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Jackie Robinson West loses title over pleas to help with false map

0 Comments 📁 Uncategorized 🕔11.February 2015

From The Chicago Sun-Times:

Jackie Robinson West Little League All-Star officials asked three neighboring leagues to cede territory to legitimize a falsified, back-dated boundary map used to bolster its roster, Little League CEO Steve Keener told the Chicago Sun-Times.

That map took territory from the Roseland, Rosemoor and South Side little leagues. And all three shot down Jackie Robinson West.

Keener said that first came to light when Little League International officials traveled to the Chicago area Jan. 31 to conduct a series of interviews about allegations surrounding the Jackie Robinson West team. The allegations uncovered during those interviews led the league to strip Jackie Robinson West of its national title Wednesday.

The Chicago team’s national championship has been given to national runner-up, Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas. And all other championships won during the course of tournament play were given to runners-up. Keener said league officials are willing to travel to Las Vegas if similar allegations arise about the new national champions. But at this point, no such allegations have been made.

Despite having to take punitive action against a team for only the third time in Little League’s 68-year history, Keener insisted the organization’s process “worked.”

“It broke down this time because there was an intentional deception,” Keener said.

Jackie Robinson West attempted to legitimize its back-dated boundary maps after the allegations started to “gather some steam,” according to Keener.

There had been previous allegations about a falsified map, Keener said, but the “bottom line” was that Little League had been given a map signed by Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly.

“One of the things we also learned was that when we requested the maps to be sent to us, they actually back-dated it to make it legitimate for the 2014 season,” Keener said.

Keener said Kelly back-dated the map.

Kelly has been removed from his position. Jackie Robinson West manager Darold Butler has been suspended from Little League activity.

The league will have its tournament privileges suspended until it appoints replacements for League President Anne Haley and Treasurer, Bill Haley.

Little League International previously vacated wins in 1992 with the disqualification of Zamboanga (Philippines) City Little League and again in 2001 with Rolando Paulino Little League from New York.

Multiple messages over the last 24 hours left for Butler and first base coach Jason Little were not returned. Butler’s wife, Dotty, could not be reached by phone.

“It’s a shame, it’s a complete shame,” said JRW parent Carlton Hondras. “It shouldn’t have been done to the children.”

If someone had to be penalized, he said, it should have been someone other than kids who are “striving to do better.”

Jerry Houston Jr. said the league’s decision has taken an emotional toll on his younger brother, Josh Houston, who played on the team. Their father, Jerry Houston Sr., was also a coach.

“My little brother Josh, he’s moping around the house,” Jerry Houston Jr. said.

The older sibling said the Jackie Robinson West players “worked their butts off” and brought Chicago together. And while the adults on the team are being blamed for breaking the league’s rules, he said that doesn’t change the fact that the players have been stripped of a national title.

“It still affects them in a really, really big way,” Jerry Houston Jr. said.

Jerry Houston Sr. could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jackie Robinson West made local and national headlines last summer on its way to the U.S. Little League title.

The South Side squad became the first Chicago team to make an appearance in the championship in 31 years. Jackie Robinson West was also an uplifting force in the community, providing a respite from headlines otherwise dominated by violence on the South Side.

President Barack Obama invited Jackie Robinson West to the White House last summer after winning the U.S. title.

“The president is proud of the way that they represented their city and the way they represented their country,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “The fact is some dirty dealings by some adults doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men.”

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city “remains united” behind Jackie Robinson West’s achievements.

“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children,” Emanuel said in a statement. “They created memories that will last a lifetime and nothing will take that away, and they showed the nation their character both on and off the field. The city remains united in its support of these great children and in our hearts, they will always be champions in Chicago.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday he is planning to celebrate the team at a “Reaffirmation of Championship” celebration on Saturday.

The event will be held at 9:30 a.m. at Rainbow PUSH Coalition, 930 E. 50th St.

“I was upset to the point of tears this morning,” Jackson said, adding that he already had spoken to some of the parents of the players and was distressed to learn they had heard the news through the media.

Their children already have been harassed over the controversy, Jackson said, and “it’s not like the children are cheating.”

In December, the national organization had shot down allegations that several members of last summer’s U.S. championship team violated the league’s residency requirements.

Those allegations were first made in October by Chris Janes, vice president of Evergreen Park Athletic Association, a rival organization.

“It’s sad but appropriate at the same time,” Janes said of the decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its title. “We’re talking about 12-year-old kids, and it really stinks. But it’s clear that they violated rules and there’s consequences to those rules. And as sad as it is, you got to be held accountable to what the rules say. Everybody has got to play by the same rules.”

He filed his complaint after noticing that school officials and politicians from several south suburbs boasted that members of the team were from their towns during the Little League World Series run last August.

At that time, Pat Wilson, senior vice president of operations for Little League International, was dismissive of Janes’ complaint.

What he did acknowledge, though, was that some players’ addresses included in Janes’ complaint did not match the addresses Little League International had on file for the players.

Wilson said the team provided a satisfactory explanation for those differences.

“The team provided documentation to support the residency in accordance with Little League rules,” Wilson told the Sun-Times in December. “We reviewed that documentation multiple times, and that documentation meets Little League’s criteria for residence as outlined in our rulebooks, and that’s basically it.”

Spencer Leak Jr., who helped Jackie Robinson West player Jaheim Benton and his family get a new home and Christmas gifts last year, said Wednesday that the news “doesn’t matter” and that the kids had no knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes.

“It doesn’t matter to me. The children had nothing to do with it. The children played ball and you can’t take that away from them,” Leak Jr., of Leak & Sons Funeral Homes, said.

Leak Jr. said he’s still proud of the team: “Their title is still in the heart of Chicago and probably in the hearts of the country, if not the world.”

He said he spent time with Jaheim just three days ago. The 13-year-old was upset that he’s now too old to play for Jackie Robinson West next year.

“I’m not taking anything away from Jaheim. I’m so proud to have met him and I’m proud to have met some of the other team members. If they need some more help, I’m still there for them,” Leak Jr. said.

Mountain Ridge coach Ashton Cave, whose team was determined to be the new champion, said Little League International came to the right decision in the end.

“It’s gonna be very painful,” Cave told KXNT-Las Vegas. “It hurts the kids, I understand that. But you have to look at the bigger picture and the message to the world that if you do what’s right, good things will happen. But obviously when you try to bend the rules, there will be consequences. So anybody thinking about bending the rules in the future, they may hesitate now seeing what has come of all this.”

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