A Lesson from Little League
February 24, 2015
by Martin Weil
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This past week, Little League USA stripped Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team of the 2014 National Championship Title it had won last August. This was a harsh decision and came in response to a serious violation of Little League’s strict residency rules. It was not the first time that a team of youngsters had been stripped of a championship title for cheating by LLUSA.
Back in the day when I still had a 12-year old baseball-loving kid at home, I was closely involved in our local little league program, both as a volunteer and (I stress, assistant) coach. At the time, the rigid rules that National Little League imposed on local programs sometimes seemed to me to be capricious, or even silly. Who cares after all whether a coach wears a professional baseball jacket? Or whether paying older teenagers a small sum to umpire games violates the “all volunteer” mandate of the program?
But at the core, I knew that Little League was established to create a level playing field for all the players, and to foster important values in every young participant. While winning was important – it is after all a competitive game with championships at escalating levels – the adult participants were serving a far more important service. Our job was to instill in the young boys, and girls, under our charge a spirit of fair play, one that they might carry with them throughout life. Some twenty years ago, it was apparent to me that this fair play ideal was not always top of mind for many of the hypercompetitive parents and coaches in our affluent neck of Marin County CA.
Adults (and I stress it was always the adults) did bend the rules of competitive play, some even knowingly violating them. A very few went so far as to make sure the kids knew they had a “secret” that gave them a leg up. This was certainly in violation not only of the rules but of Little League’s intent to provide a valuable moral lesson to our players. A lesson was being conveyed for sure, but it was entirely the wrong one.
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