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South Side Little League team dares to dream big

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Updated: September 26, 2014 1:28PM



SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Jackie Robinson West Little League team from the South Side showed the world how revenge is meted out:

Not with fists or the barrel of a gun, but by being the best.

On Saturday, the team — representing the Great Lakes Region — took the title of Little League U.S. champions by defeating Mountain Ridge from Las Vegas 7-5 in its biggest nail-biter of the tournament.

“After I gave up that home run, I was very scared,” said Josh Houston, who owned the mound from the start of the game. “I thought we were going to lay down right there, but when I came in [and delivered a] clutch hit, I knew something big was going to happen.”

It did.

The all-black Jackie Robinson West squad made history by becoming the first team from Illinois to win the U.S. championship game.

When it was over, the fans went wild. Fathers threw up high-fives. Mothers broke down and cried.

“Look at my baby!” screamed Nedra Jones, player Pierce Jones’ mother.

JRW fans of all races and from states as far away as California rushed to the lower deck of Lamade Stadium and joined the celebration.

“They did it! They did it!’’ cried Donita Butler, collapsing into her mother-in-law’s arms.

The victory was redemptive for many of the families who put in long hours at no pay to coach the team.

“It’s just phenomenal,” said Carolyn Wilson, the mother of manager Darold Butler, and player DJ Butler’s grandmother.

“Darold has played baseball all his life,” she said. “This was something he had always looked forward to. He didn’t get here, but his son did.”

Linda Sneed, Marquis Jackson’s mother, is the lone single parent in the close-knit group. She bawled as her son and his teammates sprinted triumphantly off Lamade Field under the backdrop of the Bald Eagle Mountains.

In an earlier interview, I asked her how she managed to keep Josh involved in an endeavor as demanding as Little League when it comes to time.

“I got a lot of help from the other parents on the teams,” she said. “They would be willing to pick him up and take him to practice if I couldn’t get him there. Everybody has to help. Like they say, it takes a village and this is the village.”

After the game, the champions were escorted to the Little League World Series dormitory complex, where fans lined up for autographs and parents waited patiently to wrap their arms around their sons.

Out of uniform and off the field, you can clearly see these are 11- and 12-year-old boys having fun.

Prentiss “P.J.” Luster, the left fielder, had three words to describe how he felt after the big victory: “Excited, excited, excited.”

For Chicagoans, the JRW players have been points of light in a sea of darkness.

They came into the LLWS as underdogs, and after a devastating loss to the Las Vegas team, had to fight their way back into contention.

But while these parents might have squirmed when the opponents popped off a good hit, they never lost faith that their kids could go all the way.

“All the hard work and all the dedication that we put in our kids have paid off,” said a smiling Sanja Noble, mother of Lawrence Noble. “We are getting our rewards a little bit early.”

The Jackie Robinson West story is about more than baseball. It’s about black men who dream and pour their dreams into their sons. That 13 African-American boys from the South Side prevailed against the best Little League teams in America is evidence that dreams do come true.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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