by: Tony Thomas Updated:
LILBURN, Ga. - A Gwinnett County soccer team's dreams of a national title may be dashed after a thief on a motorcycle stole the players fundraising money.
Lilburn police reports show the theft of at least $2,400 occurred at a restaurant on Beaver Ruin Road Sunday evening.
Players and parents of the Gwinnett
based under 16 Phoenix Red Boys had spent hours last weekend bagging groceries for tips at a Lilburn Kroger store and holding signs for donations at intersections.
Sunday night, team manager Michael Samnik said he and some parents went to the Oyster Barn for a planning session. He said he hid the money in two bags under the back seat in his truck.
Witnesses said a man dressed all in black and riding a black motorcycle sped up to the parking lot and smashed the windows in two vehicles, including Samnik's truck.
Within seconds, the thief reached in under the seat, grabbed the bag of money and sped off.
"We just walked across the street to get something to eat and that was it, it was gone," said parent Karen Kierath.
Lilburn police are investigating and believe someone had been watching the team, waiting for a chance for the snatch and grab.
"I don't think that was a random break-in at all. I think that person knew that there very well could be a large sum of money in that car," Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley said.
Hedley said detectives are following up on a couple of good leads but the motorcyclist has not been identified.
"I hope that he needed the money more than us," said team member Danny Kierath. "I just hope he does the right thing."
The Phoenix Red Boys are ranked No. 1 in the country and have qualified for both the Regionals in Oklahoma City and Nationals later this summer in Kansas City.
Each tournament costs the team about $15,000. With the money raised last weekend, the team said it had about two-thirds of the money it needed to get to Oklahoma City.
Now players and parents are unsure if they will make it.
"There is a big problem now," said player Alfredo Rivera.
The team's roster represents immigrants from 10 different countries. Many of the players need the fundraisers to pay for their portion of the travel and entrance fees.
Players said just as important are the potential scholarships to be won by playing in the big tournaments in front of big time programs.
"It could be in jeopardy. Taking that money away can keep them from being seen by hundreds of college coaches," said Danny Kierath. "It seemed like we worked so hard for nothing."
The team has set up a website to help spread the word and try to raise donations.