The Snow Canyon Little League team of Santa Clara, Utah, took a stand in support of its religious beliefs Sunday night at the Western Regional tournament in San Bernardino. Little League officials responded with a stance of their own.
Snow Canyon, whose players are primarily Mormon, voted against playing its scheduled pool-play game against a team from Las Vegas. Western Regional officials then met Monday morning and ruled that Snow Canyon must forfeit the game.
“We weren’t going to change the schedule for their sake,” said Jim Gerstenslager, director of the Western Regional. “If we did that, than we’d have to do it for the Seventh-Day Adventists, for the Jewish ... Pretty soon, we wouldn’t be able to put on a tournament.”
Snow Canyon, made up mostly of 12-year-olds, was the first team to qualify for the six-team West Regional, which is the final qualifying tournament for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Kyle Frei, manager for Snow Canyon, said that shortly after his team won the state championship July 14, he learned the Utah state winner was slotted to play Sunday evening in the tournament’s opening weekend. Calls were made to Western Regional headquarters in an effort to change the game time, but officials wouldn’t budge.
“We had everyone in Utah calling and leaving messages,” Frei said. “But they weren’t going to change.”
Gerstenslager said he didn’t know Snow Canyon wanted to move its game time until late Friday night. However, even if he had known about the conflict sooner, nothing would have changed.
Frei was hoping Little League officials would be more flexible. The forfeit dropped Snow Canyon to 0-2 and into last place in the pool. Only the top four qualify for the semifinals.
“Right at the top of the brackets it says, ‘Subject to change,’ ” Frei said. “I thought maybe we’d have the chance to get something done.”
Nevada Coach Dave Hernandez said he understood Utah’s desire to change the game time and was more than willing to make accommodations.
“This country was founded on religious freedom, and we respect their decision,” he said. “As far as all the stuff Little League did, it’s out of my hands.”
John Rosengren, a Minnesota writer and author of several books about sports and religion, said Snow Canyon “is integrating a dose of sanity, but they seem to be looked at like pariahs. It makes perfect sense not to play baseball on a day that’s set aside for family and worship.”
Sports and religion have been colliding ever since British runner Eric Liddell refused to run on the Sabbath during the 1924 Olympics, a story that was eventually told in the Oscar-winning movie “Chariots of Fire.” Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur during the 1965 World Series, and Brigham Young offensive lineman Eli Herring passed on a large signing bonus by the Oakland Raiders and a potential lucrative NFL career because, as a Mormon, he did not wish to play on Sundays.
And two years ago, Todd Miller, a BYU junior and the son of PGA legend Johnny Miller, decided not to play the final round of the Utah amateur state championships because it was scheduled on a Sunday. He hoped tournament organizers would postpone the match until the following day; Miller was forced to forfeit.
Frei, 38, said his players were taking the forfeit in stride, as most 12-year-olds do. They spent Monday at Ontario Mills mall and prepared for their game Monday night against Hawaii.
Tim Apple, whose son Taylor plays for Snow Canyon, said the choice was probably more stressful for the parents.
“There are some among the parents that want to play and some that didn’t want to play,” Apple said. “So, there has been kind of a wedge.”