LLB opens Chicagoans’ doors to another world

Being a part of a Little League team can do a lot for a youngster.

It teaches dedication, hard work and sportsmanship.

And for Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League team, which is representing the Great Lakes Region in the 75th Little League Baseball World Series, it’s opened doors to another world.

The team comes from Chicago’s South Side, an area that normally makes the news for its crime rate, gang violence and murders. The Little League team has demonstrated quite the opposite.

“It’s a good thing. More baseball, less streets,” said Lawrence Noble Sr., grandfather of Jackie Robinson West player Lawrence Quincy Noble. “The more they’re on the field, the less they are on the streets. They’re doing something positive instead.”

Annie Haley, president and co-founder of Jackie Robinson West, said she and her husband, Joseph, started the team to provide “wholesome recreation” for children.

“It helps children to develop a positive attitude and provide an opportunity for character development,” Haley said.

She’s seen kids go through the baseball program and find more opportunities because of their time on the team. They’ve gotten to meet people of other cultures and created lasting friendships and relationships with other kids on their team.

“The program starts at (age) 4 and goes to 18,” Haley said. “They go through and many get scholarships. It brings opportunities.”

Barbara Luster, grandmother of Prentiss Luster, had another grandson who went through the program. Playing with Jackie Robinson West brought more baseball opportunities, followed by scholarships. He’s currently studying to get his master’s degree.

“It’s been a great experience,” Luster said.

Being involved in Little League has brought out the best in the young players and Luster thinks the experience is a very good thing for the boys.

“I’m proud of the whole team,” she said. “They’re a group of nice young men.”

Those on the team are offering inspiration to their city.

“There’s no place in Chicago they aren’t talking about this,” Noble Sr. said.

The team has brought many together in the Chicago communities. Games have been broadcast at watch parties in Chicago parks and the boys on Jackie Robinson have earned themselves quite a following.

“It’s just wonderful. You can’t even verbalize how much it means to the community, to the children, to us,” Haley said.

Player Lawrence Noble’s younger brother, Donavan, said that he and other kids are emulating the team members.

“A lot of guys have friends and older brothers on the team, and they are trying to be like them,” Donavan said.

Donavan will be old enough to be on the team next year, and has a healthy rivalry with older brother Lawrence. He’s working hard to be even better than his brother, he said, but he acknowledged that his older sibling is pretty good.

As recognition for the sport grows, the family members expect more positive experiences for kids from their area. The rewards of coming to the Series offer kids incentive to engage in positive recreation, Noble Sr. said.

“This is a great experience for their future,” Noble Sr. said. “It gives them something to strive for, something to accomplish.”

And he was confident this would be a continued tradition for the Jackie Robinson West League.

“They will be here next year, you can quote me on that,” he said.