Beware The Toxic Volunteers
There is a dire issue that many university athletic programs rarely address: Who are they allowing to sit at the table and do they deserve to be there?
Especially the smaller FCS or DII schools where anyone with $200 can become a donor, volunteer for a committee position and walk around like they own the joint.
I’ve witnessed a version of this play out of the last two years at my local city level, with a man in my hometown named Ken Balsley. I serve on the Lacey Parks Board with him (he’s chair, I’m vice chair), and I was a guest on his local podcast, “Coffee With Ken” this week.
Ken Balsley is a microcosm of not only small town America, but also small college athletic departments. And the problems that carry with it. The caustic figure that believes that everyone else is a little bit less than him, hasn’t given as much as he has, and someone that he can isolate. I’ve met many characters like Balsley in athletics, and they always think you’re a carpetbagger because you might encroach on whatever little territory they feed their ego with.
The Toxic Volunteer Defined
They gain their currency not through actual value, but by polarization. They show up at every event, expect to be honored and provided with attention regardless of the reasoning, and think very highly of their worth, and so damn little of anyone else’s.
I knew what was coming when I sat down for the “interview.” Because Balsley could have morphed into the several small time athletics donors who I’ve met during my time in college athletics. The only difference is that he doesn’t wear a supersized class ring or wear an annoying hair hat. Maybe those people beat him to it. As typical with any of these small time donors, Balsley provided a searing indictment of questions in a haphazard method toward me as a guest, essentially accusing me of “something” without knowing what.
As with all small time donors who are given a polo then become menaces to their athletic departments, Balsley relies on the good nature of others to turn the other cheek when he openly insults or offends them, as he does at every public or private occasion. As with the university system, Thurston County has so many government officials and non-profits who would terminate someone for being politically incorrect back to Balsley for his rudeness. He reminds me of a small yappy dog that growls at everyone, then gets upset when that one person stamps their feet in the dog’s direction. Balsley has the aptitude and attitude of a small child, and would seek to get someone fired who accosted him in the same manner that he has done to them previously.
In my time in college athletics, I’ve sat on two athletic hall of fame committees with small time donors like Balsley. They all possess this weird narrative of getting candidates honored who have zero stats to back it up or attempt to settle old scores with athletes/administrators who didn’t validate them personally. Whenever Balsley’s name comes up in conversation, someone always ends the negative comment by stating “but he really loves Lacey.” That’s akin to saying that a criminal was “nice to his dog.” It’s softening the blow of an otherwise bigger issue that people don’t have anything nice to say about the person beyond the basics.
Experts Without Inquiry
Mark Twain would have done a disservice to his readers by creating a character like Balsley. Mainly because the man is so uninteresting. I’m still waiting to hear the fascinating component that makes him unique. If there was an Olympic Sport out of building animosity toward others, Balsley would be the world-record holder in all categories. That’s why his interviewing style consists of interruptive, insulting, belittling snippets of non-information positioned toward making the guest he has on to feel uncomfortable. Don’t take my word for it, listen to his archive. If anyone dares to become even remotely entertaining with their answer to his half-thought question, they are immediately cut off and he changes the subject toward a sad attempt at a “gotcha” moment because the guest’s comments had removed the focus away from him for a moment, which cannot happen in Ken Balsley’s slanted world.
One of my favorite “Coffee With Ken” episodes is when he welcomed on a guest, Kim Young, from Tenino’s Wolf Haven. He provided such a bevy of riddled, misinformed questions that the guest had to correct his obvious lack of knowledge on the subject. In turn, Balsley acted as if he knew more about wolves than her. Balsley suffers from the condition of omni-presence. He read something once on the Internet, therefore your Ph.D qualifications in studying the subject for thirty years are irrelevant to his passing interest in the topic.
He is also a victim of small town media. Where he was never trained or had to fight properly for ratings. Beating up a 10-year-old kid doesn’t make you a heavyweight champion. However, in Balsley’s eyes, he’s got the skills comparable to anyone else on the planet. But irrelevant enough beyond his little territory that no one knows who he is to suggest otherwise.
I enjoyed the interview immensely for the nonsense it was. I’m used to being around those toxic volunteers who would ruin things in the athletic department for their gain. Balsley is no different. I am not mad that he did the interview in such a horrid manner, because I expected it, and Balsley didn’t disappoint in accusing me of basically being a carpetbagger by returning to my hometown. Despite the fact that he is not originally from here himself.
I kept waiting to find out that Balsley had created a website, so non-locals interested in moving here could “check-in” and receive his approval before “being allowed” to move here.
This comes to the point I’m making about your donors and volunteers. When they are providing this sort of toxicity toward your brand, there are consequences. They are offending your new alumni or donors, pushing them away for their own goals.
Polarization Is Their Tactic
I find the humor in Balsley, even where others might not find anything to laugh about. The newspaper reported during 2017 that Balsley (allegedly) threw a water bottle at a city councilman in an open meeting. Had someone else done that to Balsley, he would have demanded charges.
The reason I bring all of this up is not out of spite. It is of a deep concern for my local community. They allow these types of toxic folks to exist, and almost re-enforce it by providing them a continual platform. This is no different than your alumni in an athletic department. Sometimes its best not to have the worst volunteer and cause everyone who you do want involved to run away.
Balsley isn’t a true advocate for Lacey, Washington and the local voters here know it, even if the politicians refuse to. Voters soundly, and I mean soundly, rejected Balsley’s City Council bids in 1987 and 2017. Overwhelmingly, both times against a candidate without name recognition. Balsley is very conservative in a staunchly conservative district, and yet, the citizens of Lacey, Washington voted against their best interests in order to ensure that Balsley didn’t become their representative.
That should tell you something right there.