Pitcher for Jackie Robinson West: ‘We Know That We’re Champions’

Lexy Gross et al., Chicago Tribune, February 11, 2015

A pitcher for the Jackie Robinson West team said Wednesday that none of the players were “involved in anything that could have caused us to be stripped of our championship.”

“But we do know that we’re champions,” Brandon Green said at a news conference called hours after Little League International removed Jackie Robinson West as national champions and gave the title to a Las Vegas team the South Side team had beaten.

The Little League organization accused the team of placing players on their roster who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.

But Brandon said none of his teammates knew anything about a falsified boundary map that allegedly allowed ineligible players to be on the team.

“I don’t have much to say,” the Kenwood Academy student said at a news conference called by the reverends Jesse Jackson and Michael Pfleger. {snip}


Standing beside him was his mother, Venisa Green, who said she was “blindsided” by the decision.

“No one ever reached out and called for a parent meeting to let us know that this was taking place, or that this was even on the table to take place,” she said. “It is just outright disrespectful.

“Fifty years ago, we couldn’t even play on the baseball field. And 50 years later, our boys not only played, they won, in front of the United States of America,” Green said. “This angers me, as we work hard, my husband and I, to keep Brandon out of the prison pipeline in the city of Chicago. It is our goal to make sure he is in the college pipeline, as all of my other 12 parents, who are not here with us today, would have their boys in the college pipeline instead of the prison pipeline.”

Repeating an complaint voiced by both Jackson and Pfleger, Green said it was “amazing to me that whenever African-Americans exceed the expectations, that there is always going to be fault that is found in what it is that we do. Little League says that they teach character and they teach courage. Well, this isn’t an act of courage and this sure isn’t an act of character.”

Earlier in the day, the suburban youth baseball official who first raised concerns over the roster of Jackie Robinson West said the decision to take away the title was “sad but appropriate.”

Chris Janes, vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association, said he raised concerns in August that some Jackie Robinson players apparently lived within the boundaries of other Little Leagues, making them ineligible to play with Jackie Robinson West.

Little League officials said in December that they had reviewed the roster and found no residency violations. But citing “new information,” they met Tuesday in Williamsport, Pa., and decided that Jackie Robinson West knowingly used “a falsified boundary map” to include players who lived outside the team’s borders.

“We’re talking about 12-year-old kids and that’s tough,” Janes said. “But it’s evident that (the team) broke rules and we all need to be held accountable.”

Little League’s decision means the national title now goes to the team from Las Vegas that Jackie Robinson West defeated in the U.S. championship game. The Jackie Robinson team also will have to vacate all wins from the 2014 Little League World Series tournament, including its Great Lakes regional title.

New champions.

The new champions.

In addition to voiding all of the team’s wins, team manager Darold Butler has been suspended from Little League activity and Michael Kelly has been removed as administrator of Illinois District 4.


After falling to South Korea in the world championship game, Jackie Robinson West was feted with a parade in Chicago and made trips to the major league World Series and the White House. The story of the first all African-American team to win the U.S. title in a sport that has struggled to attract African-American players attracted headlines nationwide, and the good sportsmanship the young players showed on the field made them one of the tournament’s fan favorites.



News of the stripped title devastated Carol Thomas, 65, who lives across the street from the team’s South Side ballpark. She has watched for years as the team developed its winning strategy and could not believe some of the players didn’t live in the district.

“I don’t care what nobody says, those boys played their hearts out and deserved everything they earned,” she said on Wednesday. “This is dirty. These kids don’t deserve this hurt, disappointment. If the adults did something wrong, don’t blame the boys.”

Thomas said she hates to think about race, but she couldn’t help but think that the team invited extra scrutiny because it was made up of African-American boys who had to defeat neighboring majority-white teams.

She said Robinson West was formed, in part, because minorities weren’t well received on other district teams. Robinson also served more disadvantaged children who needed role models, father figures and the support of a team that could relate to their backgrounds.


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