Kids' Baseball League Denies Discrimination Claims
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 30, 2006
LIHUE, HAWAII--As the U.S. Department of Justice investigates whether the PONY Baseball and Softball League violated the rights of a deaf player, the league is categorically denying that it discriminated against the boy.
The Justice Department, the National Center of the Deaf, and the parents of 11-year-old Justin Kapono "Pono" Tokioka sued PONY Baseball/Softball, Inc. last year, alleging that the organization denied him access to a sign language interpreter, in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Pono had been playing on the Kauai league with his father, Jimmy, in the dugout interpreting instructions from team coaches. But when it came time for the state tournament in July, the Tokiokas were told that his father amounted to an extra coach in the dugout, in violation of PONY rules.
The family has argued that Pono's father only acts as an interpreter. They have offered for the mother to interpret, and have suggested that the league come up with a separate interpreter. Other teams in the league had no problem with Jimmy Tokioka in the dugout.
The national organization, however, refuses to allow any 'extra' adults in the dugout.
"While we acknowledge that the Justice Department is conducting an investigation with respect to allegations of discrimination concerning a player in Hawaii, we categorically deny that we have discriminated against this player," local news sources quoted a statement by PONY president Abraham Key.
"The player has never been denied an opportunity to participate," Key said.
Jimmy Tokioka told KHNL-TV that Justice Department investigators visited the family's home island of Kauai earlier this month, and inspected the dugouts.
He said the experience is teaching his son about activism.
"He feels like he's doing something for other kids. It's a good feeling for him."
"Deaf Ballplayer on Kauai Fights for Right to Play" (KHNL)
"The Pono saga continues" (Lihue Garden Island)