By Jeff Webster
Word has come down from Little League International that 2014 U.S. champion Jackie Robinson West Little League from Chicago will be forced to vacate their national championship and regional wins for using players (rumored to be three or four out of 15) from outside their district boundaries.
The inner city team inspired millions with their energetic, high-speed play and obvious enthusiasm for the game. Now all has been sullied by the greed of several adults, notable among them team manager Darold Butler.
Butler has been suspended from all Little League activity while Michael Kelly, the administrator for Illinois District 4, has been removed from his position.
According to ESPN.com, “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.
As a result, the United States championship has been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas.
“Quite honestly, we had to do this,” Little League International president and CEO Stephen D. Keener told ESPN on Wednesday. “We had no choice. We had to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. … As painful as this is, it’s a necessary outcome from what we finally have been able to confirm.
“The real troubling part of this is that we feel horribly for the kids who are involved with this. Certainly, no one should cast any blame, any aspersions on the children who participated on this team. To the best of our knowledge, they had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong. They were just kids out playing baseball, which is the way it should be. They were celebrated for that by many, many organizations, many people. What we’re most concerned about today is that it’s going to be hard on these kids. And that’s the part that breaks your heart.”
It is indeed a shame. Sadly, it is, perhaps, not unexpected. Whenever there is any shot at fame or gain, it is almost always the greedy parents who screw things up.
In 25 years of covering high school sports I have been the beat writer for the following: A major league baseball player, two young men who played football at Iowa and three at Iowa State, an all-conference (they were Big 12 at the time) women’s track star at Missouri, a standout women’s track star at Iowa State, a Univ. of Minnesota swimmer, a Univ. of Iowa softball player, no less than six Div. I basketball players and many more athletes who played various sports at smaller levels.
Not one of them — not a single one — ever displayed showmanship. None ever came across to me — on the record or off it — as arrogant, brash or greedy.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for some (and I stress, some) of their parents.
Many, many times the parents of students who are not going anywhere in post-prep athletics will behave boorishly or selfishly at a game, match or event, to the point that they should be embarrassed. Of course, it never even occurs to them that they are out of line.
Whenever I am around my fellow sportswriters and the topic comes up, it is almost assured that the sentiment “It is never the kid, it is always the parent” will be shared.
Jackie Robinson West is just, sadly, the latest example.