proceeds to go to the club.' They were at a standoff."

Dunn said he received a letter signed by Thomas asking Dunn to relinquish the tournament name and website as well as $50,000 in soccer equipment by Nov. 1.

"I said no," Dunn said.

Dunn also questioned whether the Timbers have filed complete insurance paperwork for the tourney, but Thomas said that was not an issue.

"We have all the insurance needed to run the tournament," Thomas said.

Dunn said the Rogue Valley Soccer Cup Association has not decided whether it will host the tournament elsewhere.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com