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Payton coach returns to the dugout after controversial cancellation of baseball game

Updated: June 1, 2013 6:24AM

The coach of Payton College Prep’s baseball team will return to the dugout Tuesday night while school officials tried to sort out a controversial situation that arose this week when the North Side coach said he was forced to cancel a game on the South Side because parents feared for their children’s safety.

Coach William Wittleder will be with his team when they play Lane Tech at 4:30 p.m. at Seward Park in Old Town.

The decision to allow Wittleder to attend the game came Tuesday afternoon and abruptly reversed course on a plan to keep the coach away from the team as parents planned to meet Tuesday night to discuss his future, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“I don’t even know if the parent’s meeting is still on,” said the source.

Wittleder is also expected to coach his team Saturday in the South Side’s Roseland neighborhood when his squad is scheduled to play a make up game against Brooks College Prep, the team Payton cancelled against on Saturday.

“The situation has slighted parents at Brooks and made Payton parents feel they are unfairly being labeled as racist,” said the source.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended a Brooks baseball game Tuesday night to show his support for the school.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett met with Payton College Prep Principal Tim Devine and Wittleder on Monday over the controversial cancellation.

“This was an opportunity for her to hear directly from both of them to hear what happened, and what could be done to prevent it from happening in the future,” CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn wrote in an emailed statement. “They also discussed what could be done to start the healing process between both school communities.”

Devine denied his school canceled the initial game against Brooks over concerns about students’ safety, and he called reports to the contrary “a gross misrepresentation of the facts.”

“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,” he told Payton students and faculty, according to a CPS source. “This poor communication led to frustration on the part of some families and the ultimate cancellation.”

Devine talked about the controversy over the school’s P.A. system. A written copy of his remarks was provided to the Sun-Times by the CPS source. Devine said the cancellation had nothing to do with “race or purported violence in the Roseland community.”

Devine’s words came a day after Brooks’ baseball coach Bryan Street vowed to never again play the North Side school. Street told the Sun-Times over the weekend that he was deeply disappointed after learning that eight Payton parents had refused to let their kids travel to Brooks for a 7 p.m. Saturday game, citing safety concerns. On Saturday, Payton head coach William Wittleder told the Sun-Times, “About three, four parents [came] up to me, saying they’re not letting their kids go down there.” Wittleder called the decision to cancel the game “one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had.”

But Devine said the cancellation had nothing to do with concerns about security. “Many of our Payton students hail from the Roseland community and many of our Payton students have friends at Brooks . . . ” he said. “Payton has many ties to Brooks . . .”

Devine blamed the media, saying: “Obviously, the media chose to pick up the story and morphed it from issues completely internal to Payton’s baseball program and concocted it into something that it is not. . . . In the absence of fact, fiction found its way into the story.”

As school let out Monday, Payton senior Max Bouvagnet shared his opinion: “Parents are completely justified to not want their kids out at 10:30 at night in some part of the city they may not know and that may not be even remotely close to where they live.”

Bouvagnet and several classmates said the issue was not about class or race.

Enid Gonzalez said Monday outside Payton that she pulled her daughter out of competitive swimming because she couldn’t drive her to every meet. “As a parent, you have to make decisions about what’s right for your kid depending on where they have to travel and how they get there,” she said. “Taking public transportation is not always safe. . . If the school buses kids, absolutely they should go wherever the sport takes them.”

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