Yes Chicago, There Really Is a Santa Claus

Yes Chicago, There Really Is a Santa Claus
Reach for the Stars

Yes, Chicago, There Really Is a Santa Claus

 I’m thinking today of a wonderful movie called The Polar Express. That may seem odd, given that it’s 90 degrees outside, and so hot the dogs are sticking to the sidewalk. But bear with me—you’ll see why.



The Polar Express and a Christmas Miracle

This classic film from 2004, adapted from a book by Chris Van Allsburg, is about Daryl Sabara, a young boy who wants to believe in Santa Claus but can’t quite make the commitment. On Christmas Eve, Daryl is lying in bed hoping to hear the sound of sleigh bells. At five minutes to midnight, his room begins to shake, and he hears a thunderous noise outside. He goes to the window and is astonished to see a train in the middle of the street. Daryl grabs his robe and runs out to get a closer look. The conductor appears and asks if he is planning to get on board.

“Well, where are we going?” the boy asks.

“The North Pole, of course,” replies the conductor.

Do you have your ticket?

Do you have your ticket?

Daryl jumps aboard, and his adventure begins. He meets and makes friends with others on the train also going to the North Pole: a little girl who loses her ticket and will have to get off if she doesn’t find it; a know-it-all little boy named Billy; a hobo who claims to be the owner of the Polar Express and the King of the North Pole; an engineer, a fireman named Smokey, and the conductor.

After many mishaps, and with everyone pulling together to overcome the obstacles, the train finally arrives at the North Pole.

The North Pole

The North Pole

Daryl is allowed to select whatever present he wants for Christmas. He asks only for a bell from Santa’s sleigh, which Santa gives him. As they prepare to leave for home, the conductor punches their tickets and gives each a special message: “Learn,” “Depend,” “Rely,” “Count On,” “Lead,” and “Believe.”

Your wish is granted

Your wish is granted

Back on the train, Daryl reaches for the bell and is saddened to find that it has fallen through a hole in his pocket. When he arrives at his home, Daryl waves good-bye to everyone and goes inside. The next morning, he finds a small present waiting for him under the tree. He opens it, and there is the bell. He rings it, and he and his sister, Sarah, are amazed at the beautiful sound. His parents, who do not believe in Santa Claus, cannot hear it.

Years later, when he thinks about that night, Daryl says, At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as the years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

 A Miracle in August
 I believe in love, I believe in old folks.
  I believe in children, and I believe in you.
            Don Williams

By now, I’m sure you all know where I am going with this. All summer, members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, an all African American team from the south side of Chicago, played their hearts out, hoping to get, not to the North Pole, but to the Little League Championships in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They won the Sectionals on July 25 and moved on to the State Championship game. They won that as well.  Then it was on to the Great Lakes Regional Championships. Again, they won; and their improbable dream was that much closer.

The Jackie Robinson West Little League Team Chicago Tribune Photo

The Jackie Robinson West Little League Team
Chicago Tribune Photo

In mid-August, thirteen boys, ages 11 to 13 traveled to Chicago’s Midway Airport. They didn’t board the Polar Express, nor did they go to the North Pole. They got on a plane to fly 600 miles east to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Their goal: to find a different kind of Santa Claus and take a Little League World Series championship from his bag.

A Ticket to the Show
I believe I can fly,
I believe I can touch the sky,
I think about it every night and day,
Spread my wings and fly away,
I believe I can soar…
R. Kelly

Like the kids on the Polar Express, the boys had obstacles to overcome before they reached their final destination. They had to beat six other teams in order to have their tickets punched for the big show. They did it, losing only once to Nevada, whom they faced and beat in the U. S. Championship game. And they did it with style, grace, and sportsmanship. Only once did a team member engage in a little showboating. That was when Trey Hondras did some fist pumping during his game-winning home run trot against the Rhode Island team. After realizing what he had done, all on his own, he went over and apologized to Rhode Island Coach Dave Belisle. That’s the kind of kid he is.

Then, they came up against the big one—the Asia Pacific champs from Seoul, South Korea. By now, Jackie Robinson West had not only the home town, but the entire nation rooting for them: pro players from every sport, managers, sports writers, journalists, stars from the entertainment world, political figures, even the President of the United States.

President (then Senator) Obama cheering on another little league team

President (then Senator) Obama cheering on another little league team

The outcome of the game with South Korea wasn’t the one the Jackie Robinson West team had hoped for. South Korea won 8-4. But the boys of summer from the south side gave it their all, and they did not lose—not by a long shot. When they return home, there will be many presents under the tree for them: a police escort from the airport to Jackie Robinson Park, a parade in their honor that starts on the south side and goes all the way north to Millennium Park; a fireworks display; and most of all, the respect, admiration, and thanks of a grateful city. Each of their tickets will be punched “Learn”, “Depend”, “Rely”, “Count on”, “Lead”, and “Believe”.

Years from now, when they’ve grown old, they will remember this time, and, hopefully,  they will still hear the bell ringing for them.

You’ll remember when the west wind moves,
When [they] walked in fields of gold.




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