CHICAGO — On the ball fields across from the Humboldt Park lagoon where an alligator has been making headlines, the Roberto Clemente little leaguers are making a splash of their own.
The team made up of boys 11 to 13 years old are the best in the state after capturing the Illinois championship Monday night, and will travel to Kalamzoo, MI for the league's regional finals this week.
Right off the bat, 13-year-old Joshua Quinonez says he knew his little league team would be good. He just didn’t know they would make history as the first team from Humboldt Park to win the state.
"Right when I saw our team, I was like we have a really good chance of making it," Quinonez said. "Every game we played, we played our hearts out."
The team used its trademark style of hustle and heart to defeat South Elgin 12 to 2 in the intermediate level state championship Monday. If they win the upcoming regionals, they could go on to the Little League World Series.
"I knew we had the talent, the heart and everything that is needed to get far," player Davian Viloalobos said.
The chemistry between these boys of summer developed over several seasons shared in Humbolt Park.
"We grew up kind of going against each other, then kind of in the beginning of the season we started playing together, then we got this team together," player Amar Gutierrez said.
The team stands out for the way the diverse group plays together.
"We play together, it doesn't really matter what race we are," Gutierrez said. "It feels amazing, because there's not that many mixed teams, so being here is very important to us."
Roberto Clemente Little League President April Curtis says the diverse team plays well together because they, "don't see colors on our teams, we see kids."
Curtis says the accomplishment is all the more amazing knowing the boys must compete against not only other teams, but societal forces as well.
"When kids are not involved in sports programs, they get swooped up by the gun violence, they get swooped up by the gangs, and every year we get to open up the park district to them, and change the narrative," Curtis said.
"It's amazing to just know that our boys get to represent the whole state,” Curtis said.
The win was a bit of a surprise; parents didn’t plan to be traveling around the country, so the team started a GoFundMe page to help pay for travel, hotels, and food on the road.
A representative of the Chicago Cubs says the team plans to make a generous donation to ensure the Roberto Clemente team can compete for the World Series championship.