In a process that a coach described as “un-American,” the South Eastern Youth Football League (SEYFL) summarily expelled an 11-year old Pocahontas County player for a new infraction called “targeting.” The youngster’s mother and others are questioning the propriety of the expulsion.
Keaton Baldwin, the son of Anita Workman, of Hillsboro, played for the SEYFL varsity Pocahontas Warriors until a game in Union on October 20. During that game, Baldwin was penalized three times for targeting and was ejected from the game.
“He was warned three times during this game in Union,” said Baldwin. “The head coach couldn’t figure out why they were calling targeting on him. Nobody on our sidelines could figure it out. We couldn’t figure out why they were calling it because it was not targeting.”
Baldwin weighs 107 pounds. The maximum weight for players in the SEYFL varsity division is 155 pounds. One penalty against Baldwin came on a tackle of a 150-plus pound running back with the ball. A second was called on Baldwin’s tackle of a kickoff returner, who was slightly injured on the play. A third was called when Baldwin knocked a player out of the way as Baldwin attempted to recover a fumble.
Two referees officiate every SEYFL game. The same referee made all three targeting calls against Baldwin. Workman questions the validity of the calls and said there was disagreement between the two referees, as well.
“Every time Keaton would hit a kid, there would be a flag on targeting,” she said. “Every single time that Keaton hit a kid. There were three flags and one of them was called back because one of the refs – there were two refs – one of the refs actually ran up to the other ref and said, ‘You cannot call that on that kid. You can’t call that. That’s a legal hit.’”
Workman’s father and Baldwin’s grandfather, Emery Grimes, was the Warriors head coach. As a result of Baldwin’s expulsion, Grimes ended the game at Union.
“That day, everybody was very upset,” said Workman. “Emery, my father, ended up calling the game. The kids, their morale was down. They were upset. Keaton is a team player. He was one of the leaders of the team. The sidelines were very upset. So, he ended up calling the game.”
Three days after the Union game, the SEYFL governing board, which meets in Lewisburg, held a special meeting and expelled Baldwin from the league.
SEYFL Commissioner David Shay sent the following email to Workman:
“This letter is to inform you that the SEYFL board and AD’s [athletic directors] voted unanimously to suspend Keaton Baldwin the reminding [sic] of the 2014 season. This decision was based on liability and the safety of all players involved. Keaton was warned on different occasions of leading with his head and now what is a rule in the SSAC ‘targeting.’ This decision is not up for appeal.”
However, the new penalty of targeting does not involve “leading with the head,” as stated in Shay’s email. Targeting involves hitting an opponent above the shoulders.
The SEYFL incorporates rules from the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commisson (SSAC), which incorporates football rules from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Targeting is a new penalty, included in the NFHS rules for the first time this year. According to a handout explaining the new rule, targeting is “an act of taking aim and initiating contact to an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulders. Targeting may be called for contact against any opponent, including the runner.”
Section Eight of the SEYFL bylaws reads: “The Board of Directors will have a special meeting and will determine a ‘punishment’ for any rules that are broken. This will be left strictly up to the Board of Directors, consisting of the Commissioner, 2/3 of the Deputy Commissioners, Secretary, and Treasurer. Formal complaints in regards to By-Laws violations must be submitted to League Commissioner in writing and positive (video) evidence submitted at that time if possible. Any positive video or evidence must be provided to the accused no less than 48 hours prior to the called meeting.”
During the SEYFL special meeting on October 24, no one was invited to speak in Baldwin’s defense. Despite the specific mention of video evidence in the SEYFL bylaws, the board did not review game video when making its decision to expel the sixth-grader from the league.
“There were no films, there were no tapes, there were no refs at the meeting,” said Workman.
Section 8a of the SEYFL bylaws reads: “Any person can make an appeal of a suspension by the SEYFL board to an area director appeals board.”
However, Shay’s email to Workman states, “This decision is not up for appeal.”
Questions about the referee’s interpretation of the new rule and questions about the process used by the SEYFL board to expel Baldwin have created a cloud over youth football in Pocahontas County.
Grimes disputes the referee’s calls.
“They said he was targeting – from my sideline, I did not see that,” he said.
Grimes said the punishment would be unwarranted even if the penalty calls were correct.
“I’ve been around midget football for probably 25 years and I’ve never heard of them doing this,” he said. “They say they follow SSAC rules, but SSAC rules say if you get thrown out of a ballgame, you’re out of the next ballgame too. Then, you go back to playing football. You still practice with the team, you just can’t play in the next game. You don’t kick a kid out for the year. That was unfair.”
Angry and frustrated, Grimes quit as the Pocahontas coach following Baldwin’s expulsion.
“I just could not be part of an organization that did that,” he said. “I think it’s un-American.”
Indeed, the American concept of due process requires an opportunity to defend oneself, an impartial hearing with all relevant evidence considered, and the possibility of an appeal. All three of those elements appear to be lacking in the SEYFL’s expulsion of Keaton Baldwin. Broad understanding of the new targeting rule also appears to be lacking.
Pocahontas Youth Football League Vice President Brad Dunz gave his opinion.
“I don’t think Keaton was playing dirty, he was just playing hard,” he said. “The boy is an aggressive, good football player. I hated to see what happened to him happen. He’s a good football player.”
Keaton was disappointed to be accused of illegal play, but looks forward to playing seventh and eighth grade football next year.
“I think I hit good,” he said. “They said that I’m targeting and I’m not. I’m just hitting the kid who has the ball and he’s running down the field. I hit him and they say I hit too hard.”
Workman has consulted with an attorney and is considering legal action against the SEYFL. More information will be reported as it becomes available.