Little League Baseball on Wednesday stripped Jackie Robinson West of Chicago of its U.S. championship for using ineligible players last summer.
The Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee also suspended the Jackie Robinson West coach for placing players on the team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.
Jackie Robinson West was the first all-African-American team to win the championship. The team must vacate wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament — including its Great Lakes Regional and U.S. championships.
The team’s manager, Darold Butler, was suspended from Little League activity, and the Illinois District 4 administrator, Michael Kelly, was removed from his position.
The committee said it found that the Jackie Robinson team used a falsified boundary map, and that team officials met with neighboring Little League districts in Illinois to claim other top players.
“For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” Little League International president and CEO Stephen D. Keener said in a statement. “This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.
“As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.”
The United States championship has now been awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas, which lost 7-5 in the U.S. title game. Jackie Robinson West advanced to the World Series title game, where it fell to Seoul, South Korea.
“Quite honestly, we had to do this,” Keener told ESPN later Wednesday. “We had no choice. We had to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. … As painful as this is, it’s a necessary outcome from what we finally have been able to confirm.
“The real troubling part of this is that we feel horribly for the kids who are involved with this. Certainly, no one should cast any blame, any aspersions on the children who participated on this team. To the best of our knowledge, they had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong. They were just kids out playing baseball, which is the way it should be. They were celebrated for that by many, many organizations, many people. What we’re most concerned about today is that it’s going to be hard on these kids. And that’s the part that breaks your heart.”
The Jackie Robinson West players had been honored by President Obama with a White House ceremony. Obama said Wednesday that he continues to be proud of the players.
“The president is proud of the way they represented their city and the way they represented the country,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing. “The fact is, some dirty dealing by some adults doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men.”