(Updated June 4, 2007 at 4:19 p.m.)


Note: The following story contains language some readers may find offensive.


The manager of the baseball team reportedly berates and taunts his players, giving them nicknames like "Gay Patch," "Flower Boy" and "Fumblina," uses racial epithets and makes racist jokes. Individuals are accused of causing the team to lose and were forced to run laps. And all the players are in elementary school. Welcome to the Hesperia National Little League Dodgers.


Jacob Burton's two 11-year-old sons both play for the Dodgers in their second year playing in the Hesperia National Little League. Last year they played in the minors and were elated when they did well enough during try-outs to get called up to the major league this spring.


"Within about three weeks of practicing, I noticed some mood problems," Burton said. "They started with 'do we have to go to practice today?'"


In March, the Dodgers spent two nights at the Western Regional All-Stars Tournament at the regional league headquarters in Devore.


"We made sure they had adult supervision," Burton said. "Well, what I thought was adult supervision."


One of the boys and a friend were walking to the dormitory when team manager Conrad Astorga caught up with them and asked which professional players they liked. The Burton boy said his favorite professional athlete was NBA star Allen Iverson.


"You give Allen Iverson bl*wj*bs," Astorga allegedly replied. Then he reportedly left the pair and went over to another group of boys, including the other Burton boy.


"Conrad came up to them and said 'hey, did you know [the first Burton boy] gives Alan Iverson bl*wj*bs?'" multiple witnesses allege he said. When another boy complained, the manager turned on him. "'If I were you, I'd be quiet, because you wear panties and g-strings.'"


ROOKIE MANAGER


Astorga is a 2005 graduate of Hesperia High School, where he played third base for the Scorpions.


"I'm 21 years of age and the league president," Hesperia National Little League President Martin Hoover said. "Age knows no expertise. If you really know baseball and want to come out and teach the kids, that's great."


Astorga's position is not unique: Three out of seven managers in the division do not have kids of their own on their team. Astorga directed all inquiries relating to this story to Hoover.


Jacob Burton didn't find out about the Allen Iverson incident until two weeks later, when another parent phoned, trying to confirm her son's story that Astorga was calling players "gay" and "fag." The Burton boys confirmed that and more.


"My boys told me 'yeah, every practice, he uses the n-word,'" Jacob Burton said.


He and the other parents met with league officials to complain.


Astorga addressed the issue at the next practice, according to multiple witnesses: "I don't care how big and bad your parents are, [I'm] not going anywhere."


"We did find there was inappropriate language used," Hoover said, but "we came to the conclusion that not everything in the allegation was necessarily fact."


Hoover said the Alan Iverson incident happened very differently than how Burton and the other witnesses portrayed it.


"The word 'blowjob' was never used, 'sucking d*ck' was never used," Hoover said. "A word was used, not as derogatory as what we just said, and we reprimanded the coach. ... It wasn't very derogatory. It wasn't very vulgar.


"We're not saying that nothing happened down there."


The Hesperia National Little League requires adults to sign an agreement to abide by the league's code of conduct each season. The code requires, in part, that adults will "be a positive role model for any child and encourage good sportsmanship," "will show respect and courtesy and demonstrate positive support for all players, coaches, umpires and League representatives," "will not engage in any kind of unsportsmanlike conduct, such as booing, taunting, refusing to shake hands or using profane language or gestures."


The penalties for violations are spelled out as well: "In the first offense, one game suspension from the ball park. Second offense, removed from coaching and/or the ballpark for the remainder of the season."


But the board of directors had waived the standard penalty, Hoover said, because Astorga "didn't deserve a game suspension."


"I can't tell you what the penalty was, because that's a personnel issue," Hoover said. "There was a punishment that was levied against the manager. Unfortunately, it wasn't the punishment that the person complaining wanted."


Other parents were able to provide detailed matching reports of insults and racial epithets by Astorga, as well as nicknames intended to embarrass and humiliate players. But the parents declined to let their names be used for this article, citing fears their sons would be singled out for retaliation by Astorga and league officials.


"There's only been a complaint regarding language from one parent so far," Hoover said, "And that's Mr. Burton."


ASTORGA'S TEAM


Astorga has supporters among Dodger parents. He also has his mother, Gabby Nicely, the Hesperia National Little League Treasurer. (Nicely recused herself during the board's investigation.)


Following the investigation, team members have reported that Astorga has been sending text messages to an 11-year-old player, allegedly including racial epithets. The boy's mother did not want to discuss the text messages, but described her family as supporters of Astorga and said they were tired of Jacob Burton.


"He is just out of control and just making the whole season unenjoyable," Stephanie Callahan said. "God, I just wish that he would leave us alone."


"Mrs. Callahan has not filed a complaint with me or with the league" about the text messages, Hoover said. "Her child, her situation. I informed her, if there's ever a problem, to let me know."


Burton continued to complain about Astorga and the board of directors and he was eventually banned from Dodger practices and games, many of which take place at the Hesperia Recreation and Park District's Coleman Park.


"Our board of directors voted to remove him from the league from the rest of the season," Hoover said. "Some of the parents were complaining that he was bothering them at practices, trying to get them to help remove Conrad. ... He is more than welcome to return to the league in 2008."


PAST CONTROVERSIES


This is not the first time the Hesperia National Little League has found itself embroiled in controversy.


In July 2006, the Victorville Daily Press reported the league had removed two girls' softball coaches after having their team played on an unassigned field at Hesperia Community Park. The league also drew criticism from parents for charging them an additional $30 (or having them raise $30 via fundraising) before their children could qualify for the league's all-star team. Three girls who did qualify for the all-star team were not allowed to play, because they failed to provide proof of residency.


NATIONAL AND REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES


If parents don't like Hoover's leadership, they can vote him out, league officials say.


"It's a democratic process," said Jim Gerstenslager, Western Region Director for Little League International. "We're pretty proud of the fact that we're the only democratically elected youth sport league."


"If [parents] wanted to appeal to a higher level, they could speak to the district administrator," said Chris Downs, a spokesman for Little League International.


However, the district administrator doesn't see things that way.


"Since every league is their own corporation, they're responsible for their own actions," Gerstenslager said.


Hoover has denied Burton's request to move his sons back to the minor leagues, to let them be traded to other teams or give them a waiver to play with Hesperia American Little League on the eastern end of the city. The boys can either quit or play as Dodgers.


"We've got about 500 kids in our league," Hoover said. "I've received complaints from probably a handful of parents in the entire league this year."


"I'm trying to raise my boys to stand up for what's right. They didn't do anything wrong," Burton said. "They asked me this morning, 'do we still get to play?'"


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.