Little League International officials on Wednesday may have stripped the Jackie Robinson West Little League team of the national title awarded to them months earlier, but they can't take away the valuable experience the teammates had, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
"The normal and natural reaction is to be heartbroken, but I ask everybody to remember how much these kids showed their real character," Emanuel said late Wednesday morning during a sit-down interview with Telemundo Chicago.
League officials, after a lengthy review, determined the South Side team added top suburban players in violation of residency rules and on Wednesday morning awarded the national title to the Mountain Ridge Little League team of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Chicago won the U.S. title by beating Mountain Ridge Little League 7-5 last August.
"You can strip them of the title, but you can't strip them of that experience and what it meant to them as they grow into young adults," Emanuel said. "There'll be a lot of discussion about how this came about, et cetera, but I think remember first and foremost how the kids on the field and off the field showed their true character. This experience, win or lose, they grew in that experience and our kids are the priority."
"They will always be champions in Chicago," he said in a statement released by his office.
Two of Emanuel's challengers in the upcoming municipal election, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Willie Wilson, both said they were "saddened" by Wednesday's development.
"Those young men demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and teamwork and are still fine examples for other young people to follow," Fioretti, a former Little League player himself, said in a written statement. "They should hold their heads high. It is unfortunate that the grownups didn't follow directions and now the team members are paying the price."
Wilson said he would present the team members with a "special Black History Month trophy" in a Friday ceremony.
"It’s a sad day when kids have to pay the price for adults undermining the rules of fair play," said Wilson. "Children are more important than rules. The Jackie Robinson kids earned their title with talent and grace."