Wednesday, February 11th was a sad day for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, AKA the winning team of the 2014 Little League International Championship. Why? The youth baseball organization decided to strip the Chicago team of its championship title, months after the boys competed on an international stage back in August.
The decision was made after allegations were verified that the team’s coaching staff purposely recruited players outside of the team’s residential boundaries, and then tried to cover up its recruitment.
In other words, the Chicago Little League team lost its international title because the adults in charge of the team intentionally cheated.
Recruiting is a normal process in other sports organizations, but as the Washington Post explains, players on Little League teams can only live in certain geographical locations — often as small as one town. Allowing players from neighboring towns is expressly prohibited.
Now, the 13 players on the beloved Jackie Robinson West team, who “captured the attention of politicians, celebrities, and Chicago sports fans” have to watch as their second runner-up opponents, the Las Vegas Mountain Ridge team, receive the title instead.
“Parents and coaches run into problems when winning is more important to them than teaching values,” said Rod Rogers, owner of the St. Louis Spirits Gymnastics Club. “Kids sports is a form of recreation for the children, but it’s always also been used a tool to teach life values and lessons.”
Although many agree that the Little League International had every right to strip the team of its title, others have argued that the decision was too harsh — the kids had no say in the matter, after all.
Furthermore, the majority of the players hail from Chicago’s South Side, where Jackie Robinson grew up, which USA Today describes as a neighborhood “awash in bleak dispatches of murder and mayhem.”
Local resident James Jones explained to the Chicago Tribune that the boys — all 13 of them, including the outside recruits — “can’t come out to play without worrying about getting shot or pulled into a gang.”
Amid the controversy, there’s one point that everyone seems to agree on: the adults in charge of the Jackie Robinson West team were out of line and selfish, and completely lost sight of what youth athletics is really about.
“It’s all too easy for parents these days to lose sight of that fact and winning becomes the all-important thing. As leaders in children’s sports, we need to remember that we’re there as educators and that the activity is for the children and not the adults,” said Rogers.
This news is, without a doubt, a tragic loss for the young players on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, but if anything, the players are receiving more support and encouragement than ever before.
This decision is also sending out a very important message to parents, coaches, and young players alike: cheating isn’t the answer, and winning should not be the first priority when it comes to youth sports.
“Unfortunately, the kids learned a very valuable and costly life lesson in this situation. Cheaters never win. However, the cheaters in this scenario were the people that were in charge of caring for the well-being of the children. The children suffered at the hands of the adults. That is a most tragic ending to this story,” explained Rogers.