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Despite Coach's Arrest, Little Leaguers Play On : Sports: Community is shocked by drug-related charges but is hesitant to judge the suspect.

June 10, 1993|TOMMY LI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA CRESCENTA — Crescenta Valley Little League teams are playing ball as usual, despite the recent drug-related arrest and subsequent suspension of one of their coaches.

"Everybody's pretty much in disbelief," Jerry Gorman, manager of the Trojans T-ball team for 7- and 8-year-old boys and girls, said of the May 27 arrest of Michael Joseph Benedetto. "It hits that close to home. (But) there's been no negativity at all . . . We're just going on as a team."

Gorman is among the many Little League officials and parents who are trying to keep the controversy off the playing field. Benedetto was one of two volunteer coaches for Gorman's team and also helped coach a girls' softball team for 13- to 15-year-olds.

Both of Benedetto's daughters remain on the two teams.

Last year, Benedetto was a co-chairman of the Glendale-Crescenta Valley Little League Assn. In 1990 and 1991, he served as president of the Verdugo Little League while also coaching a T-ball team.

The 38-year-old La Crescenta resident and his 31-year-old girlfriend, Shannon Burris, were arrested at a home the two share on the 2600 block of Altura Avenue.

According to court documents, Glendale police narcotics officers obtained a search warrant after an informant allegedly made a drug buy using money supplied by investigators. Officers found two ounces of cocaine, valued at $9,000 on the street, and drug paraphernalia in a bedroom safe. Also seized from the home were $1,038 in cash, business transactions with names and amounts of suspected buyers, a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle.

Prosecutors filed a felony count of possessing cocaine for sale against both suspects. They are free on $50,000 bail each and are expected to appear in Glendale Municipal Court on July 6.

Meanwhile, Crescenta Valley Little League President Chris McReynolds has placed Benedetto on temporary suspension pending the criminal case.

The suspects have referred questions to their attorney, Garrett Zelen, who is accusing police of prejudicing the case before trial.

"The police in this matter are engaging in a smear campaign against an upstanding citizen (Benedetto)," the lawyer said. "He's completely innocent."

Glendale police say the department was only doing its job.

"The public has a right to know the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest of any citizen," said Sgt. Lief Nicolaisen. "This is standard procedure."

Most Little League officials and parents have kept an open mind about Benedetto. And Crescenta Valley Little League managers who have worked with Benedetto this season describe him as a devoted coach who was always willing to spend time with players on the team.

"When Mike was on the field . . . he was very quiet," said Dennis Barbero, manager of the Sensations, a girls' softball team that Benedetto helped coach. "He was very polite, and he's been in baseball a number of years."

Benedetto still shows up at his children's games at Montrose Park, but he sits in the stands instead of the dugout, managers said.

His arrest has yet to faze the 14-member Sensations, undefeated in the league at 4-0 with eight games left. The 13-member Trojans T-ball team has a 5-5 record with two games remaining.

Barbero said he did not think it was necessary to have a special team meeting to discuss the matter.

"The girls have accepted the idea that there's certainly nothing they could do about it," he said. "They're focused on playing baseball, which is the way it ought to be.

"I haven't heard any girls talk (behind) anybody's back . . . or to say anything derogatory about Mike or his daughter."

The community has also responded well.

"Mike (Benedetto) has a lot of friends in our league," McReynolds said. "I'm proud of the way people have been slow to judge. They're taking a wait-and-see attitude."

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