By Conor McCue

MONUMENT, Colo. (CBS4) – A little league softball team hoping to represent Colorado in a major tournament was sent home before playing a single inning. It happened last week, and it’s all because one player tested positive for COVID-19.

A state title was the first of many accolades Tri Lakes Little League of Monument hoped to bring home in 2021. Next, the team of 11 and 12-year-olds hoped to win the Little League Southwest Region Tournament, a qualifier for the Little League World Series, but that dream ended last week before the team could take the field.

(credit: CBS)

“I was crying, I was so upset, said Kayleigh Garcia, 11. “It was devastating.”

Last week, the girls headed to Waco, Texas for the tournament, but the day before the first game, a teammate wasn’t feeling well.

“They went to urgent care and tested positive for COVID,” said Dion Arellano, head coach.

Arellano said he notified Little League International right away about the player’s test result. In the meantime, the team stayed away from the tournament hotel and awaited a response.

“They asked questions about contact tracing,” Arellano said. “We explained who was traveling with who, and about 10 minutes later they had informed us we were eliminated from the tournament because of COVID.”

Teammates tell CBS4 the player who tested positive for COVID-19 is doing OK.

Matt Stenerson, a parent who is also a doctor, said the team offered countless concessions to be able to play, including wearing masks while playing and forfeiting the initial games to quarantine longer. He also performed COVID tests on the nine other players and said each came back with a negative result.

Still, the league stuck by its decision, and the team representing Colorado remained out of the tournament.

“We were willing to do anything we possibly could to make this work and it seemed like Little League was more interested in standing by their protocols,” Stenerson said. “We know what these girls are capable of, we know how hard they’ve worked, and to have it pulled away without even getting a chance to see the field was beyond disappointing.”

The next day, the team protested outside the field complex with signs reading “9 negative test results,” and “let us play.” Eventually, officers from the Waco Police Department arrived on scene and removed the girls from the property.

(credit: CBS)

In a statement to CBS4, a spokesperson for Little League International said the team was asked to leave.

“In an effort to provide a safe, welcoming environment for the remaining teams participating in the Southwest Region tournament, Little League International asked the team to leave the complex, and was assisted by the Waco City Police Department, in an effort to limit disruption to the five teams competing in Waco and their families,” a spokesperson said.

A week later, the decision hurts the players more is the one that left them without a chance to qualify for the Little League World Series, where games are televised on ESPN properties.

“We had been working so hard and we were so excited to play, but we didn’t even get a chance to,” Garcia said. “They didn’t even try to let us.”

Little League International confirmed four teams, including Tri Lakes, have been ruled ineligible to play because of COVID across the various regional tournaments.

Coaches and parents for Tri Lakes have suggested they could all play in a losers bracket and send one team to the World Series, but Little League officials have told them the decision is final.

Conor McCue