The Beer League has brewed up some controversy. Let’s take a closer look into what is happening at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center and with its operators.
Rodney Wild, Head coach of the hockey program at Chugiak High School, took issue with a recent STAR article in which Reid McDonald’s intentions and integrity were called into question. Wild had a strong rebuttal argument, stating that Reid McDonald (manager of the MAC) has brought significant new revenue streams with the addition of Beer League, while simultaneously reducing costs. Wild concluded his Facebook post with this, “The implication stated in the article that forming the ERHL (Eagle River Hockey League) is an attempt to benefit the Odd Man Rush Brewery is unfounded at best, and possibly disingenuous, and I am prompted to question what the purpose of the article was. It clearly was not to accurately report the truth.”
Because the ECHO is in the business of supporting and reporting the good in our community, we felt the need to peel back the layers of this onion a little further. I sat down with many locals “in the know” to dig into any possible issues regarding Beer League:
“Well, you know, you could solve that problem by just calling it ‘Senior League’.…” Coach Paul Brauneis (the man who put hockey on the map according to many) said, shaking his head, while Coach Tom Huffer Sr. (the man who put football on the map, and board member of Fire Lake Arena Management, Inc.) makes it patently clear that, “There has never been a keg in the locker room!” as allegations of alcohol impropriety have been raised due to the fact that the MAC center is municipal facility, and Beer League operators jointly own a (gasp!) brewery.
The brewery in question, Odd Man Rush, is a tap room where you may purchase beer. It is jointly owned by McDonald and other ERHL members. By law, its doors close at 8 pm. By contrast, there is no alcohol allowed in the Harry J. McDonald Recreation Center without a permit.
The STAR’s recent reporting suggested McDonald’s ownership and board positions create a “conflict of interest,” as well as insinuating that the MAC center accounting was in disarray. This inflamed the board of directors. The three members I spoke with were quick to point out that each of the nine suggested items to correct had already been addressed.
Yes, McDonald owns part of a local brewery, sits on the ERHL board as well as the MAC Center’s, and for the past 20 years, he has been the manager of the facility bearing the name of his late father that many have called the cleanest hockey rink in the state. It sounds more like he’s putting in a bid for mayor, not a cause for controversy.
Pat McCormick, President of Fire Lake Arena Management, Inc. (FLAMI), wants McDonald to keep doing what he’s doing.
“We want him to continue doing what he does. Reid has put in a lot of extra, unpaid hours to promote and keep the MAC Center fully operational, despite any setbacks.” McCormick was enthusiastic in his praise, but also quick to explain that a recent random audit turned up some accounting glitches. Glitches that amounted to “import errors,” like a missing clause in the insurance policy, and according to the auditor were, “easily correctable.”
John Rodda, the contract administrator for FLAMI at the division of Parks and Recreation, agrees that the audit has been satisfied and is encouraged with what he is seeing. “We are on a much better path forward,” he said while explaining that Parks and Rec is updating a 20 year old court ordered policy regarding the ice allocation, and that more information will be forthcoming soon, but that now is the time to revisit the policy. He wants to see this “tremendous community resource” succeed by helping the management successfully utilize the, “one of a kind” resource it possesses. “We want Reid to be successful, the Management Team to be successful.”
Offering many suggestions for the use of the underutilized turf area of the center, “churches, PTA’s, fundraisers, soccer, figure skating, there are no bad ideas.” Rodda says he just wants the focus to remain on providing a good community facility with everyone working together as a team. Rodda was formerly the manager of the MAC center before handing the reins to McDonald.
Although Huffer’s ire was clearly piqued when asked about the news he had read, he also emphasized the need to market the turf and track, “I’ve tried to market that to every youth group in town,” he said, adding that, “we have to find a way to keep the rink busy, and we need a second rink. We could do that outside.” The turf rents for $150.00 an hour.
Brauneis also had many suggestions for the turf. Although there are women already in the ERHL, a separate ladies league could be developed. Brauneis was excited that Reid is keeping the aging community engaged and active with any sports the center can facilitate. Even yoga. He and Huffer noted that the muni no longer has the ability to fund the daily operations, and are excited at the new opportunity presented by ERHL.
Tracy Fan, a sponsor of ERHL and owner of Shine’s Asian Bistro, concurs. “I would love to sponsor a cheerleading squad for the league.” Another example of how one good idea spawns another.
In fact, everyone I spoke to was eager to see the MAC center flourish, and attest to the honesty and integrity of both McDonald and the MAC Center in general.
Retired Army Major Bart Lajoie, Team Manager for the Oilers Hockey Team in Anchorage, expresses concern over the attacks to McDonald’s integrity. He understands the difficulty of internal operations as well as the management of what he calls, “the best, most well kept recreational center in the state.”
Lajoie questions the assembly members true intent.
“[McDonald] was given an end game mission to increase revenue this year or be removed as the manager of the rink. Since the MAC center has been in significant decline in attendance, which I connect directly with the lack of fortitude and vision of the Mustang Hockey Association (MHA), youth development programs are now nonexistent.”
Lajoie explains McDonald’s passion lies in sharing his expertise on the ice through coaching. “Both of my boys were fortunate to have Coach Reid mentor them through the regular hockey season and also throughout the spring and summer back when the MHA had development camps.” According to Lajoie, attendance and therefore revenue of the development camps have been in decline over the last four years.
Huffer explained that municipal funding is spread thin.
Funds go to support public use facilities such as Loretta French Park and Oberg Field among many others. “We used to get $50 grand a year to run that center,” he said. “Now Reid is having to get loans to cover the summer months, and use winter revenues to pay them back.” Huffer was very clear that the rink does not make a profit.
The Mustang Hockey League has suffered internal setbacks which have caused decreased ice time at the MAC center. They were not contacted for comment on this article.
Now, it is time to move on from this non-controversy and just drop the puck already. The MAC center has 1100 seats. Let’s get together and warm them up.
Oh, and about the bid for Mayor? Reid, I hereby nominate you for Mayor of Eagle River.
Laura Little writes about what’s going on in her hometown. Affectionately known as the “littlest “Little,” she is raising her two not so little girls to have the same love and appreciation for community as she has. At what she thinks is the “mid-point” of her life, she thinks she’s learned a thing or two; breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.