Thursday night, a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys will take what could turn out to be a historic road trip.
These are no ordinary boys.
These boys are members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, an elite sports team that draws players from across the South Side.
Last weekend, the team won the Illinois State title and advanced to the Great Lakes Regional Tournament in Indianapolis. If the players emerge victorious, they will go on to Williamsport, Pa., and play in the Little League World Series.
If that happens, Jackie Robinson West would become the first all-black Little League team from Chicago to go to the World Series in three decades.
Last year, the team came up one game short. “That’s our goal. We should be favored to get into the Little League World Series,” Darold Butler, the team’s manager, told me.
I have a real soft spot for Little Leaguers and great admiration for parents who become their devoted fans.
My eldest son loved Little League, and I can still remember the joy he got from trying to hit a pitch.
Today, I regret that too often during Little League season I was sitting at a desk when I should have been cheering in the stands. Frankly, a lot of the trouble young people get into could be eliminated if more youngsters were involved in an activity they love and more parents supported their passion.
Efforts like Little League Baseball could help reduce violence because competitive sports teach youth how to deal with the pain of disappointment and the agony of failure.
Frances Bruce, who is an unabashed cheerleader for Jackie Robinson West (her grandson plays on the team), gives the team a lot of credit for staying focused.
“They didn’t give up even though they were one game away from the World Series. This is something that motivates them. I am so proud of them; I don’t have words to say. I just tell God, thank you,” she said.
But nothing happens without sacrifice.
It costs to take a Little League team on a road trip. In this case, Butler has to figure out how to transport the entire team and equipment to Indianapolis and provide evening meals until Aug. 9 when the series ends.
“Honestly, fundraising is always the issue. We have some funding for the kids for transportation, but we have to feed them and gas is a must. Any little thing would help,” Butler told me.
If you would like to contribute to this effort, please go to www.jackierobinsonwest.org.
The team’s first game is Aug. 2 and will be broadcast on ESPN3 at noon.
Whether or not Jackie Robinson West wins at regionals, these kids are winners.
Their success is an example of what can happen when parents and other caring adults invest in the lives of children.
They are a reminder of what is at risk when we allow crime to flourish in our streets.
“For all the negative publicity we get in this city to have this going on . . . it is definitely something the city needs to know about,” Butler told me.
“You have 13 African-American players, volunteer coaches, and everybody throughout the league trying to do something positive for the city of Chicago. So this is huge. This gives our kids something to strive for, to set goals, and to accomplish. It gives them something to look forward to outside of the negativity,” Butler continued.
“They’ve gotten to this point and it’s an accomplishment. Their goals are set for the Little League World Series. They are still focused, on that and that is something huge for everybody,” he said.