Little Leaguers Get Ticker Tape Reception, But Doubts Raised About Win
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The Little League world champions were welcomed home today with a ticker tape parade, a celebration clouded by allegations Philippine officials lied about some players’ ages.
The Zamboanga City team flew back to Manila late Wednesday after thrashing a Long Beach, Calif. entry 15-4 to win the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
President Fidel Ramos welcomed the champions to the presidential palace and donated $41,666, which members of the team could use for scholarships or living expenses.
″We beat the best of Asia, we beat the best of Latin America, we beat the best of the United States at their own game,″ Cecile Hechanova, chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, told the players. ″You have made history.″
On Wednesday, however, the Philippine Daily Inquirer raised allegations that several Filipino players, including star pitcher Ian Tolentino, were over the 12-year age limit.
Sportswriter Al Mendoza quoted sources as saying birth certificates and other records were faked to enable the players to compete.
Philippine sports officials denied the allegations and were visibly irritated by questions about players’ age. They urged reporters not to ask questions about age so as not to distract from the festive reception.
″These children are of the right age for this age bracket,″ said Armando Andaya, the Philippine Little League administrator.
Tolentino, a veteran of the 1990 Little League team, told reporters he would turn 13 at the end of this month. Regulations allow players to compete if they are 12 or younger by the date of competition.
″We all did our part to win,″ said Tolentino, who hit a two-run homer and pitched three innings to earn the decision in the championship game.
Tolentino, whose wispy moustache was clearly visible, said he played on the Philippine 1990 Bronco League team, where the age limit is 13.
The team won the world Bronco series in Tokyo in 1990, but offered to return the trophy after allegations that some of the players were overage.
Tournament officials refused to accept the trophy but warned the Filipinos to obey the rules.
The Philippines has frequently been accused of faking ages in regional sports events.
Tolentino and several players attend a Catholic school in Laguna province. The Associated Press contacted the school to check on the ages of the students.
During the first call, a clerk said records were unavailable but asked that the AP call back. Someone else answered the phone the second time, refused to discuss ages and then hung up.