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Closed-Door Little League Meetings Over Jackie Robinson West Map Get Heated

By Mark Konkol | February 3, 2015 8:51am
 After talking with top Little League International officials Saturday at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Roseland Little League President Maurice Johnson said he hopes they make the "right decision" regarding changes to Jackie Robinson West's boundary map that overlapped his league's territory to claim players on the U.S. title team.
After talking with top Little League International officials Saturday at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Roseland Little League President Maurice Johnson said he hopes they make the "right decision" regarding changes to Jackie Robinson West's boundary map that overlapped his league's territory to claim players on the U.S. title team.
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DNAinfo/ Mark Konkol

SOUTH LOOP — Little League International officials got an earful during a series of private talks with local league officials centered on allegations Jackie Robinson West leaders secretly expanded their 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.

On Saturday, Central Region Director Nina Johnson-Pitt and Senior Vice President of Operations Pat Wilson, who participated via speakerphone, met with presidents of teams in District 4, along with board members from Jackie Robinson West, Rosemoor and Roseland Little Leagues, in a tiny conference room at the Chicago Hilton hotel on South Michigan Avenue.

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

Current District 4 Administrator Mike Kelley, who is at the center of the boundary dispute, and district secretary Jackie Lindsey — who also is president of South Side Little League — also were present at each meeting. International officials also met with former District 4 administrator Victor Alexander.

Sources told DNAinfo Chicago that the series of intense discussions with Little League International officials who previously deemed the “matter closed” revealed new details, including:

• “Firsthand” verification that all District 4 league presidents had agreed on “clearly defined” boundaries in 2013 — the season before Jackie Robinson West leaders secretly expanded their territory to overlap existing leagues.

• Confirmation that South Side, Rosemoor and Roseland league presidents did not approve any changes made to Jackie Robinson West’s 2014 boundaries that infringed on their territory, protected under charter agreements with Little League International.

• After winning the U.S. Championship, Jackie Robinson West officials, with help from district administrator Kelley, made a failed attempt to ask sister leagues to agree to boundary changes that already had been filed with Little League International without their permission.

District 4 league officials learned a few things, too.

League presidents and board members were told the latest boundary maps on file with Little League’s charter committee conflicted with each other and were extremely outdated — going as far back as 1996. And top Little League International officials informed them changes would not be made to Jackie Robinson West’s 2014 boundary map going into the 2015 season, sources said.

Rosemoor President Ralph Peterson, who was the first to talk with Little League International officials on Saturday, said he was upset after his session.

“I attended the meeting. The meeting was heated,” Peterson said. “I am waiting to hear back from Little League in regards to our boundaries.”

Roseland President Maurice Johnson said that whatever comes of Saturday’s talks, he doesn’t want it to negatively affect what the Jackie Robinson West players accomplished on the field — winning the U.S. championship. He said didn’t want to rush talking publicly about Saturday’s meetings.

“I think I owe [Little League International] the courtesy of evaluating what we told them. I stated upstairs [at the meetings] how we’ve been patient and cooperative waiting for this to play out,” Johnson said. “I’ve waited this long, I think I can wait a few more days for them to make a decision. Hopefully, they will make the right decision.”

District 4 administrator Kelley has declined requests to comment. Little League International spokesman Brian McClintock did not respond to specific questions sent via email by DNAinfo Chicago.

In an email, McClintock wrote that due to weather and travel delays, Little League’s operations staff is set to discuss “our private meetings … over the next several days to ensure all leagues within Illinois District 4 will be ready for the 2015 season.”

Former District 4 boss Alexander, however, spoke about his talk with Little League officials.

When Little League International officials told him they were working off league boundary maps more than a decade old, Alexander said he provided officials with signed documentation verifying that District 4 leagues had all agreed to “defined boundaries” in 2013.

“Here’s where the problem comes in: Whatever was submitted for [Jackie Robinson West in 2014] and at tournament time conflicts with what was established. That’s not me pointing at anybody. Those are the facts,” he said.

“To my understanding, this was a fact-gathering meeting, and I provided them with as much facts as I could. Now they know firsthand, and they have a visual of the clear defined lines. … They have more facts than perhaps they had before, so they can take it from there.”

On Saturday, Little League International did not show Alexander or any of the league presidents Jackie Robinson West’s 2014 boundary map.

But the Pennsylvania-based International told DNAinfo Chicago in December that the U.S. champs' boundaries were indeed shifted “to include the area to the west of South Cottage Grove Avenue and South Eberhart Avenue and to the north of 119th Street."

That boundary shift allowed Jackie Robinson West to pick up several key players on the U.S. title team who neither lived nor attended schools within the league’s previous boundaries.

According to Alexander, the 2014 map change would have caused Jackie Robinson West’s new territory to overlap the boundaries of Roseland, Rosemoor and South Side little leagues and would be in violation of Little League rules without getting permission from the presidents of affected leagues.

“I don’t want to necessarily say rotten, but I think the district administration failed to do what they were supposed to do and what they were obligated to do. Whether it was intentional or not, I don’t want to speculate, because I don’t know exactly what was submitted to Mike [Kelley] and what efforts he put into validating it,” Alexander said.

“On the surface, you could say [Kelley] didn’t do what he was supposed to do, or you could draw the conclusion that he needed to do to what he had to do get their paperwork through. You could take it either way. I can’t say one way or the other."

Regardless, Alexander said he thinks it’s important to protect the boundaries of chartered leagues that pay thousands of dollars in annual fees to participate under their banner — and whatever Little League decides, it will be significant for the entire International organization.

“I’m not one to wish anything to hurt what the kids did on the field, but at the same time, you don’t want to set a precedent where this is allowed,” he said.

“If that’s the case, you can submit any boundary you want each year with no checks and balances. That’s not good either."

With registration for the 2015 season slated for this month, Little League officials are expected to issue a statement on their decision soon.

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