CHICAGO — With its finding that officials of Jackie Robinson West cheated, Little League International has declared a new U.S. champ: Mountain Ridge Little League of Las Vegas.
Jackie Robinson West defeated the Nevada team 7-5 last August to advance to the world championship, where the Chicago squad lost to a team from South Korea.
After a DNAinfo Chicago report detailing how Jackie Robinson West officials had used players from outside its legal boundaries to build its championship team, the Las Vegas coach said, "we need to stand up for what's right" and strip Jackie Robinson West of its national title.
On Wednesday, Mountain Ridge president Kristi Black thanked DNAinfo Chicago for reporting on the situation that helped push Little League International to enforce its rules.
"This has nothing to do with the championship," Black said. "It has everything to do with all the kids along the line who lost their chance to play in the World Series — all the kids in Illinois and the Great Lakes region, especially the team from Indiana who lost in the regional final, who lost their opportunity to achieve their dreams because adults decided to fraudulently expand their boundaries to create a super team."
(However, a father of the Philadelphia Taney Dragons, a team which also was eliminated by Jackie Robinson West during the World Series tournament, told a local television station, "I don't think they should just hand the title to Las Vegas" and suggested Vegas and Philly play each other.)
Other titles won by Jackie Robinson West will be awarded to other teams, including:
• The New Albany, Ind., team will be crowned the 2014 Great Lakes Regional champions.
• The Tri-Cities Little League of suburban West Dundee will be the new 2014 Illinois State Little League champion.
• The south suburban Lansing team will be declared the Illinois Section 3 champion.
• The Rosemoor Little League squad will be given the Illinois District 4 championship.
New Albany coach Kevin Ricketts said the decision "restores our faith in Little League and the system."
Still, Ricketts said, "we have mixed emotions" because "it doesn't change what happened on the field for us."
"We got beat by a team that obviously manipulated and broke the rules," Ricketts said. He said his players want get World Series hats and banners and fly the Great Lakes Region championship banner. They also want to go to Williamsport, Penn., the site of the Little League World Series.
"It's not the same as playing there but if the boys want to go down there next year, we might have to raise some money, but we're going to make it happen," Ricketts said.
Little League International said in a statement that the action against Jackie Robinson West is the third time in its 68-year history that "punitive actions have led to vacating wins from a league. In 1992, it disqualified a team from the Philippeans, the Zamboanga City Little League. In 2001, it punished the Rolando Paulino Little League in Bronx, New York.
In addition to declaring new champions, Little League International said it would take over the administration of Jackie Robinson West, suspending team manager Darold Butler and Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly, who signed off on changes to the JRW boundaries. JRW president Anne Haley and team treasurer Bill Haley will also be replaced.
The parent Little League will appoint "a special advisor" for Illinois District 4, who is described as a "veteran district administrator with knowledge of the Chicago area." Little League International president and CEO Stephen D. Keener did not name the advisor but said he serves on the international advisory board.
"He'll essentially be taking over the district for us," Keener said Wednesday on ESPN, Little League's broadcast partner.
The JRW team has been placed on probation and tournament privileges suspended until new local leadership is installed, Little League International said. After helping "ensure all operations and boundary issues fully comply" with Little League rules, "Jackie Robinson West Little League's probation will be lifted," according to a statement from Little League International.
On ESPN, Keener called the JRW situation an "isolated experience," though he acknowledged the use of illegal players does come up, sometimes at national tournaments but more typically on the local level because "neighbors know neighbors."
Keener insisted it as "not an issue that is rampant."
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