SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- A team from New York captures the imagination of its community, then conquers the opposition on its way to the Little League World Series. But allegations swirl about ineligible players.
Here we go again.
With the Little League World Series set to open Friday, Little League is investigating allegations the Harlem team that won the Mid-Atlantic Regional did it with players from outside the league's boundaries.
Newsday reported Wednesday that as many as three players, including star pitcher Alibay Barkley, live outside the Harlem Little League district, according to neighbors.
Last summer's Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., was dogged by scandal when Bronx, N.Y., pitcher Danny Almonte was discovered to be too old to play. Almonte's team was forced to forfeit its third-place finish after officials determined he was 14 instead of 12.
Last week, Little League received two anonymous messages claiming three of Harlem's players lived outside the team boundaries and that several players were too old. To be eligible for this year's tournament, players could not turn 13 before Aug. 1.
Those charges were investigated and disproved, Little League officials said.
But Newsday reported that three Harlem players appear to live outside the district -- Barkley and shortstop-pitcher Jeremy ''Jeter'' Lopez in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, and third baseman-pitcher Andrew Diaz in Washington Heights.
Lance Van Auken, the spokesman for Little League and a member of the committee that investigates eligibility questions, said Wednesday the new allegations involve different players.
Little League is investigating and expects to make a decision on the allegations in the next day or two, Van Auken said. For now, the Harlem team remains eligible. Its first game is Saturday against a team from Fort Worth, Texas.
''There is no reason for us to believe at this point that there was any concerted effort to bend or break any rules here,'' Van Auken said. ''Harlem Little League is and has been a great example of Little League's urban initiative and why it works.''
Barkley was the starting pitcher and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night when Harlem beat Lehigh Little League of Bethlehem, Pa., 5-4 in seven innings to reach the World Series.
One of the Harlem coaches, Bill McGee, declined to discuss the allegations Wednesday.
''We're just getting settled in here. If you have any questions about baseball, we'll be happy to talk about it,'' he said. ''But if you have any questions about anything else, you should ask the league officials.''
In Hunts Point, one teenager said Barkley was definitely a local resident.
''He lives here,'' said Omar Camacho, 13, of the Bronx, who said Barkley was a regular at local pickup games. ''I've known him for a while. He told me he lives with his mother and two sisters.'' Another teenager also said Lopez lived in Hunts Point.
Simply living outside the Harlem league's boundaries might not make players ineligible.
Although each Little League has distinct geographic boundaries, there are circumstances under which a player might play outside the area where he lives.
A boy can play in any league where his parent or guardian lives, can continue to play in one league even after moving to another district, and can play in any league where his parents volunteer, even if he lives elsewhere.
Harlem Little League founder Dwight Raiford told Newsday he was unaware of any claim that Barkley and Lopez live in the Bronx.
''They've gone through Little League, gone through us. They're all legal,'' he was quoted as saying.
As for Diaz, Raiford said, ''The documentation we have is that he's within our boundaries.''
In the aftermath of last year's scandal, Little League strengthened its rules for documenting the age and residence of players. Each team must show proof that its players meet age and residence requirements first at the local level, and again if they win their state tournament and reach the regional.
The Almonte controversy created ''an opportunity to strengthen our program,'' said Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball Inc., who added that the organization now is better prepared to handle eligibility questions.
Tom Hart, whose State College, Pa., team was beaten by the Bronx in last year's regional championship, on Wednesday said Little League needs to more actively investigate alleged misconduct.
''I did not feel Little League was prepared'' last year, Hart said, ''and I still think they need to develop an investigative branch.''
Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in New York contributed to this story.
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