Ed. note — This piece originally appeared in the Beverly Area Planning Association’s “The Villager” publication
Since becoming a national melodrama earlier this winter, the controversy centering on the 2014 Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League team and the JRW program being stripped of its United States Championship from last year’s Little League World Series has become a lingering and disruptive influence to Chicago’s community and the culture of baseball.
It’s not BAPA’s place to deliberate on decisions that quite frankly, are the responsibilities of Little League officials; however, as an organization and community we can help a city and a community of athletes and organizers heal from the bitter taste of a special moment that has since been diminished by wrong-headed adult actions and implications.
With spring and another youth baseball season on the horizon, it’s imperative that Chicago shift gears to move from the negative and divisive connotations of the 2014 JRW story and instead refocus the attention on what is more important – that is, further harnessing the momentum of a resuscitated minority baseball culture and embracing new precedence in youth and team sportsmanship.
Last summer, the young men of JRW represented our community as upstanding beacons of hope and progress, both on and off the field. Their actions superseded the game of baseball by unifying an often-divided Chicago and South Side. As the team played and won, the entire city cheered with a sense of pride, enjoyment and relief. The players themselves transcended the negative stereotype too often used to portray young, African American males as misfits.
As the 2015 summer youth baseball season approaches, the momentum experienced as a community last summer should not be forgotten regardless of the results or any further looming actions: whether a rescind on the suspension of JRW’s championship is enacted, a regional redistricting for JRW’s continued Little League involvement, or JRW’s enrollment in an entirely different baseball organization.
Supporters and detractors alike are incapable of changing the impact JRW has had on the broader community that rallied behind it.
Instead of further grasping at straws, perhaps what’s needed is for participating parents, fans and residents of Beverly Hills/Morgan Park and surrounding communities take solace in the fact that the poise and overall comportment displayed by the young JRW players on the field during their entire saga — from mid-tournament interviews through their latter wave of scrutiny — has been nothing if not exemplary. Their sportsmanship and composure amidst the height of controversy continues to give us hope and raises the bar on what we should expect from our young athletes – this cannot be forgotten!
More importantly, we should hang on to the look on the players’ faces and the many smiling moments they helped elicit from their many fans, keeping in mind everything positive that Jackie Robinson’s name and accomplishments represent – absolute resolve, racial and social equity and resiliency during the most challenging of times.
And now, thanks to the actions of 13 remarkable young men and the many devotees whom supported them, we now have a model for those same principles in action along with a measuring stick for how safe, accountable civic pride can manifest itself anywhere and anytime in our great city.
Sean Terry is a member of BAPA’s Board of Directors, a former JRW player, a co-founder of We Are Regal Radio and host of WARR’s The Varsity Show