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Mitchell: South Side team winners despite losing chance to play in Little League World Series

After dominating GreLakes Regional Jackie RobinsWest All-Stars were beaten regional final by Chad Lorkowski 6-2 200-pound seventh-grader.

After dominating the Great Lakes Regional, the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars were beaten in the regional final by Chad Lorkowski, a 6-2, 200-pound seventh-grader.

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:43AM

The Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team on Chicago’s South Side was poised to make

It didn’t happen because the team was defeated by Michigan’s Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores in the Great Lakes Championship in Indianapolis Saturday.

If they had won, the Jackie Robinson players would have gone to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. — making them the first all-black team from Chicago to do so in 30 years, according to ESPN.

“Jackie Robinson would be proud that this team — named in his honor — played hard all season and achieved such success,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement following the loss.

“We are proud of the parents, coaches and members of the community who supported them.”

Even though the team didn’t win, it countered the notion that black youths are no longer interested in baseball, and the team’s success shows another side of the South Side that is often overshadowed by gun violence.

Most of the players on the Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball team are not only athletes, but they are also on the honor roll at their respective schools.

“They are so good, they are phenomenal,” noted Gil Thompson, an umpire who has kept up with the team’s playoff games.

Thompson rattled off the victories: 5-4, against Ohio; 11-0 against Kentucky; 16-5 against Wisconsin; 16-2 against Indiana and 12-2 against Wisconsin.

“Wow,” he said.

“To come out of that neighborhood — to be that good, to have that work ethic and to be that successful, it is just amazing,” Thompson said.

Still, despite their incredible winning streak, Jackie Robinson West’s accomplishments went unnoticed.

I heard about the team only because an exasperated grandmother sent me an email.

“What has bothered me is that no one has acknowledged the team’s accomplishments,” said Frances Bruce.

Her son-in-law coaches the team. Her grandson, Darold Butler Jr., is a player.

“No send-off from the city, governor, county or the community. No story about young boys from the African-American neighborhood doing something good for our city, state or community. No sport coverage. You read about the violence, killings and arrests in their neighborhoods,” she said.

Saturday’s championship game was broadcast on ESPN. The Michigan team will go to Williamsport to play for the championship.

“I think the [Jackie Robinson West] team will get the attention they deserve when it is all said and done,” Butler told me.

Even though they didn’t win, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Little Leaguers were still champions.

“More important than making history, they have made all of us so proud of them, demonstrating the very best of what we hope from and for Chicago’s kids,” the mayor said in a statement.

Thompson has some ideas about why the Jackie Robinson West team was so easily ignored.

“Honestly, they are a little black team from the South Side and nobody expected them to do well,” he said. “They didn’t have the traditional support that traveling teams usually have.”

The oversight prompted Thompson to also email his media contacts.

“I woke up inspired and thought, let me do what I know how to do to bring some attention to the team,” he said.

“They were smashing the competition.”

The team’s success also highlights the importance of family support. Everyone from coaches to grandparents had to make sacrifices.

“The parents are so supportive. Many of them couldn’t afford the hotel. They were driving back and forth to Indianapolis to every game. Some of them couldn’t take off from their jobs,” she said.

Bruce just wants the team to get the recognition it deserves.

“I want the city to acknowledge this team of young African Americans from the city of Chicago showed that all children don’t have to be involved in negative behavior,” she said.

“If they have the right programs and mentorship, it can be done.”


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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