At a press conference Wednesday, lawyers for a Chicago-based former Little League team announced the filing of a lawsuit against Little League International over the organization’s decision to strip the team’s United States championship earlier this year.
In February, Little League announced that it would be taking the U.S. championship away from Jackie Robinson West after discovering the team “knowingly expanded its boundaries to include territory that belonged to other leagues in the district” and “used a falsified boundary map” for the 2014 Little League World Series. The organization also claimed the team attempted to convince other leagues within Illinois District 4 “to try to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs” for the Little League World Series.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, is the team’s attempt to have Little League International turn over all documentation it used to come to that conclusion.
“We want answers to the questions that Little League has not been willing to provide,” Victor Henderson, an attorney representing the team, told reporters Wednesday. “Publicly they said ... (they) would be forthright and forthcoming and give us the entire basis for their decision. When they refused to do so, we then took the only avenue that was left to us, which was to file a petition in Cook County Circuit Court.”
Henderson acknowledged that the team erred in using ineligible players, but claimed that it was Little League’s responsibility to ensure each player’s eligibility before and/or during the Little League World Series. Instead, the organization did not begin an investigation into the eligibility of Jackie Robinson West’s players until after the conclusion of the tournament, when Chris Janes, the vice president of the Evergreen Park, Ill.-based Evergreen Park Athletic Association, sent a letter regarding the alleged residency violations. Little League officials didn’t meet with officials from Illinois District 4 until the end of January.
In response to the lawsuit, Little League International released a statement saying in part (via CBS Chicago), “Little League takes all matters of eligibility seriously. All 152 teams participating in the 16 Little League Baseball Regional Tournaments in 2014 underwent the same eligibility verification process. This process takes place prior to the start of each level of play of Little League International Tournament, not before every game, which was mentioned.”
Little League’s decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of the U.S. championship was deemed “final and binding.” However, the lawsuit seeks to force the organization to turn over information disclosing how it discovered the residency violations to prove that it acted within its rules.
“Until Little League International establishes to us that they have, in fact, acted properly, then we are not willing to concede that these young men are not still the champions from 2014,” Henderson told reporters, per CBS Chicago.
It’s unclear what, if anything, Jackie Robinson West can do to have Little League International’s decision reversed. If nothing else, perhaps the revealed documents—if granted by the judge—would vindicate their now-tainted title.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.