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Despite ruling, Glendale Little League team has season to remember

Tie-breaker bounces team out of regional

Aug. 19, 2009

Glendale — The rule may be silly but it's in place for a reason.

And that's how the coaches of the Glendale Little League 13- and 14-year-old team explained to their charges why they would not be advancing to semifinal play in the recently held regionals in Indiana with a berth to the World Series on the line, despite a 3-1 pool record and the best offensive and defensive statistics of the teams involved.

"All we could tell our kids was 'Life is not fair,' " said Denise Kohnke, mother of player Sulli Kohnke, as the stellar season of the Knights came to an unfortunately premature end.

However, there was an encouraging side to it all.

"The adults were frustrated to say the least," said team co-coach Val Keiper, "but the kids thought about it and then went on to the next thing. It was like they adopted an attitude of 'This isn't right, but life goes on.' "

What both Kohnke and Keiper are referring to is the arcane and seemingly illogical tiebreaking rule that the Little League International invokes during pool play. It's called the runs-allowed-ratio. It is used when head-to-head competition does not break a tie in tournament events.

The rule came into play because following regional pool play, there were three teams tied with 3-1 records (including Glendale) and only two could advance into the semifinals.

In that instance, the tournament director calculated the total number of runs given up by each team in pool play and then divided it by the number of half-innings played defensively to come up with the ratio: the lower the number the better in this situation. The rule seems fine on the surface, but does not work in reality, according to Kohnke and Keiper.

That's because the way the equation works, the ratio penalizes a team that ends its games quickly via the "slaughter" rule (which Glendale did twice in pool play, winning by 10 or more runs). In that situation, the ratios are calculated on five innings (when the slaughter rule goes into effect) rather than the full seven innings of a regulation game.

This situation led to the gerrymandering of the rules by other coaches to give them an advantage, Kohnke said.

"Totally, totally unfair," she said. "It encouraged teams to dog it (which other teams' parents admitted) by sending kids up to bat to strike out and to drop balls just to extend innings played (to gain a favorable advantage in the equation). And dogging it is, of course, a virtually unenforceable violation of the rulebook with no ownership of burden of proof."

There is also a clause in the 32-page international rule manual stating that the tournament committee may have coaches removed, may forfeit games or may have teams disqualified from the tournament if a team or team official is found to be "making a travesty of the game."

Which were exactly the words that Keiper, a baseball coach and professor at Concordia University Wisconsin, used in describing this situation.

"It turned baseball into a mathematical equation, which it's never been," he said. "The statistics are, but this shouldn't be."

Kohnke said that when she gets a chance, she is going to write a letter to the officials of the Little League in Williamsport to change the rules to always give teams a factor of seven rather than five when the teams are run-ruled."

"And it should be known forever as 'The Glendale Provision,' " she said.

In the end, an Indiana team advanced to the Little League World Series.

Keiper felt it was unfortunate that the incident overshadowed a tremendous season-long effort by the Glendale team, which won the Wisconsin age group title to advance to the regional. The group has been playing together for five years, knows each other's reactions on the field inside and out and several of the players can handle three or four positions.

And they have talent, Keiper said.

"We have 13 kids on the team and I can see at least 10 of them having post-high school baseball careers," Keiper said. "They play the game well and they're always in the right place at the right time. … I'm not surprised that this happened. It's a great thing they did."

Little League Regional

Glendale Little League team finishes season as state champs

Coaches: Val Keiper, Bruce Crass, Gary Kinzer and Rob Wagner

Players: Tyler and Hunter Crass, Sulli Kohnke, James Lueken, Nolan Wagner, Brett Keiper, Zack Pagel, Matt and Gabe Kinzer, Mark Moeser, Steven Richards, Chris Jelenchick and Ben Henken

Best moment of the regional: In the last game, assistant coach Bruce Crass saw both of his sons (Tyler and Hunter) hit home runs. After the game, he was honored to present the pair with the balls they hit out.

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