Kristi Black, the president of Nevada's Mountain Ridge Little League, said she is concerned the U.S. title already “has an asterisk on it like the one on Barry Bonds home run record,” and the Las Vegas team “rightfully deserves to be recognized as the legitimate team that went the farthest” in the World Series tournament.
DNAinfo.com Chicago has reported on allegations that Jackie Robinson West league officials stacked the team’s roster with All-Star ringers, including some from the suburbs, and secretly expanded their league boundaries to overtake sections of three sister leagues against Little League rules in a move to pick up players that helped the team win the 2014 U.S. title.
Little League International spokesman Brian McClintock has said officials looked into the allegations, determined they were unfounded and considered the “matter closed.” In email correspondence, McClintock refused to discuss the “proprietary, in-depth” private conversations that “helped us to affirm our current position” and wrote Little League officials would not further probe cheating allegations.
But last week, sources say top Little League officials received new information from Jackie Robinson West sister league officials that established:
• All of the presidents in Chicago's District 4 league, which included the Jackie Robinson West organization, agreed on “clearly defined” boundaries in 2013 — the season before Jackie Robinson West leaders secretly expanded their territory to overlap existing leagues.
• In District 4, the presidents of the South Side, Rosemoor and Roseland league 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 4 administrator Mike 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.
Now, District 4 league presidents are waiting for a final ruling from Little League International officials.
After silently watching the Jackie Robinson West controversy play out from afar, Las Vegas league volunteers contacted DNAinfo on Sunday in hopes of sending a clear message that they want Little League International officials to “quit being so tight-lipped” and “make things right.”
Las Vegas coach Ashton Cave said that if Jackie Robinson West changed its boundaries against Little League rules to create a super team “it can’t be something that’s swept under the rug.” He challenged Little League officials to live up to the organization’s motto, “Character, Courage and Loyalty” that was sewn into the World Series uniforms this year.
“I’m a firm believer in integrity and that’s something we teach our kids … and that’s what Little League is designed to do. If we’re going to live by it’s motto, we need to make things right … and everybody needs to be aware of it,” he said. “We need to stand up for what’s right even if we’re standing alone.”
Cave said Little League International officials have an obligation to his league and thousands of Little League volunteers across the country to take a public stand on the secret boundary changes made by Jackie Robinson West last year.
“If they continue to say it’s been investigated and there’s nothing we can do, I disagree with that,” he said. “If all the information is factual about what has been said was going on … it comes down to fraud. We’re talking about multi-millions of dollars were invested into a program and the whole nation was deceived. They have to take a stand on this.”
Cave compared the Jackie Robinson West controversy to disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong who denied doping allegations his entire career but ultimately was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for using steroids.
“Lance Armstrong went down that road and became an example of what happens when you say one thing and it’s actually the other. The truth comes out,” Cave said. “We’re not just going to use 12 and 13-year-old kids as pawns to generate income on society. That’s just unacceptable.”
Black said if she could get an audience with Little League CEO Stephen Keener she would tell him to start “from his position on down” to make sure Little League “practices what they preach.”
“At every meeting, every tournament, they harp on us to do the right thing, teach the kids integrity. Teach them how to lose, teach them how to win, teach them how to be good citizens,” she said. “Well, they need to walk the talk. … Little League has their bylaws and rules and they haven’t been followed. They need to make it right.”
Still, Black said she has great sympathy for the Jackie Robinson West players affected by a controversy brought on by the actions of adults.
“Those poor kids. They’re probably beside themselves. There are lots of lessons in life to learn and we learn them the hard way. But these kids shouldn’t have to learn this lesson the way it’s being played out,” she said.
Last week, Little League Central Region Director Nina Johnson-Pitt sent word to District 4 league presidents that a final word on Little League's position on the boundary conflict is expected soon.
Johnson-Pitt wrote, "We have reviewed all of the information that was shared with us over the course of Saturday’s meetings and are finalizing the plan that will assist the leagues and district in moving forward for the 2015 season and beyond," according to an email obtained by DNAinfo. "You can expect to receive that plan from us within the next day or so."
For Cave, the coming decision has nothing to do with which team gets to claim the U.S. Title.
“We’re beyond the game we lost. If they want to take the title away and say there is no title this year the way it’s been done to other sports teams that got nailed for doing something illegal that’s an option,” he said.
What’s more important, Cave said, is protecting the integrity of Little League — a youth sports organization that built its reputation on fair play, having high standards and protecting baseball in its purest form.
“Something needs to change from here on out. Now we’re getting to the ugly side of winning at all costs behind the scenes and it’s sad. The allegations need to be addressed and it can’t happen behind closed doors. They gotta address it among everyone that’s involved in Little League,” he said.
“Otherwise, it will happen year in and year out just in another city. And nothing will be able to stop it. How they keep that from happening is in their court but they need to do something and everybody needs to be aware of it.”
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