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TELANDER: Payton Prep parents’ apparent overreaction only costs sons a chance to play

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Updated: May 30, 2013 3:30PM



Oh, boy, this is one of those rolling hand grenades.

Some parents of baseball players from Payton College Prep on the Near North Side didn’t want their sons traveling to Brooks College Prep on 111th Street between Michigan and King Drive for a 7 p.m. game Saturday.

Their alleged reasons: fear about safety.

Payton baseball coach William Wittleder told the Sun-Times he was flabbergasted after having to forfeit the game because not enough players would show up.

‘‘This is probably one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s very heartbreaking.’’

Heartbreaking, for him, at least, because parental — choose one or more of the following nouns — concern, ignorance, hypocrisy, overreaction, protectionism, racism and/or justifiable fear has superseded the joy of youth sports competition between equals. After all, Payton and Brooks are Public League magnet schools with stated goals of preparing teenagers for university study.

But everybody knows about — or at least hears a lot about — the random shootings and gang violence on the South Side, news that has spread around the country and the globe, with Chicago being perceived by many outsiders as some sort of modern-day OK Corral. When a school child who had just performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington returns home and is gunned down in broad daylight while with classmates at a South Side park, you’ll excuse the world for thinking Chicago is messed up.

Nor does it all happen on the South Side. Indeed, if memory serves, there have been some killings and robberies near Wells Street between Chicago and Division, too. That’s Payton Prep terrain.

Urban life is full of danger, from speeding cars to weirdos to falling ice to, yep, foul balls off baseball bats. And what urban dweller doesn’t know this? And who among the protesting parents didn’t know the Payton-Brooks game would be played under the lights with coaches and adult security on hand?

Didn’t matter to them. The late starting time, which, with extra innings, might mean their children might be in a foreign neighborhood (Roseland) until 10 p.m. on a warm weekend — when violence always ratchets up in Chicago — was enough for the blockade.

I don’t know what the transportation situation was to have been — whether all the players were to be transported by school bus, whether a bus even had been chartered, whether parents were worried about their own safety or that of other spectators — or if there was some other issue beyond the twilight start. Excuses such as pre-college testing and other impediments now are popping up.

One thing is for sure: The wet, cold weather this spring screwed up virtually all outdoor high school sports. Just getting in a ballgame under any conditions is thrilling enough for the jocks. Clearly, all the rainouts and freeze-outs helped contribute to the late-scheduled ballgame in the first place.

So what would you do? Would you let your kid play?

I would. As mentioned, simply getting a chance to play the high school sport you love is a rare, beautiful thing. And the clock is always ticking.

Maybe I’d talk to the coach beforehand to see whether he was concerned at all. If he was gung-ho — and Wittleder was — then I’d tell my kid to be careful (as always) and say, ‘‘Have a great game!’’

People say bullets have no conscience. This is true. Stray ones fired from a distance are dumber than mud. And a parent always weighs the terrible odds of such stupidity.

But this wasn’t a reckless game to be played on the streets. The Payton athletes weren’t guinea pigs in a lab of horror. Please.

Yet this I know: Sports parents say they care only about right and wrong. They don’t. They care, instinctively, like the evolved primates they are, about their own children, about keeping them safe, about the good that can come to their offspring, to their DNA.

This is how we are wired. I know. Look, I was one.

Yet I would let my child play against Brooks. At Brooks. At night. On a Saturday.

How could I not?



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