Niles 12-year-old All-Stars’ loss in the state semifinals won’t diminish their season

Published 9:04 pm Wednesday, July 28, 2004

By By ADAM FISHER / Niles Daily Star
KALAMAZOO -- The Niles F.O.P. 12-year-old All-Stars ended their season Tuesday with a 7-1 loss to Western in the state semifinals. But the defeat is not what the players, coaches and fans will remember.
Instead, they will remember how the team pulled together to overcome adversity and surprise even itself by making it to the state's final four.
Niles started Tuesday's game with good pitching and a flash of power hitting. Starting pitcher Kevin Gross kept Western hitless through the first two innings.
In the top of the second, F.O.P. catcher Aaron Davis sent an 0-2 pitch over the left field wall to give Niles a 1-0 lead.
Western's All-Stars scored three runs in the third, though, to give them the lead for good. They also scored two each in the fourth and fifth innings.
The seven runs were the most Niles had given up to any team in the tournament.
Though the loss was tough to take, Niles manager Mike Ratkay said he was proud of his players for making it to the semifinals.
The things that were thrown at them were the losses of two starters in the middle of the tournament.
Heading into the District 15 championship match, F.O.P. lost its starting catcher, who left the team. Niles regrouped and won the district crown over Three Rivers.
Losing their catcher, however, would not be the toughest loss the All-Stars would suffer.
After the All-Stars won their first game in pool play, a 4-2 victory over West Portage, West Portage coaches discovered that one of Niles' star players, Deshaun Curtis, didn't live in District 15.
Niles knew Curtis lived out of district and never tried to hide it, F.O.P.'s president Scott Glick said. Curtis has played for Niles since he was young, but F.O.P. filled out the proper paperwork with the league to allow him to play legally in District 15, Glick added.
Or so Glick and the entire Niles team thought.
West Portage coaches protested to the league to have Curtis ruled ineligible. The protest was denied locally, so West Portage coaches appealed to the regional office in Indianapolis. Again, the protest was denied.
West Portage then appealed to the Little League head office in Williamsport, Pa., who ruled that Niles F.O.P. had not filled out the proper forms. Curtis was ruled ineligible, and Niles forfeited the victory over West Portage.
The 12-year-olds won their next two games in pool play to advance to the state quarterfinals. Ratkay said he was amazed at the heart the players showed.
Ratkay said winning District 15 is tough because it is one of the larger districts in Michigan.
The All-Stars made it all the way to the semifinals, Ratkay said, because they never quit, even in the face of adversity.
Even though Curtis was unable to play, he sat on the bench in uniform with his teammates throughout the tournament. When Niles was finally knocked out Tuesday, he was given a participation trophy along with the rest of the All-Stars.
Ratkay said Niles players were so upset and shaken when Deshaun was ruled ineligible, that their run through the tournament was all the more remarkable.