EATON — In a surprise ruling for one local family, Eaton Little League decided not to allow a local fourth grader onto this year’s Majors team, made up of players aged 11-13.
Luke Pool is a handicapped child who played with the league last year. During last year’s season, he played with help from his father Brian Pool, as Luke is in a wheelchair and required “reasonable accommodation” because he could not “ground the ball.”
According to Brian Pool, the family has had no issues with Eaton Little League in the past.
“Last year he had wonderful coaches, parents, and players throughout the minor league that were understanding and very supportive of Luke playing little league with his friends and classmates,” Pool said. “It was for this reason that I had no reservations when I signed him up for Little League this year.”
However, this year, with Luke turning 11, he would be a part of the Major, not Minor, league. According to Brian Pool, Eaton Little League saw a potential safety issue with his son graduating to the Major league and recommended Luke stay in the Minor league.
It was not only a safety issue which factored into the League’s decision. In a letter sent to Brian Pool regarding Eaton Little League’s reservations accepting Luke Pool, the League also noted that the Major division is a “competitive league” and they were concerned for the “integrity of the game.”
Brian Pool shared those safety concerns, but believes there was no additional risk for his son than any other kid playing. With the great experience the family had with Eaton Little League in the past, and how much Luke Pool enjoyed playing ball, the family thought it was worth the risk.
The issue Brian Pool had with the letter ELL sent him was its “emphasis on competition.”
He responded to the letter, stating it would be fine for Luke Pool to stay in the minor league for this year, but it would only be a temporary fix as he would eventually have to advance onto the next age bracket.
“I hope we can continue to work this out the best for Luke and the other players,” Brian Pool wrote in his response. “We also do understand that the other teams’ facilities may not work, but we will adjust. This is one of the few sports Luke can try and participate in and it is a joy for him and for us. Hopefully it will work out well again like last year.”
He received no response. A week later, the father made an additional plea. “I should caveat that we do not want to force Luke to be on anyone’s team. If there is no coach that actually wants to take Luke and work within his physical constraints, then we would rather not have him play at all,” he wrote.
He continued to express his displeasure at the use of language such as “integrity of the game.” He added, “The heartbreak that we struggle with on a daily basis with Luke is not something others understand.”
Brian Pool pointed out that Luke Pool is his fourth son to be in the Little League and he was hesitant to have any of them play in the Major division, for safety concerns. He said the family is aware Luke Pool cannot go farther than the Major division, but “want to give him as many memories about things he could try before the joy of the game is no longer what is the most important part anymore.”
A week later, he was notified Eaton Little League decided not to let Luke participate this year. According to Brian Pool, this decision included the Minor league as well.
Brian said he asked if Luke Pool could still be on the team, but as an assistant coach instead of an active player. He was informed that to be an assistant coach, one has to be 18 years old.
Pool views this as Eaton Little League refusing to compromise with the family.
Pool took to Facebook and informed his friends and family of the situation. At the urging of several, he made the post public so they could share it.
He did an interview with a localtelevision station, after calling the Little League district administrator and getting no response. Following the airing of the interview, Pool was contacted, he said.
According to Pool, the district administrator informed him she did not make the decision, only informed the local board of her recommendation. She informed him the rules of the Little League World Series forbid a child from being on the field in a wheelchair. He pointed out, he does not want Luke to play in the World Series, only the local league.
Still, she stood by the Eaton Little League’s decision and Luke Pool will not be permitted to play with Eaton Little League this year.
There are other options for Luke to play ball. After the story went public, a local team asked him to join. Unfortunately, as Pool is about to turn 11, he is too old for the team. They might make an exception, but it will only be for this year.
He could also join a Challenger Division, but the closest one is in West Carrollton and conflicts with his current therapy schedule, according to Brian.
According to Little League International’s website, “If an individual can participate in the traditional Little League Baseball or Softball program with reasonable accommodations they should do so.”
Brian Pool believes that the family are asking for reasonable accommodation. He wants Luke Pool to be allowed in his proper age group with an assistant player (typically Brian Pool has filled this role) on the field to help. Brian Pool has even indicated he would let a child Luke Pool’s age take his role as assistant player.
At this point, however, Brian Pool would not allow his son to play little league with Eaton’s team. He has been dissatisfied with the reasoning given to him, and believes his family is being discriminated against.
According to Brian Pool, Eaton Little League seems more concerned with competition than kids playing the game.
“When they explained things to me, they kept talking about competition. The lady from the district kept talking to me about the Little League World Series, and I’m not sure why we’re talking about the World Series. We should be talking about a 10-year-old who wants to play ball with his friends here in town,” he added.
Eaton Little League officials told The Register-Herald they had been advised to not comment on the situation.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH
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