Mike Meissner coached a youth baseball team in North Carolina for sixteen years. “I think I’ve made a difference in some kids’ lives,” he says. He sought to teach his players not only about the game but about sportsmanship and being a good loser. But, when he thinks back on those sixteen years, the first thing that comes to mind is not the positive lessons he imparted upon his players — it is the lawsuit.
One Saturday during a pop fly drill, a player dove for a ball. The sun got in his eyes, the boy said, and, instead of landing in his glove, the ball hit him in the mouth. The players’ family sued Mike and the league.
“When I first heard about it,” says Marion Mayes, director of a nearby youth league in North Carolina, “I was kind of shocked because of the fact that that’s just normal play.”
The plaintiffs alleged that Mike had been negligent in conducting his drill. The lawsuit dragged on for years before going to trial. “It was very, very stressful,” Mike said.
At first, the plaintiffs named Mike as a defendant personally. After about a year, he was dropped from the case, but he was still subject to extensive depositions and trial preparations as the lawyers prepared to argue the plaintiffs’ claim that the league was responsible for Mike’s alleged negligence.
Finally, a jury decided that Mike was not negligent in conducting his pop fly drill that day.
Though he was eventually vindicated, the lawsuit still taints Mike’s memories of the many years he spent as a volunteer coach.
“What you don’t need is something like this discouraging people from the thought of going out and helping other children,” he says.