Costa Mesa's decision to allow a flag football organization run by Matt Leinart, former NFL quarterback, to displace some city softball teams at TeWinkle Park upset players. The city's recreation manager contends the move was made in violation of city policy. (DON LEACH, Daily Pilot / February 11, 2014)

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Roger Chadderdon describes himself as an "old guy who wants to play softball."

And for 25 years, the Costa Mesa resident has been doing just that beneath the lights of the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex, a pristine facility off Arlington Drive with three softball fields, one baseball diamond, a snack bar, ample parking and tree-lined entryways.

In late January — a few days after signing up for the city's springtime men's softball league — Chadderdon, 53, received unexpected news: The players could no longer use TeWinkle on Friday evenings. Instead, the league was given what its members considered far less desirable options: Sunday or Monday nights.

Around the same time, Costa Mesa American Little League and Newport-Mesa Girls Softball were also told to give up Fridays at TeWinkle.

Soon enough, everybody learned that their coveted slots had been lost to make room for flag football, albeit in a complex designed for baseball and softball.

It wasn't just any football program, but one operated by Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, an Orange County native and former NFL, USC and Mater Dei quarterback. After establishing itself in Newport Beach and Irvine, Leinart's for-profit organization — focused on students in kindergarten through eighth grade — wanted a foothold in Costa Mesa's busy youth sports scene, yet the city was admitting the group, Chadderdon argued, at the expense of other leagues.

To make matters worse, Chadderdon contended, the decision came down in seeming opposition to the city's field-allocation policy, which historically has given priority to city leagues and local nonprofit teams.

"Us old guys want to get out of the house on Friday nights, unwind after the week and have the chance to sleep on [Saturday] morning to recover from whatever ailments we incurred on Friday night," Chadderdon, a former attorney, wrote in a recent email to the City Council. "We also play on Friday nights because we have other obligations on weeknights."

On Jan. 30, a few days after Chadderdon and the other groups heard of the schedule changes, city officials announced the resignation of recreation manager Bob Knapp. After some 19 months on the job, Knapp — a former small-business owner who was widely respected in youth sports and recreation circles before joining the city — gave notice on a Thursday and left on a Friday.

Chadderdon publicly theorized at the following week's City Council meeting that Knapp's departure could be related to his displeasure with the Leinart decision.

According to Knapp, it was.

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Football was 'definitely a factor'

Knapp told the Daily Pilot that the head-scratching decision to supplant longtime users with a new-to-the-city flag football program was "definitely a factor" in his resignation.

The unprecedented decree to find space in the field schedule for Leinart's group above the others, Knapp said, came from the city's "senior leadership." He declined to say who gave him the directive to make room for football, but said it was not a council member.

"This was not a decision that I made based on my own professional opinion," he said.

Organizations with "Group 1" status or equal to it, such as the city softball league and American Little League, have top priority, Knapp said of his reading of the city's field-allocation policy.

Leinart's flag football program is a "Group 3," a designation that implies it may not have nonprofit status or has a membership roster made up of less than 75% Costa Mesa residents. To Knapp, giving priority to a Group 3 over a Group 1 was clearly out of sync with city guidelines.

"This situation in terms of, frankly, not following policy and creating space for a group, and then displacing both city recreation leagues and other youth groups, I think was completely inappropriate," Knapp said. "I have a hard time when staff or myself were given directives that really went against policy."

City officials, who have declined to discuss Knapp's resignation, calling it a confidential personnel matter, countered the notion that municipal leagues are considered Group 1. They do not meet all the official requirements, officials said, but are a city entity subject to the city's decisions and discretion.