HOLIDAY — As a board member of a girls softball league, Parnell Francis Sitton, 60, is responsible for maintaining records, organizing players and running background checks on all volunteers.
But anyone who runs a background check on him will discover that he was arrested 13 times between 1980 and 1993 on charges including check fraud, battery, carrying a concealed weapon, and violently resisting arrest.
He was convicted of burglary in 1985. Then, in 1992, he was sentenced to five years of probation for cocaine trafficking. During his arrest, Pasco deputies said he repeatedly tried to reach for a gun tucked in his waistband.
Ancient history, Sitton says, adding that now he is the victim — of a vicious anonymous letter campaign to keep him from winning re-election to the board of the West Pasco Girls' Fastpitch Softball Association. He portrays himself as an official who shows no favoritism to players.
"They know that's what I stand for, and they feel threatened by me, so they're running a smear campaign to try to influence people not to vote for me," said Sitton, who owns Admiral Printing in Holiday. "I will do whatever I have to do to find out who's behind this and hold them responsible."
Jim Garland, the league president, said he was aware of Sitton's criminal history and that Sitton did undergo a background check. It did not disqualify Sitton from serving the league, he said.
"People have a right to put their lives back together," he said. "This gentleman has put his life back together."
But someone isn't convinced. The unsigned mailings sent to league parents enclosed two articles from the St. Petersburg Times about Sitton's 1992 arrests. The letter asks, "Should a person of this character serve on a Girls' Softball League???"
Sitton bristled at the attack, saying he hasn't had so much as a traffic ticket in more than 15 years, about the same amount of time he has been involved with the softball league. He said whoever distributed the letters used the league's mailing list.
Garland said he was surprised that somebody would "have the gall to stoop to that level." He said the matter is under investigation.
"Hopefully it'll all come out in the wash," he said.
Sitton isn't waiting. He said he is collecting the letters and plans to have them fingerprinted and DNA-tested — an expensive proposition, but "my integrity is worth it," he said.
Sitton's wife, Lenore, said the anonymous assailant is hurting the league, which organizes games for 5- to 18-year-olds.
"It's all about the little girls," she said.
Sitton has a daughter who is a manager in the league and a granddaughter who is a player. He has also received a $22,000 contract from the league to print its uniforms in his silk-screening shop, which Garland said Sitton won out of three bids.
The Pasco league is affiliated with Dixie Softball, based in Birmingham, Ala. When told that someone was sending letters encouraging league parents to vote against Sitton because of his criminal record, Dixie's president, James Evans, said, "I would hope so."
Of the decision to let Sitton run, Evans said, "With that kind of record, I would not understand the thinking process of the West Pasco board."
Votes in the board election, which are still being cast, will be counted by June 15.
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6232.