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No one wins in Little League pool-play flap


Corky Simpson

High on the list of things I wouldn’t do for any amount of money is youth-league sports administration.

The kids are great, but “leagues” are for adults, namely parents.

And they can make life miserable.

Take for example Darlene Biernat, who decided this week to resign as administrator for Tucson District 12 Little League. She will step down at the end of this month when the all-star season ends.

Competent, caring and experienced – she has been a volunteer for 18 years – Darlene has finally had it.

Problems with the district’s pool-play format this year for all-star tournaments have infuriated parents and they’ve taken their anger out on her.

A torrent of complaints and harassment on her cell phone and work phone led to her decision.

Darlene’s husband, Gene Biernat, is the administrator of Tucson District 5 Little League. They were married seven years ago this month, having met three or four years before that in the process of Little League business.

The new pool play structure in District 12 has a tiebreaker rule which, unfortunately, led to the elimination of an undefeated team. That team allowed more runs than the one that advanced.

Silly? Not fair?

Yes, especially if you’re Mark Albrecht, who watched the Sunnyside Majors team (ages 9-12) go unbeaten but get eliminated.

“I have consoled many players over the years as they were eliminated from tournaments because they lost their game,” Albrecht wrote in an e-mail to the Citizen, “but never, until this past Monday night, have I ever had to console them after winning their last game.”

But this is what happens when you adopt pool play. A playoff, as some readers have suggested, might be the best way to avoid such problems.

Regardless, Darlene didn’t make the rules, which were approved by a regional Little League panel. She did discuss them at a meeting with coaches last month, but she said no one complained.

Besides, this lady works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then begins her volunteer job with Little League, often working until 1 or 2 a.m. during all-star tournament time. What many parents don’t realize is their kids’ names and pictures wouldn’t be getting into the newspaper at all if not for the efforts of Darlene and Gene.

There’s a bit more to Darlene’s decision to step down than pool play.

She told the Citizen that this has been the worst year she’s experienced, in terms of bad behavior. In the past week or so, she said at least three fistfights have broken out – among adults, naturally – in the bleachers at these kid league games.

Parents, she said, are setting a “win-first” example for the children.

Well, what else is new?

The problem in youth league sports is always with adults. Parents and coaches, mainly.

The kids just want to play ball. They deal with bad calls and defeat a helluva lot better than do mom and dad or the coach.

Put these youngsters in a daily playground program with no coaching staffs, no parents, no national or regional offices and no snazzy uniforms – just choose up sides and play the game – and they’d have a lot more fun.

And learn more about fair play and teamwork.

A kid can handle the sharp, numbing surgery of “Yerrr Out!” But a parent wants to appeal the decision.

The ideals of youth league baseball, learning to get along with others, learning to win and how to handle defeat, playing together and by the rules, these things are wonderful for kids.

But they are a thin crust over a volcano of trouble from parents interested only in their child finishing on the left side of that hyphen in the final score.

I admire Darlene Biernat for her nearly two decades of service. But I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t know how Gene does it.

When I feel the need to deal with frustration and agony, I will hit myself in the thumb with a claw hammer.

But there is no way I would ever – EV-er – be an administrator in a youth sports league.

Retired columnist Corky Simpson writes for the Citizen every Saturday.

• Little League roundup, Page 4C

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