Jackie Robinson West took in at least $324,000 in donations before Little League International stripped the Chicago team of its 2014 U.S. title — money that’s enabled the organization to build more than $200,000 in cash reserves, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
The documents provide the most detailed picture to date of how the South Side youth baseball team’s march through the Little League World Series one year ago this month caused companies, pro athletes and fans to open their wallets before a cheating scandal marred the dream season.
Several news organizations had estimated that donations sparked by the team’s inspirational run totaled more than $200,000. But Jackie Robinson West’s annual not-for-profit filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows it took in much more money than that — $339,032, including $324,325 in donations and $14,707 in fees from players— for the 12 months that began Oct. 1, 2013, and ended Sept. 30, 2014.
Under IRS rules, donations to the club that have come in since that date won’t be made public until next summer. So the full amount of money generated by the team’s World Series run won’t be known until then unless JRW leaders voluntarily disclose it — something organization representatives say they have no plans to do.
The IRS filing and an accompanying audit contain only limited information about the club’s expenses, which are listed as totaling $144,222. That included $55,310 in travel costs, $32,156 in equipment purchases, $10,450 in “legal and professional” fees and $10,221 for baseball field maintenance. No one within the organization drew a salary.
The club’s cash reserves totaled $205,054 as of Sept. 30, 2014, compared to only $5,619 the year before.
JRW leaderswon’t say what they’ve done or will be doing with that money.
“It would be inappropriate to comment upon JRW’s sources and uses of funds besides what is in the tax return,” said Victor Henderson, an attorney representing the organization. “JRW plans to use its remaining funds, like it has always done, in keeping with its mission of providing a first-rate baseball experience to children on the South Side of Chicago.”
Spurred by complaints from a rival coach and reports on the website DNAinfo.com, Little League officials concluded that club leaders stacked their team of 11- to 13-year-olds with players from outside team boundaries, then submitted false maps to justify the cheating. They stripped JRW of its U.S. championship on Feb. 11.
The move set off a wave of controversy, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel among those criticizing Little League for punishing children for actions taken by adults.
Jackie Robinson West sued Little League over the decision but withdrew the lawsuit earlier this month. Henderson, the JRW attorney, said he isn’t charging the organization for any of his work.
The club has since left Little League, with its teams playing in the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken league this season.
Even though JRW was under Little League’s umbrella at the time donations were flowing, Little League has no control over the money the club received.
“That money was and is intended for the benefit of all the children in the Jackie Robinson West league, and we hope that is what it is being used for,” Little League spokesman Brian McClintock said.
Jackie Robinson West’s IRS filing doesn’t identify individual donors, though many have been made public. The biggest by far is Dick’s Sporting Goods, which donated $164,481 from the sale of thousands of JRW national championship shirts.
LaTroy Hawkins — a Gary, Indiana, native and former Cub — put together a group of pro ballplayers that included B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Torii Hunter to help cover Word Series travel costs for JRW players and their families. Together, they contributed $20,000.
Other donors included Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who gave $15,000.
It doesn’t appear that any donors have asked Jackie Robinson West’s eight-member board to return any of the contributions. Three board members are relatives of the late Joseph Haley, who founded the club in the 1970s.
“Our contribution was made to benefit the kids,” said Scott Reifert, senior vice president of communications for the White Sox, which gave $20,000 to JRW. “As long as our donation ultimately benefits kids and youth baseball, we see no reason to seek a return of our contribution.”