Chicago Little League champs cry foul after stripped of title

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 12, 2015 5:58 PM

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Little League team stripped of its national title for fielding ineligible players said on Thursday it will not voluntarily surrender its championship until it conducts its own investigation into whether it was treated fairly.

"The story's not over yet," Victor Henderson, an attorney for the team, told a packed news conference a day after the city was stunned by the news that last year's feel-good story had unraveled.

"We want the same rules to apply, just be fair, everybody should play by the same rules, and the rules should be applied in a fair, even-handed consistent way," Henderson said, flanked by the team's manager and parents of the players.

Chicago exploded in euphoria in August when Jackie Robinson West became the first all-black contingent to win the U.S. Little League Baseball championship for 11- and 12-year-olds, becoming a rare good-news story from the city's downtrodden South Side.

But news reports forced Little League International to look into complaints that JRW, as the team is known, had illegally redrawn its boundaries and fielded players who lived outside the geographic area set for the squad.

On Wednesday Little League officials stripped the team of its title and suspended the team's manager, setting off soul-searching and angst throughout the city, which has long had a reputation for political corruption.

While many Chicagoans decried wrongdoing by parents involved with the team, others suspect the team was punished for practices widespread throughout Little League.

Civil rights activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson compared the team's plight to racist policing, and the team hired law firm Henderson Adam LLC, which has represented high-level politicians accused of corruption, including imprisoned former Governor Rod Blagojevich.

When first confronted over the problem in December, JRW officials denied complaints that some players were not eligible.

But now the team says it may be being picked on unfairly for practices that may be tolerated elsewhere in the league.

"We don't want one set of rules for a team from Chicago, and another set of rules for a team from Evergreen Park," said Henderson, referring to a neighboring league that complained about JRW players' eligibility.

Little League International said in a statement it stands by its "difficult decision."

"Little League International will be working with its counsel to ensure Jackie Robinson West Little League officials and their attorney are fully educated regarding the factual basis of the decision," it said.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech)