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For the last two decades, late spring was a fine time for Ann Kane. Year after year, she’d watch the all-stars of Capitol City Little League, which she helped found in 1986, crush teams from every other kiddie confederation in D.C. in the annual citywide tournament.
But no matter how this year’s all-star squad performs, the salad days are over for Kane as far as her league is concerned. Disgruntled parents petitioned Little League Baseball’s corporate offices before the season to force an open election for the board of directors for the first time in Cap City’s history. And after a long campaign that featured platforms and slates and speeches and even some election-night heckling, Kane—the only president the league had ever had—got bounced out of office.
How Washington is that?
“I run baseball leagues, not elections,” says Kane, seemingly still stunned from the parental coup. “Unfortunately, there are other people who had spent a lot of time on the Hill running campaigns, and they ran campaigns a little more organized.”
Officially, Kane will be calling the shots for the league until Aug. 15, 2006. But, really, the end of her run came two weeks ago at the Chevy Chase Community Center, where an election was held in which more than 80 people paid $25 just for the right to vote. (Didn’t the Supreme Court outlaw the poll tax?) Each of the 15 candidates for the 11 available seats was given a minute to tell voters why they were most fit for office and, according to attendees, most repeated the pitches they’d already made for themselves in the election section of the league Web site.
There, one candidate promoted his work as “Executive Director of a nongovernment, nonprofit, congressionally chartered, public service organization” and said that, if elected, he’d push to get “results of the games published in…the Northwest Current.” Another hailed his “relevant” experience as VP of the American Beverage Association. Another candidate ran for office on the platform that all players should be required to play infield every game. Domestic issues also came to the fore: One candidate said in his Web pitch that “more parents with kids in the league should be involved in making decisions about how the league operates.” Another said, “we need more ‘moms’ involved.” Kane has no children.
Kane’s posting of her qualifications to maintain her position was by far the longest of all the candidates’. Her speech at the library was also much longer than her opponents’, and when her self-preservation presentation went beyond the rules, mumblings of “Time! Time!” could be heard, people present say.
It makes sense that Kane couldn’t fit her list of accomplishments into a mere 60 seconds. After all, during her reign, the league has dominated its region in a way that no other Little League affiliate can claim. The last 13 city titles have gone to Cap City’s all-stars. And there’s also the matter of how the league has won all those city crowns: From 2000 through 2004, Cap City outscored opponents in the championship game by 59-0. In the 2002 and 2003 tourneys, Cap City pitchers didn’t even allow a single hit. The renown from all those all-star victories probably helped Cap City get invited to the first White House T-ball invitational game in 2001.
But there was no all-star tournament in D.C. in 2005. Unlike Congress, the national Little League powers have long recognized the District as a state. But our statehood was rejected last year when officials with the city Department of Parks and Recreation failed to file proper paperwork and pay required fees with the Little League’s offices in Pennsylvania. Rather than play in Maryland’s statewide tournament, Cap City sat out the all-star season.
Though Kane was by all accounts blameless in that episode, suddenly parents began voicing concerns about the way Cap City was being run. Accusations of a lack of organization in scheduling and player recruitment got louder, as did murmurs about a lack of transparency in the league’s financing. A group of 11 calling itself the Concerned Parents of Capitol City Little League was formed to reform the leadership. Little League officials, after corresponding with the group, agreed to install a brand-new board of directors, and board members would then pick the league president among themselves.
And the campaigning began. Suddenly, the all-star successes were being used against Kane.
“People wanted this to be a league not only for the all-stars but also for the all-thumbs,” says Jon Plebani, one of the 11 Concerned Parents, repeating the mutineers’ rallying cry.
After the elections were ordered, Kane decided she would run for a seat on the board and attempt to hold on to her presidency. “I thought based on the history and the progress and the status of this league, you know, that would be telling information for people about the type of people they want running the program,” she says.
When the votes were counted, the entire alliance of 11 parents who had banded together to oust Kane were on the new board. And Kane was out. More evidence of an anti-all-star bent among the electorate: Mike Domanski, the manager of Cap City all-star teams throughout the ’90s, also ran for a seat on the new board but was among the handful of losers on election night.
Even career political professionals—and the haughty Upper Northwest territory that feeds Cap City is full of ’em—were impressed with the movement that led to Kane being deposed.
“The new board ran a very professional get-out-the-vote campaign, recruited strong candidates, and had an extremely motivated base,” says Bruce Reed, the former Clinton domestic policy adviser and current Cap City parent, who paid his $25 to attend the election-night rally. “They also had the advantage that nobody else really wanted the job.”
Kane says she would run the same campaign if given the chance. If the best players were getting most of the attention during her run atop Cap City, she’s not going to apologize for that. She says that next season, when she’ll have more free time than she’s had in two decades, she’s going to travel and read. She says she wishes the new Cap City board luck—and she thinks they’ll need it.
“This new board, they don’t have any experience running a baseball program or playing the game,” she says. “They don’t understand what it takes to be a good baseball player. They just want to make everything easier for their child, which is not necessarily a great way to learn about life. I think any time a kid doesn’t get enough playing time, parents have to blame somebody. Parents don’t stop or think that baseball’s like everything else: You gotta go out and work at it. It should be based on merit. Unfortunately, the league has become very Washington.”
Youth baseball, however, is nowhere near as Washington as political infighting is these days. The D.C. government organized what it called the First Annual Youth Baseball Summit and scheduled it for last week at the Emery Recreation Center in Petworth. Officials from Cap City and all the city’s other Little League affiliates were invited to attend. Yet, despite co-sponsorship from the Washington Nationals, the event was called off at the last minute for lack of interest.
“We’re not going to say how many people pre-registered,” says Kay Sibetta of Parks and Rec, “because it’s too embarrassing.”