October 25, 2014
The Rev. Jesse Jackson wants Curie High School to get back its city basketball championship title. Curie head coach Mike Oliver wants an apology.
“These are champions,” Jackson said Saturday as the two appeared with four players from the Southwest Side high school at Rainbow PUSH. “The city championship title should be restored.”
Jackson presented blue track suits to Oliver and the players, along with dress suits “to lift them up.”
“These are a special group of young men, and at first they didn’t want to get their jackets. They felt ashamed, embarrassed,” Jackson said. “But they need not feel embarrassed. They won the game.”
Curie, the Chicago Sun-Times’ No.1-ranked team, was stripped of its city title and its 24 victories for the season after a Chicago Public Schoos investigation, sparked by an anonymous tip, found that seven Curie players had been ineligible for the entire season because of paperwork that wasn’t filed.
Jackson has been pushing for months to restore Curie’s title. On Saturday, he said he’s been in contact with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the city schools chief, who “admitted they had been done wrong.”
“Well, correct the wrong,” Jackson said.
Asked about Jackson’s account of his communication with Byrd-Bennett, a CPS spokesman said only that the district officials stand by their decision.
Last week, Jackson called for an investigation of CPS basketball teams after the Sun-Times reported CPS officials can’t say for sure that basketball players at every school — including the top teams — were eligible to play this past season. Documents show the school district is missing most of the paperwork required to show team and player eligibility.
“I want to see that they come and give us apologies, after slandering us in the news and saying that we were a public shame,” said Oliver, a coach at Curie for 22 years. “I want them to come out and say they made a mistake.
“We have been scrutinized this year. It’s hard to go places, hard to wear your Curie apparel because people want to ask you a thousand questions of what happened. ‘Why [were] you all cheating? Why were these young men cheating?’ They’re not too old. They didn’t transfer . . . These kids didn’t do anything but work hard. They won on the court.”
Oliver said he worries about how the situation has affected his players.
“They love basketball,” he said. “And winning a city championship in Chicago is like winning the national championship. They were the king of the city for one week and then were so disgraced.”