Playoffs begin this Saturday, but Rachel Bullock hasn’t told her 8-year-old son yet that the youth football league he plays in won’t let his team compete — and that she and other parents think racism might have contributed to that decision.
“I have no answers for him,” Bullock said. “ ‘Because they said so?’ He will be devastated.”
She and other parents of kids who play on Reisterstown Mustangs teams say they believe racism might be a factor. The six Mustangs teams are majority black, while teams from the other 10 organizations in the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheer League are majority white.
“I hate to say ‘racism,’ but when they give you no other reason, what else can you come up with?” Bullock said.
Officials with the Carroll County league did not respond to requests for comment, and the league’s Facebook page appears to have been deleted. After local TV affiliates reported that the Reisterstown Mustangs had been banned from postseason play, the league issued a statement citing several unspecified “behavioral concerns” — although a notice that remains on its website about the Mustangs being voted out neither refers to such issues nor offers another reason.
“Emotions tend to run high during playoffs,” the statement said, “therefore, the league elected not to risk the safety of the participants and in an attempt to promote a safe conclusion to the season, the league’s programs voted to remove the Reisterstown program at the end of the regular season and prior to the playoffs.”
Reisterstown parents say one Mustangs player was ejected and suspended for two games during the season, a punishment they consider overly harsh. But they said other teams had players, coaches and even a parent who were ejected for infractions.
The Reisterstown Mustangs were new to the league this year, and thus playing under probationary status. The league notified the Mustangs over the weekend that by a unanimous vote Oct. 24 of the other 10 programs in the league, they were no longer a probationary member and were “excluded from all post-season activities including but not limited to, Playoffs, Superbowl, and Allstar Games.”
Mustangs parents say they were blindsided that the other programs voted on their status without their knowledge, and say it was unfair to cut them from the league right before six of their teams and about 140 players were headed to the postseason.
“CCYFCL is a ‘good old boy’ network which only tolerates a majority African-American youth football organization as long as we know our place and don’t have too much success,” the Mustangs’ president, Marquita M. Melvin, said in an email to the Carroll County league.
Melvin said she was reluctant to say more, and her concern now was “making sure our kids are OK.” She said she hopes to make arrangements over the weekend for the organization to join another league.
“The Reisterstown Mustangs have been around for over 40 years. They’re not going anywhere,” she said.
The issue has inflamed Mustangs parents, who have made their case on social media and have been appealing to the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks.
The Carroll County board of commissioners issued a statement Tuesday evening saying that while the department’s volunteer rec councils sponsor four teams in the league, the league itself is private and the department did not participate in the decision to remove the Reisterstown group.
Joe McIver, whose son plays on the Reisterstown 7U team, said he and other parents have pushed back against the league’s decision because it violates what sports should be about.
“We’ve always preached to our children: Always give your best, fight through adversity and play fair,” he said. “How is this fair, that there was a vote that we didn’t know about?”
McIver said he and other parents heard about the alleged “behavioral” problems only when the league issued its statement to the media.
He said the Mustangs’ successes may have contributed to the league voting them out — the 11U team, for example, went undefeated during the season. “Maybe they’re a little too competitive,” he said, “a little too tough to beat.”
The dispute calls to mind the controversy that erupted earlier this year when other teams in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference refused to play the high school football powerhouse, St. Frances Academy of Baltimore. While some supporters of St. Frances — an inner-city school devoted to educating poor, minority children — saw racism behind the refusal, others said the players were simply too large and powerful for other teams to safely play. The school now plays a national rather than local schedule.
Mark Hyman, a former Baltimore Sun sportswriter and author of a book about America’s obsession with youth sports, said while he is not familiar with the details of the Mustangs’ removal from the league, it is emblematic of a problem that affects such organizations.
“Adults are more involved than ever. And disputes among the adults are more common and more complicated,” Hyman said. “It’s driving kids away. By age 13, more than half walk away from organized sports.”
Jeff R. Degitz, director of the county’s recreation and parks department, said agency officials “have no tolerance for discriminatory action.”
“There should be a review,” he added. “There will be conversations with the four teams that play in the league — was there anything they saw that was inappropriate?”
But Degitz said, the teams already voted to remove the Reisterstown group.
“If there’s not new information brought forward,” he said, “I’m not sure their votes would change.”
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Pat Stoetzer contributed to this article.