Small patch causes big controversy

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

By Kathy Hanrahan-Staff Reporter

A church sponsored little league became a hotbed of controversy last week when what appeared to be political endorsement ended up on the sleeve of the children’s jerseys.

Ascension of Our Lord’s Rev. Benjamin “Father Benny” Piovan says that he has “no idea” how assessor candidate Sonny Fisse’s name ended up on the left sleeve of each child’s jersey. According to Athletic Director Mike Abbate, Fisse paid $400 to sponsor the entire league, which led to the “Fisse Assessor” logo being placed on each uniform.

“If I thought it was going to be a problem, I would have never put Ascension of Our Lord, Father Benny or Mike Abbate in this position,” Fisse said.

According to Rev. Piovan, in the past a candidate has served as a coach and sponsor for an individual team. He was under the impression that Fisse would be doing the same thing.

Fisse has printed shirts for Ascension of Our Lord for several years, which included the printing of shirts for the league. Fisse said he was unaware that the logo would provide any controversy for the school because other candidates have sponsored teams in the past.

In 1999, candidate Steve Thorton sponsored and coached a team in the league. This year Thorton serves as coach of a girl’s cabbage ball team in the league that was sponsored by Fisse. His team was unaffected by the logos and were surprised to hear that there was any controversy at all.

“It is so common place,” Thorton said.

The difference with this election year is that two members of the same church are running for the same office, Thorton said referring to Fisse and fellow candidate for assessor Duaine Duffy who are both members of Ascension of Our Lord church.

Individuals or businesses could sponsor teams by donating $50, $75 or $100. Sponsors receive their names on the back of their team’s jerseys.

Although candidates in the past have successfully sponsored teams without avail, the recent Fisse controversy brought up issues of church and state.

In addition to the potential religious conflicts, some parents of players were expressing discomfort with the logos appearing on jerseys.

“They just felt like the choice was taken away from them,” coach Maria Burke said.

While some parents were distressed, others were not aware that the logos were even a topic of conversation.

“I didn’t know there was a big commotion about it,” another parent said. “I was kind of shocked. I think everybody was.”

Also sponsors were unaware of the logos being placed on each shirt.

“It [the logo] should come off because it is unfair to sponsors,” parent and coach Reginald Ross said. “We should keep political campaigning out of recreation.”

In an effort to focus attention back onto the league and players, Abbate presented each team with two options on Monday afternoon. During a meeting with parents, Abbate said that each team was given the choice to cover up the logo on each sleeve with an iron-on patch or reprint the shirts.

Abbate said that the money would be returned to Fisse and that this type of event would never happen again. “No kind, no way, no how,” Abbate added.

“I have too much respect for Father Benny and Mike Abbate to make a bid deal about this,” Fisse said, adding that he will be reprinting the shirts for the teams himself.

During the meeting, Abbate, who has worked with the league as a volunteer for 23 years, said that he wanted to keep all of these kids in the league and would do what he could to ease the parent’s minds.

Parents were eager to pick patches for their children’s uniforms and put an end to the controversy. Many noted that their discomfort had nothing to do with the candidate himself, merely the inappropriate placement of his message.

Burke said that parents of her team are ready to move onto the real challenge – teaching the kids on the field.

“The way it was dealt with – it has been revolved,” she says. “It’s back to children’s T-Ball. We are out there for the kids.”

While most teams opted to patch up the logo, two teams, who had the logos on the back of their shirts, will have the shirts reprinted.