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January 17. 2014 8:13PM

John Habib's City Sports: Post 79 out, Jutras in for 2014 Legion baseball season

In the wake of eligibility violations that caused Manchester Post 79 to forfeit all its 2013 games, New Hampshire American Legion Baseball has suspended the post for the coming season.

“They will not be able to participate in our league this summer. Post 79 will have to clean house before they can reinstate their program for the 2015 season,” said Rick Harvey, director of the state’s Junior Legion Baseball program.

“They have to have a new baseball committee, including a new coaching staff, business manager and athletic officer. Once that happens, they will have until November to formally apply and rejoin our program for the 2015 season.”

That process already has begun, said Post 79’s interim director, Sam Coldwell.

“We don’t disagree with it,” Coldwell said of the edict to clean house. “We accept it and have already complied with everything we need to do to get reinstated.”

But, he added, he’d like to meet with the state chairman for American Legion Baseball, Gary Webster, to address the matter. Webster, Coldwell said, has not responded to his requests for a meeting.

“I’ve been trying to get a face-to-face meeting with the Gary Webster since October, and he won’t give me one,” Coldwell said. “All I want to do is have an opportunity to explain our side. If they still want to suspend us, we’ll accept it. But at least I should have an opportunity to explain what we’ve done since November.

“We sent the state association a certified letter in December requesting a meeting and they never responded,” Coldwell continued. “All I’m asking for is a meeting with Gary Webster to explain what we’ve done to date to comply with their list of demands.”

Efforts by the New Hampshire Union Leader to reach Webster also were unsuccessful.

Coldwell said Post 79 has dismissed Al Jenkins as athletics director and Art Bernier as baseball coordinator. He said he’s also dismissed the entire coaching staff but added he’d like to reinstate Ed Poisson as head coach after Poisson served as an assistant the past two seasons.

A 12-year member of Post 79, Coldwell said he didn’t get involved with the baseball program until last October, when Post 79 Commander Colleen Thompson suffered an illness.

“Unfortunately, Colleen is still not feeling well, and I came into this situation just after they suspended our post,” Coldwell said. “Now that I’m handling this, I just want to have a say in the matter with the state association.”

Post 79 was in contention for a District A playoff berth last summer, with a record of 9-6 and one district game remaining, when the state ruled it had to forfeit its games.

At issue was the violation of a national American Legion Baseball regulation limiting the total enrollment of the high schools from which a team draws its players to 5,000. The players on Post 79’s roster came from three Manchester schools — Manchester High School Central, Trinity High and the Derryfield School — with a combined enrollment of 5,178.

Post 79 appealed the state committee’s ruling, but the national committee upheld the decision.

Harvey said the national committee also backed the state’s decision to suspend Post 79 for the 2014 season.

One reason for that, he said, is problems with Post 79 began well before last season.

“We could have suspended them as far back as three seasons ago,” Harvey said. “They’ve had issues with personnel, coaching and getting their paperwork in on time.”

Last year, Post 79 submitted its final roster to the state nine days late, Harvey said.

“We have to submit the rosters to (the national American Legion Baseball office) in a timely fashion, and once they’re submitted, those rosters are locked in and official,” he said. “As it turned out last season, Post 79 was playing with an illegal roster and ended up forfeiting their games.”

Post 79’s suspension is reviving the baseball program at another city post, Jutras Post 43.

Because only seven players signed up last year, Jutras, which drew its roster solely from Manchester High West, couldn’t field a team. Now that Post 79 has been suspended, Harvey said, Jutras Post will be able to draw players from Central as well as West this summer.

Harvey also said Henry J. Sweeney Post 2 of Manchester, which last year drew players only from Manchester Memorial High, also will be able to enroll players from Trinity.

“I’m not happy to see Post 79 get suspended, given their long history in Legion Baseball,” said Sweeney Post athletics director Paul Lemire. “Under the circumstances, the state association did the fair thing, giving us Memorial and Trinity. Our tryout numbers will be higher this year, somewhere between 20 and 25.” Don Parents, athletics director for Jutras Post, echoed Lemire’s thoughts about Post 79’s suspension.

“You hate losing them, but they’ll recover and be back,” Parents said. “As for our program, it’s exciting that we’ll be able to field a team this summer. We’re in the process of organizing our coaching staff.”

Meanwhile, the issue of how teams are assembled isn’t going away.

“When Post 79 does come back, we plan on asking the state association to support our request of holding a citywide draft. That way all three Legion teams can exist,” said Parents. “The last thing we want in 2015 is to not have enough players to field a team. We want to play baseball as much as Post 79 and Sweeney do.”

Once again, he and Sweeney Post’s Lemire were on the same page.

“Even when Post 79 does get reinstated, I believe the state should still allow us to draw players from Trinity and Memorial,” Lemire said. “Giving Post 79 three high schools is not fair, in my opinion.”

“City Sports” is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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