A bizarre and unfortunate situation happened in the Little League Softball World Series over this past weekend in Portland, Oregon, and one team is being sent home after some poor sportsmanship is displayed from one team based out of Washington.
The “West Regional” South Snohomish Little League (WA) and “Central Regional” Central Iowa Little League are two of the ten teams in the tournament for girls ages 11 and 12. The two were placed in the same pool; there are two pools of five teams in this tournament. The Washington-based team won their first two games by a final score of 21-0. The Iowa squad also won their first two games, one of which was against “Southeast Regional” Rowan Little League, based out of North Carolina. The Iowa and Washington teams were set to play one another in what would be each team’s third game in the tournament. Washington defeated Iowa by a score of 4-3 on Sunday.
So here’s what we have at this point: Washington is 3-0 at this point, while North Carolina and Iowa are each 2-1. Iowa beat a Canada-based team handily in their fourth game to move to 3-1 in the tournament. The Washington and North Carolina teams had to face one another. This is where it becomes a sticky situation.
The top two teams in each pool advance to the knockout stage after pool play. If Washington beat North Carolina, they’d move on after going undefeated in pool play, and because Iowa had beaten North Carolina during pool play, Iowa would also advance and North Carolina would move on. Iowa could have also advanced if the “West Regional” representative scored at least three runs against the “Southeast Regional” representative, regardless of the overall decision. In an unlikely outcome, the Washington girls lost to North Carolina 8-0, and the most strange part about it all, they did not record a hit. This inevitably knocked out the Iowa team.
The Central Iowa Little League party took notice of Washington’s performance Monday afternoon. So much so, they felt that Washington was deliberately trying to throw away that game. The Iowa coaches accused the Washington staff of resting their best players, and did not give their best effort to try and win the game. According to Iowa representatives as well as fans not associated with either team, Washington players were instructed by coaches to either bunt in every at-bat or swing at bad pitches. Iowa ended up filing a formal protest to both the tournament director as well as Little League International.
The tournament director did not overturn the outcome of the game, but L.L. Int’l released a statement saying they had “received credible reports that some teams did not play with the effort and spirit appropriate for any Little League Game.” Little League has a pledge that says all of those associated with Little League (players, coaches, etc.) must give their best effort with the overall goal to try and win. Little League took action. Instead of removing the Washington team from the tournament, they scheduled for a one-game playoff between Washington and Iowa to decide the second seed in their respective pool. The game took place Tuesday morning, and karma came out on top, as Iowa won by a score of 3-2, sending the Washington team packing.
A clear reason was never given for why the Washington team preferred to have Iowa out of the tournament as opposed to the North Carolina-based team. If I had to guess, they did not want the possibility of having to play Iowa again, despite having beaten them once before in pool play.
I played over a decade of baseball, for my schools and for the local Parks & Recreation league. I have been on many different teams, every team different from the last, some better than the others. There are times where some players simply play more than others because of talent level, so I certainly understand coaches wanting to be fair and give all their players as much equal playing time as possible. You even see it in the big leagues. If the Detroit Tigers are up or down by a virtually unreachable margin in a game, you would probably see manager Brad Ausmus pull guys like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler from the game, because of their value to the team and to diminish their chance of being injured. The game had virtually been decided before their departure.
However, in the case of South Snohomish Little League, coaches removed their best players PRIOR to the game, and while the reasoning of letting other players get adequate playing time is plausible, instructing said “other players” to basically not try is not only appalling, but insulting.
What they did was absolutely disrespectful to not only the Iowa team, but all of Little League. Resting your “best players” is one thing, but when you are being accused by a large contingent within the tournament of deliberately trying to lose a game so that you don’t want another team to advance, that’s disgraceful. When the Little League governing body receives numerous “credible reports” that you are not giving your best effort and not trying to win, you should be ashamed. The Washington coaches should feel lucky that those in charge found it somewhere in their hearts to give that team another chance to play.
We always encourage kids to give 110% with everything, especially if they are participating in youth sports. We teach the kids that winning or losing or losing comes second, and that having fun and trying their best is most important. A lot of these youth sports coaches are parents, and a lot of the time, they have their son or daughter on the team they are coaching. I feel for the girls of that Washington softball team to have their season come to end because of poor sportsmanship displayed by their coaches, all because they wanted another team out of the tournament.