Bill Haley, director of Jackie Robinson West Little League, has one word to describe the league his father, Joseph, started in 1971.
"Tradition. We have a strong tradition that we're proud of," Haley said. "I think that tradition has allowed us to last over a generation."
Fans have marveled at what Jackie Robinson West has done the past few seasons. Most see a group of boys having fun playing a game they love. Beyond that, there's a lot that goes on with putting a competitive brand on the field.
The travel schedule, the practices, the games themselves and a financial commitment are just part of what make the program work.
JRW has more than 300 players who comprise 30 teams. The players range from T-ball (age 4) all the way up to Junior League (14-18). The team on TV this past week is in between.
"Some people get the impression that the team that is seen on TV is the entire program," Haley said. "That group is the Major League program, the 10- to 12-year-olds. They're a select team out of the eight teams in the league."
The JRW season starts in late April and ends in late June. The Little League World Series qualifying process starts shortly after.
Haley, a 47-year-old CTA dispatcher, said there's a considerable time commitment.
"At this age group [the Major League traveling team], they play between 16 and 18 games per year," he said. "Two or three games a week with a couple of practices during the week. The commitment is four to five days a week."
He said the parents are on board with what the program tries to accomplish.
"We get positive feedback from parents," Haley said. "They like it that the kids have structure and something to do after school."
The annual registration fee is $120 per child, which covers equipment and uniforms. However, players are responsible for their own gloves.
"We don't turn players away," he said. "If there's a need, we won't turn a kid away."
Jackie Robinson West also has a league called the Challenger League, which is geared toward kids with disabilities.
"This year, we had 25 kids on two different teams," Haley said. "That gives them the opportunity to experience the fun and excitement of Little League."
Due to the recent success of the JRW's traveling team, the program's popularity continues to grow.
"As the young men play in Williamsport, I'm getting texts and email every day about kids who want to join up," Haley said. "Kids want to give Little League a shot."
Evan F. Moore is a RedEye special contributor.
UP NEXT: Elimination game
Jackie Robinson West vs. Philadelphia
6:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
If JRW wins, it will play in the U.S. championship vs. Las Vegas (2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC).
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