Neighborhood group forces Philly title game to move to 11 a.m

Cameron Smith

Arguably the biggest game of the year in the Philadelphia area was scheduled to be played Friday night. With the Class AA city title game between Bok Tech (Pa.) High and West Catholic (Pa.) High scheduled for Friday night at the city's South Philly Super Site field, the athletic directors of the two schools met with Philadelphia School Board members on Wednesday, expecting to be told to prepare for a good game. Instead, the ADs were told to inform their players the game was moved to Saturday morning, after a citizen's group successfully lobbied the city council to convince the school board to switching the time of the game to Saturday morning to avoid possible nightime vandalism.

As a result, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, the much ballyhooed matchup will be played on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. instead of the traditional Friday night game that players, coaches and fans expected.

"It's a travesty," West Catholic head coach and athletic director Brian Fluck told the Daily News. "They're putting a neighborhood above the kids. [The players and schools are] all excited about playing a City Title game on Friday night, when it should be, and then the game gets moved to Saturday morning. Like our people are going to go down there with the idea of wrecking the neighborhood."

As Fluck alludes to, the re-scheduling of the game brings with it a veneer of racial bigotry and a highly questionable sense of timing. While the South Philadelphia Communities Civic Association has lodged complaints following Friday night games earlier this year -- notably involving vandalism following contests around Halloween -- the group waited until the final city game of the season to be played at the site to force through a cumbersome schedule change. More troubling, the justifications behind that schedule change are quiet protests against the idea of a predominantly African American school playing a night game in a South Philadelphia neighborhood.

Making matters worse, Fluck and Frank Natale -- the Bok Tech athletic director and assistant coach -- claimed they were given two recent examples by the school board as proof for why the game couldn't be played on Friday night ... and neither involved a night where either Bok Tech or West Catholic was playing at the site.

Here's how Natale explained his frustration about that evidence from the meeting to the Daily News:

"In this meeting," he said, "two recent incidents were mentioned, as kind of a final-straw thing, that our kids had nothing to do with. For the worst one, we didn't play that night."

The morning of Oct. 2, Natale said, he arrived at the Super Site to be confronted by a nearby resident, who told him "North Philly" had been spray-painted on his van the night before. Natale saw the graffiti and even took pictures. The man also told Natale someone defecated in an alley that night.

"Bok didn't play the night of Oct. 1," Natale said. "That game was Prep Charter vs. Imhotep. We haven't played a night home game in more than a month [Oct. 8]. How can we be causing these recent problems that everyone's so upset about?"

These complaints about the South Philly Super Site aren't the first lodged by the SPCCA, which brought forth issues with the state-of-the-art facility as soon as it first opened in 2008. Still, the new complaints from the past season have brought with them a more accusatory tone, with area residents now clearly agitating to minimize the facility's availability during night hours, when most high school sports are traditionally played.

"We've had lots of property damage," an SPCCA board member who identified herself only as Loretta told the Daily News. "Fights start inside and when these people are leaving, it spills out into the neighborhood. We've never had problems with the kids playing football. It's really sad at this point that nobody wants [the Super Site in the neighborhood]."

Naturally, there's no reason why the Philadelphia School Board necessarily has to bend to the SPCCA criticisms, but clear political ramifications seem to be enough to convince the board to continue bending to the group's concerns. According to one anonymous source cited by the Daily News, an open threat of an SPCCA picket during a football game was enough to move the city title game.

While that strategy may be effective for the SPCCA, it's hardly fair to city football players whose entire seasons have led to this game. Forcing the biggest game of the year into an 11 a.m. time slot as a way to cater to one neighborhood association certainly seems to put the cart before the horse, and raises even more troubling questions about the future of one of Philadelphia's most important high school sports sites.

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