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Little League Intercedes Over Braintree National Split

A vote on a new board of directors is scheduled for Braintree National next month.

Opening day for Braintree National in 2011. File photo.
Opening day for Braintree National in 2011. File photo.

Kelly Bognanno’s family has been involved with Braintree National for 30 years. She grew up at Watson Park, and her brothers and oldest son played baseball there.

But this year, ahead of her 12-year-old son's last Little League season, Bognanno refused to register.

As hundreds of young athletes and their families prepare for the 2014 season, Braintree National Youth League (BNYL) has been rocked by a split between the organization's top officials and a group of parents who petitioned Little League to step in over leadership tactics they describe as secretive and bullying.

“Over the years there’s never been this much discontent,” Bognanno said. 

Little League officials, responding to the parent's request last year, have been in negotiations with the leadership of BNYL, and on Monday told the league's members that they will hold an election by the end of next month to establish a Braintree National Little League Board of Directors.

The new board will be separate from the BNYL and will serve to "make sure that the charter remains in good standing with Little League Baseball."

An annual meeting by March will provide enough time for new leadership to organize teams, coaches and other details by mid-April, said Richard Furlong, a representative for Massachusetts District 8, which has been coordinating with Little League Baseball’s East Region Headquarters in Bristol, CT. 

"We're hoping to move forward," Furlong said.

The weeks ahead could prove difficult, however, as the current BNYL leadership said they may seek a different league insurer, such as Cal Ripken Baseball, and in that case would seek permission from the town to continue using Watson Park.

Of most significance in the dispute is protecting the interests of softball players, who would be given second-class status under the structure Little League is pushing on Braintree National, BNYL President Nicole Fitzgerald said. 

"If we can't resolve the softball issue with Little League, we will move on," Fitzgerald said. 

Under Little League rules, an organization such as Braintree National, with Little League baseball players and Amateur Softball Association players, may have a joint board to run separate boards for each league, but the top official must come from the baseball side.

Fitzgerald and former BNYL President Mark Donovan contend that means softball would lose power, essentially a form of gender discrimination. Donovan said he has already spoken with state equal opportunity officials about the matter.

"There’s no way to tell someone we’re set up equal, but the president always has to come from baseball side," Donovan said.

Furlong said that to the contrary, Little League has not changed its stance on softball and that two years ago the league hired a softball representative to promote the sport.

"Little league is actually on a big softball push," Furlong said.

Parents who sought Little League's help with the current board leaders claim softball is only a distraction from what's at the heart of the divide.

"Their message is that it’s all about the kids, but in reality it’s all about them staying in power," John Hume said. 

Hume was a board member until he was removed last year, dropped at a meeting in which he was not in attendance. Fitzgerald informed him he was kicked out, Hume said, because he had been telling other people when the board's meeting were being held. 

Several parents said they grew concerned and petitioned Little League last year due to such behavior. 

BNYL Vice President Bill Fitzgerald is known among league parents as a bully, said Stacey Morelli, who along with her husband John Morelli were among those pushing for Little League to intercede. 

Along with yelling at coaches and kids during games, Fitzgerald has changed rules unilaterally and in one case last summer he upset a young ballplayer when he refused to move him down to a B team after getting limited playing time on the more difficult A level, Morelli said.

In another incident, Morelli said Bill Fitzgerald threatened to take away a coach's team because he was late to two games and couldn't prep the field. Fitzgerald backed down, Morelli said, when none of the other parents on the team agreed to replace the coach.

"It's definitely a power issue," Stacey Morelli said. "William Fitzgerald was the bully."

Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment. 

Hume said his conflict with the Fitzgeralds forced him to tell his 10-year-old son, who he has coached since T-Ball, that he would not be able to coach him this year. 

"To me, now they’re screwing with my family," Hume said.

After Kelly Bognanno's oldest son finished playing Braintree National three years ago, "little by little this newer group started to take over," she said.

"Every league has issues, but they just seemed to get bigger and bigger," Bognanno said. "You just started to hear ‘Johnny doesn’t want to play this year.’”

The parents also claim that board moves, including the establishment of Nicole Fitzgerald as the new president last fall, have been done either in secret or with only limited participation by other directors.

"We need a clear vote because no one has ever voted," Bognanno said. "They’ve just been moving their own people around."

Nicole Fitzgerald declined to talk about Hume's situation in particular, other than to say she has invited him to follow up with her, and that not all BNYL meetings are public by law.

She added, in response to the accusations about her husband Bill Fitzgerald: "In any league, you always hear grumblings about personality conflicts here and personality conflicts there. Not everyone always gets along.”

Fitzgerald also said that the board has always followed BNYL's own bylaws and there has been fair voting on teams and other decisions.

"There’s a lot of positives that have come with the administration there now," she said.

Both sides have their arguments, Furlong said, and both sides have made accusations against the other, but it is not Little League's role "to start pointing fingers." 

However, if Fitzgerald and the BNYL moves forward with Cal Ripken, it could be a concern because of scheduling, Furlong said. "That’s all on them.”

Donovan said that it is a small group of parents who are trying to push out the leadership, that the Fitzgeralds and other top officials have been civil in their dealings, and that he can't blame all the league parents for the disruption because "they don't know what they're being told." 

"We’ve been trying to work with Little League. We’ve been trying to work with the town," Donovan said. "You can't defend yourself against a lie."

As parents and volunteers ready for next month's election and the board leadership decides how to proceed, the town sits at the crossroads because it owns the fields where Braintree National plays.

Recreation Director Nelson Chin, District 3 Councilor Tom Bowes and Mayor Joseph Sullivan have been involved in the negotiations, and there has been "a lot of emotion on both sides," Sullivan said.

"We attempted to be umpires and call it straight," Sullivan said. "Little League seems to be the best arbitrator for this situation."

However the situation is finally resolved, Chin is ready to issue permits for Watson Park, and would like to do so as soon as possible, Sullivan said.

"I hope this gets resolved," Sullivan said. "This is all about kids having fun playing baseball. That's what it should be."

And that's how Braintree National has operated for decades, under the leadership of Kevin Kane and others, said John Carvello, a past league president. 

Carvello said as president he brought everything to the board's attention and acted as an advocate for the fields at Watson Park, rather than trying to be an owner. 

"We didn't do it for ourselves," he said. "I think we ran it very efficiently and we did it for the kids."

 

 
Kelly Bognanno January 30, 2014 at 08:20 PM
Well, this just proves that Mrs. President never really cared about softball and the girl's at Watson. ASA softball can continue at Watson so let's see what the 'ghosts' on the existing so-called Board who CARE about softball will do about it; hopefully those people will use their names, stand up against the President and agree with us that LL and softball can co-exist at Watson.
Kelly Bognanno January 30, 2014 at 08:21 PM
Chets Friend: Mrs. President said last week that she would post the new 'Board' members on the website, which still isn't updated…another lie
Taina Acevedo January 30, 2014 at 10:28 PM
I don't know any of yous but Last year was the first year my son ever played baseball at Watson park and he had an amazing experience. I would like to thank everyone who worked on the fields to make the season a great one. All of this that's going on is a crying shame. It's very discouraging for me and probably other new families to see this type of behavior from grown adults. It's putting our town and children to shame. This is a democracy so therefore I believe that there should be a proper election for leadership and meet certain qualifications in order to sit on any board. Every board in every organization vote members on a board. PTO, Teachers union, fireman, police officers, etc elect their reps every so often. If this is really about our children then let's act like our age and not our shoe sizes. Going back and forth with one another isn't going to solve this problem. I have yet to register my son to play this year with all that is happening. And to two sides sorry you feel like I'm a lazy person who doesn't come and work on the field. It's not a proper way to speak to people. I have a full time job and also going to school full time so unless you have slept in every register players house, know what every parent does or have to do during their time please don't call others lazy! You have no idea what goes on in my household so therefore reframe from calling anyone out! Thank you to those who are at Watson park taking care of the fields.
Marie Lenane January 30, 2014 at 10:33 PM
Thanks John - having seen AAU tournaments net 30g in a weekend and running a youth program at the Y that cleared 90g for a 12 week session ... I'm jaded. Clearly BNYL isn't turning that kind of profit and this issue goes far deeper than money. I am just genuinely sad to see the underbelly of youth sports in my hometown. I played all the Braintree Youth leagues growing up ... three varsity sports at BHS ... I've coached AAU and travel programs ... I was the Sports Director for the Needham Y - I've seen ALOT of ugly behavior - but, this is off the charts. Hopefully the powers-that-be will absolutely squash this and make it right - whatever that may look like. Either way, I hope other parents like me, who aren't as personally connected to this, show up to whatever meeting/vote they have. Maybe if more of us made our voices heard, this wouldn't have been allowed to happen in the first place. That's why I came back to the conversation and put my name on my comment. We shouldn't be afraid.
Marty Golden January 30, 2014 at 10:46 PM
Braintree National as currently constituted is irretrievably broken…I coached baseball for 6 years when my son was playing at BNYL. Last year was my son's last year and, as a family, we are no longer involved with BNYL. I was told about this article and comments that people have made regarding the administration of BNYL. To not speak up when something is wrong is the same as approving that wrong. Many are concerned about speaking up because of the very real consequences that speaking up will create. They are not wrong…to speak up to the current leadership is to be blackballed, parent and child. But not speaking up has created the dysfunctional, self-centered and self-serving leadership that currently exists. I read many excuses for their behavior above, they are nothing more than, at best-misdirection and at worst-intentionally hiding behind a potentially sensitive topic like gender equality. All of these excuses are invalid-efforts to reshape the valid concerns that exist so concerned parents will not speak up. Morelli, Erdody, Bognanno and Hume are providing an accurate picture of the problems at BNYL and I congratulate and support the courage it took for them to step to the plate.
East Braintree Little League January 31, 2014 at 02:54 AM
Congratulations Members!! We have won! The so called board whom we don't recognize as we didn't vote for them, have conceded in defeat! Realizing that they have NO CHANCE to be voted in by the members, they scurried off and proclaimed "We are going to Cal Ripken" or is that Carl Ripken Nicole? Hard to be a league with No Fields, No Members, No Permits and No Class. How many members are currently seeking refunds? This is supposed a community run league for and about the kids. Funny how arrogant the apparel lady is to think she can decide to change the league that 400 baseball players per year have participated in for over 40 years. This group of the Fitzgeralds and Donovans probably have destroyed softball as well. How would you like to be known as the president and vice president that lost 30percent of the baseball and softball players over the last 4 years? Please stop saying that numbers are down on both sides of town because they are not . You are a joke! We will move forward and host Little League Baseball at Watson Park this spring . We will vote in a new board that will be transparent and be held accountable by the board and we the members. Know this, when the Fitzgerald's and Donovan fail, and they will, the members will gladly accept their kids to play baseball with their piers with no prejudice. Now that we know little league will be played at Watson Park this season, I hope a new group will be able to secure the permit for softball so that families can enjoy watching their sons and daughters play the great game of baseball and softball. To Nicole, Fitz and Mark, how does it feel to be the most despised people in town?
have a voice January 31, 2014 at 08:05 AM
Looking forward to playingLittle League at Watson park. Looking forward to voting in a board that truely has the kids best interest at heart. For those of you who signed up for BNYL ask yourself this do I want to be part of an organization that tells me what to do or. Do I want to be apart of an organization that allows me to have a voice in how things are done. Let's make baseball fun again at Watson park. Especially on saturdays
Jill Boyd January 31, 2014 at 08:14 AM
I am so happy our kids are going to be playing baseball down at Watson park under little league! Just want to let john and Paul and the others know what a great job they did ! They were the ones who stood up for our kids first and they should be very proud! Thank you !
Mark Erdody January 31, 2014 at 08:47 AM
While I am thrilled that we will have the opportunity to vote for our leadership with Little League, I am deeply saddened about the ultimate result which is that kids will not be playing with their friends. There has always been a Hatfield vs. McCoys attitude in town between Braintree National and Braintree American and that has put kids in a somewhat adversarial role with their friends. Now the Hatfield and McCoy mentality is going to be 100x larger between the Cal Ripken group and the Little League group. Kids are going to feel pressure like never before and the friction between parents is going further the already negative attitude around what I think is the greatest sport going. Numbers have been dwindling on the BNYL side for quite some time. Now we are to believe that our side of town can support two separate leagues? The best outcome has always been a vote by the membership and let the people say who they want to run their league. For whatever reason the BNYL board chose not to do that I am truly sad for the kids. Thank goodness we still have all the other sports in town that let all the kids of Braintree play together.
Chet January 31, 2014 at 09:13 AM
What's with all the celebration? Is there some resolution beyond Support the Vote rumor? Well put Mark Erdody. Is there really a Cal Ripken camp beyond the embattled board? We need one league. Period. And it should obviously be run by whoever is duly elected to run it. My kids are already registered with BNYL. All that means is that I registered them early. It certainly doesn't mean they are going to play CR. Count me among those who want my kids to play Little League baseball at Watson Park.
Jill Boyd January 31, 2014 at 09:14 AM
I too feel sad that our side of town is going to have two leagues because it does divide the kids! That just shows you how vindictive they are and that they truly don't even have their own kids best interest at hand !
have a voice January 31, 2014 at 09:34 AM
Still a lot of work that has to be done. Let's pull together as a community and do what's best for the kids. Parents need to get themselves informed and make an educated decision . I know that the committee for a better BNYL will continue to keep us updated and will most likely have a meeting soon enough. At least at there meetings when you ask a question you get an answer. Thank you guys for all your time and hard work
East Braintree Little League January 31, 2014 at 09:40 AM
Chet, Little League has confirmed that we will have our annual meeting, the members get their vote and registrations will be going out very soon. East Braintree can only support 1 baseball league and it will be Little League at Watson Park. The announcement of going Cal Ripken is all smoke and mirrors in a last desperate attempt from the former board to force their wishes on the members. Some people might not have gotten the blast email from Rich Furlong from district 8 Little League stating that he was making plans to host our meeting and vote. Cal Ripken will never take off this year. If you've registered, email them and let them know you want an immediate refund so you can register you kids for little league as soon as they post the registration forms online. Many other families have already have done this. This will be a rebuilding, but great year at Watson with a completely new board being voted on with the right people for the right reasons....the kids!
Stacey Morelli January 31, 2014 at 11:34 AM
For those of you that signed up for BNYL under the belief that you were signing up for Little League you can request a refund and if you have requested it and have yet to receive it you can file a complaint with the Attorney Generals office. You can call 617-727-8400 and they will mail you out a form or go to Mass.Gov/AGO and file directly on line.
Andrew DiCarlo Berman January 31, 2014 at 11:59 AM
THIS NEEDS TO END. I am speaking as a (nearly) lifelong Braintree resident, as a father of three young sons and as a regular coach of the baseball and basketball teams on which they have or will play, ranging from T-Ball to travel team. I am also speaking as someone who, having witnessed their extraordinary and tireless dedication over the last 7 years, holds a sincere appreciation for what the BNYL board (and other regular volunteers) have done to sustain the leagues, both baseball and softball. I believe that this is a sentiment shared by many of the parents who have been involved during the same time period and, respectfully, I see no merit to any suggestion that the current BNYL board has anything but the best interests of the children in mind. That being said, and with equal respect, I see no merit in the position that the board should be determined by anything other than a full and open vote of the entire membership. To maintain otherwise, and to impose arbitrary standards of eligibility that others may not agree with, is resulting in a serious loss of credibility and lack of support for your position. You may find that, if you put your membership on the board to an open vote and state the reasons why you think you should be re-elected, you would have the votes you need to retain your seat. It is the only method that respects the voices and positions of everyone involved. Furthermore, what is being characterized as a “victory” for one side or the other – in these comments or anywhere else - is, in reality, a LOSS for the kids. Every personal attack only serves to deepen the divide, create more resentment and increase the likelihood of there being two leagues in a geographic area that can hardly sustain one. The path we are on as a community – forcing parents to make a choice as to which league to enroll their children and, if the comments are true, litigation (speaking as an attorney - REALLY?) - is tragic, embarrassing and, in my view, putting in jeopardy the viability of any youth baseball or softball program in our geographic area. I think we will find that many parents, particularly those who are not intimately aware of (or interested in, for that matter) the politics or history of the situation, will, when confronted with such a choice under these circumstances, choose to simply not enroll their children at all. On behalf of myself and those who may be like-minded, I am respectfully asking – begging- that everyone STAND DOWN and stop fanning the flames. PLEASE remain open to swallowing your pride and burying your hatchets. For the sake of giving our children the playing environment they deserve and setting a proper example, we must present a unified front and leave differences as to how the league should be run in the meeting room where everyone is heard and the decision of the majority is respected. My intent is to enroll my son in whichever league receives a permit by the town to play at Watson and to give as much of my time and effort as my particular situation allows to make it a success. My understanding, based on the comments and conversations with those involved, is that this is currently the new East Braintree Little League. I wish that such a choice were not necessary. From my perspective, EVERYONE –regardless of which side of the issue they currently find themselves - is welcome and will receive my objective consideration for any position on the board.
John Morelli January 31, 2014 at 02:49 PM
I am very much involved in this situation and I am asking everyone to PLEASE stop posting comments on this site/story. The committee for a better BNYL will be scheduling a meeting next week to update the members and our goal will be to focus on the upcoming Little League baseball season at Watson Park. Thank you!
Kathy January 31, 2014 at 04:49 PM
I'm waiting for the reality TV series- Real Housewives of Braintree Little League or Wife Swap with the Morellis and the Fitzgeralds Lots of drama
truthhurtz January 31, 2014 at 04:55 PM
I wonder if the passion for posting would ever reach such a fevered "pitch" if the topic was about the school system and education. Do the non sports posts ever generate such a display of emotion? Little League is a blip on the radar of your children's lives. I hope the parents dedicate some of the same energy to keeping their children both educated and safe in a world that is becoming a scary place.
John Fajardo January 31, 2014 at 06:27 PM
Truthhurtz, I'm sure if things in the school system ever became as dysfunctional as things did at Watson park you'd see as much passion, if not more. Maybe having such excellent schools affords us the opportunity to focus on a broader scope of things in our children's lives. For that we should be grateful.
Marty Barrett January 31, 2014 at 07:07 PM
@Atty Berman-- simplest and smartest solution would have been for Fitzy and Donovan to step aside. they've played games for years and it's time for them to move aside for the greater good of the league and this side of town in general
have a voice January 31, 2014 at 11:25 PM
As apparent in east Braintree you need to ask yourself , how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if woodchuck could chuck wood
John Fajardo February 01, 2014 at 07:13 AM
I think it's important to remember how this all started. Nobody went to BNYL headquarters with torches and pitchforks demanding blood. A group of people wanted to follow Little League rules and have an annual meeting of the general membership and at that meeting the board of directors would be voted on. I'm sure there is more to it than that, but whatever personal conflicts may be at the heart of this don't change the fact that I, as a parent and coach, want a say in who runs this league and BNYL won't give it to me. Every parent should be at least asking themselves why BNYL is not allowing us to choose our leadership, but most of us already know.
Jill Boyd February 01, 2014 at 07:45 AM
Doing the right thing for our children is easy with good intentions. But when you have bad intentions from the beginning it never turns out good! That is exactly what's happening now and I am utterly disgusted with BNYL! This needs to stop because the longer this goes on I feel like there will be no baseball on this side of town! They need to remember this isn't about them it's about all our children and the passion they have for this sport!
Christine McEachern February 01, 2014 at 09:46 AM
We started our son in t ball with BNYL 6 years ago. We also sponsored the team every year and my husband coached one year. We left last year and switched to lacrosse. They lost a loyal sponsor, volunteer and family.Why? Many reasons, but the main reason was the attitude of the person running the league and the rule that he would coach the only summer ball travel team with 12 kids on it. It was also determined that there was only going to be one summer travel team " because there just wasn't enough talent". Really? Oh and don't let me leave out the part about the players on each team had to vote for who they thought should play on the summer ball team and the coaches would make the final selection. WHAT A JOKE! Ever hear of bringing in outside people to run actual tryouts like every other sport in America. I contacted Braintree American League and asked if we could come play over there. Sadly, they said no. Unfortunately, my son wants to play baseball instead of lacrosse. We have no choice. I hope big changes are made. It is way overdue!
Matt February 01, 2014 at 01:07 PM
Christine. Your son did not try out for this team and didn't make it? I'm I reading that right or no?
Christine McEachern February 01, 2014 at 01:37 PM
This was 2 years ago. There was no tryout for summer travel for that 8 yr old group. The kids voted on who they thought should play on that travel team and the coaches had the final say. Make no mistake, the players that made that team were hand picked by a select few with no tryout.
Christine McEachern February 01, 2014 at 01:44 PM
The "board" made the decision to have just one travel team and told a parent "that there just wasn't enough talent to make a second team". No tryouts, kids voting for other kids, and pure arrogance on the part of these adults running the show at BYNL. Complete abuse of power.
Matt February 01, 2014 at 01:46 PM
Oh that stinks.
Christine McEachern February 01, 2014 at 01:52 PM
Keep in mind, there were 80 boys playing baseball in that division and the president of the league only let 12 boys play travel ball.
alena mauer April 09, 2014 at 11:06 AM
My nephew wants to play baseball. My sister has reservations because of things like this. It get's too serious for the little boys. Alena | http://www.youthletic.com/cincinnati-oh/sport/baseball

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