Little League Fraud Shows Winning is 'Like a Religion' in U.S., Say Experts

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - The revelation that Little League World Series star Danny Almonte is 14 years old, two years older than the legal tournament age of 12, is once again focusing attention on the win at any cost mentality here in the U.S.

Almonte, the star pitcher for the Rolando Paulino All-Star Team from the Bronx, N.Y. was the subject of an investigation after a Sports Illustrated reporter uncovered evidence that Danny was older than the other boys competing in the Little League World Series.

Friday, officials from the Dominican Republic, where Almonte was born, confirmed the boy was 14, not 12, as his family had insisted.

"Sports get so much publicity now in our country and it's larger than life. It's like a religion, and the god of that religion that we all worship is the god of winning," said University of Connecticut sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg.

As Little League baseball struggles with this issue, officials have reiterated the goals of the league. Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball said in a Little League website release, "If we find out that we were given forged documents, we will [be] both sad and angry that anyone would so pervert this great sport."

He continued by saying, "Little League is meant to provide fun and to teach values to three million young ballplayers every year. Anyone who would knowingly undermine the trust in Little League is guilty of doing serious harm to children."

The goals of youth sports should not be undermined, Goldberg agreed. "The purpose of sports is to teach kids a life lesson," he said.

Handling adversity, working as a team, learning to be a good person, playing fair and overcoming challenges are all cited by Goldberg as the key ingredients to successful youth sports.

"One of the main reasons kids leave sports is because of pressure from adults," Goldberg said.

Little League baseball is not the only youth baseball league that affects the lives of young boys and girls. In fact, dozens of leagues and programs are operated around the country.

Ronald Tellefsen, president and chief executive officer of Babe Ruth League Inc., tries to reduce the demands on young athletes. "We believe in the local league aspect first. I think, quite frankly, that too much pressure is put on the young player," he said.

Tellefsen said that yelling criticism at a young ballplayer from the stands is not an appropriate aspect of the game for parents or coaches. Yelling from the stands has long been a concern of those who direct youth baseball.

"Sometimes today in youth sports, winning does become too much of a goal ... and the main reason to be a part of Babe Ruth Baseball is to build better citizenship," he said.

The Babe Ruth League "now ranks as the premier amateur baseball and softball program in the world," its official website reports.

The league's many divisions range from 5 to 18-years old, along with softball programs for girls in the same age range.

"At our World Series and other tournaments, we have what we call a host family plan. We try to build into that to make sure that a player gets a chance to live with another family. A host family treats a player that comes and stays at the World Series just like they would their own son or daughter during that time," Tellefsen said.

"They live with the family and eat their meals and become their adopted child for that 10-day period. You go and watch at the end of a World Series as a player departs from a host family. There are some tears shed," Tellefsen said.

An intricate part of youth baseball has always been the parents of the young athletes. Wayne Christensen is the editor and publisher of Baseball Parent, a publication that assists 25,000 parents nationwide.

Christensen, whose son is now a baseball player at the University of Virginia, says specialization has taken place in the game of baseball.

"There is no question that a lot of parents focus more on winning than simply having fun. It's brought about by a number of things. One is an early specialization in sports. You pick one over two or three," he said.

"They feel that in order to play in high school they have to specialize early, and that they have to take lessons: hitting, pitching, catching and fielding, not to mention strength and conditioning and agility training," he said.

Christensen says he feels pre-teens should be involved in many different sports and activities and focus on having fun.

Regardless of the minor problems that youth baseball has faced recently, it remains a popular activity for kids. Christensen says nearly 20 million children play youth baseball.