Now that the Little League World Series is over for Jackie Robinson West, and the players have been welcomed home to Chicago with the city throwing them a parade and a rally, it's back to real life.
The return to normalcy will be tougher for some players than others.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that the family of one Jackie Robinson Little Leaguer, 12-year-old Jaheim Benton, is homeless. Benton lives with his father, Frank Jackson, and they sleep in the "homes of friends and family, one step away from the shelters and the streets."
His mother, Devona Benton, says she and Benton's father, a radiator tech who works part time, could no longer afford their apartment after her hours were cut as a home-care provider for Catholic Charities. She's worked there for six years and while there have been struggles, she says this is the first time her family had to split up to survive. She also is responsible for looking after her 16-year-old son, and for helping with the three grandchildren of her grown daughter. She's hoping and praying for more clients, but until that happens, the family will be fractured.
Jaheim Benton scored five runs for Jackie Robinson West during the team's seven games in Williamsport, Pa., making him a key player in a dream run to the U.S. championship with an all-African-American team from the inner city. Now he lives in something of a nightmare.
Tina Sfondeles of the Sun-Times writes:
Jaheim is shy. He doesn’t talk about his family’s troubles. All he can think about is baseball. … He talks about what his head coach, Darold Butler, said after the team’s loss to South Korea.
“He said keep our heads up, ‘You did good,’ ” Jaheim said.
Devona Benton says she’s doing her best to keep him centered on his goal: a career in baseball.
“I told him to stay focused. That it’s going to be all right, and ‘Don’t let it bother you,’ ” she said. “‘Don’t let it stop you. I’m going to take care of you. I’ll take care of you.’
“He said he understood.”
Benton's parents were able to travel to Williamsport to support their son at the World Series, and other Jackie Robinson West parents made the trip only because of the kindness of major leaguers such as Carl Crawford, LaTroy Hawkins and others lending a helping hand. It would have been disappointing for any of the parents to have missed the games, but imagine fighting the hopeless feeling of not being able to give your family a place to live. It's a frightening possibility for anyone just scraping by these days, and you don't have to be from the inner city, or of any particular color or ethnicity, to be in such a perilous situation.
It's stark, and it's real. No seventh-grader should ever be in such a position — but Jaheim Benton is. And he's not the only one.
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