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Parent: Some Payton players want beleaguered coach out

Paytbaseball coach William Wittleder during PaytAcademy vs. Lane Tech game Seward Park Chicago Tuesday April 30 2013. | Andrew A.

Payton baseball coach William Wittleder during the Payton Academy vs. Lane Tech game at Seward Park in Chicago on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2013 6:09AM

The captain of Walter Payton College Prep’s baseball team and another top player told the team’s beleaguered coach Thursday they no longer want to play for him, the captain’s father has told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“They were representing the entire team, to a man, in requesting that coach (William) Wittleder step down as coach,” said Jonathan Shapiro, whose son Jacob is on the team.

The players no longer support a coach who has “bullied, berated and punished them for missing games and practices for such shameful reasons as college visits, studying for tests and taking standardized or placement tests,” Shapiro said.

Wittleder hasn’t spoken publicly since last week, when he told the Sun-Times he had to cancel — at the last minute — Payton’s game at Brooks College Prep because some Payton parents were worried about security for kids travelling to the South Side school.

But Shapiro insisted the Brooks incident is merely the one that “tipped the scale” for players upset over a coach well known for frequent last-minute schedule changes and poor communication. Payton Principal Timothy Devine has told staff and students that the game was actually cancelled because bus transportation had not been arranged and several players had been benched for missing practice.

“It was a bus issue and a lack of communication,” Shapiro said. “If there had been a bus, there wouldn’t have been an issue.”

Asked if parents would have had the same concerns if the game had been scheduled on the North Shore, Shapiro said: “Are you a parent? Then you answer that question.”

When the players asked Wittleder to step down, he had nothing to say, Shapiro said.

“According to my son, it didn’t register,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the majority of the players’ parents are in agreement that Wittleder needs to go. But earlier this week, when Payton played Lane Tech, one Payton parent told the Chicago Sun-Times he supports Wittleder.

Neither Wittleder nor Devine could be reached for comment Friday.

But a source close to the situation, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting, said Wittleder was “never asked to step down.”

“The meeting was about moving forward and finishing the season strong,” the source said.

Wittleder’s future at Payton remains unclear. He was in the dugout for the Lane Tech game and is expected to coach the makeup game with Payton next week.

On Friday, in an effort at build fellowship, the players from both teams met for breakfast at Chicago Public Schools headquarters downtown.

In a statement released after the breakfast, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the teams “are ready to move forward and focus on their studies and their season.”

Shapiro said his son and his teammates just wants to get back to enjoying baseball.

“And right now, they are not having fun,” Shapiro said. “You can imagine that if it gets to the point where players are asking the coach to step down, then there’s something really wrong with the situation.”

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