Rule Change: Consensus in favor of change, but concerns linger

A recent rule change allowing Little League athletes the option to play where they go to school, not just in the district where they live, has sparked much debate locally with prominent members of the Little League community weighing in.

There are mutiple concerns with the rule change ranging from travel issues, reorginization of districts, and player numbers. There are also mutilple benefits mostly dealing with giving more freedom to the athletes Little League revolves around.

“Not only here in Escanaba and Gladstone, but over in the Iron Mountain-Kingsford area, there are districts which overlap. Kids from Iron Mountain go to school in Kingsford and vice-versa, so it’s a total picture,” said District 10 manager Don Howes.

“We also have a problem here with Tri-County, north of Gladstone. I’m afraid with this new program, that this could cause some concern in Tri-County, which is a league that struggles (with numbers). We have to watch this carefully.

“But overall, it has some plusses to it. I think it’s good that if you go to school in Escanaba or Gladstone, and want to be with your friends, that’s great. It’s time Little League looks ahead and looks seriously.”

District 10 assistant manager Renee Lundberg expressed many of the same concerns and benefits to the rule amendment.

“Times have changed and Little League is moving forward,” she said. “I just hope this isn’t to the detriment of those smaller leagues. I think this is the first of many changes coming down. I just wish they would have asked for a ltitle more input from some of the smaller leagues out there.”

Mike Gobert of Gladstone Little League has been deeply aware of the issue that has centered locally around Soo-Hill and has received many waiver requests over the years, many of which are denied. Overall, he said he sees the rule amendment as a positive thing.

“I know in years past, it has always been a question that kids want to play with their schoolmates. Sometimes the location has a lot to do with it too. Now these kids that want to play with their schoolmates will have that opportunity,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what happens. In our boundary, we have kids in Tri-County that by school of choice are at Gladstone. In the past, people have tried to get waivers for kids that wanted to play in the Gladstone district, as well as Soo-Hill and Danforth. I think it will give kids an opportunity to see, if like anything else, the grass is actually greener on the other side. It’s not something that wasn’t looked into heavily, because in downstate and elsewhere in the country, they’re involved in the same things as us, with boundaries.

“I think in the long run, it’s a good thing, simply because it will probably do away with a lot of the waiver issues. You have to be careful when you give waivers, that there’s a valid reason. Now, it takes it out of our hands. Now kids just have to get a copy of the report card or document that the superintendent can sign.”

For Jamie Segorski, who has coached the Escanaba Junior League girls in recent years, the rule change is the culmination of a struggle years in the making.

“For us, it’s something we’ve been pushing for, for many years,” he said. “We’ve always made offers to try to aquire that area in our district. Other requests tried to make it a common boundary and let kids play in one league or the other. This rule change accomplishes the second. For us, it’s kind of a perfect scenario. It affords conveinience to the families.”

One thing nearly everyone agreed upon was that there’s really no telling what the possible consequences of the rule will be until it is put into practice.

“Year one will definitely be a learning year,” said Lundberg. “We know we’ll lose kids, but we’re also looking forward to gaining kids from other areas, but we sure don’t want to hurt any other leagues.”