The Encino South American Legion baseball team cried Wolf last week. Now, Reseda-Cleveland is crying foul.
The District 20 playoffs will begin today at Birmingham High amid controversy, with Reseda North playing Newhall-Saugus at 9:30 a.m. and Burbank playing Woodland Hills at 1 p.m. When the last game of the opening round starts at 4:30, however, it will be Encino South (9-12), not Reseda-Cleveland (11-9), that plays North Hollywood (13-7-1).
Reseda-Cleveland coaches and players charge that the roster violations that eliminated them from the playoffs last week were ones that District Commissioner Mel Swerdling knew about and approved from the season's beginning.
But last week Swerdling upheld a five-page protest from Encino South, which charged that Reseda-Cleveland's Jimmy Wolf, Paul Bedigian and Matt Mason were ineligible.
Reseda-Cleveland Coach Marty Siegel and assistant coach Jerry Holiday said Swerdling knew that the players were ineligible before the season began but allowed them to keep him because no other Legion team wanted him.
"I'm denying everything," said Swerdling. "I don't know why people are making such a big thing out of this. There's nothing to this thing."
Until Saturday, the last day of the regular season, Reseda-Cleveland was the second-place team in the Mid Division and appeared to be in the playoffs.
When the players were declared ineligible, however, Reseda-Cleveland had to forfeit eight wins, making the team 3-17. Third-place Encino South was next in line.
"It was an inadvertent error," Swerdling said. "All I know is I got the protest and it appeared legitimate. I feel sorry for those 18 boys who found out they were victimized. I should've caught this in the beginning. I don't know where these players are from."
"I would expect him to say that," Holiday said. "What can I say? It's his word against mine.
"Yes, we were in violation. We were told it's all right. It's my first year. What am I supposed to think, when the commissioner of the league says, 'Yeah, fine, go, great, play'? "
"I'm destroyed," Siegel said. "Eighteen kids busted their backsides."
"Everything was for nothing," said Reseda-Cleveland pitcher Tony Margolis, who on Saturday pitched the team's final game, a 7-2 win over Encino South. "We wasted our money and our strength."
"It's too bad kids like that had to get caught up in a thing like that," Encino South Coach Craig Sherwood said.
Sherwood had the protest hand-delivered to Swerdling and was prepared to appeal had the protest not been upheld.
"How could I tell my kids I could've done something about the playoffs but didn't," he said. "My kids never gave up. How do I tell them that I gave up? How would they have any respect for me?"
Legion rules allow teams to accept players from any high school as long as the combined enrollments of sophomores, juniors and seniors at the schools do not exceed 3,600 students.
Wolf plays at El Camino Real High, and Bedigian and Mason play at Chatsworth. They were deemed ineligible because their schools' enrollments were not added to those of Canoga Park and Cleveland, the other schools from 7975which Reseda-Cleveland draws players.