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Michigan town boycotts Little League playoffs

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All over the nation, all-star teams in no-star towns are starting the long road to South Williamsport, Pa., and its Little League World Series. I would ask the fine folks of the Little League in Escanaba, Mich., to throw out the first pitch, except they’ve already taken their ball and gone home.

Escanaba, a city of 12,000 on the Lake Michigan coast of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, has elected to sit out the Little League playoffs in a decision its local board ungrammatically said “was not easy but was forced by years of working the bureaucrat system.” Are any of them members of the Democrat party?

So what is the problem? Like India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and you and your little brother over the backseat of your parents’ 1979 Cutlass, the issue is a border dispute.

According to the Daily Press of Escanaba, that city’s Little League started in 1951, and took a trip to the World Series in 1957. However, Gladstone, a city of 5,000 seven miles up the coast, formed its own Little League in 1973, in part because of fiddling with Escanaba’s boundaries so it could keep as much of the city as possible and meet the Little League standard of a population of 15,000. One section was lopped off “because many of the residents were senior citizens and if there were any children they were more likely to be interested in sailing, tennis or golf.” When families in that area complained that their kids indeed like baseball, too, when they weren’t busy being little Newport, R.I., the borders were readjusted, and upset parents in the newly carved-out territory joined forces with Gladstone, where it remains to this day.

(By the way, the territory Gladstone’s Little League serves includes an area my father, a Boston native who came to Upper Michigan when he was assigned there in the Air Force, derisively referred to as “nowhere.” As in, when he was dating my mother, a Gladstone native, my father — used to cities and suburbs that all blended together — while they were driving asked her, “Where are we?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “No, what city are we in?” My mom said, “We’re not in one. We’re between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “But if we died in a car accident, where would they say we died?” My mom said, “Between Gladstone and Escanaba.” My dad said, “So you mean, ‘Nowhere.’ “)

Funny story: Over the years, Little League raised its population maximum per territory to 20,000, and Escanaba’s population declined to below 15,000 anyway. So there was no need to adjust territories. Also, the territory Escanaba lopped off happened to supply a fair number of players. So Gladstone, with less than half the population of Escanaba, has 402 registered players, while Escanaba has 332.

Escanaba would like its players back, you know, for the kids. A release Escanaba put out in May, announcing its Little League playoff boycott, boo-hooed: “[I]t is very difficult for a coach or a board member to have to tell an Escanaba student that they cannot play ball with their school friends.” It hurts them more than it hurts you, kid.

Of course, this argument is going over in Gladstone as well as a fart in deer camp.

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A fart in deer camp, courtesy of Jeff Daniels’ 2001 opus, “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Says Gladstone Little League president Mike Gobert, in the Daily Press: “With the program we have, we have a pretty good set-up. I’m perfectly satisfied with the way it is.” Of course.

Actually, the Gladstone Little League is right, and I’m not just saying that because my mother grew up there, and because my grandmother ran the Daily Press Gladstone bureau for years. (In Gladstone, not between Gladstone and Escanaba.) If Escanaba hadn’t tried to game the system decades before, it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is today, like what people say about Reaganism and the state of the present American economy.

I’m not sure what Escanaba thinks it can gain by a boycott. The Gladstone Little League says it is getting calls from Escanaba parents asking if they can enter their kids on a Gladstone all-star team, but that isn’t happening. So the kids are upset, and I doubt the Escanaba parents are blaming Gladstone. Anyway, I don’t think that when Brent Musberger takes the mike for the Little League World Series, he’ll say, “We have some great teams here, but they’ll all have an asterisk, because mighty Escanaba never played.”

On top of that, Escanaba lost the right to host any Little League playoffs. The girls senior division goes to Manistique, population 3,500, while the age 11 state tournament shifts to — ha ha — Gladstone. Given that the Upper Michigan economy was never great even when it was good, the only thing Escanaba’s boycott is accomplishing is preventing people from spending much-needed money there.

I hope the Escanaba bureaucrat system is happy with that.

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An angry football mom's sign of trouble

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There is a pattern to how little misunderstandings involving youth sports turn into the raging contretemps that end up in blogs such as this.

First a child and parent are blithely going along in the course of a season. Then a team representative announces, clumsily, a sudden change in the arrangement that should have been handled earlier. Then the parent and/or child goes batshit crazy whether or not the team digs in its heels. And then smart-alecks like me write it up.

That’s the pattern playing out in Berlin Heights, Ohio. Eighth-grader Keegan O’Brien started football place at Berlin-Milan Middle School. The school comes back and says, oh by the way, Keegan shouldn’t be on the team because his poor seventh-grade marks made him ineligible. His mother, Amy Ortner, responds by demanding a refund from the school for the $70 she spent on a physical and football shoes, which she said was a lot for someone out of work such as herself. Then, in the coup de crazy, she put a marquee in her front yard that reads “Berlin Football– Shame Shame– We Dont Play Those Kind of Games.” (I presume the letters she got for the sign didn’t come with apostrophes.)

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Joe South feels you, Amy.

According to the Sandusky Register, this sign has been up for about a month, and it doesn’t appear to be coming down any time soon — not with a school levy vote coming up in November.

For about a month, a marquee in Amy Ortner’s front yard has displayed messages critical of the football program. It has drawn the attention of people traveling this busy stretch of highway and an offer of money to take it down, which Ortner characterized as a bribe.

Mark Suhanic, who made the offer, said he was just trying to give Ortner what she wanted and acting not as a school board member but on behalf of a friend. [The friend is the operator of a nearby orchard who thought her sign was bad for his business.]

“I just wanted it to go away. I guess you could look at it as a bribe, paying her off, but she was very adamant that she wanted the money,” Suhanic said. “She wanted the money, and there was a guy willing to pay the money.”

She didn’t take the money.

…Ortner said Suhanic told her he was concerned her sign — which she borrowed from a friend — made the schools look bad in advance of a levy vote next month.

“I’m mad that the only reason they’re worried is because of the levy,” she said. “They’re not worried about the justice of taking a kid off of a team after he’s been part of it for two months.”

Suhanic said rules are rules, and the levy isn’t the only reason he wanted the sign taken down.

“Any bad publicity isn’t good any time. It happens we do have a levy going on,” he said, “but most people don’t understand what this has been about, and she hasn’t been forthcoming in explaining to people.”

It appears the school screwed up in two ways. The first was not following Ohio High School Athletic Association rules about informing players and parents about the ineligibility rules. According to the OHSAA guidelines:

3-1-4 Within two weeks of the beginning of each sports season, the principal, through his/her athletic
administrator, coaches and such other personnel as deemed advisable by said principal,
shall conduct a mandatory, preseason program with all student-athletes who wish to
participate in the upcoming sports seasons, their parents and booster club officers. The
meeting shall consist of (a) a review of the student-eligibility bulletin and key essential eligibility
requirements; (b) a review of the school’s Athletic Code of Conduct; and (c) a
sportsmanship, ethics and integrity component.

The second mistake was the administration’s, ham-handed handling once it realized it had made an oopsie. Maybe the school could have refunded the money. Or it could have come up with a way to let Keegan play while not sacrificing the school’s academic integrity. For example, it could have set up an arrangement that might have given Keegan a clean slate for this year, but giving strict guidelines about the minimum grade-point average he would need to keep his place on the team.

Of course, with the month-long sign tirade she has under way, Amy Ortner doesn’t sound like the most reasonable parent in the world to deal with. Yes, she did get wronged by the school. But you can’t help but think if she put this much effort toward in school in figuring out how to raise her son’s grades, he might be far better off. And whether he would be allowed to play football wouldn’t even be an issue.

But then I wouldn’t have anything to write about, would I?

Written by rkcookjr

October 22, 2009 at 12:43 am