By BRIAN SLODYSKO | staff reporter
A Little League International official on Tuesday shot down allegations that several members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars — last summer’s U.S. championship team — lived outside the league’s Chicago boundaries.
The written complaint against the South Side league was filed by Chris Janes, vice president of Evergreen Park Athletic Association, a rival league with teams that have been defeated mightily by the celebrated Chicago team.
Jane’s accusations did not draw widespread attention until Tuesday, when the news website DNAinfo.com first reported on the allegations.
In October, Janes complained to the league about the boys’ eligibility to play. He filed his complaint after noticing that school officials and politicians from several south suburbs boasted that members of the all-black all-star squad were from their towns during the team’s Little League World Series run last August.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, Pat Wilson, senior vice president of operations for Little League International, declined to discuss how officials determined that the Jackie Robinson West players did in fact reside in Chicago.
But he dismissed Janes’ allegations outright, saying the team’s proof of residency documents were up to snuff.
“The team provided documentation to support the residency in accordance with Little League rules,” Wilson said. “We reviewed that documentation multiple times and that documentation meets Little League’s criteria for residence as outlined in our rule books, and that’s basically it.”
Jackie Robinson West president Bill Haley and team coach Darold Butler did not respond to requests seeking comment on Tuesday.
Janes’ said he wasn’t buying the league’s explanation. And he said driver’s license and voting records back up his claims. Those records, he said, show that the parents of five players list their residences in Dolton, South Holland, Calumet Park and Lynwood — well outside Jackie Robinson West’s South Side boundaries.
“I don’t know how you can say [my complaint] doesn’t have merit,” Janes said. “They did an interview in Sports Illustrated with one of the children who said he went to school in Homewood.”
Wilson acknowledged that the addresses included in Janes’ complaint and the addresses Little League International had on file for the players weren’t the same. But he said the team provided a satisfactory explanation.
One possible explanation? Split families and divorce. Wilson said children with parents who live apart get to choose which league they play in, so long as one parents’ home is within the league’s boundaries. Other players may have initially lived within the leagues boundaries and been grandfathered in.
“We . . . went back through [Janes’ complaint] and compared it to what we had [on file] and obviously it didn’t match,” Wilson said. But the team offered “a detailed explanation that also matched the documentation on each of the players where the question was raised.”
“ . . . They explained or outlined why the documentation that [Janes] put forward was not the documentation that supported [the players’ existing record of] residence.”
Janes said he doesn’t necessarily want to see the team stripped of its national title. He just wants everyone to follow the rules.
“It appears the rules are easy to be bent or broken,” Janes said. “It’s important to me that there’s some sort of accountability.”
But he acknowledged that taking on a team that came to symbolize so much more than baseball has provoked a backlash.
“Some responses have alluded to racial motivation — which is entirely untrue,” Janes said. “There have been a handful of folks calling me an idiot.”
Contributing: Seth Gruen