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Newly transfered students still want to play football for Chicago Vocational

5-21-08 Chicago Vocational Academy. 2100 East 87Th Street. Chicago Illinois. Interviews with Chicago Vocational Academy students about test prep for

5-21-08 Chicago Vocational Academy. 2100 East 87Th Street. Chicago, Illinois. Interviews with Chicago Vocational Academy students about test prep for ACT. New study shows that at schools that do too much test prep students do worse. Exterior view of the school. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

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Updated: September 24, 2012 7:57AM

I have no doubt that Fenger High School is a lot safer today than it was in 2009 when Derrion Albert was beaten to death near the high school.

But let me be clear.

I don’t care who was behind nine football players transferring from Fenger to Chicago Vocational High School. Given the alarming homicide rate on the Far South Side, parents ought to have the right to transfer their sons out of schools in dangerous neighborhoods without the athletes being ineligible to play for an entire season.

Maybe that goes against the CPS Athletic Association bylaws.

But the fact that nearly 600 youths have been killed in Chicago since 2008 means we need to change some rules.

After I wrote about this issue this week, I heard from Cassius Chambers, the former Fenger coach who is accused of illegally recruiting the students.

He vehemently denied he persuaded nine students to transfer to Chicago Vocational Career Academy after he resigned from Fenger.

Chambers, 29, left Fenger in May and has not landed another coaching job. He now works at Foster Elementary School.

“I’ve got a wife and three kids and I am not making nearly what I need to support my family. This is a serious situation dealing with my life and these kids’ lives,” he said.

But Marielle Sainvilus, a spokesman for CPS, said that after Chambers left Fenger, he tried to coach at CVCA but was let go when the principal got wind of problems he’d had at Fenger.

“I never made no call for any kid to leave or transfer or anything,” Chambers insisted. “I wasn’t in the building.”

In 2011, Chambers was accused of dropping off football players to beat up a Fenger student over some stolen flip-flops. Chambers denied any wrongdoing and misdemeanor simple assault charges were dropped after a CPS investigation concluded the allegations were unsubstantiated.

“The way the media portrayed it, I drove 20 to 30 kids to the woman’s house. I have a four-door Buick LaCrosse,” Chambers told me.

“I went out there to talk to those kids. If I hadn’t intervened, the incident would have been worse.”

Of the nine players who transferred from Fenger, one left the system and another was ruled ineligible because he did not play last year. The rest have been benched.

That has mothers worried. Some students live in Roseland where homicides have spiked. Liz Doss, the mother of Gerrell Doss, 17, admits that before he played football, her son was getting into trouble outside of school.

“My son is messed up behind this,” she told me.

Two other players, DeQuan Thompson and Stephan Triplett, told CBS2 that they also didn’t feel safe at Fenger.

“Some of the kids involved are kids who were getting into all kinds of trouble outside of school. They are under single-parent mothers and the mothers can’t control them,” Chambers told me.

“Three of the nine kids that transferred are involved in gangs and they are trying to get away from that area so they can get away from the pressure of being in gangs,” he said.

“I don’t want to be the reason that somebody gets hurt.”

Calvin Davis, the sports director for CPS, has said that if the transfer students can come back with “legitimate documentation” they can be reconsidered.

Actually, violent incidents are down at Fenger. Incidents such as assault, battery and fighting dropped 57 percent from the school year 2010-2011 and 37 percent from the school year 2011-2012, according to CPS.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Last October, 17-year-old Marqwell Seabron, a Fenger student, was shot in the head in a drive-by while walking with friends. He died four days later. Like too many other neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, Roseland continues to be on the frontlines of deadly gun violence.

But too often, it takes a particularly gruesome killing before people rise up and demand that officials step up and take action.

Rather than sitting these teens down, the authorities need to let them play sports like their lives depend on it.

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