Jackie Robinson West stripped of Little League title | WBEZ
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Jackie Robinson West stripped of Little League title

Little League International has stripped Jackie Robinson West of the national title that the Chicago team won last summer after an investigation revealed it had falsified boundaries to field ineligible players.

t was a stunning Wednesday announcement that came months after the all-black team, whose ages ranged from 11 to 13 years, captured the attention of the country and the hearts of its hometown.

The baseball organization said it also found that after the league had changed the boundaries some team officials went to surrounding leagues to convince them to go along with what they'd done.

"This is a heartbreaking decision," Stephen D. Keener, the Little League International president and CEO, said in a statement.

"As painful as it is, we feel it is a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program,” Keener said. “No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries."

The team has been suspended from Little League tournament privileges until new leadership is found. The team's manager, Darold Butler, is also suspended, and an administrator from the district that includes Jackie Robinson West has been removed from his position, according to the statement.

The journey of the team riveted the city, all the way to its loss in the World Championship game to South Korea, and when it was over, thousands of people lined Chicago's streets to catch a glimpse of the boys as they were paraded by bus from their South Side baseball field to a downtown park.

There were countless heartwarming stories about the team, including an effort by major league players to contribute money so the parents in the blue collar community could attend the World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and another about Cubs players huddled around a television watching the team during a rain delay at Wrigley Field.

The team was treated to a trip to the major league World Series and to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama.

In October, the organization launched an investigation when a coach from the nearby suburb of Evergreen Park alleged that Jackie Robinson West had violated rules by poaching top suburban players.

The story, which was first reported by DNAinfo.com, appeared to end in December when the national organization said it had uncovered no violations. But the organization said it would reopen the investigation if new information surfaced. About that same time, the organization learned of questions about boundary maps involving multiple leagues, and the investigation resumed.

"Little League International...learned that Jackie Robinson West Little League knowingly expanded its boundaries to include territory that belonged to other leagues in the district without the approval from the other leagues or the Little League International Charter Committee" and used the "falsified boundary map for their 2014 tournament," the organization said.

League officials did not immediately return calls for comment. Throughout the investigation, the team has maintained that no cheating occurred.

Local civil rights leaders rallied around the team and their parents, all stunned by the decision. A news conference was called Wednesday afternoon at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition on the city’s South Side.

St. Sabina’s Fr. Michael Pfleger questioned whether the same type of investigation would have occurred if the team in question were “from another place, another race.”

Pfleger said he hears constantly hearing about pulling the race card.

“Why is it keep being put back in the deck, is what I want to know? This is reality; you’re telling me that the same kind of obsession, of stalking going over this for months would’ve been going on if the Las Vegas [team] had won?” Pfleger asked.

Venisa Green, mother of catcher Brandon, said she first heard the news on the radio as she was driving her son to school.

“No one even reached out and called for a parent meeting to let us know that this was taking place or that this was even on the table,” Green said.

She and her husband are both city employees. She said they work very hard to keep their son safe and out of trouble--a difficult task, she says, in Chicago.

“What would you rather happen Little League: For them to be killed on the streets of Chicago?” Green asked.

She said she--and the boys--had no idea or dealings on any boundaries or borders. She says all the parents want their kids in the college pipeline--and not the prison pipeline.
    Rev. Jackson said the league’s decision calls the parents’ character into question.

“Implied is the parents knowingly defrauded the league. And that the children won based on fraud, not on ability,” Jackson said.

Jackson is planning to host a reaffirmation of the team’s championship on Saturday.

The Associated Press and Katie O’Brien contributed to his report. O'Brien is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow her @katieobez

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