Little League Strikes Out Again.

Atlee Little League is a league from Mechanicsville, Virginia (outside of Richmond,) whose Junior Girls Softball team (ages 12 – 14)) went through the summer tournament without losing a game.

This past Friday, in a semi-final game against the “host” team from Kirkland, Washington, the game was contentious. No one disputes that. This is tournament ball. It is win or go home. Tensions run high.

After the game, 6 members of the Atlee team posted on a private SnapChat account an image of the girls expressing their thoughts about the Kirkland team.

They gave them the finger.

(And they weren’t telling Kirkland that Altee thought Kirkland was “number 1” on their minds.)

>According to Atlee Coach Chris Mardigian, who spoke to RVA Sports, the post came in retaliation to “several incidents of harassment” perpetrated by some Kirkland team members that targeted the Atlee team. The Times-Dispatch adds that both a player and coach from Kirkland’s team were ejected after being caught relaying Atlee’s signals from second base to Kirkland batters.

The coach of the Atlee team found out about the post and had it deleted. As a coach, he was handling the matter within the team.

Word of the post also reached Little League who disqualified the Atlee team from the championship game.

In response to a request from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Little League spokesman Kevin Fountain issued the following statement:

“After discovering a recent inappropriate social media post involving members of Atlee Little League’s Junior League Softball tournament team, the Little League® International Tournament Committee has removed the Southeast Region from the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series for violation of Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, inappropriate use of social media, and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its participants.”

There are so many things wrong with this situation.

First, let’s talk about the game on Friday where a coach and a player were ejected for relying signs from second base. Sign stealing and signaling has been a staple of the game since the game began. There’s nothing wrong or illegal about sign stealing on the field in any rule book. We can’t imagine any competent umpire throwing out someone for stealing signs and relaying pitches and locations from second base (or any base for that matter.) In a way, this gets to the core of Little League’s problem – it wants to create this atmosphere of “kumbaya” on the field which is fine if you aren’t keeping score. Little League sets up tournaments where winners of games advance and losers go home. It is a lesson in life that all should learn. We would bet the decision to eject a player and a coach either came from an over officious idiot of an umpire or a tournament director who needs to go on eBay and buy a clue. If you don’t want people stealing and relaying your signs, you change the signs. It’s that simple.

Secondly. we aren’t fans of what the girls on SnapChat did. If they gave other players the finger on the field, many leagues call for an immediate ejection. The key there is that the girls weren’t on the field. They were there on their own time and on a private SnapChat account that had nothing to do with Little League itself.

If anything, this was an issue that should have been addressed by the coach of the team, and it was. The girls deleted the post and apologized to the Kirkland team. That should have been the end of the story.

It wasn’t and this is where all sorts of problems come into play.

Years ago, Little League International was looking for sites to host championship tournaments. While the 12 and under boys baseball championship was (and remains) the crown jewel in the Little League World, other age groups as well as softball itself wasn’t getting the coverage that the boys were getting.

Little League signed agreements with cities to host championship tournaments. The host cities got the benefit of parents and friends flying into the city and creating more tourism dollars. The cities also got an added benefit: one of the teams in the championship tournament would be from the host city.

This meant that in the eight team championship tournament finale, seven of the eight teams had been playing all summer, winning at the district, the state, and finally the regional level. Seven of the teams worked to get to the championship series. One team gets to play because they live there.

Having a team from the host city means more butts in the stands. When ESPN broadcasts a game, there are people there in the stands who may not have come except for the fact that a home team is in the tournament. Instead of looking to feed and nurture the growth of the game naturally and organically, Little League decided to artificially pump (pimp?) up the games.

In this Junior Division Championship, one of the teams involved was the host team – the team from Kirkland, Washington. The Tournament Director was from Kirkland as well. Whether or not anyone wants to admit it, there is a conflict of interest there.

The bottom line is that Little League likes to portray itself as good, wholesome, and always concerned about the kids.

They are not.

They are concerned about Little League International itself.

Don’t try to convince us that an organization that puts in special exemptions for host teams is looking out for kids. Don’t try to tell us that an internal team matter dealing with six kids that was handled by team needed to have an entire team disqualified. Don’t try and extol the virtues of “all volunteers” on the field, while executives such as Tournament Directors and up get paid positions. Don’t try to tell us about the “purity of the game,” when Little League is selling corporate sponsorships on the backs and faces of kids.

The girls on the Atlee team were wrong. They did something that their parents probably aren’t proud of. But they are still kids. Kids make mistakes. You correct those mistakes and move on.

Little League, on the other hand, is supposedly run by adults. When they do stupid, hypocritical and unsportsmanlike things, who holds them accountable?

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