The reason behind NEPL week-long suspension

Kids who play baseball and softball in the Northeast Peanut League were forced to stop for one week–not just because some of them were acting out of line–but their parents and coaches were as well. The league’s president, Frank Connelly, gave the executive order to quell the disorderly behavior.

“Prior to the beginning of May is our first half of the season. During that time, we were averaging about three ejections a night from both softball and baseball side,” said Connelly, who enforced the shut down in late May.

The reasons for ejection included the children spewing foul language toward umpires and each other, throwing equipment and arguing calls by parents and coaches to the point where it became inappropriate.

In a recent e-mail announcement Connelly made to members of NEPL, he mentioned specifics, such as a coach using profanity toward an umpire during a game involving 7- and 8-year-old children. In another incident, a player in a 15- to 16-year-old game threw an elbow at another player in an attempt to injure him, resulting in throwing his equipment after being ejected from the game.

NEPL President Frank Connelly. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.
(NEPL President Frank Connelly. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.)

Connelly recalls a more dangerous incident recently on a Friday night in a ball field where he and a colleague appeared on the scene.

“I got there at about 7:30 at night, in time to see the police cars there, getting out the crime scene tape,” Connelly recalls. “As it turns out it wasn’t a dispute necessarily over the game – it was a child custody dispute – unfortunately they brought their problems to our game. This was at a 9- to 10-years-old baseball game.”

One of the participants in the fight then demanded that the umpire resume the game after the dispute had ended and had visibly disturbed both the players and their parents, Connelly said. It’s here that Connelly draws the line between what really matters: the game and the players’ well-being.

Fran Murray, the baseball director of Crispin Gardens, agreed the issues ultimately affect the children.

“That’s basically what we’re all doing this for,” Murray said. “Like I told my coaches, ‘We’re not getting paid to do this. You’re supposed to be doing this because it’s fun. If you’re arguing then you’re obviously not having fun.’”

With the players’ enjoyment in mind, Connelly is doubling his efforts in increasing both awareness and enforcement of the NEPL’s zero-tolerance Code of Conduct Policy. After nine meetings with athletic directors, coaches and parents, Connelly hoped to remind members of the league why they’re here and what might happen if they choose to ignore that.

Within the same e-mail to the organization’s members, Connelly mentioned that the NEPL will hold representatives of the league responsible for the Code of Conduct Policy. He said  forfeiting games, suspending team members and even suspending an entire neighborhood’s sports club for an entire season are possible enforcement options by league officials.

Thomas C. Hill, assistant coach for the Somerton Spartans, has mixed feelings on the recent league-wide postponement.

“I thought suspending the games was a little harsh,” Hill said. “I think they should have taken action against those involved and let everybody else play, but they did what they felt necessary and I’m going to support whatever they say.”

President of the Bustleton Bengals Vince Tarducci expressds his support in e-mail conversations between himself, NEPL members and Connelly. In support of Connelly’s decision to “take a step back and hopefully move forward,” Tarducci has decided to implement a “parent conduct policy” for the Bustleton Bengals that will be similar to those found within other clubs affiliated with the league. Tarducci added that while the players have been cited as offenders in some reports, they are not the reason for the new policy, as the parents have been mentioned far more frequently.

Kathy Foley, a parent involved in the organization, said closing the league’s baseball and softball might have punished a lot of kids for something they didn’t do, but also raised awareness to the issue. As for enforcement of the organization’s code of conduct, she agreed that it needs to happen on a local level.

A Crispin player gets ready for the next play. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.
(A Crispin player gets ready for the next play. Photo by Laura D'Alfonso.)

“I think you’ve got to give them a verbal [warning] and if they don’t listen you’ve got to let them go,” Foley said. “You’ve got to get them away from the kids, because they have a big impact on them.”

Connelly said the way the league likes to handle issues with conduct is within the individual clubs, following the zero-tolerance policy that he and his athletic director, Bill Tees, agreed upon years ago.

“We prefer that the organization take care of it before it comes to us,” Connelly said. “That leaves us so we’re not always the bad guy and that’s worked quite well. Everything’s been great for the last two years, and all of a sudden this year in baseball and softball, everything blew up.”

As for what happens next, Connelly said he hopes to make up for lost time before everyone heads out of town for vacation come early July. He said the bottom line is that the players get recognized for their achievements when the time for championships comes.

During the week of May 25 when the league-wide suspension took place, the league lost a total of 234 scheduled baseball and softball games, Connelly said. And that was a light week. Connelly asked the league to look at that week’s suspension as a rain delay and to get the next months’ games played.

In the light of the NEPL’s recent issues, there might be more at stake in the coming months for its members and players than just championship titles.

Joe Osborne and Laura D’Alfonso is are students in Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods class — a journalism program designed to encourage students to cover under-reported neighborhoods.

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