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Help area's young athletes get a fair shake

   Unless you've been in a movie with Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox, changing the future is a difficult feat.
   But fans of two sports teams in Jefferson County have opportunities to change the future for the better.
   Doing so will involve select student-athletes, parents and fans taking actions in the next few weeks.
   Two events -- one that happened but should not have and one which is not yet assured but deserves to be happening -- have ignited crusades of sorts.
   When Jefferson County's 9-10 all-star team was denied a chance to advance to the state tournament's semifinal games managers and others began reading rules carefully. That reading revealed that Little League of America failed to research its tie-breaking guidelines well enough.
   The mistake was innocent. Unfortunately, the guidelines were worded so teams in any tournament that played three games in a pool of four teams and won its first two games, only to fall behind early in the third game, could actually advance more easily by intentionally failing to score. That was due to a part of the rule in which scores from each game were factored. Basically it let a team have a better chance by letting itself strike out if it fell behind. That was due to the team in jeopardy of losing out knowing that if the team it was losing to won the tiebreaker of least runs allowed, it could still move on.
   With the way the rule was written there were probably at least a couple more teams besides Jefferson County's 9-10 all-stars denied more play by the inadequate rule.
   What was the rule in question, you ask?
   It addressed breaking a three-way tie in a pool-play situation. First, records are compared. If one team beat both others in a three-way tie, it moves along. No duh.
   Using more complex language, the rule section said, if each of three teams tied had beaten each other (thus finishing 2-1), a ratio of runs allowed would decide the top seed. The ratio was to be arrived at by dividing the innings played into the total runs given up. That would have been fine, and would have eliminated the possibility of a team manipulating their final game on purpose, had the first and second lowest teams in the ratio been listed as the teams to advance.
   Instead, Little League added phrases to cloud the picture. Little League has a website. It is clear they are cloudy on some issues. Letting only the top team be determined by runs allowed meant, in essence, all 2-0 teams that fell behind in a closing round of pool play could advance more easily by not scoring at all. For example's sake: Say Team A beat Team B in round one of round-robin play. If Team A then beat Team C in the second round, it would know before playing Team D if there was an advantage in losing, should it fall behind. In such cases, Team A could figure what would happen if the the team it was playing gave up a certain number of runs.
   Such a complex case might seem unlikely, but guess what? It happened in pool play at District 5's Little League tourney even before Jefferson County's 9- and 10-year-old team were disappointed.
   If Little League mistakes were not rare, the situation would have been a classic SNAFU. It was AFU (all fouled up) just not quite SN (situation normal). Coaches at every level who were asked agreed -- letting a team advance without effort is not the kind of thing Little League should condone.
   If the national Little League headquarters denies teams could benefit by losing on purpose they are playing a game I would call wishy-washy. It is a game politicians excel at. Afterall, how often have you heard politicians make 10-minute speeches, when they could basically state "I wish that hadn't happened...so, I'll wash my hands of it." The mistakes of that nature are quite bipartisan. Just consider the likes of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
   A regional office representative said the rules were open to anyone to read, the media included. But Little League seems so sweet and innocent that people usually don't worry about double-checking such details -- until it's too late, at least in this case.
   The lack of sportsmanship teams showed by trying not to catch up just because they would be eliminated if they didn't make the comeback complete is disgraceful.
   If Little League had someone who knew baseball writing rules with examples of what they were talking about, they'd not be facing criticism. Legal language and a disagreeing subject and verb within the rule only confused things more. The rule denied deserving teams, like Jefferson County, from playing. How best to break ties should have been better addressed.
   Informed sports fans want to watch teams that are playing well, not ones which lost on purpose.
   Millions of dollars in fees are paid by parents to Little League each spring. It would be nice to think an outline of how to break ties that was easy to deal with could be made. It could even be added that eight teams should use a double elimination bracket rather than pools of four.
   Having a safe and sane learning atmosphere in which to play baseball or softball should remain Little League's foremost goal. But, fair competition is important too.
   Now is the time for change.
   I would encourage any team hurt by them, from Jefferson County and manager Bob Gill, to any team anywhere, to demand new, more clear, tie-breaking rules, plus a written apology from Little League. Check out www.littleleague.org if you doubt the rule being as confusing as it seems.
   Sure, one paragraph says if a team is not trying it can be eliminated, but how in the world could that be determined objectively?
   Fans of the District 5 9-10 champs or other teams victimized could recommend that only the top two teams in runs-allowed advance.
   The other group deserving backing is Madras High's girls basketball team. It is trying to raise funds to play in a Sioux City, Iowa, tournament honoring Sacajawea on the verge of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition.
   Girls basketball teams with championship credentials from states along the path journeyed by Lewis and Clark have been invited to Sioux City. Built on the Missouri River's east bank, Sioux City is now home to more than 80,000. Lewis and Clark passed by the site on their travels.
   Madras needs to raise $10,000 to get its varsity team there, where bussing and housing will be provided. At least one nationally-ranked team from last year is scheduled to play in the event.
   But, the caliber of competition is secondary on the list of reasons Madras should get behind the girls' efforts to go. Most the teams will represent communities much larger than Madras.
   The cultural experience will make it a "once-in-a-lifetime" event for many of the girls. A museum there reviews the expedition which moved through stretches of river now surrounded by Missouri, plus Nebraska and Iowa, before it headed through the present-day Dakotas, then west .
   Despite Oregon City being the original Oregon invitee, the Madras girls are doing their best to raise the funds for the trip. With Becky Dotson the one Madras coach from last year presently involved, the girls are doing a lot on their own or with only their parents' help.
   Since Sacajawea was rather helpful throughout Montana and at the treacherous mountain crossing through Idaho -- before the expedition reached the Columbia River that now separates Washington and Oregon, those states are also going to be represented.
   With such projects as playing Sacajawea in skits at the Sioux City area elementary schools, the girls will be kept busy during their time in Sioux City.
   Now's the time for the community to get busy and either support car washes and other fund-raisers the team is holding. Donations through the high school or Buff Boosters would almost surely be accepted as well.