It was the second time Anthony McCreery received a call on his phone with a complaint about the North Platte American Legion baseball team.
The state Legion representative didn’t need to answer to know who it was from. He had saved the number as “Concerned Citizen” in his phone. When those words flashed across his screen, he knew what the call was about.
It looked as if the First Nationals were out practicing again. There were boys out at the baseball fields wearing Legion gear working with someone who appeared to be a coach.
That coach was Justin Janas. And he wasn’t their coach anymore, though he used to be their development coach. He had resigned at the end of April.
He was out with the boys working on their game, and he was doing it independently from the team since he was no longer affiliated with the program.
That was one of the reasons he chose to resign, so he could continue working with kids and not shed a negative light on the program during this time. He even made sure to ask the Legion state board for guidance to make sure they weren’t breaking any rules, and he practiced proper social distancing regulations.
McCreery decided to drive out to Centennial Park to see for himself, and he saw six kids and eight adults out at the field.
The North Platte Legion board was notified of both incidents, and both times they responded that the practices were not team sanctioned. When First National Bank Omaha, which had received the same call about these practices, called to find out what was going on, the response was the same.
The board held a meeting Wednesday night. That was the same night the North Platte Post, Eagle Radio’s website, broke the story of the team’s practices, saying McCreery “threatened to have the program suspended” if they continued to hold these practices before the season began.
When the board met again Thursday, President Bob Lindemeier resigned. Their coach, Ty Brockmoller, also resigned later that day for reasons not related to the non-sanctioned practices.
A team just a few weeks from holding tryouts June 1 now needs a new board president and a new coach.
That’s what is known, but that’s not the full story. Below are three different viewpoints from main players in the situation — McCreery, Janas, Lindemeier — that when pieced together show how this series of events led to where the First Nationals are now.
The first call McCreery received from the “Concerned Citizen” was about how his young children saw some boys playing baseball at Centennial Park while wearing Legion attire.
“He stated that there were more than 10 in the group, that they were not practicing social distancing,” McCreery said.
McCreery is the Nebraska American Legion Department’s Athletic Committee representative in the area, so he reached out to Lindemeier and told him about the complaint.
“I did not witness this,” McCreery told Lindemeier, but asked if they were working out to follow the social distancing guidelines set by the governor of the state.
Two days later, he got another complaint from the same person. Players were at it again, with the same issues as before, and there were coaches out with them.
That’s when McCreery went to check out these allegations himself. He said he counted six kids and eight adults. He said at that point, he was not going to make any more reports on the incidents. Rather, he would adjust accordingly when the season started.
Then the story broke about what had been going on, with what McCreery said were some inaccuracies. The first one McCreery said he refuted was the idea that he was the one who contacted First National Bank Omaha.
“I did not do that,” he said. “The only people I had contact with the entire time was Bob Lindemeier and Justin Janas.”
Janas will be the first to tell you he resigned from the North Platte Legion team for personal reasons. He spent years building relationships and trust with his players, and he wanted to continue helping them develop during this time.
“The players are my priority,” Janas said. “That was 100% on me.”
He spent years working with players on his own, so his resignation served two purposes. It allowed him to continue working with any player who wished to do so, and it was supposed to relieve the board of directors from having any involvement or being accused of wrongdoing.
“They had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Janas said. “I thought it got blown way out of proportion.”
He said everything he did at these private workouts followed proper guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state. He said he spoke to the state director with the American Legion for guidance. He followed the advice given to him and the regulations set forth by the state, he said.
In an NET Nebraska town hall video posted on the network’s Facebook page Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts was asked about voluntary workouts and if they were acceptable according to state guidelines. He confirmed that they were OK as long as they followed the necessary precautions.
The citizen who sent the complaint said more than 10 people were at these workouts. Janas said there were only six players who came out to both workouts. He said the boys were spread out on the field and the thought of them breaking social distancing was a reach.
The adults McCreery had witnessed at that second workout were parents of the athletes, Janas said, not coaches. Janas said they wanted to come out and show support for their kids. They were also spread out and away from the athletes.
“My job was to make sure we were following guidelines and sanitation purposes and everything that went with it,” he said. “Bob Lindemeier would be the first to tell you I would never put these kids in harm’s way.”
Janas said he and McCreery talked about the state of things, and Janas voiced his disagreement to McCreery about the workouts.
One thing Janas said he didn’t understand was why the kids wouldn’t be allowed to wear Legion gear to these workouts. He also didn’t want the team to get in trouble because of it. After the second practice and the second complaint, Janas decided he was no longer going to hold those workouts.
“I think there were a lot of things floating around out there and I feel like there are some things that kind of gave the program a black eye,” Janas said. “It left a pit in my stomach listening to Bob (Lindemeier) blaming himself.”
Lindemeier’s first phone call with McCreery went the way one might expect. McCreery told him about the complaint, and Lindemeier responded that this was all separate from the team.
“I said, ‘I don’t think they’re practicing as part of the Legion,’” Lindemeier said. “‘There’s a group of boys that want to practice and I don’t think we can just stop them from getting together.’”
Lindemeier assured McCreery that he would talk to the boys and Janas about not wearing Legion gear while they practiced so they wouldn’t be mistaken as being affiliated with the team. Organized team practices were not permitted, but voluntary ones were allowed.
Lindemeier emailed the coaches about his talk with McCreery. He told them that as a Legion representative, McCreery had the power to do things, one of which was to suspend.
“As a cautionary advice to the coaches, I said, ‘We can get suspended,’” Lindemeier said. “The way that came in the text, the way it was communicated, they interpreted it as meaning that Anthony McCreery had threatened to suspend us. And that was not what he had said.”
Later in the week, Lindemeier had to tell First National Bank Omaha the same thing he had told McCreery after the bank had received the same complaint, and they said the whole thing wasn’t a good look.
The board had met on Wednesday, partly to discuss what to tell the bank about these players and their voluntary workouts. Lindemeier said the meeting was over by 8 p.m. and he had gotten home a little after that.
His phone then started ringing. It was McCreery.
“(He was asking me) why we were accusing him of calling First National Bank and saying we were in violation of the no-practice rule,” Lindemeier said. “I told him, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
The North Platte Post story released Wednesday reported workouts that six players had been a part of. Some things were right, but some things were wrong, McCreery, Janas and Lindemeier said.
“I did not under any circumstances, nor would I, contact a corporate sponsor to a baseball team,” McCreery said. “I say this because it doesn’t make sense to me. I would never try to take a corporate sponsor from them.”
Janas said there were only two workouts, while the Post story said these workouts went on for weeks. According to the Post story, McCreery had threatened the team with suspension if they didn’t stop the workouts. That wasn’t entirely the case, McCreery said. Both McCreery and Lindemeier said a suspension can be placed if need be, but it was never threatened to the North Platte team. Lindemeier even went a step further to say he was never threatened with suspension.
“The Nebraska American Legion Athletic Committee will not endorse any violations of local state or federal guidelines or laws,” McCreery said. “We ultimately, as a committee, we want baseball to happen. All we want to do is make sure the kids have a productive, safe baseball season.”
Lindemeier said he tried to get some of the information in the story fixed with what had actually happened.
One of the biggest issues, Lindemeier noted, was that the text message he sent out to the coaches was posted in the article, meaning someone had leaked that information. He told the board he would try to get those corrections fixed, and then he was going to resign.
“I didn’t have any feeling that they had any confidence in me and I did not feel like I could lead that group going any further,” Lindemeier said.
Janas said after talks with many board members over the past couple of days, everyone is ready to get everything cleared up and move forward.
“What threw everybody for a loop was the virus,” Janas said. “And when it turns into the governor saying no organized sports, nobody’s ever dealt with anything like this.”
The team will have to find a new head coach first. Ty Brockmoller stepped down Thursday, citing a number of disagreements with the board and between board members about how they were going to handle the upcoming season. Things like how the team was going to raise money without being able to sell tickets or concessions during games, or if they should be playing or practicing at all.
“We tried to do what we thought was best,” Brockmoller said. “I didn’t want to worry about or deal with any disagreements anymore.”