Chris Janes is crying foul but his grievances appear to be falling on deaf ears.
The vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association is accusing the Jackie Robinson West Little League of cheating by violating residency rules when it put together the team that competed in the 2014 Little League World Series and won the U.S. title.
It doesn’t appear that the team will have its title stripped anytime soon.
A spokesman for Little League International, Brian McClintock, which organizes the Little League World Series, said in an emailed statement the organization is “confident that the documentation provided to the organization from Jackie Robinson West Little League meets the residency regulations for the 2014 Little League Baseball tournament season" and the issue is considered "closed at this time,” according to reports.
The story was first reported by DNAinfo.com Tuesday and has grown into a firestorm.
Jackie Robinson West’s success was the feel-good story of the summer as a team from Chicago’s South Side came together and rolled through the sectional and state playoffs before winning the U.S. title. They lost the title game to a team from Seoul, Korea.
Their season included a playoff slaughter-rule win over Evergreen Park Little League by a score of 43-2 in four innings, DNAinfo reported.
The team enjoyed significant recognition when they returned to Chicago from Williamsport, Pa., including a downtown pep rally and appearances at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
But the EPAA insists that the team was not made up exclusively of boys from Chicago’s South Side. Rather, they were chosen travel teams that hail from nearby suburbs, Janes said.
In an email to Little League International, EPAA officials called on Little League officials to investigate whether Jackie Robinson West engaged in “manipulating, bending and blatantly breaking the rules for the sole purpose of winning at all costs,” DNAinfo reported.
Janes said Tuesday that the all of the association’s officers agreed to go public with the accusation, though the decision may “open a big can of worms,” he said.
He added that decision was not made overnight.
“We have been working with Little League since early in the tournament,” Janes said. “It’s not as though I waited four months to spring this on everybody.”
Additionally, he said, Little League requires the accuser to prove wrongdoing. He believes he’s done that.
“I’ve given them compelling evidence,” he said.
Some of that evidence was not that difficult to find.
“It was just a Google search. That’s all it was,” Janes said.
DNAinfo reported that an Internet search found that a congresswoman, a suburban mayor, an elite traveling baseball league and Sports Illustrated posted details about the players' suburban roots.
Specifically, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly took to Twitter to cheer on Jackie Robinson West players who live and attend school in suburban towns within her district, DNAinfo said.
Additionally, South Holland village officials congratulated the two as “alumni” in a village newsletter, and Sports Illustrated reported in its feature “Faces in the Crowd” that one player attended a school in suburban Homewood.
Lynwood Mayor Mayor Gene Williams also was quoted as in a newspaper about plans to celebrate our own Jackie Robinson West player.
According to the rules posted on the Little League International web site, each local little league determines its own geographic boundaries from which it can select its players.
But, according to a map obtained by DNAinfo.com, the Jackie Robinson West boundaries include sections of the Morgan Park, Washington Heights, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and New City neighborhoods of Chicago — but do not include any suburbs.
Residence must be established and supported with three forms of documentation, the rules say, which include items like a driver's license, voter registration and copies of utility bills.
Jackie Robinson officials deny cheating.
“Oh my goodness, we did not cheat. We did not recruit these guys,” Jackie Robinson West president Bill Haley told DNAinfo. “Nothing was done to put these kids together. We absolutely did not cheat.”
Janes said Evergreen Park baseball officials and those from other leagues have long suspected Jackie Robinson West of violating residency rules to recruit the top players from the suburbs.
He even recalled an occasion when he talked with a coach from Kankakee who knew about the alleged cheating by Jackie Robinson West.
Nothing was ever made of the suspicions in the past because the team did not enjoy the success it experienced this summer, he said.
“Nobody was ever comfortable going on the record,” said Janes, the father of four boys, three who play Evergreen Park Little League.
Additionally, he said, there was a hesitancy to quash the feel-good story of the summer.
Janes said he and the league has been the target of some criticism for raising the issue, but nothing too serious.
“I haven’t gotten a lot of negativity in terms of people knocking at my door or calling me,” he said.
Despite potential negative feedback, raising the issue is important, Janes said.
“It’s about fair play. What are we teaching our kids? How is it fair and equitable?”