A major race row has emerged in Chicago, where a high school baseball game between two public schools scheduled for an evening start time was postponed because one school’s parents were allegedly afraid for their children’s safety at the rival South Side academy.
As reported by both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, as well as Chicago ABC affiliate WLS and a handful of other outlets, a scheduled prep baseball game for Chicago (Ill.) Walter Payton College Prep at Chicago (Ill.) Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep was cancelled when parents from the Payton Prep program allegedly raised concerns about the safety of their children in the Roseland neighborhood where Brooks is located.
Roseland is a section of Chicago’s South Side that has experienced a large amount of gun and gang violence over the previous 12-18 months.
"The parents didn't want to come down here due to the neighborhood we were in," Brooks assistant coach Bert Redmond told WLS. "They were in fear of their child's lives. They were afraid of being in a drive by shooting. I was kind of appalled."
So were many other Chicago parents and residents, who accused the Brooks parents of acting out racist biases for cancelling the matchup. To his credit, the coach of the Payton squad, William Wittleder, traveled to the game to apologize to his counterpart at Brooks and the Brooks squad, later specifically citing parental concerns as the primary reason why the game was cancelled in interviews with the media.
As one might expect, that didn’t go over well with the Brooks players, who live in the neighborhood that their counterparts from Payton Prep allegedly didn’t feel safe traveling to.
"It's heartbreaking to know a team wouldn't play us because of the location of our stadium,” Brooks player David McKnight told WLS. “We come out here every day and we dedicate our lives to playing the sport of baseball.”
The schools moved quickly to smooth over hurt feelings between the academies, with the principals from both schools issuing a joint statement on the incident, saying that they were looking forward to future interactions between the schools. Separately, Payton principal Tim Devine issued a statement to his own students claiming that the game was cancelled because of poor communication on the part of the Payton coach and not any racial tendencies on the part of the team’s parents.
"What I have found thus far is that the cancellation came about due to poor communication by the coach to our baseball parents about the date and time of the game, who would be responsible for transportation to and from the game, and which players would dress for the game. This poor communication led to frustration on the part of some families and the ultimate cancellation of the game.”
As if to reinforce that there were no racial hard feelings, the two teams will meet on the field on May 4, and they’ll do so under the lights at an evening game, just as they were originally scheduled to do.
The question now is whether that is enough to elevate relations between the two schools and larger communities back to the copacetic, cooperative friendship they had previously enjoyed.
The early signs seem to indicate that might require a lot more than a joint press release.
"We know exactly what it was," Brooks volunteer assistant baseball coach Anthony Beale, who also serves as a Chicago alderman, told WLS. "You can't sugar coat this thing and try to spin it in a certain light to make it lighter on one side or the other. It is what it is."