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Hearing Thursday on football bias

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two local youth football teams with mostly black players say two youth football leagues in Kanawha and Putnam counties are discriminating against them.

The MidWestern and Western Generals youth football teams asked for an injunction against the Mountain State Elite Football League and the Kanawha Valley Youth Football League in Kanawha Circuit Court on June 7. A hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in front of Judge Paul Zakaib.

The Kanawha County Board of Education also was named as a defendant because the youth football leagues play on fields owned and maintained by the school board.

According to the complaint, the MidWestern and Western Generals teams, and a team from Dunbar, tried to get into the Kanawha Valley youth league in February. A number of franchises in the league allegedly said they did not want to play predominately black teams.

"The denial ... is due to the fact that a number of teams in the league do not want to play 'black teams,' which consist of predominately African-American players, parents and coaching staff," the complaint states.

The Kanawha Valley league agreed to admit teams from South Charleston and South Hills as full members, according to the complaint. The Dunbar, MidWestern and Western Generals teams were admitted as "independent" teams -- meaning they couldn't play in the league's playoffs.

At the time, according to the complaint, the Kanawha Valley league included teams from Belle, Campbells Creek, Elk River, Kanawha River, Nitro, Poca, Sissonville, South Charleston, St. Albans, Tornado and Winfield.

All of those teams, except for Kanawha City, are mostly white, according to the complaint. The Western Generals and MidWestern teams are more than 70 percent black, and the Dunbar team is at least 50 percent black, according to the complaint.

Once the new teams were admitted to the Kanawha Valley league, a number of teams left that league and started the Mountain State Elite Football League, according to the complaint. Those teams are Campbells Creek, Elk River, Nitro, Poca, St. Albans, Sissonville and Winfield.

The three "independent" teams applied again for admission into both leagues. The Kanawha Valley league this time agreed to accept Dunbar, but the other teams were denied, according to the complaint -- even though the Mountain State league needed nine teams and only had seven.

The MidWestern and Western Generals teams received a letter explaining Mountain State would accept the children from their areas, but not any new franchises, the complaint states.

"Defendant Mountain State's denial will effectively prevent many of the children on Plaintiffs franchises from playing in the league, as many of the children would be required to travel at least 10 miles to practice during the week. A large percentage of the children who play on Plaintiffs' teams do not have transportation and ride bikes or walk to and from football practice," the complaint states.

The complaint also states that in spite of the invitation to play, they have not seen sign-up fliers posted in their communities.

The attorney representing the teams, Olubunmi Kusimo-Frazier, said Wednesday she is working with the leagues to reach common ground.

Mike Ranson, attorney for the Kanawha Valley league, said the franchises planned to have a meeting Wednesday night to attempt to reach an agreement. Kevin Hughart, who represents the Mountain State league, was not immediately available for comment.

In 2001, a similar lawsuit was filed against the Chemical Valley youth football league. That lawsuit was settled and the teams with mostly black players were invited into the league, but through the years, many local teams left the Chemical Valley league to play in the Kanawha Valley league.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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