Youth football dispute settled
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two predominately black youth football teams who alleged they were discriminated against now have a league to play in.
The MidWestern and Western Generals youth football teams will play for the Kanawha Valley Youth Football League, officials decided in Kanawha Circuit Court.
The two teams had asked for an injunction against the Mountain State Elite Football League and the Kanawha Valley Youth Football League. All sides met Thursday in front of Judge Paul Zakaib, who told them to meet in closed chambers and try to come to an agreement.
After about two hours, the parties told the judge they would allow MidWestern and Western to become "full members" of the Kanawha Valley league.
According to the complaint requesting an injunction, the MidWestern and Western Generals teams, and a team from Dunbar, tried to get into the Kanawha Valley youth league in February. A number of franchises in the league allegedly said they did not want to play predominately black teams.
The Kanawha Valley league agreed to admit teams from South Charleston and South Hills as full members, according to the complaint. The Dunbar, MidWestern and Western Generals teams were admitted as "independent" teams -- meaning they couldn't play in the league's playoffs.
At the time, according to the complaint, the Kanawha Valley league included teams from Belle, Campbells Creek, Elk River, Kanawha River, Nitro, Poca, Sissonville, South Charleston, St. Albans, Tornado and Winfield.
All of those teams, except for Kanawha City, are mostly white, according to the complaint. The Western Generals and MidWestern teams are more than 70 percent black, and the Dunbar team is at least 50 percent black, according to the complaint.
Once the new teams were admitted to the Kanawha Valley league, a number of teams left that league and started the Mountain State Elite Football League, according to the complaint.
The three "independent" teams applied again for admission into both leagues. The Kanawha Valley league this time agreed to accept Dunbar, but the other teams were denied, according to the complaint -- even though the Mountain State league needed nine teams and had only seven.
The MidWestern and Western Generals teams received a letter explaining Mountain State would accept the children from their areas, but not any new franchises, the complaint states. That would mean the children would have to travel at least 10 miles to practice when many walk or ride their bikes, according to the complaint.
The agreement reached Thursday resolves the majority of MidWestern and Western's conflicts, said their attorney, Olubunmi Kusimo-Frazier. Smaller issues still need to be worked out, but will be over time, she said.
"Teams can all play in their neighborhoods," said Kusimo-Frazier after the hearing.
The Kanawha Valley and Mountain State leagues also will be required to play each other in at least two games per year for the next three years, according to the agreement. The leagues also will have to participate in a "grid-o-rama" scrimmage event at the beginning of the season. After three years, if the leagues wish to stop competing they must give a season's notice before pulling out.
"That was something that wasn't expected," said Paul Gilmer, president of MidWestern. "It's very positive."
Gilmer said he was getting nervous about his team not having a league.
"This was the first time we weren't, we felt like orphans," he said.
Dean Sigmon, president of the Kanawha Valley league, said now, "We can all move forward for the betterment of the kids."
Kevin Hughart, who represents the Mountain State league, said after the hearing that Mountain State didn't leave the Kanawha league because of race issues, but how it was being run.
"In a nutshell, they didn't feel the bylaws were being followed, they wanted to play year-round football and we didn't" Hughart said. "It's not a race issue."
In 2001, a similar lawsuit was filed against the Chemical Valley youth football league. That lawsuit was settled and the teams with mostly black players were invited into the league, but through the years, many local teams left the Chemical Valley league to play in the Kanawha Valley league.
Attorneys will prepare an order on the agreement in the next several weeks, which Zakaib must approve before it is final.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.