On Wednesday, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, the first all-black team to win the U.S. Championship, was stripped of its title after Little League Baseball determined that the team had used players from outside its geographic area.
Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly has been fired, and the team’s coach, Darold Butler, has been suspended. Little League Baseball discovered that the team distorted its boundary map to include areas not within its proper borders. The team attempted to build a superteam by gleaning players from other areas after meeting with those districts.
The Jackie Robinson team received a parade and a rally in downtown Chicago; the White Sox and Cubs honored the team by coming. Barack Obama had tweeted his pride in the team after it had won the U.S. Championship and prepared to face South Korea:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 24, 2014
In November, Obama welcomed the team to the White House.
Jackie Robinson West defeated Las Vegas 6-5 in the U.S. Championship game before losing to South Korea 8-4. The team will be stripped of its wins in the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament, which include the Great Lakes Regional and United States championships. Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas will be the recognized U.S. champion.
Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener stated:.
For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses. This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome. As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.
Keener added, “Little League takes these matters very seriously and has spent countless hours gathering information about the many issues facing Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4. During our review, it became clear that both Jackie Robinson West officials and District Administrator, Mike Kelly signed documents to make players eligible who should not have been.”
Charges against the team had been made as early as last December, when allegations reported by DNAinfo Chicago surfaced. CBS Chicago noted that DNA Chicago pointed out that U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly congratulated players from the team who lived in her district, South Holland village officials congratulated two players as “alumni,” and Sports Illustrated reported one player went to school in Homewood.
A team from the Evergreen Park Athletic Association (EPAA), which lost in the sectional playoffs to Jackie Robinson West 43-2, asked Little League International to investigate. EPAA Vice President Chris Janes said at least three JRW players were ineligible, asserting to CBS Chicago:
If the team’s comprised of players that shouldn’t have been on there in the first place, then absolutely. Little League has very specific rules. Those rules need to be followed. If they’re not, there’s consequences, and Little League outlines those in their rules. If Jackie Robinson broke these rules, they need to be held accountable. If you’ve been found to have broken the rules after the fact, then you have to undo it. Our problem is, what does that do for the teams that Jackie Robinson beat to get there? How many teams lost the opportunity to play on TV, to get a chance at the World Series, because they were beat by a team who didn’t follow the rules? The cascading effect that has on little organizations like mine – or ours, EPAA – it could be really detrimental. Less and less kids will be participating in the league they should be, because in their minds, they’ll be able to go wherever they’d like to, because you’re not following the rules relative to boundaries.
Venisa Green, the mother of a player on the Jackie Robinson West team, accused Janes of being a racist, telling CBS Chicago:
Why would Mr. Janes, if it was not class and race, want to taint something that has been good for the entire nation? We had to provide birth certificates, proof of schools, light bills, so we had to prove our residency in order to join the team. This is a Little League issue. Shame on anybody that tries to mix race and that card, with what we’re talking about today.
When Keener was asked why Little League international took so long to issue its punishment, he responded, “Unfortunately, no allegations against Jackie Robinson West Little League were made until well after the tournament ended, contributing to the difficulty of resolving these many complex issues. As an organization, Little League has faced issues similar to this in the past, and we felt that we must take the appropriate action set by that precedent.”
Little League International has stripped teams of their honors before. In 1992, Zamboanga, Philippines, which won the title, also used players from outside the team’s boundaries or were too old, and a team from the Bronx, which ultimately finished third, was stripped of its wins because it used pitcher Danny Almonte, who was fourteen.