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After months of staying mum while cheating allegations circled U.S. champs Jackie Robinson West, Little League International has finally taken action and stripped the Chicago-based team of its title.
Jackie Robinson West, an all-black team that became a feel-good story of the summer and was celebrated from the White House to the MLB World Series, had been in a vortex of allegations since its season ended. Chief among them: the team used ringers from outside its area, then it illegally manipulated district boundaries to its own advantage.
Little League International had earlier vowed the the case was closed, but it met recently with rival Little League presidents from Chicago's District 4 and re-examined the complaints. On Wednesday morning, came the news, via a statement from the Little League office.
"After an extensive review of the operations of Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4, the Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has determined that the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries."
"For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League International President and CEO. “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."
In addition to Jackie Robinson West losing its U.S. title, the team will vacate all its wins en route to the title. Its manager, Darold Butler, has been suspended and district administrator Michael Kelley, who facilitated Jackie Robinson West's skirting of the rules, has been removed from his job.
The charge to discipline Jackie Robinson West was led by Chris Janes from neighboring Evergreen Park Little League, which Jackie Robinson West beat 43-2 on its way to the Little League World Series tournament. Jackie Robinson West then made it all the way to the International finals, where it lost to South Korea. Mark Konkol, a reporter with DNA Chicago, had been on the Jackie Robinson West case like a police dog, sniffing out complaints and detractors, ultimately compelling Little League International to re-open the case.
The first inkling of a controversy surrounding Jackie Robinson West came in December, and the following months have included numerous Little League rivals speaking out. Other Little League officials in Chicago claimed that a new district administrator changed the Chicago boundaries without necessary approvals. That administrator, Kelley, was a part of Jackie Robinson West for 20 years prior.
Most recently, the reps for the Las Vegas team that lost to Jackie Robinson West in the U.S. championship game compared the team to Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds. Ashton Cave, whose team lost 7-5 to Jackie Robinson West, told DNA Chicago:
"Lance Armstrong went down that road and became an example of what happens when you say one thing and it’s actually the other. The truth comes out,” Cave said. “We’re not just going to use 12- and 13-year-old kids as pawns to generate income on society. That’s just unacceptable.”
Well, the truth has come out, and Little League International also finds it unacceptable.
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