Friday, August 15, 2014

Special Feature - Chicago's Jackie Robinson West returns home as National Little League Champs

Story and Photos: By Roosevelt University Journalism Students:
Katelyn J. Anderson, Elisabet Bernard, Katherine L. Childress, Katherine A. Gage, Melinda McClain, James C.Moore, Ivonne Valadez and Kurt B. Witteman

Nothing but smiles and pure elation filled the crowd of thousands Wednesday Aug. 27, as the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars returned home, bringing with them the Little League Baseball national title. Throngs of onlookers anxiously awaited the parade down Michigan Avenue, most of them dressed in bright yellow shirts emblazoned with the words “Jackie Robinson West All-Stars NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.” Among them was Lee Lewis, 44, who attended the parade with his son.
“This celebrates a great group of Chicago’s kids, kids who are coming from a part of the city that only get’s negative press,” Lewis said. “They’ve brought Chicago together, and they are great roll models for the my son.”
            As the parade approached, the crowd started to roar. Horns blasted. And children and adults chanted for these boys who captivated a nation with their poise and performance both on and off the field in the recent Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.
“USA, USA, USA” they chanted over and over again as the boys waved. The people cheered and screamed in jubilation. “Go West!”
At Millennium Park, where the parade culminated with a rally, many supporters were dressed in JRW yellow and black T-shirts and caps and holding signs, saying “Chicago Stands Behind You JRW 42!” As the crowd patiently waited on the young champions, the sounds of the police horns on their motorcycle let the fans know that JRW was nearby. The crowd whistled, clapped, chanted, yelled and screamed “Number 1” as the team stood proudly, and waived as they passed aboard a trolley. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Reverend Jesse Jackson rode in a trolley that trailed the team.

The parade and the team’s success was a way for local merchants to cash in with memorabilia like T-shirts and caps. But Gary King, 35, passed out free cold water on behalf of his employer, Jewels food stores. Even though, King said he hadn’t followed the South Side baseball team’s success, he added that he was happy to help show Jewels shoppers and neighbors appreciation by giving them cold water on this hot summer day.
At the rally, Jackie Robinson West founder Bill Haley addressed the crowd that brimmed with energy and pride.
“Thirteen young boys let us know not what we have that divides us, but what we have in common,” Haley said as the crowd roared.
Haley also noted that as the team won the state regional tournament and advanced to the regional tournament in that they had little funding and eventually set up a website to solicit support, proving how far they had come and how much they had accomplished together. But there was clearly no lack of support Wednesday as a sea of humanity swarmed Millennium Park and lined the parade route from the city’s South Side to downtown.
Among them was Leslie Sanders, a loyal fan who danced with enthusiasm in Millennium Park, cheering the boys on as they stood on stage for all to see.
“I’ve been following the team since they went to the playoffs as some of my church members are a part of the neighborhood they’re representing,” Sanders said.
Earlier, under a hot August sun, a crowd of hundreds lined along the partition dividing the curb from Michigan Avenue. Excitement filled the air as faces, young and old, joined in the celebration.
            Among them were Beverly Ann Sandifer, 58, her daughter Nina Rayburn, 39, and Rayburn’s sons, Azariah Turner, 5, and Aaron Johnson, 9. The family eagerly waited near a partition, hoping to get a better view of the parade. With a big smile on her face, Sandifer explained how baseball was always a part of her family’s lives, adding that her family is deeply rooted in the Jackie Robinson baseball teams.
            “Since 1983, my brothers, sons and now grandsons play in the leagues. It’s about time their efforts pay off,” Sandifer said. “I’m really glad all of Chicago is behind them, and that children led them here.”
Rayburn shared her mother’s sentiments. “Jackie Robinson Park baseball teams are a wonderful community-based organization,” Rayburn said. “Jackie Robinson West is finally getting the recognition they deserve.”
Others agreed.
“Youth need to be celebrated in the same fashion as Kanye West would,” said Tshurhad Chivas, 37, who cheered the players. “The most inspiring moment of this whole event is that they gave 100 percent, and it sets an example for not only kids, but people. We (Chicago) don’t have to be separated. The actions of Jackie Robinson West showed us how one group can impact the actions of all.”
         The celebration moved to Millennium Park where hundreds filled the auditorium as Coach David Butler made an impassioned speech thanking the city, the community and most important, the players, for their efforts and the hard work that led them there.
        Standing in the outskirts of the auditorium was Vance Blackfox, 38. With tears in his eyes, he said, “It’s exciting to see young people-youth-achieve great things, and to achieve them with such style, class and maturity as those who play on the Jackie Robinson West team.”