Newport Little League returns to the plate

Newport Little League returns to the plate
Newport Beach Little League resumed play at the Bonita Canyon Sports Park on Monday afternoon following a four-day suspension. The league violated a rule that limits the number of board members who are coaches, the district said. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

From the front row of the bleachers at Bonita Canyon Sports Park, Jason Stern watched intently as his 9-year-old son stepped up to the baseball mound.

The boy blew a bubble with his chewing gum, surveyed the field from behind sunglasses and delivered pitches for the Monday game — the first since the four-day suspension of the Newport Beach Little League had ended.


"It's all right, bud, it's all right!" Stern yelled in encouragement to his son as the opening inning got underway.

District leadership had been concerned with the Newport Beach Little League's compliance with the rules for more than a month and on Wednesday put the league on hold, canceling games and practices for the roughly 700 players starting Thursday.


Having too many board members who were coaches was among "a multitude of factors" that District 55 Administrator Tamara Alexander said the league failed to address, leading to the suspension.

Among the 28 board members, 22 were also involved in coaching, which violated a regulation that holds the percentage of coaches to a minority, Alexander said.

To resolve the issue, eight coaches resigned from the board and one board member stepped down from coaching. One more member was re-identified as a non-coach, Alexander said.

League President Gary Borquez said he had been aware of the issue but did not expect the league to be shut down because of it — especially without notice of the suspension threat.


"Was it an egregious violation that warrants that sort of punishment? In our view, no," he said, "There are so many issues to deal with prior to the tryouts, prior to the opening day. It got lost in the shuffle."

Borquez explained that board members must be chosen before team managers and coaches are decided.

As with any nonprofit, the board members are often the "heavy-lifters" of the organization, League Vice President Phil Cohen added.

The season began March 8 — hardly a week before the four-day suspension began — but Alexander said she had been working since September to ensure that the nine Orange County Leagues in the district were following the rules.

"When you have multiple months where deadlines are not being met, therein lies the problem," she said.

Over the past four weeks in particular, many conference calls were scheduled, and emails were exchanged between the league and district on a variety of issues.

One of the board members who resigned had introduced the idea of inviting players to stay home so that the teams could play with smaller rosters, Alexander said.

Cohen had since assured her that the sentiment is not one that Newport Beach promotes and would never be made again, she said.


The night before the announcement of the suspension, representatives of the two groups had been discussing a policy on when to replace injured players on teams, if at all, Borquez said.

When a player misses more than a week of practice because of an injury, Little League rules hold that a new one must be pulled from another team, a time frame that seemed "a little too quick," Borquez said.

"Whatever the issue is, the ones in blue and gray didn't do it," Stern said, gesturing toward the uniformed kids standing in position on the field Monday

And yet, Stern noted, "They got punished."

Kurt Miner, whose son played on a field nearby, said the disruption in playing time hurt the momentum and excitement that usually comes with the start of the season and boosts the players' confidence.

Although he knew a day in advance, Miner waited until an hour before his son's game was scheduled to start before telling him it had been canceled. He had hoped the suspension decision might change.

At first, the 11-year-old was confused. It wasn't raining outside. It was sunny.

Miner explained that there were larger problems in the league. The pair went surfing instead.