Location Matters – Even to Youth Sports

During the month of August when baseball season ended, the Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League team celebrated an amazing win over the Mountain Ridge Little League of Las Vegas to win the Little League World Series title. Most Chicagoans were glued to their TVs during the final game and celebrated this tremendous victory for the city of Chicago. This group of 12 kids brought the city together and they were deemed Little League heroes.
The city has come together again for the young boys on the JRW team, but this time for a very sad reason. The team was stripped of their title by the Little League World Series because they falsified the boundary map in order to add players to their roster that would not normally be on the team. Little League authorities have stated that the extended boundary lines allowed them to add All-Star players to from neighboring towns.
Neighborhoods, districts and boundaries are interesting. With real estate transactions being in the “right” school district is a big deal. Many times families shopping for new homes won’t even look at homes in a different school district.  It seems that in the case of JRW that some of the team members simply lived in the wrong area. And as you know in the city of Chicago, you can live in one area and go to school at a different Chicago public school. The question is, why doesn’t this apply to sports or this team as well?
The Little League website shares a lot of information about their rules and requirements for participation on a local team and in the World Series. The fact that Janes continued to take action to bring this issue to the forefront long after the event highlights the second problem with competitive youth sports. We seem to forget that kids play sports until sports are no longer fun. These kids, all of which are the proper age to have played on the team and seem to live within some boundary approved by the league at some point, will now have their love of the game tested at an early age.It is hard to be the parent of a sports player in today’s competitive environment. Parents try to teach their kids to play to the best of their ability, be respectful of coaches, teammates and players from other teams, and learn the sportsmanship required for all aspects in life. The players on the JRW team played their hearts out and personified youth baseball. Now they are being punished for boundary technicalities that children simply shouldn’t be held accountable for much less worry about.The parent who filed the grievance is Chris Janes, the vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association. His team was humiliated by JRW in and game that ended early by slaughter rule. And, he didn’t file just one report; he badgered Little League officials until they were forced to take action.
It raises the question that we should ask ourselves relative to youth sports and how competitive it has become. Is it good to put this much pressure on our kids at such a young age? Another question is, should the actions of these adults (JRW coaches AND Mr. Janes) cause this special group of kids to be publically penalized? The team went out and played ball to the best of their ability. The actions of the team leaders and the “whistleblower” have changed the outcome of what these kids worked so hard to accomplish. Even Mayor Emanuel called the Little League International CEO asking them to rethink their decision.
Many feel that the Little League International’s punishment was too harsh. Certainly there are other means of punishment that don’t include stripping their title. Some other options that could have been effective that we see work in the NCAA and professional sports include:
–          remove the coaches or administrators who broke the rules
–          ban JRW from competing in any tournaments during the 2015 season
–          do not allow JRW to hold any titles for a particular period of time
Again, punishing the players for the actions of adults does not seem fair considering there are other options the League could take. Let us know your thoughts on this situation by leaving a comment below!