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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Makings of a major-league fuss
A parent turns up legal heat after being asked to leave a baseball game.
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published July 7, 2007
League officials say one parent has missed the good sportsmanship message, and they've asked him to leave the park more than once.
[Times photo: DANIEL WALLACE]
Fred Grady is a construction lawyer for the law firm Holland & Knight in Tampa.
TAMPA - The signs at the New Tampa Little League field are clear: Please practice good sportsmanship at all times.
League officials say one parent has missed the message, and they've asked him to leave the park more than once.
But that parent also happens to be a lawyer for one of the largest law firms in Florida. Now he's alleging that the New Tampa Little League defamed his character in front of parents, friends and clients, and he has hinted strongly at legal action.
Fred Grady, 47, a construction lawyer for Holland & Knight in Tampa, sent league president Monica Wooden a letter on Holland & Knight stationery. The letter, dated June 11, says the league officers' actions and accusations damaged him. Pursuant to state law, the letter gives Wooden 30 days to send him a copy of the league's insurance policies and coverage.
That letter capped off a series of e-mail exchanges between Grady and Wooden in which Grady repeatedly asked for a letter of apology from Linda Harrell, a league director who ordered him off the field on April 28. Grady wanted the letter sent to all parents, players and coaches on his son's team, and he wanted it in time for the end-of-the-season party so he could read it aloud, Wooden said.
"I'm all about principle," Wooden said. "But I'm not going to patronize some guy who needs something for his self-gratification."
When Grady didn't get the letter, he sent Wooden the e-mails.
"If NTLL decides or has decided the Director acted outside of her scope of authority then so be it but that issue will NOT be determined by me, but rather by a judge or jury if this matter proceeds," said one e-mail bearing Grady's name.
Another read: "If the NTLL is not prepared to resolve the matter along these lines then I will have no other choice but to take legal action against NTLL and Ms. Harrell individually."
Grady requested the name of the league's lawyer: "I assume NTLL does not have LOCAL counsel? Perhaps NTLL should consider retaining a local attorney."
Grady declined to discuss the matter with the St. Petersburg Times, though he did send an e-mail to the newspaper cautioning the paper not to say that he intends to sue.
A spokeswoman for Holland & Knight released this statement: "It is Holland & Knight's policy that firm letterhead be used only for firm business and in representation of firm clients. In this case, Mr. Grady complied with firm policy and followed proper procedures. Holland & Knight has been engaged in this matter. As such, we cannot further comment on a pending matter."
The incident began at a baseball game in which Grady filled in as a coach for his son's team. Harrell, a board member, was behind the dugout, she said, when she saw Grady bonk a kid on the head with a plastic drink bottle.
"Oh, my God," Harrell recalled saying. "I can't believe I just saw you hit a kid!"
Grady, in his e-mails to the league, denies ever hitting the child, who turned out to be his 10-year-old son, Heath. The stories continue to diverge from there.
Harrell, whose duties include maintaining order at the field on game days, said she asked Grady to speak with her away from the dugout. She says that he became belligerent and refused, so she threatened to call security. At one point, she said, Grady tried to explain his actions to another director. But that director deferred to Harrell, who then pointed to the parking lot. Grady left, she said.
Grady's version of events is detailed in the letter he sent Wooden, the one in which he asks for the apology and also that Harrell be suspended until the matter is resolved.
Grady wrote that he had not hit his son. The players had been spitting sunflower seeds into empty drink bottles, and throwing seeds at each other, he wrote. After telling the boys repeatedly to stop, Grady saw his own son grab a bottle and throw seeds at another player "at which point I grabbed the bottle out of his hand. I took the bottle threw it in the trash and told the other players to do the same," he wrote. "Unfortunately, Ms. Harrell who was not in the dugout accused me of hitting Heath."
Grady wrote that Harrell was "very loud, boisterous and demanding," humiliating him in front of the children, coaches and some 30 parents. In an e-mail he added that clients also heard the exchange.
She refused to give him an opportunity to explain himself, he wrote, adding, "I never raised the tone of my voice or acted confrontational with her."
What's more, he wrote, Harrell continued to make disparaging remarks about him while he was in the parking lot.
Wooden, who has spent eight years on the board -- the last three as president -- said she has had issues come up, but never needed to consult with a lawyer. Unruly parents are her "No. 1 headache," she said, but parent ejections are rare.
About three times a season, the directors will ask a coach or manager to leave. Grady is the only parent she can recall being ejected. And this wasn't the first time, she said. Last year, she said, an umpire ejected him after the umpire said he disputed a call.
"We have over 1,000 children in our league where our goal is to build self-esteem, character and strong citizenship," Wooden said. "I guess we should have added Fred to the list of children."
She is siding with Harrell, who Wooden says had no choice but to act quickly. Wooden says she wishes Grady were more concerned with the children and less about himself.
"If Fred wants to use his firm and his power and put pressure on New Tampa Little League, so be it," Wooden said. "It's just annoying with all the things I need to deal with. ... Come to me if it has something to do with the kids, to make this park better."