Good Counsel's Football Philanthropist Bernie Dancel gives 'til it hurts

Meet Good Counsel’s Joe McCoy: Dancel bankrolled the team—and fathered the QB.

If you follow the football programs at either the real-world Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, or the fictional Dillon High on Friday Night Lights, then you’ve come across a similar story line: Rich guy gives lots of money to the football team quarterbacked by his blue-chip son—and makes enemies along the way.

Bernie Dancel, the benefactor behind the powerhouse Good Counsel team, says he’s nothing like Joe McCoy, the fictional and wholly unlikable Mr. Moneybags of Dillon. But he can understand the comparisons. “I watch the show,” he says, laughing. “And my son is the quarterback.”

Good Counsel now plays at Dancel Field, a state-of-the-art turf facility that opened last season thanks in large part to Bernie’s $800,000 donation. Through his family foundation, Dancel also pays tuition for several players on the football squad. He declines to say exactly how many kids on the team he bankrolls, but pooh-poohs the idea that anything untoward is going on.

“My foundation has contributed to kids who have needs of a serious financial situation,” says Dancel, who also serves as Good Counsel’s running backs coach.

Heading into the 2010 season, Good Counsel is ranked 14th in the country in the MaxPreps national poll, higher than any school in this region. Last year, the squad finished at No. 15 in the same poll. Over that span, the squad’s quarterback has been Zach Dancel, in the same role J.D. McCoy fills at Dillon.

The younger Dancel’s first season as quarterback was Good Counsel’s best season ever. The team’s only loss came in the regular season to archrival DeMatha. Between 2004 and 2008, the Hyattsville school beat Good Counsel in five consecutive title games of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), the top local sports league and among the best in the nation. But in a postseason rematch before 7,000 fans in Annapolis, Zach led Good Counsel to a 14-7 win and the school’s first league championship. Recruiting services now rank the rising senior as the top quarterback prospect in all of Maryland. Bernie Dancel has been investing in his family’s football efforts well before he wrote a check to Good Counsel. But success has complicated some of those investments. Since his days in peewee, Zach had gotten personal quarterback training from Chris Baucia, who runs an operation called the QB Factory. Baucia also happens to be DeMatha’s offensive coordinator. After Zach and Good Counsel beat DeMatha, Baucia stopped working with Zach, posting the following disclaimer on the QB Factory website and on applications to his summer camps, which were held this week in Bowie: “No Player may be accepted or attend this program if they attend a WCAC Private School. DeMatha Catholic HS has deemed this a conflict of Interest and will not allow Coach Baucia to train a player that attends a WCAC high school.”

“Zach’s been training with Chris since he was very young, and he’s a great coach, an upstanding guy,” says Bernie Dancel. “It’s a shame that that had to stop, for whatever reason.”

But while nobody would put a real name to any slurs, anonymous posters on local message boards patronized by prep football obsessives began slamming Bernie Dancel and his role at Good Counsel. A typical comment on DCSportsFan.com’s message board: “So GC is the best team money can buy,” said the poster “Stoneyjack,” who added some sophomoric profanity before slinking off.

“Beating DeMatha turned it up a notch,” Bernie Dancel says. “People from [other WCAC schools] now are saying kids are coming to Good Counsel on athletic scholarships, which are illegal. The people who are saying these things don’t know that I’m also helping kids at DeMatha, St. John’s, at schools in Baltimore. All they know is my son goes to Good Counsel, and Good Counsel wins a championship.”

Dancel made his fortune in the credit repair industry. According to a 1997 profile in The Baltimore Sun, he hit pay dirt in the early 1990s by operating credit-counseling and debt-collection businesses. Consumer watchdog groups quoted in the story said the dual services constituted a conflict of interest. Dancel is now CEO of Ascend One, a company he founded that also provides education and credit-repair services to debtors.

However he’s made his money, Dancel has long given huge amounts of it to football programs. In fact, it was Dancel’s belief in the power of, well, Friday night lights that launched him as a football philanthropist: Living in Howard County—where local high schools once played most games on Saturdays because their fields were unlit—he got behind a community push to raise $1.1 million for lights. His own contribution was $100,000.

By the fall of 2005, every school in Howard County had lights.

“High school football should be played on Fridays under the lights,” Dancel says. “That makes it better for everybody: For families who don’t have to compete with soccer on Saturdays, for the kids who get to play before bigger crowds, with scouts watching them, where a lot of college scouts can’t make Saturday games. It’s worked out incredibly for the county.”

Dancel’s philanthropic portfolio is massive. He’s on the board of the United Way of Central Maryland, Howard Community College Educational Foundation, and the Columbia Festival of the Arts. In 2006, Dancel and his wife made a $750,000 contribution to help build two gyms and a therapy pool at the Howard County YMCA, which is now known as the Dancel Family Center Y. The couple also gave $250,000 last year to the Howard Hospital Foundation to pay for an on-site gym for cardiopulmonary patients.

But the most attention-getting gifts have involved football.

“Howard County was ‘Soccer Town USA,’ everybody just played soccer,” says Dancel, a Hawaii native whose own gridiron career ended at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Del. “But I like football.”

That money had made waves before.

Dancel and Howard County officials, for example, squabbled in 2004 after he offered to donate $500,000 for artificial turf fields. The disagreements came over whether the public fields would also get lights: Dancel wanted them, officials didn’t. He ultimately kept his $500,000 but helped county officials campaign for the public funds needed for the durable fake grass.

And in 2003, Dancel accused leaders of Columbia Bulldogs, an established youth football organization, of misappropriating his $90,000 contribution. The missing money didn’t stifle his urge to grow the game. Dancel eventually worked out a settlement in which all of the Columbia Bulldogs assets, including uniforms and shoulder pads, were turned over to a new league he created and ran, the Columbia Ravens.

Dancel then kick started an event called the Maryland Youth Football Championship, a day of title games at M&T Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, and at Towson University. The 2009 tourney had 160 teams from across the state. “At the start I just asked the Baltimore Ravens to let me use the stadium for one day a year and I’d take care of the rest,” he says. “They were very cooperative, and pretty soon it got too big for one stadium, and now it’s too big for two stadiums.”

The Columbia Ravens, incidentally, were among the winners of state titles in the early years of the tournament. Their quarterback: A much younger Zach Dancel.

So, for all the similarities between the flesh-and-blood Dancels of Maryland and the unreal McCoys of Friday Night Lights, there’s at least one big difference, too: The McCoy kid never won a championship. cp

Read Cheap Seats Daily every weekday morning at washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk.

Our Readers Say

Great article! It's hard to fault a man for donating so much money to not only football, but other things that help his community. I would not compare him to the FNL character Joe McCoy, he's much better than that. The only similarity I see between the two, is that he coaches on his son's HS footbal team and his son is the QB. Any chance he'd want to move to Harford County, specifically Bel Air?
Bernie Dancel runs one of the nation's largest debt settlement and debt management companies, the ones you see and hear on radio and TV. Last week the FTC cracked down on that industry, banning upfront fees and requiring sales people to tell the truth about success rates. Philanthropy always comes with strings, but this money came from desperate and vulnerable people.
as i heard at the san francico docks during the "summer of love" (?) "what every revolutionary really wants is a mercedes"
and "he who has nothing wants to share it with everyone "

YOU ROCK, GOOD COUNSEL !!!
"It's hard to fault a man for donating so much money to not only football, but other things that help his community."

Actually you can fault it. Dirty money is dirty money no matter who benefits from it.

You compromised GC, you compromised!!!
Well if this is the only way to contact Bernie Dancel I will I have been with the company/client since 2008 (AND WILL BE CANCELLING MY CARD) What I found ironic is I have called several times and not one person new who was the founder WOW you learn that in training class. The issue I have and previously is getting my money on pre-paid card when a there is a mistake from the other company and they need to fax over information to release fund or if you do not you have to wait 30DAYS FOR IT TO DROP OFF YOUR ACCOUNT. When a mistake has been made the company who made the mistake is suppose to fax over reason, company name (ON COMPANYS LETTER HEAD) merchant number and authorization number. My card was swiped three times in error only one charge went through for a pair of boots for my 12 year. What I find is Careone has the authorization number,but the company does not BECAUSE IT WAS NOT AUTHORIZED and 9-10 the company's do not have it Careone Customer SERVICE will tell the company should KNOW,it is at putting the client. CAREONE IS TALKING ABOUT THEIR DATA BASE. The merchant can fax everything showing it was their error if there is NO AUTHORIZATION NUMBER THEY CANNOT DO ANYTHING. Bernie Dancel has his story on CAREONE WEBSITE explaining why he started the business and his struggle financially. Funny thing I am a widowed with 2 beautiful daughters I have raise alone NO EMPATHY FROM YOUR STAFF AT ALL NEVER IS!!! most of the time there rude, I did a third party call with CAREONE REPRESENTATIVE AND DR. MARTIN, Dr. Martin customer explained that it is a blank CAREONE RESPONSE WAS YOU SHOULD KNOW WHERE REALLY.. What CAREONE CSR does not realize I use to work for the company, I know what they can do and what they cannot. I recommend no one use this company I have given them chances since 2008 and have been in Customer Service Field over 20 yrs. So this single mother who has 2 daughters and has been a faithful client and this is how you treat hear. My kids are 12,13 my husband passed away in 2009 I need the money to get my other daughter shoes. 30 DAYS YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR YOUR MONEY TO BE PUT BACK ON THE CARD, BECAUSE THE GREAT ALMIGHTY CAREONE CARES SO MUCH. Regular Banks example Bank of America etc.. the charges that are not going be paid drops off in 2-7 business days. If you are still a part of this company and a customer service representative and a supervisor does not know the name of the person who owns the company, when I was is training we had to your name guess you pick anyone now to do customer service. DO NOT SIGN UP WITH THEM YOU WILL REGRET IT AND I AM A MARYLAND RESIDENT.
And I have put in a complaint with the better BBB Enough is Enough
I wanted to show an example from the company emailing me back all of sudden I cannot post anymore wonder why? Well found out Care One in Maryland is not accredited by BBB AS THEY CLAIM ON THEIR WEBSITE.
This company has also had 4 complaints within the last 30 days feel free to check online at BBB and see how his company is run DIRTY MONEY is putting it nicely about his company.

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