From the Press Box Column

Post 47 Dragoons denied a playoff spot

By Chuck Fiebernitz | Jul 03, 2014
Photo by: File Matthew "Pepe" Payero is one of Haywood Post 47's five players from Rabun Gap School.

The Haywood Post 47 senior legion baseball team had an incredible 2014 regular season. Note the word “had.”

The Dragoons finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Area IV West Division, defeated the perennial powers of Area IV Cherryville Post 100, Caldwell County Post 29, Shelby Post 82 and won a total of 15 regular season games in just its second season on the diamond since 1952.

But the Haywood Post 47 senior legion baseball team was gigged and denied a playoff spot. In addition, the organization had to forfeit all of its 11 wins in the West Division.
The reason can be best described by the email sent in mid-June by North Carolina legion baseball chairman Bob Figulski.

“Although (Haywood Post 47) did not violate the rule 4.C in the national rule book, (Haywood Post 47) did violate the state rule with the five players from Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, located in Rabun Gap, Georgia,” wrote Figulski. “The bottom line is the five players have no eligibility to play American Legion Baseball in North Carolina.  Under the National Rule book the players would be allowed Rule 4.C. Option Rule allows the player the option of playing for the team nearest the school he attends or the team closest to the parents domicile.  North Carolina does not allow the Option Rule in this state.”

Now, I am a “rule” guy. As director of baseball operations for the Haywood Post 47 Baseball Clubs, I have read the national American Legion rule book from front cover to back. We have and always will play by the rules.

However, what infuriates me the most about this situation is no one in our organization never knew there was a state rule book.

As a two-year old organization, we never knew there was a North Carolina American Legion Rule Book, we were never given a state rule book by the Area IV Commissioner Rocky Bennett or Figulski and we certainly were never told there was a state rule book — until this complaint surfaced from a few coaches in Area IV.
When I informed Figulski of this situation about the state rule book, his response was, “you should have asked for one.”

What?

How can I ask for a rule book if I don’t know it exist?

Figulski’s response to my question was, “It’s not my problem.”

I guess he’s right. It’s not his problem. But it is American Legion Baseball’s problem.
Former Post 47 Commander Roy Pressley and I immediately proceeded with the appeal process with the national office and Pressley met with its No. 2 man, Jerry Hendricks, who happens to live in Lexington, North Carolina, in a meeting in Raleigh.
After he heard our story from Pressley, Hendricks gave us hope by agreeing that we should not and will not be denied a playoff spot. We did not violate the national rule.
And we all know at the end of the day, the national rule trumps any state rule book, right?

Hendricks had us get the Georgia chairman of American Legion baseball to sign Form 77 on every Rabun Gap player and send them to Figulski. Once the forms were signed by Figulski, “We were good.”

Hendricks told Pressley he would personally attend the Monday, June 30 pairings meeting in Cherryville to “inform the fine folks in Area IV that we were not going to be denied a spot in the playoffs.”

With the No. 2 man on our side, I felt good our team, that deserved to be treated better by adults, was going to play on in July.

Four hours before the meeting, Commissioner Bennett informed me that “we explained to Jerry ‘our’ ruling and he agrees with us that you can not play on. He is not going to come to the meeting and there is no reason for you to be here for the playoff pairings. Your team is done.”

Later that day, an upset Pressley called Hendricks, his old friend for an explaination.
According to Pressley, Hendricks suddenly recalled that North Carolina is one of three states to have their own legion rule book and that they did not honor the second half of the national rule 4.C. He had forgot that fact.

O.K., I was born at 5:38 in the morning, but not this morning. How in the hell can a person holding a position in the national office suddenly forget this fact?

By the way, just three states have their own legion rule book. That means 47 states in our country operate strictly from the American Legion Baseball national rule book and three states, including North Carolina, use some of the rules from the national book and all of the rules in their rule book.

This is a complete clustergaggle.

I guess the “Good Old Boy Network” in North Carolina know better how to conduct the business of American Legion Baseball than the national folks.

But Haywood Post 47 and our Rabun Gap kids continued to kick while we are down, Post 47 Manager Caleb McConnell received in the mail a week after this ruling two 2014 North Carolina American Legion rule books from an anonymous source that failed to disclose a return address.

Finally, several individuals at the pairings meeting informed us that Commissioner Bennett made a statement to the group that he told McConnell and myself that if we were to drop the Rabun Gap boys from our roster, there was enough of the season left to salvage and make the playoffs and (we) refused to drop them.

Now, let me state this as clear as possible. That request from Bennett to me never happened. McConnell also said that request never happened.
“All Rocky told me in early June was not to worry about it and continue to play,” said McConnell.

However, if Bennett ever asked me that, I would have told him “absolutely not!” If that request happened, it would have sent me over the top because it has an overtone of racism.

All five of our Rabun Gap players are not white. The fact that three of the Rabun Gap kids are from the Bahamas and two are from New York and are of Dominican descent should not matter at all.

Unfortunately, to some in American Legion baseball, it does matter.

We plan to move forward from this unfortunate situation. We will be a stronger organization. We will not let the “Good Old Boy Network” beat us. As a matter of fact, we will take the advice given to us by former Hickory Post 48 Manager Fore Rembert.

“What a great season Haywood Post 47 had,” said Rembert. “I think the people in this organization are fantastic. They have a lot of class and are very good for the kids in the mountains. It is not worth folding or fighting a system that is corrupt. Rather, they must keep focused on what’s important and fight to gain a solid footing. I hope Haywood Post 47 hangs in there. I am a big fan of the 47 Dragoons.”

We will stay a classy organization and stay focused on the kids who play for us. We will continue to strive to do the right things and follow the rules — all the rules as long as we are in possession of all the rule books.

As for not fighting a corrupt system. I can not make any guarantee. We owe it to Pepe Payero, Matthew Duverge, Gerrio Rahming, Perez Knowles and Lancelot Edwards, our five Rabun Gap players.

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