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Wheelchair-bound coach angry after ejection from field

July 23, 1997

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ People in wheelchairs usually have to fight to keep from being sidelined. Danny Keathley fought just to stay on the sidelines.

The disabled Floyd County miner is still bristling after being ejected from a Babe Ruth baseball tournament in Lexington last week. The umpires told him his wheelchair was a safety hazard on the baseline and ordered him to coach his Floyd County All-Stars from a corner near the dugout.

With the support of his players and their parents Saturday, he wheeled himself back to the third-base coach’s box. He was not only thrown out of the game, but out of the park.

``One of the umpires asked, `How was your little corner, coach?‴ Keathley, 36, of Prater, said Wednesday. ``After he did that, I wanted to sue the head of the tournament.″

Keathley hasn’t decided whether to sue over the incident. But Don Russell, district commissioner for the baseball league, said no offense was intended.

``It was viewed by the umpires for it to be an unsafe condition for him to get on the field _ for the players, coaches, umpires, he himself,″ Russell said. ``And it did not impair his running his team at all.″

Keathley said he’s never experienced anything like this in his seven years of coaching.

The former mine foreman and roof bolter operator broke his back in an underground roof collapse eight years ago on Cow Creek. He hasn’t been able to work since, but he was able to coach baseball and basketball.

``Never had a bit of problem with it,″ he said. ``Never once have I got in the way of a kid going for a ball or anything. I could always get out of the way.″

But the umpires in the Dixie Babe Ruth tournament disagreed Saturday.

First, Keathley said, they told him it was in the rule books. Later, they said it was just their rule.

Although no specific prohibition against wheelchairs was listed, Russell said the issue was covered under a section that gives umpires latitude on the field.

``He protested, and it was disallowed,″ he said. ``He chose to not do that. He took his stand on the third-base coaching box and would not move.″

Keathley said he coached from the dugout area for the first game because he didn’t want to hurt his team’s standing. But after the umpire’s alleged remark, the team and the parents had had enough, he said.

They took a vote, and he went out onto the field. He was ejected.

``I had to go out to the parking lot,″ he said. ``I was very embarrassed the whole day.″

The team and parents also were demoralized.

``It was a big disappointment for our coach to be treated that way,″ said Debra Tackett, whose 13-year-old son, Trenton, plays baseball and basketball under Keathley. ``I’ve never been concerned like that with my own child. I’ve trusted my child to him entirely.″

The team lost both games that day.

Keathley’s son, Craig, 13, said the people who kicked his father out of the game should be thrown out of baseball.

``It was an embarrassment to me seeing my dad get off the field,″ he said. ``I’d like to see them be put in a wheelchair and see how they like it.″

Russell said he doesn’t see any reason why the same thing wouldn’t happen next time Keathley coaches in a game in his district. Keathley said the incident won’t get him down.

``Am I going back there next year?″ he said. ``I probably would if my son plays. Would I do anything differently? No. I think they would.″

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