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Youth football teams reach agreement on membership

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Several Kanawha Valley youth football leagues came to an agreement about who can play after a judge ordered them to negotiate their differences Thursday.

Some teams had requested an injunction against the Kanawha Valley Youth Football League, the Mountain State Elite Football League and the Kanawha County Board of Education.

They alleged that there had been an effort to exclude teams with a high percentage of black players.

Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib asked the presidents of the groups to mediate their disputes in a jury room, and after two hours of talks they told him they had reached an agreement.

The Kanawha County Board of Education was named in the injunction because many of the football games are played on school property. Board attorney Jim Withrow asked that it be dismissed from the legal action.

Olumbunmi Kusimo filed for the injunction June 7 on behalf of the Midwestern Youth Football Team and the Western Generals Youth Football Team. Those teams, and another from Dunbar, believed they had been denied full membership in the Kanawha Valley and Mountain State Elite leagues because of race.

They were admitted to the league only as independent teams that were not eligible to participate in playoff games, she said.

"We are ready to enter into an agreement," she told the judge after the talks. "But it does not detail every possible scenario."

Another hearing will be scheduled to bring the final agreement document before the judge.

But Kusimo said the agreement hammered out by the teams means the Western Generals and the Midwestern players will be able to become full members of the Kanawha Valley league and play at least two games each season.

"Let's play ball," Zakaib told the parties.

Afterward, Kenneth Hale, president of the Western Generals, said he was happy with the outcome.

"The bottom line is the goal is to get our youth involved in sports, particularly on the West Side," Hale said. "There was discord on certain issues. There are still some points to be worked out.

"We agreed to talk and when you do that, you can get to an agreement," Hale said. "It will be great to get back to playing football. I like coaching better than litigating."

But Hale said it became necessary to file legal action when the Kanawha Valley league would not accept them as full members. He said it was felt the cause was racism.

Dean Sigmon, president of the Kanawha Valley league, denied that.

"I think we've all worked together to come up with something we can move forward with for the betterment of the kids," Sigmon said. "The issues were adult issues, but I think everyone had the best interest of the kids in mind.

"Personally, I didn't have a reservation about anybody coming into our league," he said. "It's only been a matter of months ago that they even applied."

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.

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