What would it take to make you quit in the middle of the of the semifinals of a state tournament?
Maybe some horrific accident on the field, or if the stands collapsed, possibly injuring dozens. Something less awful, like the players being bullied on the field or officiating so bad it literally seemed corrupt.
What about an opposing fan yelling “they don’t want you to hit son!” after the batter was hit for the second time in as many innings?
That wouldn’t cause you to pull your team off the field and forfeit the game? Then you must not be the coach of the Little Rock Cobras.
That’s what happened Monday night in Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet’s game against Little Rock in the state semifinals at Cabot.
Now, I’d like to say that I arrived at the game just after this happened. There was a lengthy lightning and rain delay, so I drove home for supper during the second inning delay. I got a text when they were about to start again, so I gathered my things and got back to the field just in time to see the teams shaking hands.
So I start talking to people to find out what happened, and every story was the same. The accounts came from Cabot parents, Bryant players waiting to play, Cabot Legion administration, a Cabot coach, the American Legion commissioner who was in the stands and of course Jacksonville parents and coaches.
Here is the way the incident went down, according to literally everyone I talked to immediately after.
In the second inning, the Little Rock pitcher walked the bases loaded with two outs. A Jacksonville grandparent in his mid 60s yelled out “They can’t handle the pressure!” A Little Rock mom got up and confronted the man about insulting their players. He politely - as politely as anyone in that sort of confrontational situation - asked her to go sit back down on her side. At least one Little Rock found the Jacksonville man’s tone to be out of order and told him to sit down and be quiet.
Well, talking to a mom and talking to some guy telling you to sit down and be quiet are two very different things for a grown man to take. The grandparent said “come up here and make me be quiet,” which led to words with the Jacksonville man’s son as well. This was broken up in fairly short order and everybody went about their business.
I need to point out here that the Jacksonville grandparent and his son are both black, while all of the Little Rock players and coaches are white. The coach and most, if not all, of the players on this legion team are from a private Christian school in Little Rock. You’ll see why this is relevant beyond the obvious in just a little bit.
During the start of the fourth inning, a Jacksonville player was hit for the second time in as many innings and had already been hit in the tournament. The Jacksonville grandparent, no relation to the player who was hit, yells out “They don’t want you to hit, son!”
That was apparently enough for the Cobras. The coach said he was going to subject his players to that kind of abuse, pulled his team off the field and forfeited the game.
The Little Rock players didn’t know what was going on. One Jacksonville coach, who is also an assistant coach for a Little Rock college said, “I know some of those kids. I give them private lessons. They came up to me crying when we shook hands and said ‘It isn’t us, it’s the coach.”
The coach had gone to the head umpire during the game, but the umpire wasn’t about to do anything, because nothing out of line was being said. The American Legion commissioner was sitting in the stands near the Jacksonville fan and was totally dumbfounded by the situation.
After the game, these “Christian” Little Rock men were yelling at the Jacksonville senior citizen until a Cabot coach had to tell them to leave. One came to the window of a Jacksonville mom, points his finger at her and tells her she should be ashamed.
Well, there should definitely be some shame going around the whole situation.
All of this information came to me from first hand accounts just minutes after it happened. I do have one Little Rock connection however, possibly inadvertently shedding some light.
What a friend of the Little Rock coach’s girlfriend was told was that Jacksonville fans were yelling racist remarks at the Little Rock players. The Jacksonville fans were yelling about the “white boys” pitching and making fun of those “white boys.”
So, in other words, this white coach and the white parents felt like they were in a racist situation and were being discriminated against.
There were three black Jacksonville men in the stands and one black man sitting in a chair down the base line. You had those men in a park full of white people, in a city that is overwhelmingly white.
I don’t know if the Little Rock parents and coach just heard what they wanted to hear, or what. Maybe being around a vocal black man was too alien and scary for them to take.
What sort of lesson was the coach sending to his players, even if somebody had said something out of line? If you don’t like something and nobody is taking care of it for you, well, just quit? If all parents are supposed to be teaching their children lessons by their actions, what did those actions teach those Little Rock kids?
I do know that the only people from that organization who seemed to be the most mature that night were the 16 and 17-year-old kids on the field, who didn’t seem to understand what the big deal was.