By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 11, 2001
Clearwater's Bomber Stadium, frequent host to some of the nation's best girls softball players, will not host boys next month as planned.
Little League Baseball officials have canceled its World Series for boys fast-pitch softball, which was to be held Aug. 4-11, due to lack of interest.
An event born out of controversy, it was to be the first boys softball World Series in Little League history.
For years, softball was the exclusive domain of girls. Legal challenges opened the door to boys in 1996, and the issue came to a head last summer when a team from Eloy, Ariz., with five boys on the roster won the World Series.
A team from Inverness made national headlines when its coach gave up a chance to play for the title by refusing to play Eloy, citing concerns about his players' safety. After the tournament, Little League created a separate softball division for boys and later awarded the inaugural World Series for all three divisions to Clearwater.
As early as May, there were warning signs about the viability of the tournament.
Little League spokesman Lance Van Auken said the drill for the various World Series is usually predictable. Registration forms are mailed in the spring. Around May 1, team entries start to trickle in. Then around June 1, entries start to flood the home offices in Williamsport, Pa.
But for the three divisions planned for boys fast-pitch softball, there was no flood. Or trickle. There were no entries at all.
"We hadn't received any, even though 90 teams from around the U.S. had chartered for regular-season boys softball teams," Van Auken said. "Rather than cancel right away, we sent a notice to leagues that had chartered and called personally to ask what their intentions were."
Those efforts brought in two responses, but neither league could fully commit to the event. Consequently, Little League Baseball canceled the World Series.
Florida Little League District 12, which covers North Pinellas and West Pasco, had teams prepared to play in the Senior League (13- to 16-year-olds) and Big League (14-18) groups and was close to a full team in Little League (9-12). As tournament host, it would have been permitted to enter each team in the competition.
"It was really disappointing to me. I was looking forward to hosting it," said Bob Gibson, administrator for District 12. "We thought that it would pull together."
Even though there will not be a boys championship this year, boys still will be prohibited from playing in the girls divisions.
Van Auken said Little League incurred a "considerable expense" with the cancellation of the event, having printed rules and entry forms that included all 11 divisions of Little League World Series play.
Van Auken also said the organization will attempt to hold the event next year. Gibson said he would submit the paperwork to try to bring it to Clearwater.
"It's not dead," Gibson said. "We're just having a little trouble making it go."