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Little League dispute hurts the kids in game

May 15, 2010
By Dennis Grall

ESCANABA - Boundary rules for Little League have created complications and animosity between Escanaba and Gladstone, and it must be cleared up quickly for the sake of the kids.

Escanaba has voted to boycott postseason all-star tournaments this summer and plan for an alternative league next summer. The decision strikes much deeper than youngsters playing softball and baseball.

Escanaba is also scheduled to host the state age 11 Little League baseball tournament in July, a seven-day event bringing 15 teams into the area. More than 200 rooms have already been booked by 13 of the 16 districts, a huge financial windfall for the community.

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Dennis Grall

June 5 is the deadline for Escanaba Little League to commit to the tourney. If Esky declines, it would be assigned elsewhere.

Boycotting the postseason deprives Escanaba boys and girls the opportunity to participate in all-star tournaments, which have been the driving force at that level for decades.

Remember the groundswell of support teams from Escanaba and Gladstone received when they participated in the World Series five times in the last 15 years? The backing was tremendous and a real shot in the arm for the entire area as everyone came together on behalf of those softball teams.

Now a group of Escanaba parents apparently believe Gladstone holds the upper hand when it comes to a bigger talent pool. Rather than simply work harder to get better, they are going to take their ball and build a new program where they can be the bully on the block.

In the meantime, the kids who the program is really for get to watch adults act like a bunch of young, spoiled little brats.

Esky officials and parents have asked for boundary relief for years and it never went anywhere. The numbers show Gladstone has more participants this year, but what happens in 5-10 years if that switches back to Escanaba's favor?

Do we get up in arms and ask for another realignment, this time to help Gladstone?

While the boundary would perhaps be better suited as the Escanaba River, it was decided in 1973 - by Escanaba - to send players from Soo Hills, Wells and Danforth to Gladstone.

Karl Dickson, then District 10 administrator, indicated in a note to this desk Wednesday that "the Escanaba Daily Press Little League was designed to become the Michigan State top tournament contender with the league including the county's four baseball hotbeds, Bark River, Escanaba, Gladstone and Rapid River."

However, home-and-home travel become an issue and Dickson said Esky managers objected "and the Escanaba Little League retreated back to its comfortable six-team home town program. This left the Soo Hill team (area) little alternative but to join the Gladstone League."

Gladstone and Escanaba teams have played some spirited and tightly contested all-star games through the years, and because things always seem to go in cycles, the power structure changes and now seems to favor Gladstone.

A big issue to consider is the declining population in Escanaba's Little League area. Only two elementary schools remain in the city and middle school is being integrated into the high school building.

In addition, soccer is drawing more interest and Escanaba parents are among many who have jumped on the travel team bandwagon in recent years at the expense of Little League.

While Escanaba draws participants from basically the city, as it did in 1973, Gladstone draws city kids and those from Soo Hill, Danforth, Wells and Rapid River and is second only to Kingsford among District 10 players.

Those Gladstone areas also have seen the largest growth over the past three decades or so.

Reports have also been heard that Escanaba Babe Ruth (travel) teams have not been allowed to use Escanaba fields by Esky Little League. If that is true, Little League is way off base because the city of Escanaba owns the fields, not Little League.

These programs are for the kids. Don't let the kids suffer while adults make a mess of a situation that is not that complicated. Step back, find out what is best for everyone, then develop a program that puts the kids first.



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