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Chicago's All-Black Little League Team Enhances City's Image


OK, the most important thing in the world is happening right now, that is if you're a Little League baseball player.


The Little League World Series is underway in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the championship is this weekend. An all African-American team from Chicago is getting lots of attention as it moves ahead.

GREENE: In an elimination game last night Jackie Robinson West beat Pearland East from Texas by a score 6-1. For a city were national headlines are often about crime and gangs this baseball victory was a moment of joy. Hundreds of Chicagoans turned out for a viewing party in a Chicago Park. And NPR's Cheryl Corley was there.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It was a perfect night to watch baseball. The sky was clear after a heavy rainfall and a huge screen and scoreboard were set up for the crowd who'd come to watch. Mostly African Americans sitting in lawn chairs at the Jackie Robinson Park on Chicago's far south side.

JAKE HENRY: I've (unintelligible). I've never seen nothing like this in my life. This is beautiful.

CORLEY: Jake Henry (Ph) has been attending the watch parties of the team faithfully. And he says he's been impressed by the decorum of the young 11 and 13-year-olds on the team, especially after one in an earlier game did a little showboating after hitting a home run.

HENRY: He goes to the opposing team and apologized. To say he's sorry. Look at that young man he'll be the president one day.

CORLEY: Jackie Robinson West needed to win last night to stay alive. The crowd in the park was both hopeful and anxious for action. And they got it early on. Here's the ESPN announcers making the call during the first inning.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Jackson on the ground that's through and Pierce Jones (Ph) will score the first run of the game with his great speed. Chicago on top.

CORLEY: And that was enough to make the DJ spin a song.


CORLEY: Wearing a White Sox baseball cap, Lee Jones (Ph) sat with his sons, one a little leaguer. He said they didn't want to miss any of the Jackie Robinson West games.

LEE JONES: We think it's great. It's wonderful. They're making history right now.

CORLEY: It's been 31 years since an all-black team made it into the Little League Baseball World Series. And that was also the Jackie Robinson West team in 1983. Since then the number of African-Americans involved in baseball in the major leagues as well as Little League has been on the decline as basketball and football became more popular. Even so 16-year-old Will Townson (Ph) who played Little League for years, says he's certain the play of Jackie Robinson West will attract more blacks to the game.

WILL TOWNSON: Definitely. Definitely because I think they'll play phenomenal.

CORLEY: For now it's all about how Jackie Robinson West plays the game. At the top of the sixth when the last strike was thrown it meant the team had lived to play another day. Ten-year-old Kennedy Spencer (Ph) and hundreds of others jumped cheering from their chairs.

KENNEDY SPENCER: It was awesome because the boys were great, we got a lot of home runs and we did really well.

CORLEY: Damesha Warden (Ph) whose cousin plays the team says she'll be buying more poster board and T-shirts that have been selling out quickly to support Jackie Robinson West.

DAMESHA WARDEN: They've been the underdogs for so long. And it's like they keep coming back and keep coming back. Every time people think that they're out they keep coming back.

CORLEY: She's a believer and so is Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel who attended the watch party. He says the team helps blow away some of the negative images of the city.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This is the true Chicago. Both the kids on the screen and the folks here are the best of the best of Chicago.

CORLEY: Those kids have a day off and then Chicago's new favorite home team plays again on Thursday. If they win they had for the championship rounds this weekend. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.

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