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Robinson rhubarb, Part 2: New allegations surface against JRW team

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

By Jeff Vorva

and Bob Rakow

Staff Reporters

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.

 

Firing line -- Brandon Marshall in Palos Heights hours after Bears fire coach and GM

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was in Palos Heights on Monday, hours before finding out coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired.

On Monday morning, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were the headliners  fired in Lake Forest.

On Monday afternoon, controversial Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was fired up in Palos Heights.

Marshall hosted his ESPN radio show at Trio Restaurant and Bar and before he even talked about the carnage at Halas Hall, he was busy challenging WMVP announcer to a boxing match and calling him a “clown.’’

Then he got serious and said that this year’s coaching staff featured “some of the best coaches I’ve ever been around” and that going to Halas Hall Monday morning was like “Going to the hospital to see someone who was dead. It was like a funeral. It was sad…really sad.’’

A couple of hundred people – many wearing Marshall jerseys – crammed into the bar to hear the outspoken words of wisdom from the wideout. Not too many of them were somber about the departures.

“This is a phenomenal day,’’   said Orland Park’s Ed Griffin. “It was a disappointing season for diehard fans. We’re ready for next year.’’

Griffin said he would have loved it if former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh would have taken Trestman’s place but Harbaugh is heading to the University of Michigan. Griffin said he will settle for Mike Shanahan. A pal at his table, Palos Heights’ Mike Krol said he would like to see former Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren as the new GM with Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles taking over as head coach.

Palos Park’s Rick Griffin, Ed’s brother, said he wants Mike Ditka back as the head coach. He said he was serious. But he sounded like a “Saturday Night Live’’ Da Bears character when he gave his reasoning.

“If’s Ditka versus God, [the score is] God 3, Ditka 478,’’ he joked.  “But this is a great day and a fresh start for the team.’’

Trestman was sacked after two seasons. This year, the team finished 5-11 this year and finished the season with five straight losses. The more galling losses of the season included a 51-23 setback to New England, a 55-13 defeat at the hands of Green Bay and a 41-28 loss to Dallas.

Trestman, whose background is specializing in offense, watched a team that had weapons Marshall, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery score 17 or fewer points seven times including no touchdowns in Sunday’s 13-9 loss to Minnesota in a battle for last place in the NFC North.

Off the field, the Bears had their share of troubles as well including offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer – who was also whacked on Monday -- ‘fessing up to being an anonymous source ripping Cutler to the NFL Network.

Marshall also had his share of controversy off the field, including challenging a Detroit fan to a fight in the ring for money in November. He also called Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola a “dirty player and he’s a worse human being.’’

On the field, Marshall caught 61 passes for 721 yards and eight touchdowns but missed the final three games with rib and lung injuries.

Like most fans, Marshall is wondering what the future with hold for the so-called Monsters of the Midway.

“Some of these coaches are amazing coaches and they might not get jobs again,” Marshall said. “The NFL is ‘what have you done for me lately?’ There are a lot of changes coming and that’s what sucks for me. This is my fourth time going through this. Anyone can get fired – myself included. I could be traded. The new regime could come in and ‘you know what? We need to rebuild this thing and we have value in Brandon.’ Players go, too.

“We’re in the best sports market in the world. Ownership is awesome. Get it right. Get it right.’’

 

 

 

Local football players sign on dotted line

  • Written by Ken Karrson

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HEADLINE: Local football players sign on dotted line

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

Hasan Muhammad-Rogers can relate to what Illinois State University football players recently went through.

A memorable 2014 season by the Redbirds ended one step shy of complete glory. While ISU reached the FCS championship game in January and held a late lead, it couldn’t close the deal versus three-time defending champion North Dakota and had to settle for national runner-up status. Muhammad-Rogers experienced a similar thing at the prep level in 2013 when Richards came up short in Illinois’ Class 6A title contest.

Now Muhammad-Rogers will try to help the Redbirds take that final step and achieve some personal vindication in the process. The 2014 area Player of the Year was one of several local athletes to make their college choices official last Wednesday on National Signing Day.

“This is a great place for him,” Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan said of the impending ISU-Muhammad-Rogers association. “He is going to a national contender that runs an offense perfect for his abilities.”

Muhammad-Rogers wound up his three-year varsity career at Richards with 6,110 aerial yards on 361-of-670 passing and 72 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,569 yards and 25 more TDs. With Muhammad-Rogers running the offense, the Bulldogs went 22-4 the past two seasons and collected a total of seven postseason victories between 2012 and 2014.

Muhammad-Rogers isn’t the only local athlete headed to Normal. Also signing on with the Redbirds was Marist’s Jawill Aldridge, who continued to draw interest from ISU despite an injury-plagued senior campaign with the RedHawks.

One of Muhammad-Rogers’ favorite receivers at Richards, Spencer Tears, is headed to Northern Illinois. The “very explosive” Tears should be a “good fit” with the Huskies, according to Sheehan. Joining Tears in DeKalb will be Brother Rice all-stater Marcus Jones, who rushed for over 1,850 yards the past two seasons.

Linebacker Ramontay Hill (South Dakota), cornerback Lucas White (Northern Michigan), cornerback Kentrell Pierce (Central Methodist), lineman Josh Hettiger (Wisconsin-Whitewater) and cornerback Maurice Coleman-Williams (Wisconsin-Stout) were Richards’ other signees. Hill and Hettiger, who will be joining the Division III national champions, were both all-area first-teamers in the fall.

Sheehan believes each of his players can eventually make an impact.

“[White is] a good corner that has the length that a lot of coaches like,” he said. “Pierce is a good cover corner that will only get better and [Coleman-Williams] got better as the year went on.”

Other Rice players who signed last Wednesday were quarterback Alex Alarcon (McKendree) and kicker Spencer Scott (Harvard).

Shepard’s Kyle Dye declared his intention to attend Valparaiso, all-area defensive back Keyon Lansdown will play for Robert Morris and quarterback Chris Henington is going to Lindenwood-Belleville. Evergreen Park’s two signees were quarterback Sean Ryan (Grand View) and receiver Kerron Brown (Washington Christian).

“I am looking forward to see what they can do at the next level,” said Mustangs coach Ray Mankowski, who added other athletes he expected to make a decision last week “are holding out for whatever reason.”

While St. Laurence didn’t announce any football signings, it did have four soccer players make their future intentions known. Mike Witkowski and Josh Niloff will both enroll at Loras, Palos Hills resident will stay in the area by attending St. Xavier and Mikey Stevens is planning to attend Cornell (Iowa).

 

Wujcik is Hall of a guy

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

HEADLINE: Wujcik is Hall of a guy

SUBHEAD: Richards coach honored by IBCA

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            When congratulated recently for his induction into the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Brian Wujcik jokingly credited his lengthy stay at Richards as the main reason he received the honor.

            “Stick around long enough and someone somewhere thinks you need an award for it,” he said.

            On a more serious note the Bulldogs leader greatly appreciated the gesture as he became just the 11th local coach to be chosen by the IBCA for its Hall of Fame.

“I always pictured Hall of Famers as guys who’ve had tremendous postseason success,” Wujcik said. “With only two regional championships in 22 years, I hardly qualify in that category, so it is a special honor for me to be recognized by my peers for the way the Richards baseball program is run and not the number of state championships we’ve won. 

“We try to do things right here: right by our players, right by our opponents and [the] umpires, and right by the school that we represent. I think we’re very successful in that regard.”

There’s little to argue on those points, particularly when it comes to the student-athletes who have played for Wujcik. More than 80 have gone on to play collegiate baseball, including 15 that are currently active. Nine players achieved all-state status while at Richards, 67 were all-area selections and 110 gained all-conference status.

Program-wise the Bulldogs have captured 10 conference championships and compiled a 448-319 record during Wujcik’s tenure.

“We don’t get the most talented ballplayers at Richards,” he said. “We’ve only had five [NCAA] Division I baseball scholarships in 22 years, but we work hard to give each kid who has the tools, desire, work ethic and grades an opportunity to play at the next level -- wherever they fit in. 

“I’m proud that we currently have 15 former Bulldogs on collegiate rosters [in 2015]. They’ve earned that through hard work and dedication.”

Wujcik also said none of this was accomplished solely because of his coaching influence.

“This award belongs just as much to the guys who’ve coached with me as it does to me,” he said. “I have a tremendous staff. 

“Bob Peck, Chuck McCullough and Kyle Rathbun at the lower levels not only teach our guys the proper fundamentals, but more importantly they teach ballplayers how to work hard and to compete. Jeff Kortz and Kevin Quinn are hardly my ‘assistants’ on the varsity level -- they are my partners. Both are tirelessly dedicated to the kids who come through our program, and Richards baseball is successful because of them.”

Over the years Wujcik has done more than just lead practices and coach in games. He also spearheaded the building of Richards’ baseball complex, widely regarded as one of the Chicagoland area’s finest at the high school level. Wujcik, players and parents volunteered their time to the project and all the construction materials were donated.

Wujcik, a Richards graduate, was a standout at the University of Iowa. He still holds the Big Ten record for most RBI in one game (10) and previously held the mark for most doubles in a season with 12. He also won a conference batting championship.

In 1990 he was named the Hawkeyes’ MVP while earning All-Big Ten and all-region first-team honors. He was a two-time member of the Big Ten’s All-Academic team and received GTE Academic All-America second-team recognition.

The most recent IBCA inductee prior to Wujcik was former cross-town rival Skip Sullivan, who was chosen in 2008 following a 14-year head-coaching career at Oak Lawn. Like Wujcik, Sullivan coached at his alma mater.

Other local members of the IBCA Hall of Fame include Oak Lawn’s Skip Borkowski (1994), Sandburg’s Doug Sutor (2005) and Ron Mellen (1984), St. Xavier University’s Mike Dooley (2005) and Tony D’Anza (2002), Brother Rice’s George Sedlacek (1979), Evergreen Park’s Maynard Stelzer (1983) and Marist’s Don Kuehner (1980) and Joel Jonas (1983). Jonas was selected following a coaching stint at Curie.

                                               

 

Show Time at Moraine

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Tom Bunch

 

 

The gym was rocking and fans were hollering, which made the scene resemble ones found at many other high school basketball games.

What made it different was that cameras were rolling, too.

But these weren’t just Mom-and-Dad-are-videotaping-it recording devices, but the kind that can present an event to a nationwide audience. And they were set up at Moraine Valley College Friday night.

The Palos Hills school played host to a hoops contest between St. Rita and Simeon that was broadcast nationally by ESPN2. And as one Mustangs fan wrote on a poster: It was "Show Time at Moraine Valley."

The game was big enough to entice University of Kentucky coach John Calipari to attend. Calipari, in town with the No. 1-ranked Wildcats for last Saturday’s inaugural CBS Sports Classic at the United Center, was getting a firsthand look at St. Rita’s Charles Matthews, a Kentucky recruit.

And Matthews didn’t disappoint either his future coach or the Mustangs backers in the crowd as he helped his team defeat the Wolverines 51-46. Matthews finished with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds.

While the game at Moraine’s new Health and Fitness Center began at 5:30 p.m., preparations for it started well before that.

“It’s been a six-week process,” Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said during a Friday interview. “We had to make sure we got the game [and] we had to prove to them that we can handle it with the staff. [There was] a crew of around 40 people [to] set up the cameras, the microphones, cabling and other intricate stuff.

“The main challenge for the school at this point is to make sure the facility is clean, staffed and that there is enough change for those who are buying tickets."

Pre-broadcast work got underway Thursday night and continued in earnest on Friday morning.

 “I’ve been working here since 10 a.m.,” Moraine Valley student worker Richard Gregg Jr. said on Friday afternoon. “It’s a big game. I’m an athlete myself so it’s exciting that ESPN is here.”

Moraine officials said the game was a boon to the school, which got a chance to show off its sleek athletic facility that opened in March.

 “Our [men’s basketball] games usually attract between 150 and 250 people, but this game should have at least 2,000 people watching as well as a national audience,” Finn said hours before tip-off.

Neither he nor anyone else at Moraine went away disappointed.