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Jackie Robinson West Could Leave Little League, Join Ripken, Sources Say

By Mark Konkol | March 11, 2015 5:46am
 Bill Haley, the ousted leader of Jackie Robinson West Little League
Bill Haley, the ousted leader of Jackie Robinson West Little League
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MORGAN PARK — The decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of the Little League U.S. title could bring huge changes to the youth baseball landscape on the South Side.

The league’s ousted leader, Bill Haley, made it known last week that he’s preparing the youth baseball league his late father founded for a post-Little League existence. And JRW’s revamped website touting its Little League affiliation has been taken offline.

On Saturday, Haley told representatives from the Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth youth baseball leagues he felt betrayed by Little League, and he’s interested in playing ball under their organizations' banner and significantly expanding his Morgan Park-based league’s territory, sources said.

Late last week, Little League International officials started a process that could lead to the dismantling of District 4 — which consists of six leagues, including JRW, which was stripped of its title last month after the parent league ruled ringers were brought in from outside approved boundaries.

In the aftermath, District 4 was left without a leader, as former administrator Mike Kelley was removed from office for his alleged part in the cheating scandal.

Little League spokesman Brian McClintock told DNAinfo Chicago that officials have “not yet been able to consult with Jackie Robinson West Little League representatives concerning the district issue.”

JRW officials filed charter paperwork for the 2015 season in December, but Little League representatives have not discussed the league's status since then, McClintock said.

The possibility of JRW leaving District 4 — or District 4 breaking up altogether — isn't sitting well with JRW's sister leagues, which have started to discuss working together to keep District 4 intact.

Roseland Little League President Maurice Johnson said Central District Director Nina Johnson-Pitt on Monday outlined possible scenarios for splitting up District 4 teams.

She said Little League’s charter committee is considering assigning the six teams within District 4 to one or two other districts.

Sources told DNAinfo Chicago that the changes could send the JRW, South Side, Bronzeville and Near South leagues to District 12, which includes leagues on the North and West sides of Chicago. Roseland and Rosemoor leagues could be added to District 7, which represents leagues from the city and south suburbs.

Electing a new district administrator and keeping the district intact were not options offered by the Central Region director, Johnson said.

The Roseland Little League president said he made it clear to Johnson-Pitt that he’s against dissolving District 4.

“I asked, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ And she told me that it’s because we have no leadership, no district administrator,” the Roseland league president said. “Well, that’s because they fired the district administrator. We are perfectly willing and able to select a new administrator and keep going.”

Johnson said breaking up District 4 would unfairly punish leagues for the sins of JRW and former district administrator Kelley.

“If their issue is with JRW, deal with that issue. But we didn’t do anything wrong,” Johnson said. “We absolutely cooperated with Little League the entire way. The problem is Little League’s leadership is failing. They messed up. I’m sure the honor system did work in the '30s but it’s 2015.  … They can’t do the same thing and expect different results.”

And if Little League moves ahead with plans to dismantle District 4, Johnson said the Roseland Little League — a charter member since 1952 and home to the 1967 U.S. championship team — is prepared to sever ties from the international youth baseball organization.

“She said they’re talking to all the leagues to see how we feel and will relay those sentiments to the charter committee, and they will make the decision,” Johnson said. “But if they split us up, Roseland is no longer with Little League. I made that clear to her.”

Little League’s spokesman said a final determination has not been made on District 4’s fate.

“Little League International is currently consulting with local volunteers to assist in reviewing and determining the most appropriate and effective district structure for the Little League programs currently in Illinois District 4,” McClintock said.

When Little League International officials stripped JRW of the U.S. title in February — confirming allegations that league officials cheated by knowingly putting players who lived outside league boundaries on the tournament team against residency rules — they also suspended the team’s manager Darold Butler, removed Kelley, and put JRW on probation until president Anne Haley and her son Bill Haley, who’s listed on tax documents as the league treasurer, were replaced.

Butler, Kelley and Bill Haley have not publicly denied Little League’s findings that they conspired to falsify documents and improperly expand boundaries to include homes that would verify their players’ eligibility.

Some officials from JRW sister leagues in District 4 said they believe Haley’s application to charter JRW in Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth organizations aims to keep him in control of the league and the more than $200,000 in donations the league received last year. And it allows him to poach talent from other South Side youth baseball programs.

Haley did not return a call seeking comment.

Haley’s pitch for the Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth charters included a request to claim an expansive territory stretching from Stony Island Avenue west to California Avenue between 59th and 130th streets. Portions of that territory either infringe upon or overlap portions of other chartered Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth leagues. Unlike Little League, Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth rules allow chartered leagues to share territory with the permission of every league president in a district.

The boundaries JRW proposed for a potential Cal Ripken charter would have the biggest impact on the Rosemoor league, which would have to compete for players with JRW, except for in a few areas near sparsely populated industrial parks.

Rosemoor’s president Ralph Peterson, who also runs Rosemoor Little League, declined to comment.

South Holland Babe Ruth President John Pearson, who also serves as the assistant district administrator, said that officials from JRW and leagues with possible boundary disputes discussed territory conflicts on Saturday.

“Nothing has been decided. This is the typical process of a league coming to talk about joining Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth,” he said.

“If you want to have shared boundaries, all the league presidents involved would have to agree in writing. If they don’t agree, then it comes down to accepting set boundaries or taking your bat and ball and going somewhere else, so to speak.”

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