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SCANDAL IN THE LITTLE LEAGUE

Punishing the kids is the wrong thing to do in the worst scandal to hit Little League Baseball in half a century.

But that's exactly what the big people in the Little League front office have done in stripping a team of Filipino youngsters of the championship they won last month.The Zamboanga team beat Long Beach, Calif., 15-4, in the finals at Williamsport, Pa., to give the Philippines its first-ever Little League world championship.

But after it was discovered last week that the Filipino team included ineligible players from outside its district, the game was declared a 6-0 forfeit to Long Beach.

Founded in 1939, Little League seeks to promote the values of fair play, sportsmanship and teamwork. Parents and coaches - not just in the Philippines - often undermine those ideals by wanting to win at any cost.

Little League baseball is at fault, too. The path to the championship is a pressure-cooker. The final game in Williamsport attracts 45,000 spectators. It is televised as well.

There is a smudge of American jingoism - unrewarded lately - as teams from the Far East have won 21 of the last 26 titles. Taiwan, the recent world powerhouse, has won 15.

Little League watchdogs should do their checking before the game, not after the last out is made.

A better solution would have been to let the championship stand but banish the adults who brought in ringers.