In January, the Chino Valley Youth Football Association (CVYFA) returned to office its newest president - a man who has quickly become a successful coach while trying to turn his life around.
His name is Leon Taylor. And ever since the 39-year-old Chino Valley resident accepted the association's leadership position last year, questions about his past have continued to resurface.
While Taylor has a strong contingent of supporters in town, a vocal minority has expressed concern regarding his former transgressions with the law, the most serious of which - a felony - happened more than a decade ago. League rules do state that anyone with a felony is prohibited from any position within the organization.
However, the Courier learned within the past month from Northern Arizona Youth Football (NAYF) president Becky Allred, whose group contracts with towns such as Chino Valley to assist with their leagues' organizational tasks, that those individuals bringing complaints against Taylor at NAYF's monthly public meetings have not gone on the record.
His detractors have remained anonymous and have also been unwilling to run for CVYFA president, Allred added.
This week, Taylor reached out to the Courier to fully disclose his situation.
Taylor was sentenced for committing a dangerous drug violation, a Class 4 felony in June 2002, according to Coconino County court records.
Some time later, in April 2006, Taylor was found guilty of attempted fraudulent schemes/artifices, a Class 3 felony, in Yavapai County Superior Court.
However, in August 2011, judges from both Coconino County Superior Court and Yavapai County Superior Court restored Taylor's civil rights and set aside their convictions against Taylor, as outlined in court documents.
"The only danger (I posed to society) was what I was doing to myself," Taylor said this week.
Taylor, formerly of Ash Fork, admits to committing both felonies and to once living in Coconino County. But he insists that he has since made amends.
"Everybody makes mistakes, and I've fixed my mistakes, and I've done a lot of good things since then," Taylor said. "I'm teaching these kids football and I'm making sure that they go in a straight and narrow path to maybe not do some of the things that I've done."
Nearly 12 years ago, on May 8, 2002, court records from Coconino County confirm that Taylor was incarcerated and later released from prison on Jan. 6, 2004, although his sentence expired on April 5, 2004.
Since then, Taylor, a married father of five children, said he has repaid his debt to society and worked to repair his reputation.
"I have nothing to hide," Taylor said of his past transgressions. "I've been very forthcoming. I'm not going to say everybody knows, but all the people I'm around do."
CVYFA vice president David Holmes, a Prescott police officer, said he met Taylor last year and appreciates what he's done to bolster youth football in Chino.
Holmes, who worked in the Arizona prison system for 11 years before becoming an officer in Prescott two years ago, said Taylor hasn't shown him any red flags.
This past fall, Holmes was one of Taylor's assistant coaches. Holmes' 7-year-old son played for Taylor, but Holmes said he didn't know about Taylor's past until mid-January.
"To me, he seems to be a great guy," Holmes said. "He's good for football, and he's good with the kids. Everything (with him) is about the kids and trying to help create a good program. Nobody ever voiced a bad thing about Leon to me, and everybody out there knows I'm a cop."
Some five years ago, Taylor began coaching Chino Valley youth football. Initially, he served as an assistant coach, although he soon was promoted to head coach.
Many players and their parents like Taylor's energetic coaching style. In fact, Taylor has mentored a Chino Valley Youth Football Mighty Mites team (ages 5-8) to three straight Northern Arizona Youth Football (NAYF) championships from 2011-13.
Prior to CVYFA bringing Taylor on as a volunteer coach, Taylor said he complied with a mandatory background check.
"I told them about my record," he added.
After submitting his background check paperwork, the CVYFA board told Taylor that he had to go in front of the NAYF board for its final approval.
Northern Arizona towns may sign one-year contracts with NAYF to oversee their youth football programs, and CVYFA has done that through the years.
Allred of Cottonwood said her organization had a contract with Chino Valley Youth Football as late as 2013. In January, she added, CVYFA verbally agreed to participate in NAYF again in 2014.
During an NAYF board meeting five years ago, Taylor was given permission to become an assistant coach for Chino Valley Youth Football.
Although 2013 NAYF rules specifically state "any individual will be prohibited from any position within NAYF that has been convicted of a felony or any crime against a child," the NAYF board exempted him from the rule, which it has done for past applicants in cases similar to Taylor's. (Court records show that Taylor has not committed a crime against children.)
"He had paperwork saying that that was no longer an issue and that he had made restitution," Allred said of Taylor's vacated felonies. "He appealed to the board, the board took a vote and said, 'yes, you can be an assistant coach.' "
Since the NAYF board's decision, Allred said NAYF has had no knowledge of Taylor "continuing that (unlawful) activity" or getting into other legal trouble.
Allred doesn't know Taylor personally. And yet while she realizes that many people in Chino Valley like Taylor, she added that some CVYFA members "haven't been happy with him as president" in the past year, apparently for some of the decisions he's made about coaches and players.
CVYFA past treasurer Jesse Harmon, who knows Taylor well, believes that "it's a real personal thing" against Taylor and that infighting within the association has caused problems.
"What's going on is: 'let's shame this individual,' " she said. "It's very disconcerting to me. I trust Mr. Taylor. He was very up front to me about his past."
Allred said NAYF wouldn't attempt to remove Taylor from the presidency unless he had recently committed a crime or had behaved inappropriately with Chino Valley Youth Football players.
Personal vendettas against someone such as Taylor aren't considered cause for NAYF to interfere, she added.
"NAYF can step in and say, 'No, you cannot be president. You cannot coach,' " she said. "Although, we don't want to override or nickel and dime - micromanage - what each community would like to do."
Taylor has been a youth football head coach for the past three years and said he plans to continue doing so as CVYFA president.
Within the past year, all of the board members on the nonprofit CVYFA stepped down, leaving a void in their wake.
Taylor said he wanted to help, so he initially agreed to serve as the board's vice president. But when the president suddenly resigned, Taylor stepped into the position.
In board elections conducted in January 2013 and again this past month, Chino's youth football community chose Taylor as its president with a majority vote. This year, Taylor won the vote, 40-18.
CVYFA players and their parents and grandparents, CVYFA volunteers and board members, and fellow league coaches comprise a majority of the voters in board elections, Allred said.
Taylor said the town's residents were notified well in advance of the board member elections through announcements published in the local newspaper and those distributed via email.
Taylor became involved in coaching youth football in part for his sons, one of whom he currently coaches on the Mighty Mites. He and his wife have also committed themselves to raising their family in Chino Valley.
Nevertheless, somewhere along the line after high school, Taylor got himself into trouble, including with illegal drugs. Taylor said he's now been clean and sober for the past 10 years.
"It was just a simple, stupid mistake in my life," he said.
These days, Taylor said he's focused on his work as an electrician and giving back to his community.
He added that his goal as CVYFA president is to unify the association, whose current board supports him, while guiding its players both on and off the gridiron.
"I love teaching them that every single one of them has a champion inside," he said of the boys on his Mighty Mites teams. "And it's my job to help them find out what makes them a champion."
Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Article comment by:
"However, in August 2011, judges from both Coconino County Superior Court and Yavapai County Superior Court restored Taylor's civil rights and set aside their convictions against Taylor, as outlined in court documents." Evidently, some people don't understand the above quote, ... and want to continue their "personal vendetta". ... Taylor's doing something positive and constructive. What are all you "N.I.M.B.Y."s doing to further youth activities other than throwing a wet towel on them? This is a Non-Issue. Get over it.
Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by:
Chino Valley Parent
As a former youth sports (many different ones!) board member, I completely agree with Ms. Atkeson - if you're not liked, get over it! Does Mr. Taylor believe people do not like him because of his past? I think not! I am a firm believer that you are who you are - if people don't like you it's because of who you are or what you currently are doing. Maybe Mr. Taylor should look at his current coaching and "winning" style before he draws conclusions on his past! However, on another note, I must say that I am very disappointed with the response from NAYF in their 2013 rules, section 6.1 in big bold letters it specifically states that no one with a felony shall be allowed to coach - rules are rules! Just one more black eye for Chino Valley youth Sports!!
Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014
Article comment by:
Been there done that
Victimless crime. Life sentence. Go back to sleep, America, nothing to see here.
Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Article comment by:
I fail to understand the newsworthiness of this article. It's typical youth sports politics. I was on the Little League board for 7 years and there were people that didn't like various board members. None of us felt the need to run to the news because people didn't like us.