Little League International officials will come to Chicago Saturday to meet with District 4 league presidents in the wake of allegations that Jackie Robinson West leaders secretly expanded its league boundaries — overtaking sections of three sister leagues — in a move to pick up All-Star players that helped the team win the 2014 U.S. title, DNAinfo Chicago has learned.
Central Region Director Nina Johnson-Pitt and other Little League operations officials are set to conduct one-on-one meetings with presidents of District 4, the South Side district that includes the Jackie Robinson West, South Side, Roseland, Rosemoor, Bronzeville and Near South leagues.
TIMELINE: Follow the Jackie Robinson West saga from the earliest boundary disputes to the Little League International decision to strip the team of its U.S. title
Little League spokesman Brian McClintock declined to give details about the talks other than to say the meetings will be closed to the public and officials will “work with district and league staff to answer any questions they may have.”
“After the meetings, I’m sure we will speak with our operations staff, and if there is information to share, issue a prepared statement,” McClintock wrote in an email.
Sources said that District 4 President Michael Kelley, the Chicago firefighter at the center of the boundary dispute, also will be present at the meetings.
In December, DNAinfo Chicago reported that Kelley and Jackie Robinson West president Bill Haley signed off on expanding Jackie Robinson West's boundaries — laying claim to territory already used by other chartered leagues in the district — without getting permission from the presidents of affected leagues as required by Little League rules. Expanding boundaries allowed Jackie Robinson West to include a number of players who helped the team win the title.
Evergreen Park Athletic Association Vice President Chris Janes — who first questioned Jackie Robinson West player residency in an email to Little League International — and Rosemoor Vice President Ricardo Coleman have both called for an expanded investigation. Little League International officials repeatedly denied those requests.
"We have not looked the other way simply to avoid the situation or come up with a particular conclusion," McClintock wrote in an email last month.
"Given the information made available to us, understanding that not one complaint or dispute from any league arose in Illinois District 4 during the height of the 2014 season or during the tournament season, coupled with the fact that all players have been deemed eligible by 2014 residency or school enrollment requirements, Little League still considers this matter closed," he wrote in December.
The issue, however, is far from over as far as other District 4 league officials are concerned.
Sources told DNAinfo Chicago that Little League officials and Kelley, who has remained silent on the Jackie Robinson West boundary dispute, should expect to get an earful from league presidents during this weekend's meetings.
Since the issue became public, questions about the territory expansion, along with District 4 chief Kelley’s role in approving it, have been the topic of debate at individual league board meetings.
Some district league sources said they were disappointed to hear that the meetings International officials will have with the District 4 league presidents would not be held publicly — or at least with all league presidents present to discuss the issues together.
McClintock did not respond to questions seeking more information about the meeting, and Kelley did not return a call seeking comment.
Maps kept secret
This week, Janes, the Evergreen Park league official, sent an email to Little League International and regional officials asking for a copy of Jackie Robinson West’s league boundaries for the 2015 season.
“Given the very real possibility of facing JRW, at one level or another, in sectionals I would like to know, up front, what their boundary will be going in to this season. Given the events of this past off season, I think it's wise to make all parties involved as informed as possible,” Janes wrote.
“I am hopeful that there will be no issues this year but I would feel much more comfortable having basic information like a current boundary map to ensure we are all playing on a level playing field.”
Central Region Director Johnson-Pitt responded: "It is our practice not to release boundary maps or other proprietary information to other leagues.”
“Just as we would not release your league’s proprietary information to anyone outside of your board of directors, we will not release maps or other information belonging to any of the leagues in Illinois District 4 to anyone outside of their leagues,” she wrote.
Janes said the reasoning behind Little League’s denial of his request baffles him.
“I was surprised by that answer. You would think that after everything that happened in the offseason, with all the questions about who lived where and what boundaries JRW was supposed to have, you would think that if they really thought no wrongdoing was done and they wanted to clean it up, they would put boundaries out there for everyone to see,” Janes said.
“It’s not that big of a deal. It’s nothing that should be hidden. Boundary maps help everybody. I thought that would be the one thing they would change going into this year,” Janes said.
Keeping league boundary maps secret is the kind of thing that ultimately could keep cheating leagues from being caught, Janes said.
“If it’s Little League’s position that it’s on the accuser to prove wrongdoing, it should be easy for everyone to find the information to do so. If I have an issue with another organization's residency, I ought to be able to pull up a boundary map and say these are the kids who live outside of that,” he said. “Instead, Little League is saying, ‘Prove they’re breaking the rule, but we’re not going to tell you what their boundary is.’ That makes no sense.”
Johnson-Pitt didn’t respond to a follow-up email by Janes calling for Little League to rethink its policy on keeping individual league boundary maps secret.
Janes argues there’s nothing proprietary about league maps. Little League International even recommended in a recent newsletter that individual league officials make such maps available to parents.
“It’s important all maps are public on a lot of levels. First, to serve the customer, and the customer is the league or the parent. And parents should be able to Google Little League and their ZIP Code and be able to tell exactly what league their child should play in,” he said.
Little League International officials did not respond to questions emailed by DNAinfo Chicago on Wednesday related to the policy to keep boundary maps secret.
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