By Michael Turton
Little League baseball is about as American as it gets. It provides athletic competition, fun, lessons in sportsmanship and memories for countless youngsters across the country, but it is not without conflict, as Philipstown Little League officials have recently discovered. The issue is how “all-star” teams are selected at the end of the regular season — teams that represent Philipstown in the District 17 Little League all-star tournament that features teams from Putnam, Dutchess and Columbia Counties and Connecticut.
This year, two local all-star teams made up of 11-year-old players were selected for tournament play. Both teams bowed out quickly, losing their first two games. In the past, a team of 12-year-old players has also participated in the tournament but not so in 2012, and therein lies the rub. A number of 12-year-old players who were selected as all-stars were not able to play, simply because there were not enough players to make up a full roster. Well, not quite “simply.”
The issues are complicated — but what is clear is that at least some parents were not happy that the 12-year-olds were unable to participate, as has been the tradition in Philipstown. They met with Little League officials on July 13 to discuss the process used in selecting local all-star teams. A fundamental point in the debate is that teams for 12-year-olds can also include 11-year-olds who are considered good enough to play at that older level. Likewise, teams for 11-year-olds can also use talented 10-year-old players to round out their lineup.
At the end of the 2012 regular season, league officials met and selected an all-star team for 12-year-olds — one that included five or six players that age, supplemented by a number of talented 11-year-olds. At that point it seemed that the 12-year-olds would get to play. Enter some of the parents of the 11-year-old all-stars who did not want their sons playing on the 12-year-old team, in part because they favored keeping what they considered a strong team of 11-year-olds together. Faced with that opposition, “It wasn’t gong to work out,” Little League President Eddie Barry explained at the July 13 meeting. Instead he said, two teams of 11-year-olds were created, leaving the 12-year-olds with no team.
In a letter-to-the-editor in the July 11 edition of the PCN&R, Susan Richardson, the mother of a 12-year-old Little League player not selected for the all-star team, expressed concern. “I was perplexed and disheartened by the league’s decision to eliminate the 12-and-under all-star team for the first time in recent memory. I was further dismayed that it decided to select not one but two 11-and-under teams this year instead,” she wrote. “I … was disappointed that any player in (his) last year of play was automatically eliminated.” She went on to question the selection process, writing, “I’m left wondering whether it is player performance or personal preference that makes one eligible to be an all-star in Philipstown … I wonder how many 12-year-and-under teams Philipstown Little League will draft next year. I sincerely hope at least one.”
Barry also submitted a letter to the editor, defending the decisions made in the 2012 all-star team selection. “… none of the decisions … were made unilaterally, nor were they made by a select few coaches,” he wrote. “They were the product of a long series of meetings … and a good faith effort by the volunteers … to resolve a difficult dilemma.”
At the July 13 meeting some in attendance questioned why the board bowed to pressure from some parents of the 11-year-olds who had been selected to “play up” with the 12-year-olds, stating that the decision to field a 12-and-under team should have been strictly a board decision. Contacted by The Paper, Barry said, “Those parents absolutely have the right to be involved — it’s their children.”
The meeting also included discussion regarding whether teams should be selected based strictly on choosing players with the best chance of winning, or whether there should be broader participation with less emphasis on winning. Philipstown Little League by-laws currently call for selecting the best athletes and fielding the best team possible. Barry pointed out that Philipstown faces real challenges because of the small pool of players they have to choose from. “We have 55 players in our majors. Wappingers has 90 players just at tryouts from which to choose the best 12,” he said.
The Paper contacted both Barry and Richardson after the meeting. Barry said that progress was made, including recognition of the need for more collaborative communication among board members, coaches and managers. He said that increased use of the new Little League website will help achieve that. There was also agreement over the need for an objective evaluation form and process for selecting all-stars. He said there is an awareness of the need for “new blood” on the board and that some potential new members have already been identified.
Asked what she considers to be the central issue in moving forward, Richardson said, “It’s remembering that the program is for the kids — and not necessarily about winning.” Like Barry, she thinks the meeting was useful, citing the proposed development of a standardized process for rating players. She also said that the discussions identified 12-year-olds as the priority and that they would be the “flagship team” for Philipstown Little League in the future.
At the July 13 meeting Barry encouraged those in attendance to visit the national Little League website to understand how difficult an issue the selection process is across the country. He also described a district in Florida that has taken a creative approach to selecting its all-star teams. There, all the Little League players are assembled, and they themselves make the all-star team selections.