Future Jackie Robinson West Little League players can probably look forward to nicer playing fields and facilities thanks to a six-figure donation the league received Wednesday.
Dick's Sporting Goods, which sold yellow team T-shirts this summer as the baseball team from the South Side rose to become U.S. Little League champion, is donating the net proceeds from sales of the 12,000 shirts to the baseball organization.
The oversized check Dick's representatives passed on to league director Bill Haley was made out for $164,481.17, the biggest single donation made to the league and an amount that exceeds the league's annual budget, Haley said.
“This is huge,” Haley said Wednesday at the Dick's store in the South Loop, where fans earlier this summer waited outside the door to get their hands on the $20 shirts. “This is a game changer for Little League baseball.”
Haley said the check demonstrates the overwhelming support the team of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds received as they worked their way through the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania last month.
“We really didn't know the impact of everything that was going on (in Chicago) with the watch parties and the T-shirt sales,” he said.
“It really became apparent to all of us when we came back to that parade,” Haley said, referring to last week's city-hosted parade that brought out thousands to cheer for team members.
Haley said the check could go toward building “first-class” facilities and fields for the athletes, whose numbers are expected to grow because of the boys' success this summer.
Haley said about 310 kids played this year on Jackie Robinson West's 28 teams, which cater to children as young as 4. Haley expects Wednesday's donation to help increase the number of players by 20 to 30 percent.
“Now will be the time to brainstorm, come up with some preliminary plans and put those plans in action,” he said.
Annie Haley, wife of the league's founder and the league's president, said Wednesday the check is a far cry from the $10 or $20 she might help collect in one day selling popcorn and Kool-Aid to raise money for the the league when it was founded four decades ago.
“We can't even really comprehend this much money, but we know that it's needed. We know that it will be used (to) impact our children,” she said. “It will be such a thrill to see the league grow and grow.”D.J. Butler, a member of the championship team, attended the Wednesday ceremony with his dad, team manager Darold Butler, who reflected on the team's national title, calling it a “true team effort.”
“I'm thinking that the younger guys behind us, they're some lucky guys,” he said.