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Warnings against the evils of commercialism are sounded in virtually every tract on the subject of children's athletics. The Little League frankly invites sponsorship of local leagues and does not exclude businessmen, but cautions local leaders to be on guard. A sponsor may have the name of his business on the team uniforms. So far as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has been able to determine in this nationwide survey, commercial sponsorship has been the least of Little League's troubles.
Racial segregation has caused some alarms and much soul-searching in Little League. Except for a general recommendation that no boy be denied a chance to play because of color, the national officials stay out of the controversy, maintaining that it is not their business to attempt to change broad social customs. South Carolina dropped out of the league in 1955 over the selection of a Negro team for tournament playoffs, but continued to carry on its local activity without national franchise. The scene elsewhere in the South has been generally calm. Virtually all southern teams are either all white or all Negro.
Occasionally a local league drops out of the national structure over some disagreement on policy. Those in the Seattle-King County area of Washington split off in 1954 and adopted the name Li'l League. Seattle leaders objected to Williamsport's rulings on player selection, methods of local organization, the drawing of geographical boundary lines and exhibition games. Little League officials, incidentally, are not happy about the situation and are considering legal action to force a change of name. The Fresno, Calif. leagues seceded over methods of organization and boundaries and formed the Spartan League. Instead of establishing each of its six leagues as an entity, responsible only to Williamsport, as national rules required, Fresno organized a central board for direction of the citywide program. Pittsburgh's suburban Mount Lebanon township supports a vigorous offshoot (49 teams in the Little League age bracket) on a "no-star-everyone-plays" basis. Every boy who wants to play is put on a team; every boy must play in at least two innings of each game.
By and large, however, the local leagues appear to be happy with the national affiliation and satisfied with home-town results.
"I think Little League is one of the best things that ever happened," says Patrolman John Parker, a manager in Wilmette's league. "In season we have less trouble with kids as far as breaking street lights and the rest goes. We teach not only baseball, but being good to your fellow man." From Hamtramck's Midge Wysocki, director of a municipal recreation program which incorporates Little League: "In our four years of Little League activity our juvenile officers have never picked up a player for any reason. That means a lot in an industrial community such as ours." The Parkdale district of Toronto, a section which used to breed juvenile delinquents, is no longer breeding them; city officials say Little League is setting potential lawbreakers straight.
A significant convert
One of Little League's most significant converts is Dr. Elmon Vernier, director of physical education for the public schools of Baltimore, now state public relations director for Little League as well. Once of the opinion that Little League was a commercial venture of U.S. Rubber to capitalize on the interest in baseball among American youth, Dr. Vernier came away from a meeting with league officials "much impressed by their leadership qualities and by the strong indication that sport, not commercialism, was the basis of the league." That was in 1954; but when he attended the first Little League congress, in 1956, Dr. Vernier still had misgivings.
"What persuaded me, finally," he says, "was the type of people I met and the stands they took on important issues. I particularly remember a motor cop from New Jersey, a bridge foreman from Maryland, a banker from Texas and a manufacturer from Ohio. These people wanted to do the same things that we physical education people wanted, and I'm not sure we always do it better than they do."
We have heard the case against Little League; we have heard the witnesses in its defense. Let us summarize our findings and deliver a verdict.
•As a participant sport for youngsters, Little League has unquestionably done great good. It has lured small boys in large numbers away from the omnipresent TV set, brought them out to the ball field, and has thus contributed positively to the growing physical fitness problem among our youth.