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story.lead_photo.caption Members of the Boys' Fulton Hornets wrestling club smile Jan. 30 after a successful day at the Buffalo Thundering Herd Tournament. Starting next season, the Fulton Wrestling Club will no longer operate under as a Fulton Parks and Recreation Department program.

After 15 years under the auspices of Fulton's Parks and Recreation department, the Fulton Wrestling Club will likely be handed off to parents and volunteers next season.

The change comes after Fulton City Council members flagged the way the club handles dues and fees as unusual among the other Parks and Recreation programs. Unlike most other P&R clubs, the FWC maintains its own banking account separate from the city's accounts. Wrestling club dues and fundraised money go into that account, and the FWC pays the City of Fulton a small amount for awards each year but handles the rest of expenses itself.

Meanwhile, the City of Fulton promotes the club, signs up participants and provides practice space — formerly the Whiskey Wild building and now, with Whiskey Wild being deemed unsafe and the Legends Rec Plex still under construction, the basement of the city warehouse.

At the council's Jan. 26 meeting, P&R director Clay Caswell said the FWC has to pay tournament fees on short notice, necessitating the club's access to its own account. Kathy Holschlag, Fulton's chief financial officer, said the city does two "check runs" a week.

The club's bank account isn't audited by the city of Fulton and is instead overseen by club volunteers.

No council members alleged current wrongdoing — rather, they objected to the lack of city oversight into the financials of the program.

"I hate the whole setup of it," Ward 3 City Council member John Braun said, later adding, "For them to operate their own check book seems like a conflict issue for Fulton."

Caswell noted the wrestling team's coaches and leaders are unpaid volunteers, and they handle everything from organizing tournaments to fundraising for equipment to purchasing USA Wrestling memberships. Fulton Director of Administration Bill Johnson said the program is "significantly more autonomous" than other Parks and Recreation sport clubs.

Caswell listed two potential options: take over the club completely and operate its checkbook, or hand it off to the volunteers to operate as an independent club.

"Run through Parks and Rec, it's more organized and we can promote it better," he said.

He agreed to look into the issue before Tuesday's meeting.

On Tuesday evening, he arrived ready to cut the cord with the club after this wrestling season wraps in March.

"Either we need to operate it, from the expense point, 100 percent, or be out of it," he said. "Logistically, it wouldn't be a good fit for the city. We can't turn over tournament fees fast enough — I know Kathy said we could."

He said he believes the club has enough structure volunteers could transition to operating it independently.

Caswell noted while the Fulton Wrestling Club has existed since 1981, it hasn't been operated by the Fulton Parks and Recreation Department for that entire period. It officially became a P&R program in 2006 and averages 45 participants each season.

Caswell plans to begin communicating with volunteers about the change immediately. Those talks were underway by Thursday, he said in a follow-up phone call.

"They're all concerned about change and worried about whether we can afford rental rates," Caswell said. "We're going to sit down with those guys and talk, here's what you can do with revenue from tournaments."

He and city council members also saw an opportunity to collect revenue at the new City of Fulton Legends Rec Plex, which includes practice space suited for wrestling.

"We could rent the facility to them for practices and tournaments," Caswell said. "Instead of expenses, we could generate some revenue. As long as they keep being successful it'll help the facility."

The city will operate a concession stand during tournaments taking place at the Rec Plex. Caswell estimated the city could make $5,000 per year renting the facility to the team and hosting tournaments. The team would get to keep admission and registration fees.

Next, Caswell plans on looking into the structure of other parks and recreation clubs. Like the wrestling club, cross-country team The Fulton Flash also operates its own checkbook.

Johnson said the city will work on developing more granular coding and tracking for fees collected through the parks and recreation program, which will show a clearer picture of each club's budget.

As for the old Whiskey Wild building (516 Market St.): "We'll either sell it or begin the process of demolition," Johnson said.


Club reacts

Reached by phone Thursday, FWC President Robert Shadbolt was still hopeful he and other members of the club's board might be able to propose a way for Fulton Wrestling Club to remain a Parks and Recreation program. The club's board will meet soon to discuss the situation and its options.

"I don't have a preference one way or another, but this is the way it's always been since I've been in charge," he said. "It may be that working independently is the best for us and the best for the city, and if so, that's the way we're going to go."

He also saw the potential for mutual benefit by hosting fundraising tournaments at the Rec Plex. Normally, he said, the proceeds from the tournament are enough to carry the club through its next season. Whether that will remain the case depends on how much the club is charged for use of a practice room.

Shadbolt seemed confident the volunteers would be able to take over running the team and maintain a good relationship with P&R. He said the team has always been relatively autonomous.

"We've had a really good partnership with Parks and Rec, and I think we'll continue to," he said.

The team operates on "hundreds and hundreds" of volunteer hours each season, Shadbolt added. Volunteers include a board, Shadbolt and John Kingsley as coaches, "half a dozen dads that help out at practice" and SafeSport certified parents who help during tournaments.

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