First excitement, then tension, then tears and cheers of joy filled a South Side gym where Jackie Robinson West supporters on bleachers filled two basketball courts Thursday night.

The hometown boys won, yet again, and will go on to Saturday’s Little League World Series U.S. title game. A win then would put them in Sunday’s championship matchup.

“This is a dream come true,” said Ann Betts, who lives near Jackie Robinson Park and had a front-and-center seat at the city-hosted watch party at the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. “Our boys deserve this. Chicago deserves this. We have so much violence, so much bad news. Tonight we are getting the good news we deserve.”

From the Far South Side to Downtown, Chicago was watching.

At Mother Hubbard’s in River North, it’s not every year the Little League World Series game is played on its huge TV screens with the sound turned up, said owner Kathleen Fitzpatrick. But this year, with Chicago’s successes, it’s “historic.”

“I just think there’s a lot of pride about it,” said Fitzpatrick, who sat down and watched the beginning of the game.

At the Kroc Center, where supporters filled low-rise bleachers but were on their feet for the game's final minutes, it was a family reunion of sorts, said Anthony Daily, 41, who said he played in the Jackie Robinson league as a boy.

“I ran into a guy I haven’t seen in 15 years (tonight),” he said, pointing out former and current coaches and players throughout the gymnasium.

He said the massive turnout for the watch parties doesn’t surprise him because of personal connections and, as many have said during the Chicago team’s advance through the series, it tells a happy story out of the Chicago’s South Side and about the black community.

“This is a chance for the kids still in that neighborhood to see that every time they turn on the news, it can be something positive. … You can look at the TV and say, ‘Hey I know that kid up there.’”

For so many Jackie Robinson West supporters, showing up to watch the games with others in the community was a matter of pride. It's been three decades, after all, since the all-black team from the South and Southwest sides made it to the Little League World Series.

Now, the boys are two victories away from winning the whole series.

Ron Taylor, 57, of Beverly, said he brought his daughter and granddaughter to the Kroc Center on Thursday to be a part of the excitement.

“I just wanted them to witness history being made,” he said.

mmanchir@tribune.com
Twitter @TribuneMM