The day before the Lillian (Alabama) Barracudas were to open their Dixie Youth baseball season, team members learned that their sponsor would be C&J Video, home of "All Kinds of Movies," as its sign advertises. The coach and a few parents in this tiny Alabama town weren't real happy about that, knowing, as they did, that owner David Bryan included explicit, X-rated films in his inventory.
They didn't protest. They didn't try to shut down the store. They didn't try to have the sponsor removed. But they just didn't want their young ballplayers to be walking commercials for a video store that sells and rents pornography. So three sets of parents and coach Calvin Bartl, who is a minister, went to the vendor who made the team shirts and bought blue shirts that matched the official shirts, but that didn't bear the logo.
"As soon as we saw it, my husband and I knew right off the bat our son wasn't wearing that shirt," says Linda Williams, whose 10-year-old son Todd is on the team. "We don't feel like it's right for our kids to advertise for that kind of store."
Their quiet approach, however, has turned noisy and become front-page news in the Mobile newspaper. "We had no idea it would cause a stir," says Michele Bartl, sister-in-law of the coach and mother of 10-year-old Barracuda Nathan.
The Barracudas played their opener in nearby Elberta. The coach and the four players, including the coach's son Matthew and nephew Nathan, wore their generic shirts, and neither the umpire nor anyone on the Elberta team objected.
But the next day, the coach heard from the Lillian Sports Association that those not wearing the official shirts would not be allowed to play. In a meeting last week, video store owner David Bryan met with Lillian league organizers and offered to drop the name of his store from the shirts and simply put his name.
But that doesn't solve the problem, the parents say.
The controlling organization for the Barracudas, the Dixie Youth Baseball league in Marshall, Texas, prohibits sponsorship by organizations whose products or activities are detrimental to youth. Dixie Youth officials so far have refused to intervene in the dispute, saying that it is best left up to the local communities.
The parents, seeing that they had a tough fight ahead, contacted attorney Stuart Roth of the American Center for Law and Justice in Alabama. This case is as simple as a fastball right over the plate, Mr. Roth says: Pornography clearly is detrimental to youth.
"We want Dixie Youth baseball to enforce their criteria," says Mr. Roth, who also is on the legal team representing an Alabama judge who is fighting for the right to keep the Ten Commandments hanging in his courtroom. "We're looking to Dixie Youth baseball to step up to the plate and tell them this is unacceptable."
David Bryan professes to be perplexed by the furor. Of his 3,500-tape inventory, he says, only about 500 are pornographic, and those are kept behind three closed doors. "They're just regular adult movies. Once you hit X-rated, there's nothing after that.... If they have a problem with me, what I do for a living, we all have to make a living. I don't sell beer, cigarettes, rolling papers.... I'd rather see somebody watch a movie than smoke cigarettes or drink liquor. My movies are not going to kill anybody. But smoking and drinking and driving is."
Mr. Bryan serves a clientele in both Alabama and Florida, along the state line; pornographic videos are outlawed in neighboring Escambia County, Fla. Mr. Bryan is a single father of four children, including a 9-year-old son who is on the team he sponsors. This is the first time, he says, that anyone has protested in the four years he has been a sponsor.
Which is exactly why someone needs to know, Mrs. Williams says. "We felt like it was time someone let it be known what he was selling up there."
As matters stand, Todd Williams, Luke Clay, and the Bartl cousins won't be allowed to play in the Barracudas' next game if they show up in their generic shirts. Coach Calvin Bartl, father of Matthew, hasn't been told what will happen when he arrives in his plain shirt, but if the boys are told they can't play, most likely the coach will walk too: "They'll learn you have to stand up sometimes and pay a price."
For the parents, the principle and the morality are more important than the game. "He can advertise anywhere else but he shouldn't be advertising on a kid's baseball shirt," Linda Williams says. "We hate just to pull our kids off because they love to play baseball." But the Williamses are prepared. "I know," Mrs. Williams says, "my son's not going to wear that shirt."
Lost in the controversy: the Barracudas' undefeated record in their first three games. It's the stuff of which movies are made-
G-rated ones, that is.