A Salute to Young Champions: Celebrating the Accomplishments of Sports

Although it’s not the only city with violence, the street conflict in Chicago has dominated mainstream media news cycles the past few years. One would think that there is nothing good to report on about young people out of the Wind City or any city throughout the country.

The historic all-Black Jackie Robinson West Little League team of 11- and 12-year-olds gave the city plenty to cheer about when they won the National Little League Championship by beating a Las Vegas team.

The team captured the nation and world’s heart as they came back to win many games when it looked like they would be knocked out of the tournament.  Although they came up short in the World Series Finale against South Korea 8-4, they had secured their place in history.

Many of the players on the team come from areas filled with poverty and high gun violence. One player was reportedly homeless with his family, but a local business owner secured them residence. Thousands of dollars are now being donated to the team.

In celebration, the team was mobbed at Midway airport, honored with a fireworks display on Navy Pier followed by a parade attended by 10,000. The parade started at their home ballpark on the South Side and culminated with a rally at the downtown Millennium Park. A few weeks later the team and their parents were flown to Disney World on a trip sponsored by United Airlines and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“I want to congratulate the Jackie Robinson West All Stars and Coach Darold Butler on a history-making season,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“As the first team in the history of the City of Chicago to reach the championship game, they are the pride of Chicago and will forever have a place in the record books. This team has electrified our city and rallied people from every neighborhood to support these great kids,” he said.

“I’m still shocked by everything,” team coach Darold Butler said to reporters. “This whole journey has been a complete shock for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I have the best coaches, the best kids to be around. They made it an enjoyable experience.”

Butler and the team also received a personal phone call from President Barack Obama, who expressed how proud he was of the team and how proud they have made the residents of Chicago.

According to the team’s official website, the mission of Jackie Robinson West, a chartered member of Little League Inc., is to bring children into a structured program environment intensely supported by adult volunteers where the values of leadership, team work and self-discipline are strongly emphasized.

Joseph H. Haley founded the team in 1971 on the south side of Chicago. Mr. Haley’s goal was to “provide wholesome, healthy recreation through participation in the program.”

Being an educator, Mr. Haley was said to use the game of baseball as a classroom to teach leadership skills, team work and self discipline to his players. The program now has become one of the most outstanding community organizations in Chicago with hundreds of children registered and inspired to be their best.

After their unbelievable season, the Jackie Robinson West team has sparked further conversation about the lack of Blacks playing in the major leagues.

According to statistics, less than 8% of the 900 players listed on the 30 clubs are Black; a steady decline since 1980. In 1975, it was at 27 percent. The number of Hispanic players in the MLB has increased from 7 percent in 1975 to over 30 percent in 2014.

Throwing like a girl? The unstoppable arm of Mo’ne Davis

Mo’ne Ikea Davis wasn’t known two months ago, but now she’s a household name. The female Little League Baseball pitcher from Philadelphia was one of two girls in the 2014 Little League World Series and the first girl to earn a win and to successfully pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history on August 15. She plays for the Taney Dragons.

Overall, she is the 18th girl to play, the sixth to get a hit, and the fourth American girl to play in the Little League World Series. On top of all of that, she is also the first Little League baseball player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Davis led her team to a 4–0 victory over a team from Nashville. The phenomenal player pitched six innings, struck out eight batters, and gave up two infield hits. After the game, the Governor of Pennsylvania surprised many by predicting that she would play in professional baseball.

It’s no surprise that batters are having a difficult time hitting her pitches. Especially since reportedly Davis throws a 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) fastball, which is 20 miles per hour higher than the average in her age class.  She also has an almost untouchable curve ball. Her style of pitching has caused researchers to analyze deeply by using math and physics equations she probably won’t see until she attends college! For example, one analyst says at the end of her throwing motion, her arm is moving forward at a peak angular velocity that is 80% higher than most major league pitchers.

Davis received congratulatory messages from many including First Lady Michelle Obama.

“I never thought at the age of 13 I’d be a role model. I always wanted to be a role model, but being a baseball role model is really cool,” Davis told ESPN.

By adorning the August 25 Sports Illustrated front cover, she’s the first Little Leaguer to do so. When asked how she felt about it, Davis replied that she was, “Kind of surprised, but I mean, it was fun.”

Davis has created a renewed excitement around Little League baseball and has caused people to look beyond her gender and focus on her talents. She became the most talked about baseball player, raised the ratings of major television networks and has been highlighted on the front page of major newspapers across the country.

“She’s an inspiration to any little girl who wants to play baseball some day — and to all the women who know firsthand the doubters and naysayers that Davis has no doubt encountered on her path to World Series history,” said Kelly Wallace in a column on CNN.

“Her impact is that she will not only inspire other girls to play but she is helping to remove the ‘specialness’ of girls playing on that level,” she said. “Over time people won’t be amazed that a girl is so good. They will simply be amazed that a particular pitcher or catcher or fielder is so good. Gender won’t matter,” said Stephanie Tuck, who experienced being the only girl in her Little League while growing up in Massachusetts.

Jack Yates Hoopsters Reign as Champions

After Dallas Madison had to forfeit their trophies due to having ineligible players, Houston’s Jack Yates Senior High School was recently awarded two championship trophies for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons. Yates previously lost to Dallas Madison in both of the championship games those years.

An investigation into Dallas Madison took place after one of their players was reportedly charged with murder. Yates now has a total of four state titles including 2009 and 2010.

Local radio station 97.9 the Box hosted a celebration at the school’s jam-packed auditorium. Special guests included State Representative Alma Allen, Councilmember Dwight Boykins (Distist D), the offices of State Senator Rodney Ellis and more.

“Today, I presented a certificate to the basketball team and congratulated each player for this remarkable accomplishment. Throughout the season, these young men exhibited a remarkable spirit of determination, cooperation, and teamwork,” said Boykins. “I commend each of them for their part in achieving this goal and keeping their eye on the prize. May each player stay focused and continue to play with pride, character, and loyalty and best wishes for next season.”

Each Yates player was presented with a medal and the gleaming trophies held high as the crowd cheered.

Jackie Robinson West, Mo’ne Davis and Jack Yates are just a few accomplishments of young people in sports that have given their communities a lot to be proud of. This society tends to focus on the negative things that their generation does, but it’s vital that we highlight the good. Why? Because we just might finally realize that the good does outweigh the bad, but we will never know if we continue to depend on others to tell our stories.

African-American News&Issues salutes our young sports champions!