With a 12-7 victory against New Albany, Indiana, in the Great Lakes Region championship game Saturday in Indianapolis, the Jackie Robinson West team became the first all-black team from Chicago to reach the Little League World Series in three decades.
Cameron Bufford’s fifth-inning grand slam helped the South Side team rally from a 5-0 deficit to reach Little League’s premier event in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Play begins Thursday, when Jackie Robinson West will play the winner of the Northwest regional at 2 p.m. on ESPN. The championship is scheduled for Aug. 24.
The last Chicago team to qualify for the World Series was West in 1983. That team finished fifth overall. After falling one game short of the Series last year, West was determined to reach Little League’s biggest stage this year.
“You have 13 African-American players, volunteer coaches, and everybody throughout the league trying to do something positive for the city of Chicago,” manager Darold Butler told the Sun-Times last month. “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.
The victory in the regional final prompted Gov. Pat Quinn to declare Saturday “Jackie Robinson West Little League Champions Day” in the state.
“With power and poise, this group of young ballplayers has outperformed opponents across the state, region and now they have their eyes, gloves and hearts set on a bigger field,” Quinn said in a statement. “Like Jackie Robinson, they didn’t hang up their cleats in the face of adversity. Now this year for the first time since 1983, they will get to compete in the Little League World Series. This group of young ballplayers and their coaches have made all of Illinois proud. I wish them the best of luck as they represent our state on the worldwide stage.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city “could not be more proud.”
“More important than making history on Saturday, the courage to persevere and hard work displayed by the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team and Coach Darold Butler, has once again reminded all of Chicago the very best of what we hope from and for our kids,” Emanuel said in a statement. “I want the whole team and Coach Butler to know that Chicago is rooting for them, and as they take the field for the Little League World Series, they will be taking the best wishes of an entire city with them.”
The team was 6-0 in regional play, outscoring its opponents 61-19.