By Jeff Vorva
and Bob Rakow
In mid-December, the Evergreen Park Athletic Association’s allegations that the Jackie Robinson West baseball team was using illegal players from out of its boundaries were met with relative indifference by Little League officials.
But it caused some people to do some digging and more allegations are coming out about the team that took Chicago and the nation by storm in the summer.
The DNAinfo.com website recently reported that the JRW boundaries within the city were expanded without the blessing of some league presidents in District 4. That allowed JRW to pluck prime players off their rosters for the 2014 campaign. JRW made it to the nationals and it allowed them to win the United States championship.
DNAinfo reported that Little League rule say redistricting should “not overlap or encroach another chartered Little League’s boundaries.’’
Little League officials said the presidents of the affected charter signed off on it but that’s being disputed.
DNAinfo cited a Rosemoor Little League official claiming that the new map was sent in without the permission of the presidents who represent Roseland, Rosemoor and South Side leagues.
“I can tell you 200 percent that we didn’t sign off on that map,” Rosemoor Vice President Ricardo Coleman told he website.
Chris Janes, the spokesman for the EPAA which helped light this firestorm, said these new charges against the Jackie Robinson team are even more damning than the EPAA’s allegations of using players from out of districts such as Homewood and South Holland.
“These latest allegations -- which I really had nothing to do with – of usurping other league’s boundaries…that’s out of this world,” Janes said. “It’s scary that they could do that this easily. Four of the kids that were on this year’s championship team were using the addresses of the boundaries that were of South Side Little League Roseland and Rosemoor. They extended that boundary so they can get those four kids.
“There is no Little League district on the planet that will say ‘we have too many kids, why don’t you take a big portion of my boundaries?’ No way. There is no rationalization for it. Jackie Robinson West has 530 kids participating. Why did they need a bigger boundary? They wanted those four kids.’’
It’s not unlike politicians drawing up new boundaries to help them and their political parties to prosper in a coming election.
“What it called? Gerrymandering?’’ Janes said with a laugh.
According to DNAinfo, Little League officials are looking into the map situation for 2015 but are likely not going to do anything about 2014.
Janes, the vice president of the EPAA, said he does not feel bad for sparking these investigations.
“There’s no justification for them (JRW) to do this,” he said. “I don’t regret doing it at all.”
The EPAA accused JRW of cheating by violating residency rules when it put together the team that competed in the 2014 Little League World Series and won the U.S. title.
Jackie Robinson West’s success was the feel-good story of the summer as a team from Chicago’s South Side came together and rolled through the sectional and state playoffs before winning the U.S. title. They lost the title game to a team from Seoul, Korea.
The team enjoyed significant recognition when players and coaches returned to Chicago from Williamsport, Pa., including a downtown pep rally and appearances at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
Janes said the optimistic story about an urban youth baseball team advancing to the Little League Word Series despite numerous obstacles was the primary reason no one else wanted to expose the suspected cheating.
The EPAA insists that the team was not made up exclusively of boys from Chicago’s South Side. Rather, they were chosen travel teams that hail from nearby suburbs, Janes said.
Jackie Robinson West officials deny the accusations.
Janes said that EPAA and officials from other neighboring leagues have long suspected that JRW “cherry picked” the best players from the region but the practice was not uncovered until the team’s 2014 championship run.
Janes, the father of three boys who play Evergreen Park Little League, said he’s hopeful that EPAA’s decision to blow the whistle on Jackie Robinson West baseball will force Little League International to take a closer look at similar accusations in the future.
EPAA’s call for an investigation into JRW’s alleged rules violations essentially fell on deaf ears.
A spokesman for Little League International, Brian McClintock, which organizes the Little League World Series, said in an emailed statement the organization is “confident that the documentation provided to the organization from Jackie Robinson West Little League meets the residency regulations for the 2014 Little League Baseball tournament season" and the issue is considered "closed at this time,” according to reports.
The accusations became public when DNAinfo reported that an Internet search found that a congresswoman, a suburban mayor, an elite traveling baseball league and Sports Illustrated posted details about the players' suburban roots.
Specifically, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly took to Twitter to cheer on Jackie Robinson West players who live and attend school in suburban towns within her district, DNAinfo said.
Additionally, South Holland village officials congratulated the two as “alumni” in a village newsletter, and Sports Illustrated reported in its feature “Faces in the Crowd” that one player attended a school in suburban Homewood.
Lynwood Mayor Mayor Gene Williams also was quoted as in a newspaper about plans to celebrate our own Jackie Robinson West player.
But, according to a map obtained by DNAinfo.com, the Jackie Robinson West boundaries include sections of the Morgan Park, Washington Heights, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and New City neighborhoods of Chicago — but do not include any suburbs.
Residence must be established and supported with three forms of documentation, the rules say, which include items like a driver's license, voter registration and copies of utility bills.