A July 7 Metro article incorrectly referred to a Capitol City Little League all-star team for this summer. The league had not named such a team because there was no D.C. Little League tournament this summer, according to the commissioner, Ann Kane. The two players featured in the article played for the Yankees team in the league. (Published 7/8/2005)
The Capitol City all-star baseball team, a group of 11- and 12-year-olds, practiced for the D.C. Little League summer tournament for nearly a year, suiting up every day after school.
For the past seven summers, Capitol City has defeated the city's seven other teams and advanced to Bristol, Conn., for the Little League regional playoffs. This season, the players thought that perhaps they could win the regionals and qualify for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in August.
But their dreams were dashed even before they set foot on the field.
The reason? The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates five of the city's eight Little League programs, failed to pay the fees and file the forms required by Little League's June deadline.
"I was shocked," Zachary Moore, 12, who plays shortstop, said yesterday. "I didn't get the whole concept at first when they told us. I thought it would be my big shot. It's disappointing we will not get to go."
The city's mistake comes at a time when Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has pledged to use the excitement generated by the arrival of the Washington Nationals to improve playing opportunities for youth. Like many urban areas, the District has struggled to provide fields and equipment for teams.
Williams personally appealed to Little League President Stephen D. Keener, who said no. D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) also got involved, to no avail.
"There's just no excuse for the government to get in the way of kids playing baseball," Patterson said.
Don Fishman, general counsel for the Parks and Recreation Department, said that paperwork sent to the agency from Little League was never forwarded to his office, in part because an employee who had handled those duties left his job last year. The paperwork included requests for background checks on coaches, insurance forms and roster information.
"It was just a mistake," Fishman said. "It is a sad result for the kids."
But Lance Van Auken, a Little League spokesman, said the District was given a pass last year after it failed to file the proper forms and pay several thousand dollars in fees. But this year, Van Auken said, the league banned the city because it could not be sure the District was serious about participating.
"We hadn't heard anything from them, even though we had tried to contact them," Van Auken said. D.C. officials acknowledged that Little League representatives met with them in January and warned them to pay the fees.
The District now has paid its fees and filed the proper paperwork for both the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Little League offered to let D.C. teams enter the Maryland tournament this summer, but the Capitol City team declined because parents believed it would be difficult to transport the team to southern Maryland for the games.
Little League's 12-and-under World Series is televised each year on ABC. The District used to send teams to the qualifying tournament in Maryland, which has more than 70 Little Leagues. But in 1998, Little League allowed the District's eight leagues to hold their own tournament.
The way Little League is organized in the District is an anomaly. Usually, programs are operated by volunteer parents and youth coaches. But in the District, five programs in the city's poorer wards had been run by the Boys' and Girls' Club and were on the brink of disbanding several years ago. The city government stepped in and agreed to take over operations and pay the fees.
That contributed to the problems the past two years, Fishman said. Without active parents to help push the city to file the forms, the paperwork was overlooked, he said.
"We'd prefer that D.C.'s leagues be run by traditional local volunteers," Van Auken said. "By their nature, they're easier to deal with than a government entity."
Parents in the Capitol City programs, which is one of three independently run Little Leagues in the District, were outraged by the city's mishandling of the forms and fees.
"This is the golden goose for kids in the city, the one opportunity each year they look forward to," said Andy Gilman. His son, Sam, 12, said the Capitol City team practiced each day after school in the fall and spring and once a week in the winter.
"I was really disappointed," said Sam, who plays third base and outfield.
Ann Kane, president of the Capitol City league, said she does not blame the District government. Parents and volunteers in each league must stay abreast of the filing deadlines, she said.
But Eric Moore, the father of Zachary and coach of the Capitol City team, said the government is responsible.
"That's why the government system is there," Moore said. "If no one can run it, Parks and Rec does it. If they take over responsibility, they cannot dump it when they want to dump it."