Jackie Robinson West team Stripped of U.S. Little League Title Due to Cheating
What had been one of the best feel-good stories of 2014 has crashed and burned over allegations of cheating, collusion and illegal players.
Each summer for nearly 3 weeks, millions check out ESPN on their TV's, computers and phones to see who will be the heroes of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Last summer, Jackie Robinson West (JRW) captured the nation's imagination with gritty play and several come from behind wins to become the first team of all black players to ever win the title. The team from the Chicago area who represented the Great Lakes Region even got invited to the White House to meet the president.
But Wednesday that all crashed down amid allegations the team's manager, the Illinois District 4 administrator and others deliberately cheated to create a super-team of hand-picked players who stood a better chance of winning, and advancing through Regionals and into the World Series.
The allegations first broke Tuesday night on ESPN's Sportscenter. They initially mentioned use of "illegal players." While watching I thought, as did probably many other Americans, it was confined to 1 or a handful of athletes who were too old, or not from the area. Sadly, it went way beyond that. Wednesday morning Little League International CEO and President Stephen D. Keener laid out the situation for ESPN:
"...The organization found that Jackie Robinson West used a falsified boundary map and that team officials met with neighboring Little League districts in Illinois to claim players and build what amounts to a superteam."
JRW must now forfeit all wins involving these players, including their District 4 Illinois title, the Great Lakes Regional title, and U.S. National Championship. Darold Butler, the team manager, was dismissed, and District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position.
JRW lost the overall World Title game to the team from Seoul, South Korea, but beat Las Vegas 7-5 to win the U.S. crown.
Keener told ESPN the allegations were not brought up until the National Meetings this January, well after the tournament had ended. He called the decision "heartbreaking" but said Little League International had no recourse but to take the action they did to protect the integrity of the game. Little League, he said, spent countless hours reviewing documents and papers that were signed off on by District Administrator Kelly. Keener said it was Kelly's job to make sure the rules were being followed. It was obvious, according to the investigation, that Kelly and JRW Manager Butler deliberately falsified player information to make them appear to be legally eligible.
. You probably remember the 2008 Kennewick American 12-year-old Team that finished in the top 6 in the Cal Ripken World Series in Arlington, Massachusetts. Of course that team was completely legal. Prior to the start of play, they had to present a notebook full of birth certificates and player information verifying their age and District eligibility. It's quite thorough. Cal Ripken officials examined each book, looking for discrepancies, and comparing District maps with those they had on file at the national headquarters.
Well, to put this in perspective, we present this completely imaginary scenario:
Imagine what would have happened if later it was found that instead of being made up of players from South and East Kennewick (their boundaries), the KA team also included the best, hand-picked athletes from Richland, Pasco, Burbank, Finley and even Prosser? That would have been the equivalent of what JRW officials did - except they did it on an even bigger scale.
The U.S. title will now be given, trophy included, to the Las Vegas Team that came in 2nd after losing to JRW.