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Little League Strips U.S. Championship From Chicago's Jackie Robinson West

Little League International stripped the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West squad of its U.S. championship Wednesday after determining that the team used players that lived outside of its boundaries.

According to a statement on Little League's website, the organization discovered that Jackie Robinson West "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. Officials from Jackie Robinson West also attempted to convince other leagues within Illinois District 4 "to try to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs" for the LLWS, Little League found.

Accordingly, Little League is forcing Jackie Robinson West to vacate all of its wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament, including championships from the Great Lakes Regional and the U.S. title. Little League thus awarded the U.S. championship to the runner-up in that game, the Las Vegas-based Mountain Ridge Little League. The organization suspended the team's manager, Darold Butler, from Little League activity, and removed Illinois District 4 administrator Michael Kelly from his position, too.

"For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses," said Stephen D. Keener, Little League International President and CEO, in the statement. "This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome. As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries."

Following the conclusion of this past summer's Little League World Series, the vice president of the Evergreen Park, Ill.-based Evergreen Park Athletic Association, Chris Janes, sent a letter to Little League International regarding the alleged residency violations. Janes accused at least three Jackie Robinson West players of being ineligible because they lived in the suburbs, outside of the team's assigned boundaries.

In mid-December, Little League International's senior vice president of operations, Pat Wilson, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the organization had already investigated Janes' complaint and found no merit to it.

"The team provided documentation to support the residency in accordance with Little League rules," Wilson said. "We reviewed that documentation multiple times and that documentation meets Little League's criteria for residence as outlined in our rule books, and that's basically it."

However, Wilson did acknowledge that some of the addresses listed for the players in Janes' complaint didn't match the addresses given to Little League.

The team offered "a detailed explanation that also matched the documentation on each of the players where the question was raised," Wilson told the paper in December. "...They explained or outlined why the documentation that [Janes] put forward was not the documentation that supported [the players' existing record of] residence."

Around that same time, "Little League began to learn of multiple issues with boundary maps and operational process with multiple leagues in Illinois District 4," per the statement on the organization's website. At the end of January, Little League officials met with Illinois District 4 officials and the leagues in the district, where they learned of the residency violations that occurred. Local league officials confirmed to Little League that "the boundary issues stem from a boundary map redrafting process that started prior to the 2013 season and includes maps that were agreed upon amongst all the leagues, but had never been properly submitted to Little League International through the official process."

"The real troubling part of this is that we feel horribly for the kids who are involved in this," Keener told ESPN on Wednesday. "Certainly, no one should cast any blame, any aspersions on the children who participated on this team. To the best of our knowledge, they had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong."

This is the third time in Little League World Series history that a team has been forced to vacate wins. In 1992, the league disqualified Zamboanga (Phillippines) City League League, and the Bronx, N.Y.-based Rolando Paulino Little League was disqualified in 2001.

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