By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) - A Chicago-based team that last year became the first all-black contingent to win the U.S. Little League Baseball championship was stripped of the title on Wednesday for cheating by using players who lived outside the geographic area set for the squad.
The Jackie Robinson West team met with adjoining Little League districts in Illinois to secure players and build what, in effect, became an all-star team, Little League Baseball said, blaming the situation on "the action of adults."
Little League International Chief Executive Stephen Keener told Reuters the team "encroached on the neighboring territory of at least three neighboring Little League programs" to secure players.
The 2014 U.S. championship has been awarded to the Mountain Ridge Little League team from Las Vegas, which lost to the Chicago squad in the title game, officials said.
"It’s a sad day for a bunch of great kids," Keener said in a telephone interview. "We adults will deal with this. But today, our hearts are heavy for the kids that played on that Jackie Robinson team. They’re as much victims in this as anybody."
Little League Baseball said Darold Butler, the Chicago team's manager, has been suspended from Little League activity because of the violation and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly also has been removed from his position.
Jackie Robinson West defeated the Las Vegas team 7-5 in the U.S. title game last August before losing in the global Little League championship game to a squad from Seoul, South Korea, 8-4.
The nation's third-largest city, which has been troubled by violence and budget problems, embraced the team's success.
Tens of thousands of people lined Chicago's streets to cheer the 11- and 12-year olds who rode on buses through the city after their U.S. title win. They went on to visit the White House and receive other honors.
Team officials on several occasions had rebuffed media reports and accusations that some of the players were not residents in the team's official boundary area, or that the boundary area had been expanded incorrectly.
"We have 7,000 leagues in 82 countries that look to this organization to maintain the integrity and the credibility of the Little League program," said Keener. "When we're presented with confirmation of violation like this, it's our responsibility to not tolerate it and take the appropriate action."
"As painful as it is, as heartbreaking as it is, it's unfortunately a necessary action that we had to take," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Will Dunham)