COLUMN: Don’t let backstop sway spirit of Little League

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By Ben Carlson

Word is that the mayor has asked each member of the city council to publicly apologize to the American Legion for remarks made at a recent meeting.

Well I should say so.

There was no cause to be disrespectful and hint that the Legion lacks compassion for physically challenged children because of its insistence that Little League cannot build a permanent backstop for a third field that will, among many other things, be used for a Challengers league.

The bottom line is that the Legion, not the city council, owns that land and has every right to say what is or is not built there.

I have my doubts that such an apology is forthcoming from each city council member because, frankly, only a couple of them popped off about the Legion during a recent meeting.

The good news about this issue is that regardless the outcome there is certainly no reason children with physical limitations can’t play regular Little League.

I called Little League International on Monday and a spokesperson there confirmed that nothing in Little League’s bylaws prevents a child with disabilities from playing. Of course there are safety concerns and the league would be expected to evaluate such players, but with few exceptions accommodations can certainly be made to mainstream them into the league.

That is if the coaches can swallow a little of their “we gotta win” attitude and make a few concessions.

Years ago in a town far, far away, I coached in a league that had no problem allowing challenged children to join. There were several, but I fondly recall a wheelchair-bound 12-year-old boy who didn’t let that stop him from playing.

It’s with even more fondness that I recall how the league’s coaches did all they could to make that happen.

During the times this child came to the plate, his coach was allowed to come on the field to pitch to him to avoid having him inadvertently getting drilled with a fastball.

If he hit it, the league allowed a designated runner to push his chair up the first-base line, and around the bases if he made it safely to first.

The child also played in the outfield, but was on his own when it came to fielding the ball. The league did allow, though, a spotter to stand near him to ensure he wasn’t hit with a line drive.

The coaches there were every bit as competitive as those here and in towns across America. They wanted to win and badly, but were willing to give up what usually amounted to an easy out and the occasional run if a ball got by him in the field to make that child’s life a bit more normal for a few weeks each summer.

This was nearly 20 years ago, now, and although I recall some of the games and their outcomes, my most vivid memories are of that child laughing in the dugout, swinging for the fences he knew he couldn’t reach and catching a pop fly that plopped down in his mitt in right field.

If my memories are that clear, imagine how strong they are for that young man, now in his 30s and for all I know, still in a wheelchair.

That — not who wins the league title or has the most players picked for all-stars — is the true spirit of Little League.

And if a backstop stands in the way of a Challengers league here, let’s hope that spirit will live on and challenged children will be encouraged and welcomed into the league we already have.

Speaking of challenges ...

Judge-executive candidate Donna Drury contacted me a couple of weeks ago and voiced her displeasure over what she perceived was unbalanced coverage in favor of candidates for the job.

Although all four made the front page, Drury’s appearance was last summer when she first made overtures that she planned to run.

The interview begins on A1, and includes plenty of comments sure to raise a few eyebrows.

And while current Judge-Executive Steve Cornish certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, I will say that Drury’s claims that Cornish belittles and degrades visitors to fiscal court meetings doesn’t really wash.

Aside from a snide remark to the Humane Society director, Cornish has always treated visitors with respect, thanked them for coming and often offers them a chance to address the fiscal court even if not on the official agenda.

I know this because I go to nearly every meeting of the fiscal court, my only recent miss being due to my son’s Christmas concert at the middle school. Even then I was able to attend nearly the first hour of that meeting.

As for her claims of corruption and not being able to back them up with specifics, I think that speaks for itself. Given the court’s tendency toward division rather than unity, if anything corrupt were going on, you better believe that it would be exposed and rather quickly.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.