Children who regularly participate in sports and other athletic activities have been shown to have higher self-esteem than those who do not, but the young players who make up Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League team recently suffered from a major blow.
Hailing from one of Chicago’s roughest and most dangerous neighborhoods, the all-African-American team served as a textbook example of the unifying power of sports. The team provided one of the most well known feel-good stories of last summer when it won the U.S. Little League Championship and made it to the international finals before losing to a South Korean team.
Now, that title is being stripped away.
Last week Wednesday, the team was forced to give up their national title due to the use of ineligible players, who did not qualify to play because they lived outside of the team’s boundaries. But the community that supported them while they achieved despite-the-odds success and national fame still considers the young players “champions.”
“This is a heartbreaking decision,” said Little League International President Stephen Keener in a statement publicly announcing the difficult 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.”
Despite the team and community’s disappointment, President Obama — who met with JRW players at the White House following their championship win — still holds the team in high regard and supports their efforts.
“The president is proud of the way that they represented their city and the way they represented their country,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last Wednesday.
The team is said to have used a map with altered boundaries to select its 2014 squad, and “met with other leagues in Illinois District 4 to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs,” the league said.
Team manager Darold Butler was suspended, while Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly was terminated from his position. The team remains on probation and will hold no tournament privileges until the governing body determines it is compliant.
The national title will be awarded to the the Las Vegas-based Mountain Ridge club, the Nevada team that JRW defeated last summer. Similarly, JRW’s other regional titles will be given to teams who lost those games.