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Brooks coach puts Payton on his do-not-play list

Updated: May 30, 2013 3:12PM

Brooks College Prep’s baseball coach said Sunday he doesn’t want to play Payton College Prep ever again after a group of Payton parents refused to send their kids to the Far South Side school for a night non-conference game, citing safety concerns.

If Payton parents had just visited Brooks’ baseball field — or looked at an emailed photo of it that he sent to Payton’s coach — they would have seen that it sits within a safe, pastoral, 40-acre, fenced-in site, Brooks coach Bryan Street said Sunday.

Instead, eight parents from Payton who refused to let their kids travel to Brooks for a 7 p.m. Saturday night game “didn’t give us a chance,’’ Street told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday.

“That’s what hurt me. . . . So we’re done with them. . . . I’ll never play them again,’’ Street said. “There’s plenty of teams out there who want to have night games with us. How many schools have fields with lights?

“The only thing I’d say to parents is, `What are you teaching your kids when you sit down to the dinner table and Johnny says, `Why can’t we play at Brooks?’ “ Street said.

The two teams are in different conferences, but both coaches agreed to put the game on their schedules about three months ago, Street said. At least one parent of every Brooks player was in the stands Saturday for the kickoff of the school’s night season when they got word that Payton was forfeiting, Street said.

However, CPS officials said Payton did not have enough players for the night game because some were suspended for missing games or practices because of advanced placement exams or college visits. Payton coaches also did not request a bus, as they usually do, leaving many players without transportation to the game, CPS officials said.

Street said Payton had enough players for a Saturday afternoon game against Von Steuben.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church on Sunday noted that Brooks, like Payton, is an elite college prep high school that bases admissions on test scores. He called the action of the eight parents at Payton, in the city’s posh Gold Coast area, “shameful.’’

“Parents should be embarrassed to take this stand. The saddest part of this is what they are teaching their children. This is how prejudice and bigotry and fear get planted,’’ Pfleger said.

A makeup game should be scheduled and the eight Payton parents should apologize to the Brooks kids, said Pfleger, whose school was at one point denied admission to the Southside Catholic Conference out of safety concerns.

Pfleger also called on Chicago Public School leaders to take a “strong position on these parents’ decisions.’’

“If we don’t stand strong against this, then we’ve taught our kids that prejudice and bigotry is okay,’’ he said.

The parents’ action sent the message to not only Payton kids, but to Brooks kids, that Brooks is “unsafe,’’ he said.

A statement Sunday evening from Payton Principal Timothy Devine and Brooks Principal D’Andre Weaver read: “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 their futures. We look forward to both of our schools meeting on the field again soon.”

The local alderman, Anthony Beale (9th), who also serves as Brooks first-base coach, said it was “unfortunate that some parents didn’t feel comfortable” coming to Brooks. The Roseland area around it has suffered a “stigma” because of news reports about violence, but the facility is safe, Beale said.

“Maybe they think crime is running rampant, but that is not the case. We would not ask anyone to come to a facility that was not safe,’’ Beale said.

Payton baseball coach William Wittleder was caught in the middle Saturday when he called Street about an hour before Saturday’s night game to say one parent had convinced other parents not to let their kids play a night game at Brooks, Street said.

“I heard it in his voice. He was highly upset,’’ Street said of Wittleder. “He’s a stand-up guy.’’

Wittleder has said the experience was “probably one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had.’’ Canceling the game was “very heartbreaking. This is totally against what I believe in,’’ he told the Sun-Times on Saturday.

Wittleder couldn’t be reached for comment on Sunday.

Brooks ultimately got stuck with the $100 tab for two umpires it never used. And on Sunday, the cooler stocked with Gatorade that Brooks prepared for Payton players was still sitting in the shed next to the baseball field.

Miko Stewart, mother of Brooks baseball player Lavelle Hughes, was burning with questions Sunday.

“Were they afraid of our kids or the area?” Stewart asked. “It’s just ignorance. Some parents need to go back to school . . . I just don’t think that was the right call or sending the right message to the kids.’’

Stewart said Brooks baseball players and their parents “go everywhere.”

“It doesn’t matter where it is. We don’t feel like, `We don’t want to go to the West Side,’ ’’ she said. “Crime is everywhere. You have just as much crime up north. It’s just different kinds of crime.’’

Brooks baseball player David McKnight called the refusal to play a Brooks night game “a racism issue” and said: “It’s a slap in the face for us. The players didn’t even get an apology.’’

Brooks assistant coach Rick Attreau, who takes care of the field, was at Brooks Sunday for a double-header against Jones College Prep.

He said players were disappointed to hear they couldn’t play under the lights against Payton Saturday. Some players said they looked forward to putting on “a show.’’ Others noted coaches had worked on the field all day Saturday to get it ready.

Two years ago, Brooks and Jones played a night game that ended at 11 p.m. without incident, Attreau said. In fact, Brooks has “never had any problems here [on campus]. Never,” Attreau said.

Parents in the stands, too, weighed in on the controversy Sunday.

“It would nice if they came over to see [the school] so next time they wouldn’t be afraid. You have to excuse them, but it’s sad history is still repeating itself,’’ said Michael Guyton, father of freshman catcher and outfielder Mikyel Guyton.

“You can’t change the thinking of some people,” the elder Guyton said. “These kids [at Jones] came out. It’s a great community. As you can see the school is gated.’’

Commenting on the neighborhood’s safety, he said: “I’m always on the bus and I haven’t had a problem.” The players have had “no problems at all.”

Pascual Cabrales, father of the Brooks second basemen, said he has “no concerns” about safety. “We had no problems.”

“The school is beautiful, the field is beautiful. It’s not a question of security,” Cabrales said. “They shouldn’t have stopped us from playing.”

Contributing: Mike Clark

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