There is no feel-good story, no heartwarming tale of inspiration that adults can’t screw up.
Jackie Robinson West lost its U.S. Little League title not because of anything that happened on the field. Or anything the players did, for that matter. The team was stripped of its title, and several others, because a few selfish and underhanded adults decided to skirt the rules in hopes of gaining any kind of advantage they could.
Yet it’s the kids who are paying the price.
“I don’t have much to say. But I do want to say me and my teammates worked hard all year long,” pitcher Brandon Green said Wednesday. “We went down there to play baseball, and we weren’t involved in anything that could have caused us to be stripped of our championship.”
The irony is that Little League, like so many other youth organizations, is supposed to foster character. To teach kids values such as teamwork and sportsmanship that will resonate long after their playing days are done. To make them better people.
When it’s done right, the effect can be extraordinary.
This city, along with much of the rest of the country, was enchanted by Jackie Robinson West last summer.
The team’s wins were impressive — it rallied to beat Rhode Island in an elimination game and reached the title game by beating a Las Vegas team that had routed it earlier in the tournament. But it was the players themselves who made the story so captivating.
Chicago, particularly the South Side where Jackie Robinson West hailed from, was awash in bleak dispatches of murder and mayhem. Here were boys — one of whom was playing while his family was homeless — who had every reason to be bitter or hard, yet they played the game in a way that would have done any community proud.
They were encouraging of each other and respectful of their opponents. They celebrated their wins as if they were the greatest moments of their lives and accepted their losses with dignity. Their unbridled joy was infectious — remember the Jackie Robinson West kids teaching the South Koreans handshakes after losing in the title game? — and all of Chicago swelled with pride at how well the kids represented themselves, their families and their city.
“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement Wednesday. “They created memories that will last a lifetime, and nothing will take that away. And they showed the nation their character both on and off the field.”
If only their role models had done the same.
After persistent rumors about the eligibility of some Jackie Robinson West players, Little League International found that team organizers had used a map with doctored boundaries to recruit players. In other words, they got themselves a Super Team.
They cheated, hoping they could bring in players who could get them another win or two without anyone being the wiser.
It’s bad enough that adults entrusted to help guide impressionable 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds would lie. But the worst part is that, by cheating, they cheated their players.
They stole this title from the very kids who played for them and trusted them.
“Those young men demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and teamwork and are still fine examples for other young people to follow,” said Bob Fioretti, a Chicago alderman who is running for mayor. “It is unfortunate that the grown-ups didn’t follow directions and now the team members are paying the price.”
Congratulations, adults of Jackie Robinson West. Your greed and ego didn’t just cost your players a title. It also will forever taint what should have been one of the most cherished memories of their childhood.
This article was republished with permission from the original author, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA TODAY.