For Uganda Little Leaguers, Exhilaration and Then Heartbreak
Tadej Znidarcic for The New York Times
The Rev. John Foundation Little League team, Middle East-Africa champions, practiced last week in Kampala, Uganda.
By PAUL POST
KAMPALA, Uganda — Felix Barugahare has no idea what a sporting goods store is. He shares a glove and swings someone else’s bat, and there is a good chance that his baseball cleats are the first pair of shoes he has worn.
Felix is a second baseman for the Rev. John Foundation Little League team, the first team from Africa to qualify for the Little League World Series. But the players’ aspirations for international success were dashed Friday when they were denied visas to travel to the United States. The State Department said that some of the visa applications included birth records that “several parents admitted had been altered to make some players appear younger than they actually are.”
It is a sad coda to an inspirational story of a fledgling program for poor children who hoped to test their skills against the best teams in the world. More frustrating for Uganda is that for the second year in a row, a seemingly open path to South Williamsport, Pa., where the tournament is held, has been blocked by adults behind closed doors rather than by children on the playing field.
Many of the boys on the foundation team live in crowded homes with their extended families, subsisting on as little as $100 a month. Some have no parents. And when there are parents in the picture, they are often illiterate, making it difficult to verify the birth certificate information and complicating State Department interviews.