Milltown’s dream season finished with a nightmare

After further review

Doug McKenzie

Glenn Fredericks still can’t sleep.Two days after his Milltown Post 25 Senior American Legion team fell to the host Brooklawn team at the Mid-Atlantic Regional final, the head coach is still steaming over the way his team was treated in Camden.

“I wish we could have gotten a fair shake here, because we didn’t,” he said. “And people are going to hear about it.”

The Milltown team made it further than it ever had before, finishing second to unbeaten Rivervale in the state tournament, and then emerging from the losers bracket in the regional tournament to get to the final, playing for a berth in next week’s national tournament in Great Falls, S.D.

It should have been a special time for the players, coaches and parents — the type of magical summer run that provides memories and anecdotes to be shared with future generations.

Instead, they got a firsthand look at how local politics and favoritism can taint even the purest of games.

From shoddy hotel accommodations to unfavorable scheduling and questionable officiating on the playing field, the Milltown players never felt welcome at the regional tournament.

And in truth, that didn’t surprise Fredericks from the start.

“We were disappointed to be going there in the first place,” he said. “We knew we were in trouble the second we walked off the field at the state championships and they told us we were going to Camden. I told them we wouldn’t be treated fairly, and it played out that way.”

Rivervale, the state champion at 32-0, was supposed to play in Camden, but was sent to the regional tournament in Rhode Island instead.

“They [Brooklawn] didn’t want any part of Rivervale, so they sent them to Rhode Island,” Fredericks said.

That left Milltown, a team that had already beaten Brooklawn twice in state tournament play, to head to Camden. As the host team, Brooklawn was automatically given a berth in the regional tournament, despite not qualifying on the field.

After Brooklawn won its first four games, they took on Milltown in the final and posted a controversial 10-7 win, aided, according to Fredericks, by some questionable calls by the home plate umpire.

Shoddy officiating is part of the game. But when the umpire making those calls is a local, it makes it a bit tougher to swallow.

“The home plate umpire is the head official of the Camden County baseball league, and for him to even be there is a conflict of interest,” Fredericks said.

But there were several instances where Fredericks feels Brooklawn was the beneficiary of some questionable calls, including some calls made in games not involving Milltown.

“That’s why it’s being disputed,” the Milltown coach said. “These guys were ringing kids up on strikeout calls without even making appeals. And there was a kid that was pushed off a base by a fielder, tagged and called out.

“The calls that went against us were just the tip of the iceberg.”

Then there was the way the hometown fans were behaving in the stands.

“The things that these people were doing and saying in the stands were repulsive,” Fredericks said. “They were taunting our players constantly, and a lot of our fans had to leave because they didn’t feel comfortable in the stands. And nobody did anything about it.

“It’s a shame, too, because the kids and coaches at Brooklawn have such class,” he added. “They were embarrassed and almost apologetic for the win.”

And then there were the hotel accommodations.

“They made us stay in Gloucester City in this downtrodden Ramada Inn,” Fredericks said. “Twelve of the 18 kids came home sick, as well as two coaches, and two of the kids have pink eye. They made us stay there. We wanted to go home and commute every day and they wouldn’t let us.

“Why not? Brooklawn got to go home.”

For a team that had the talent to make a run at a national championship, it certainly seemed like they ran into a wrong-place, wrong-time situation.

“I’m just bitter because we had such a great group of kids, and they didn’t get their chance to go where they belong,” Frederick said. “The lesser team that hosted the tournament gets a chance to move on. The fourth best team in New Jersey is going to nationals.”

Ultimately, you have to win the games on the field. But when circumstances that are out of your control start to interfere with the game itself, it makes defeat that much more disheartening

“The stuff we saw is the kind of stuff you can’t make up,” Fredericks said.

The Milltown team brought back memories from Camden. Just not the kind they’re likely to share with future generations.