The Jackie Robinson West team has been stripped of the U.S. Little League championship it had won last August, Little League International announced Wednesday.
The team, which had finished second to Seoul, South Korea, in the Little League World Series title game, had all of its wins from the 2014 tournament vacated after officials determined that the team had falsified local boundaries in order to permit ineligible players on the squad.
Jackie Robinson West manager Darold Butler was suspended, while an administrator from the team district, Mike Kelly, was removed from his position.
“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,” Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement. “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.”
The U.S. championship will now go to the Las Vegas Mountain Ridge Little League team. Keener said that the decision was “heartbreaking,” and that the kids of Jackie Robinson West can still be proud of their play on the field despite losing their crown due to the actions of grown-ups.
“As painful as this is, we feel it 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.”
Jackie Robinson West had become a symbol of hope for the city of Chicago after nearly becoming the first all-African American team to win the Little League World Series.
As the Chicago Tribune reported, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had touted the South Side team for months as an avatar for the whole city. As late as Monday, Emanuel was celebrating Jackie Robinson West as an example of Chicago being No. 1 in the country. “[Being No. 1 in] the Little League is the most important, because they got great parents telling their kids right from wrong and putting them on the right track and investing in them,” Emanuel said.
After Wednesday’s ruling, Emanuel and other Chicago politicians stood by the players on Jackie Robinson West, who were obviously not responsible for the actions of team and district officials.
“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children,” Emanuel said in the 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.”
Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti said the players “should hold their heads high. It is unfortunate that the grown-ups didn’t follow directions and now the team members are paying the price. In that, there is a lesson for all of us to play fair and follow the rules.”
“[I’m] sad to see the young athletes of Jackie Robinson West punished so harshly,” added candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. “The kids played their hearts out and did nothing wrong. I support the Jackie Robinson West players and their families at this difficult time.”