A baseball game between two Chicago public schools — Walter Payton College Prep High School and Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory School — was cancelled this weekend after a band of parents came together sharing concerns over whether or not they should allow their children to play at the Brooks field. The field is located in the heart of South Side Chicago’s ghetto and the surrounding area is known to be plagued by violent crime, giving legitimacy to those parents’ concerns. After all, since March of 2007, there have been 117 homicides within a mile radius of the field where the teams were scheduled to play.
When Payton head coach William Wittleder realized he didn’t have enough players to form a team, the game was declared a forfeit and Brooks took the win in the record books. The forfeit set off controversy after Wittleder told several news outlets Saturday that parents hadn’t wanted their sons to travel “down there” [to the far South Side of Chicago].
According to local TV station WGN, the principals at both schools have since issued a joint statement saying: “This has been a very unfortunate misunderstanding between our school communities. We spoke today about the situation leading up to the forfeit of Saturday’s game and feel it is time to move past this and allow our student athletes to focus on their futures. We look forward to both of our schools meeting on the field again soon.”
In accordance with that statement, the Chicago Tribune reported just minutes ago that the baseball game has been rescheduled for Saturday at Brooks, according to Chicago Public School officials.
Payton Principal Time Devine declined to attribute the forfeit to the reason given by coach Wittleder and said the real reason was due to “leadership issues within the baseball program.”
Despite this, the response to the story was nothing atypical. One side denounced the Payton parents as ritzy racists and another side defended them for trying to keep their children out of danger. Of course, everything is now being done to downplay the racist part of the story. I don’t believe the parents need to make excuses or justify their actions though. There are real statistics to back their concerns, so does it really matter if the parents knew of these stats or not?
News is now attributing the forfeit to things like the Payton parents being notified of the game too late in the week (Wednesday) and a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman forgetting to order a bus, which the coach assured would be provided. Of course, nobody wants to think that the Payton parents are afraid of their kids playing at Brooks. Payton and Brooks are both selective schools and high school sports teams frequently travel to games in troubled neighborhoods. But the way the news sensationalizes the story has been both annoying and illuminating.
There are lots of people who think that the South Side is a raging war zone. There are also a lot of people who think it gets a poor rap. Now add high school kids and baseball and things become that much more interesting. We’ve heard people challenge their presumptions about the South Side, and others argue without regret that when it comes to their kids, there’s no way to play it too safe. But perhaps the most inspiring point to take away from this story is the power of people thinking twice.