Tuesday, July 09, 2013
(Last modified: 2013-07-09 14:04:00)
 
Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Participation in Little League across the area is declining at a rapidly alarming rate. The numbers of those in leagues across Greeneville, Newport and Jefferson County have decreased dramatically over the past decade.

Monday night in Greeneville was a pretty good indicator as to one of the reasons why kids are playing under other sanctioning bodies or playing travel ball.

A rule book so full of arcane rules that it takes an experienced lawyer to decipher was the latest situation to make a mockery of the Little League brand on Monday night. The application of those rules by those in charge of the game, was the icing on the cake.

While Little League rules are some of the strictest known to the game, which has prompted numerous teams to play ball under other sanctioning bodies, the rules are rules. Rules should be followed and situations can always be handled better by coaches and players alike. However, yes, rules should be applied properly as well.

Personally, having been a veteran of umpiring at the Little League level under the tutelage of experienced umpires and tournament directors, Mondayís situation in Greeneville was woefully handled by both game umpires and District 4 assistant administrator Lowell Easterly, who also served as tournament director.

The number one rule in Little League tournaments by those running the show is to avoid the possibility of any unavoidable situation. If play has to be stopped to either instruct game umpires on the ruling or to get a ruling from a regional or national office, then that is the best step to take.

Greenevilleís tournament officials could take a lesson from that mantra.

Umpires incorrectly told Smoky Mountain 16U coach Chuck Strange that he could finish the game with eight players. Umpires incorrectly told Greeneville coaches that the Smoky Mountain squad could finish the game with eight players.

Both coaching staffs had an understanding from those in charge on the field were allowing the move, which in fact was against Little League rules.

It was not until parents from Greeneville approached Easterly outside the press box that finishing the game with eight players became an issue that had a direct impact on the result of Monday nightís game.

A visibly frustrated Easterly, after receiving an inquiry from reporters on the official rule that forced Smoky Mountain to forfeit, admitted that he knew that the umpires had incorrectly applied the rule at the time, but elected to say nothing from his perch in the press box.

Doesnít that go against the nature of Little League baseball and softball? Easterly, a 40-plus year veteran of the Little League organization, a Greeneville-native and has a Little League field in Virginia named after him, has been around the block to know that itís best to try to work around an avoidable problem.

While both coaches should have known the rule, as ignorance of the law is no excuse, isnít it better to have a firm ruling of the issue at hand?

Had Smoky Mountain coach Chuck Strange had gotten a decree that he had to finish the game with nine players, or forfeit the game, in the middle of the fourth inning - how would he have played the situation? He could have arranged for Hazelwood to sit away from the action in the field and to take her turn at bat, or he could have forfeited the game without the controversy.

Itís an answer no one will know because of the poor application of the rules on Monday night in Greeneville. Thereís a difference in judgement calls and rules which govern the game. Blown judgement calls are going to happen in every game. There however is very little excuse to not have the opportunity to fix a rule, such as the one that tarnished the ending of Monday nightís District 4 title game.

Itís that poor application of those already hard to grasp rules, is a reason kids are leaving Little League for other sanctions or abandoning the sport all together. While Greeneville still has a sizable number of Little League teams in play, there has been a faction of teams that have defected to start their own league, under their own rules, this year.

Teams play regular season ball at their league in Greene County during the week, and then go play in travel ball formats on the weekend.

More communities will undoubtedly go this route unless Little League reduces the red tape in its rule book and insures that the application of those hard to grasp rules are done properly.

Itís a situation that must be fixed, or will ultimately continue to rip away at the foundation that Little League has aimed to set for the game of baseball and softball. Little League is a staple in many communities because it provides recreational opportunities for kids to enjoy the game, until it becomes a competitive sport with All-Star on June 15 of each year.

If the continued defections from Little League keep up, because of these issues along with many others, what kind of detrimental effects will that have on baseball and softball in small communities such as ours?

Itís a question that Little League must answer and quickly.

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