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Audit finds annual baseball tournament in trouble

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The National Baseball Congress college tournament, which has been a fixture in Wichita since 1935, is in financial danger but city leaders and the tournament's operators are vowing to rescue it.

An audit found the tournament's operators owe more than a quarter-million dollars and are two years behind on lease payments for Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The tournament has made only $1,100 in the last two years, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/16wHsfR ).

The tournament began as a semi-professional summer tournament, with Hall of Famer Satchel Paige playing the first year. For many years it featured college and high school stars from across the country, but in recent years has featured about 32 teams with only college players.

The first efforts to revive the tournament through 2014 include more marketing and seeking corporate sponsorships, which have not been pursued by the current managers of the tournament, the Wichita Wingnuts, a privately owned independent league baseball team, city officials said.

"Can it come back? I think it can," City Councilman Jeff Longwell said. "We just need to make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands the consequences of the tournament not working, because the city's not going to subsidize it. We just can't."

The city-requested audit also found that the finances have been "co-mingled" with those for the Wingnuts for the past two years and there was no clear accounting of ticket revenue.

City Manager Robert Layton said the city doesn't plan to inject money into the tournament and will insist on changes to make it more profitable.

"We are totally committed to this tournament and bringing it back to its glory days," Layton said. "I think that everyone agrees the tournament can be better and should be better."

Wingnuts President Josh Robertson said Monday he was optimistic that the team and the city could secure the tournament's future.

"Our ownership group has dug deep into their pockets on several occasions to keep baseball in Wichita," he said. "I want baseball to work in this city."

City officials have already implemented new financial requirements, Layton said Monday, including requiring the Wingnuts to pay off a $138,000 debt to the city by Nov. 1.

The tournament is now being operated on its own set of books and the computerized NBC ticketing operation will be modified for a more accurate accounting of ticket sales, Layton said.