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Counting down 2014’s biggest Chicago sports stories: No. 1

The Sun-Times is counting down the 10 biggest Chicago sports stories of the 2014 calendar year one day at a time.

No. 1: Jackie Robinson West wins U.S. Little League championship

They were given a parade through Chicago this summer.

They were honored at U.S. Cellular and Wrigley fields. They visited the White House.

They united the city behind their success, character and sportsmanship.

They, of course, are the little leaguers of Jackie Robinson West, which this summer won the U.S. Little League championship with a 7-5 victory over Las Vegas. JRW was the first Chicago team to make an appearance in the Little League World Series in 31 years.

The boys lost to South Korea in the LLWS championship, 8-4, but by then they’d already made their mark.

The city rallied behind a team that featured players from Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Chatham, Morgan Park and Washington Heights.

CBS reporter Jim Williams offered this perspective on what Jackie Robinson West did this summer:

“The Jackie Robinson West players, parents and volunteer coaches represent the overwhelming majority of people who live on Chicago’s south side. The JRW mothers AND fathers love and support their children. They teach the values we all know are invaluable. You’ve seen it in the boys’ play and conduct off the field. The poise, dignity and sportsmanship. Good boys are learning to be good men, by design. We cover the tragedies in south side neighborhoods — with no apologies. But we have to tell the JRW story, too — and others like it.”

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Seth Gruen, who covered Jackie Robinson West in Williamsport, Pa., said “I don’t think the city has ever had the opportunity to root for one of its teams that is represented entirely by players born and bred in the city.”

Here’s what Gruen wrote after JRW beat Las Vegas Mountain Ridge:

The celebration on the field was so ecstatic it gave the impression the team only had thought about the national championship. That celebration will continue next week in Chicago. Coaches and parents were told the city intends to hold a parade Wednesday.

Truth be told, though, these tough-minded Little Leaguers just wanted to make sure Mountain Ridge didn’t beat them again.

‘‘I don’t like losing,’’ said first baseman Trey Hondras, who homered and had three RBI. ‘‘It’s like a girl dumping you and going to your best friend. So, I mean, it really hurt. We had to keep going forward.’’

The 27,428 fans almost never left their seats, too nervous they’d miss something in a game with more drama than the rest of the tournament combined.

So, thank you, Jackie Robinson West, for letting the city share this achievement with you, and for making sure the woeful Bears weren’t the year’s biggest story.

Here’s our complete list of Chicago’s biggest sports stories of 2014:

1. Jackie Robinson West wins U.S. Little League championship

2. Much-hyped Bears crumble with worst season in a decade

3. Paul Konerko retires

4. Cubs hire Joe Maddon

5. Jay Cutler gets benched

6. Derrick Rose’s comeback, sluggish start and return to form

7. Jon Lester signs with Cubs

8. Jose Abreu takes Major League Baseball by storm, wins AL Rookie of the Year

9. Blackhawks’ playoff run reaches Western Conference Finals; Kane, Toews sign 8-year extensions

10. National Labor Relations Board says Northwestern football players are employees, orders union election