April , 2019

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“Our kids are not cheaters”

By Chinta Strausberg

Angered at the Little League International’s stripping the Jackie Robinson West (JRW) team of its Little League U.S. title for allegedly violating residency rules just to create a super team, Father Michael L. Pfleger and Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Wednesday called for an investigation into the charges and an appeal of that ruling.

Jackson held a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, 930 E. 50th St., where he was joined by Pfleger, the JRW team and their parents.

Later that night during his monthly Parish Council meeting held at Saint Sabina, Pfleger announced that Mayor Emanuel has asked the Little League International  President/CEO Stephen Keener to reverse this decision.

Calling the JRW team “a class act,” Pfleger said, “I am getting an enormous amount of flak and hate calls…,” he said because he thinks race was a factor in the stripping of the title from the JRW team. “I know this is America where racism is alive…. It was disturbing to me that this Evergreen Park man (Chris James) was obsessed with this for six-months.

“He went through driving records, checked out cars, followed cars, and took down license plates. He was obsessed with this,” Pfleger said of James. “The team of investigators twice…both time said the allegations were unfounded but he continued to stalk on this and the international league took away the title….

“It is amazing to me that every time our young black man rise up, people want to tear them down,” said Pfleger. He isn’t happy about black kids having to prove themselves either. “I believe race is in it.”

Pfleger said the same litmus test should be conducted on the north side team as the south side team. Pfleger is upset that the international league had several options it could have taken including fining or suspending the adults “but they went right after the kids,” he said. “The kids did not cheat….

“They are still winners,” said Pfleger. “They are a class act. They walk with dignity and maturity, sportsmanship and talent. They did what most folks couldn’t do in Chicago. They brought everybody together.”

Calling on the league to reverse its decision, Pfleger called for all 16 teams to undergo the same scrutiny as the JRW. Pfleger said one of the JRW members lives in Dolton. He lives with his grandmother. He spends some time with his mother and one boy had nine different addresses. “’Which address are they going on”? “We want all 16 teams to be investigated with the same scrutiny.” “These kids deserve better.”

The man responsible for the demise of the JRW was Chris James, vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association, who is white and allegedly married to a black woman and is the father of four, denies his motives were racial. “That’s the furthest from the truth,” he told a WGN-TV reporter. James had lost 43-2 against JRW prompting some critics to call him a “sore loser.” James said his team consists of African Americans and Hispanic players.

It was James who filed a complaint against JRW with the Little League International accusing the players of living outside of league boundaries. James told WGN-TV since he blew the whistle on JRW; he has allegedly received death threats prompting police to assign a car in front of his home.

While James said race was not his motive in filing a complaint against the JRW team, Pfleger disagreed saying, “Sorry, but I live in America. Maybe I’m tainted by that but I believe that and I believe that race is in the midst of this thing,” he said at PUSH.

Pfleger said unlike other communities in Chicago, there are no parks or baseball fields in the black community. Pfleger said the mayor was ready to build an indoor baseball facility in the African American community but it’s now on hold thanks to Gov. Bruce Rauner who has cut anti-violence and after school programs even though Pfleger said the comptroller under Rauner’s administration said the funds were earmarked for their programs.

Pfleger urged everyone to call Gov. Rauner at 312.814.2121 and ask him to release those funds for the youth.

The head of the Little League International, Mr. Keener, issued a statement saying: “As painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program.”

During an interview with WVON’s Cliff Kelley, Rev. Jackson said, “The parents said they were never asked about anything except their ID and where they stay. One kid couldn’t put down an address because he was homeless… We must affirm our children.”

Jackson said many parents learned about the stripping of their title while driving their children to school. “If a child was playing over age, that would be an issue…. There are no parks for kids this age to play. They come from all over to play but they never discuss from them the prerequisites to play…,” said Jackson.

With a string of victories and few losses, on August 23, 2014, the JRW team defeated Nevada 7-5 and won the U.S. Little League title; however, they lost the Little League World Series championship game to South Korea in an 8-4 defeat.

Still the JRW won the attention of the entire world not just with their athletic skills but their mannerism and good sportsmanship. They even got a personal call from President Barack Obama and a citywide parade by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Earlier, the mayor said, “I called the president of the International Association of the Little League and asked him personally to reverse this decision. I said that the kids who played revealed their character on the field and they revealed their character off the field. Putting recriminations aside, do not forget the kids…. It’s a reason they captured not just this city. They captured the country. They’re true pro’s…,” Emanuel said during a mayoral forum held at Columbia College.

Earlier, Emanuel issued a statement saying, “These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children. 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. The city remains united in its support of these great children and in our hearts. They will always be champions in Chicago.”

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who has supported the JRW team for more than 20-years, said, “It’s a sad day when kids have to pay the price for adults undermining the rules of fair play. Children are more important than rules. The Jackie Robinson kids earned their title with talent and grace.”

Wilson held a press conference Wednesday at his home, 345 E. Wacker Blvd., where he will present the special Black History Month trophy Friday, February 13th at the Jackie Robinson Park, 10540 South Morgan.

“As a former little league player from Chicago’s south side myself, I was saddened to learn the news today of the JRW title,’ said mayoral hopeful Ald. Bob Fioretti. “Those young men demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and teamwork and are still fine examples for other young people to follow.

“They should hold their heads high. It is unfortunate that the grownups didn’t follow directions and now the team members are paying the price.  In that, there is a lesson for all of us to play fair and follow the rules,” said Fioretti.

Senator Collins weighed in on the issue saying, “If the adults made the error, the children should not be punished. The children fulfilled their obligation in playing on the field. I think this rule that is established here is archaic and they should look towards repealing it. Most children of African American descent have various living arrangements because of divorce, separations, raised by grandparents. Some of those restrictions don’t apply.

“I think these special circumstances should be taken into consideration, but the punishment was overly punitive in reference to punishing our children. It deflates their egos. It diminishes their self-esteem. It beats up on them when they did everything right. If the adults are culpable, they are the ones who should be suspended or fined,” said Collins.

She pointed to the Patriots as an example. “They had a (scandal) of deflating the football; yet they still were allowed to play in the Super Bowl. We’ve had these athletes who had hormone injections and steroids, and they were never penalized. There’s no equivalency here. Breaking a rule is not cheating,” Senator Collins said.

Even White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest chimed in saying their losing their title in no way takes away the fact that they “performed brilliantly on the baseball diamond.” “The president is still proud of the JRW team.”

So is the Mint Clothing Store located at 1058 West Taylor Street in Chicago where Marco DiPaolo, the owner, is having a hard time keeping up with orders for his new JRW T-shirts that say, “still champions.” He told DNAinfo and WGN-TV, “The kids were just playing baseball. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They are still champions in everyone in Chicago’s eyes.”

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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