For five years, Ryan Huizdos played Little League baseball with the help of a bright yellow ball.
Although he can see enough to get around, he's legally blind, so he used an easier-to-see, optic-yellow ball. No one complained. Not the opposing coaches. Not the players. Not the parents.
But when his team made it to a district tournament game in 2015, Little League found out about his yellow ball and banned it. Ryan's team asked for a waiver, but it was refused.
"At this time, there are no optic yellow baseballs approved and licensed by Little League," the organization said in a letter denying the waiver. "Therefore, the optic yellow baseball that the league used during the regular season cannot be approved for use in tournament play."
Ryan didn't know what to think.
"I couldn't understand. It confused me. I used it my whole life "said Ryan, who recalled being frustrated, upset, dumbfounded. "It's just baseball. It's not professional baseball. It's just teenagers playing."
He still played in the tournament because a local administrator defied the league's ruling "out of the goodness of his heart," as his parents put it.
But the league's decision was a punch to the gut for his father, John Huizdos Jr., a police detective who treated his son's ordeal like a crime. He put together an evidence package — complete with letters from the league officials, doctor's notes, Little League rules and case law involving disabled athletes' rights.
In a showdown that pitted a suburban family against the world's largest youth sports program with millions of players in 80 countries, Ryan's family has leveled the playing field for visually impaired kids everywhere in the country. After a three-year legal scuffle. Ryan, who is in his final year of Little League this summer, has gotten a waiver allowing the optic-yellow ball to be used when he's at bat, pitching or playing infield.
Little League finally backed down when Ryan's father took his case to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, which told the organization it was considering suing it for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"All Little League Baseball had to do was make a reasonable accommodation," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, explaining why his office intervened. "We thought it was the appropriate thing for us to step up and take action. ... We were fully prepared to file a lawsuit."
Little League agreed to put a new policy in place allowing any player with a disability to request a waiver for an accommodation and posted the new policy on its website.
For Schneider, this never should have been an issue in the first place.
"This is about kids wanting to play baseball with their friends," said Schneider, adding that the color of a ball doesn't give anyone an unfair advantage. "That shouldn't be controversial."
For Tim Campbell, one of Ryan's coaches, the controversy was baffling.
"I can't imagine how Ryan felt during this whole ordeal," said Campbell. "He's a pioneer."