Three members of the Petaluma National Little League All-Star team were recently suspended from Petaluma Junior High School for two days for an alleged assault on a teammate.
A fourth was suspended for use of foul language.
The victim received bruising to his chest during the incident, which occurred about two weeks ago. His mother said it was part of a continued pattern of bullying by four members of the team that went as far back as the All-Star team's Division Tournament in San Bernandino in August. Team coaches deny the allegations, and say there is no pattern of bullying, and the incident, which occurred on outdoor steps on the junior high school campus, was an isolated occasion of rough housing that got carried too far.
The incident involved only a few boys, not the whole team: Only four players were mentioned by the mother and only four were suspended. No other National team members were implicated in any way.
The mother said that, in addition to the physical assault, her son was subject to homophobic slurs from at least one of the boys involved.
Although she wasn't specific about other bullying incidents, she said there had been ongoing issues dating back to the Division Tournament in August. "When they came back to school (after the Little League World Series) it really got horrible," she said. "I think the bruising on his chest gave him the courage to stand up and say, 'enough.'
"Because he had the courage to stand up and say this is not OK, maybe something good will come out of it."
She said only one of the parents of the students involved called to apologize for the incident at the school.
The students involved were initially ordered to write apologies to their schoolmate, but three days later, were informed that they would be suspended for having physical contact with another student.
Team coaches are adamant that no bullying occurred during the team's long tournament run, and that the players all got along well.
"No," team manager Eric Smith responded when asked directly if he had observed or heard of any bullying incidents. "If something like kids picking on another kid had occurred I would have stopped it immediately.
"All we did for eight weeks was talk about respect for each other, respect for our opponents and respect for the game."
Coach Mike Slate said if any of the coaches had heard or seen bullying it would have been stopped immediately.
"I know if me or Trevor (Tomei) or Eric had known or witnessed any thing like that it would have been addressed right then and there," he said. "We were pretty close to them. We lived in a room next to them. We never saw or heard about anyone being singled out."
The Petaluma National Little League All-Star team captured the hearts and the imagination of the entire community by becoming the first Petaluma Little League team ever to advance to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. In the World Series, they finished third overall and second in the United States, staging an improbable 10-run rally in the sixth and final scheduled inning before losing to Goodlettsville, Tenn. in seven innings for the Little League United States championship. They were also among the most popular teams in the World Series, winning accolades for their gritty play and sportsman-like conduct.