By Dan Murphy
Last week, Yonkers Rising reported that the Yonkers Police Athletic League, PAL, was closing its doors, not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of a lack of revenues required to pay for staff and programming. The PAL, which operates out of the Walshin Center, is closed because of Coronavirus, but many of our readers and Yonkers residents were saddened about the PAL’s possible closing for good.
We received many calls, texts and emails about our story. Earl Thomas from Yonkers writes, “It’s actually sad to hear about the struggles of the PAL and the possibility of closing. I never been to the PAL however, I know the benefits of organizations like the PAL, The Boys Club, The Boy Scouts of America, etc. have on these communities and would hate to see children resort to the streets due to not having a places to go. For some, these organizations are places of refuge from dealing with issues within the home.
“Has anyone thought to host events at the PAL as a way to gain some revenue? For example, birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, art shows, indoor carnivals or fairs. These events can help sustain at least some percentage of the costs. You can even do a Yonkers Got Talent show to help raise awareness to the PAL. If I could, I would love to be on the board or maybe be the executive director to help turn things around with the PAL. A fresh start sounds like its definitely necessary as well as new ideas, if they have never been tried before. Either way, please try everything and anything to keep the PAL going,” writes Thomas.
Michael Coleman from Yonkers writes, “Mr Murphy –When you have more details about the direction of the PAL, pls reach out to me. I would to be a part of developing an elite basketball program and outlet for kids in Yonkers. I’m a product of Yonkers & I don’t see any elite programs in the city to help kids. Thanks in advance for even considering reaching out. I pray God leads us all in the right direction.”
Most members of the PAL Board knew that this day was coming but were surprised at the recent announcement that included the termination of all employees and the closing of the Walshin Center. Margaret Staruch, who ran the PAL Poster Contest for many years, said “A friend of mine who worked for the PAL for 22 years said he was fired and owed his last weeks pay. It’s so sad and I agree with you that the PAL has to come back under new management. I enjoyed working on the poster contest and I can’t imagine what Mike D’Ambrosio would say. Thanks for letting the people know what is going on.” Note: Mike D’Ambrosio, a retired YPD officer, ran the poster contest for many years and it was later named after him.
We also spoke to PAL President Howard Berman, who has been running the PAL since the death of longtime Chairman Angelo Martinelli in 2018. Berman, who stepped down from the PAL last month for personal reasons, said that the decision to close the PAL was under review for almost a year. “We considered closing in December, and we would have closed in March even without the coronavirus. There was not enough money to continue to operate, pay our employees and continue programming,” said Berman.
Berman confirmed much of what we wrote about last week; that for many years retired police officers volunteered their time to the PAL. More recently, staff was hired at salaries that the PAL could no longer afford to pay after fund raising events like the Gala, Golf outing, and Super Bowl Raffle either didn’t happen or didn’t raise the usual amount of funds.
But Berman added some details about how the PAL may reopen under reduced offerings. The Walshin Building where the PAL operates on North Broadway, is owned by the City of Yonkers. The PAL has a decades long lease with the City to operate for $1 per year.
Recently, a new floor for the gym and basketball court was installed, and donated by Joe Cotter, (President of National Resources and the owner of IPark in downtown Yonkers), at a cost of $75,000. Berman said that the new gym could be used to attract basketball leagues and other organizations to rent it, generating revenue for the PAL.
Berman said that it will be up to the board to determine the future of the leadership at the PAL and how they move forward. But he agreed with this writer that a bare bones operation, with the gym open after school for teens to play basketball and managed by volunteers, is a likely new beginning, after the Coronavirus.
There appears to be a split in how the PAL should be managed moving forward, with some board members looking to take over, and with some recommending that the PAL is operated by the Yonkers Police Department of the Yonkers PBA, or a combination of both.
Yonkers City Councilman John Rubbo said, “The Yonkers PAL is a great organization with a rich history of serving the children of Yonkers with its sports programs and activities. I am making a recommendation to Mayor Spano that the Yonkers Police Department temporarily take over the operation of the PAL building and its programming until the board can be re-organized and we have accountability.”
“I am disappointed in the lack of transparency that the president and vice-president of the board exhibited. The PAL Board has many long time and dedicated volunteers who want to see the PAL succeed. The police department should consult with these long time board members to help pull this organization back together,” said Rubbo.
Others have called for the Yonkers Inspector General, Liam McLaughlin, to look into what happened at the PAL and its recent budgeting and financial operations. Most PAL Board members believe that “we just overspent and hired employees and expanded programs, when we didn’t have the money coming in to pay for it,” as one board member told this reporter.