Poor judgment costs kids a Little League title



Last summer’s Little League World Series was one to remember. We witnessed Mo’ne Davis, an African American pitcher from Philadelphia, Pa., become the first girl to win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. Then there was the feel-good story and my personal favorite, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The all-black team from Chicago’s Southside won the national title and advanced to the LLWS championship where they lost to South Korea, 8-4.

Last Wednesday, Jackie Robinson West was stripped of its national title after an investigation revealed it had falsified boundaries to field ineligible players.

The news comes as a devastating blow to the hearts of not just the city of Chicago but the hearts of a nation that was captured by this team’s accomplishments. I feel for this group of kids because they were in effect victims of their own scandal. These kids didn’t know anything about boundaries, and I bet they cared even less.

They just wanted to play baseball. And so they did.

The team survived four elimination games, including the comeback win in the national title game against Mountain Ridge Little League (a Las Vegas-based team).

Their success as a team riveted the city of Chicago. Thousands of people paraded Chicago’s streets to celebrate the boys. There were plenty of heartwarming stories to go around about the team, including the efforts by major league players to donate money to the parents of the community so they could attend the World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The team was even treated to a trip to the MLB World Series and to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

I would compare their success to that of the 2014 Kansas City Royals, whose postseason success ignited all of Kansas City when the Royals won the American League Pennant before losing to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

I remember reading an article about the lack of African-American athletes in the sport of baseball. Even Major League Baseball back in 2013 formed a 17-member committee to investigate the decline in the number of African-American baseball players.

How fitting is it that an all-black Little League team from Chicago’s Southside emerged as the best Little League team in America just two years later? Last summer on the Southside of Chicago was one of the worst to date. That area of Chicago is often portrayed as hopeless, dejected and violent. Yet, 11 13-year-old kids bred from that community were able to rise above and do the unthinkable. These boys brought light and joy to a community.

As much as it hurts to say, the Jackie Robinson West team deserves to be stripped of its title. At the end of the day, there are specific rules in place, and everyone is expected to follow and play by the same rules. Little League did what was right in order to maintain integrity in its sport. The kids shouldn’t receive any blame for this. The blame is directed at the senseless adults who placed winning above all facets of sports. These adults knowingly recruited players out of legal boundaries. All adults found to have been involved should be fired, and I’m glad to see Darold Butler, the team’s manager, and Michael Kelley, administrator for the Illinois Little League District 4, fired. These guys absolutely took away from what probably meant most to these kids, and that was being recognized as champions. They took away from what probably was the highlight of the summer for the city of Chicago.

I was proud to see an all-black Little League team from one America’s most violent cities overcome and prosper. Those kids showed America that the African-American culture/community still has a deep connection with the sport of baseball. Their success was much bigger than a national title. Their success was heroic and inspirational. Regardless of any vacated titles and wins, Jackie Robinson West is still the champion in my book.