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Mitchell: Decision to cancel Brooks-Payton game is a slap in the face

Updated: June 1, 2013 6:40AM

Talk about dropping the ball.

The spat between Walter Payton College Preparatory and Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory over a forfeited game brought out the worst in some of us.

Several news outlets reported that Payton had to forfeit its game with Brooks because some of Payton’s parents refused to let players travel to the Far South Side in Roseland to play a game that was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Let’s stop right there.

Given the steady stream of shootings and killings occurring on the South Side, I really can’t blame any parent for having concerns about a night game.

For instance, over the weekend one person was killed in Chicago and 13 others were wounded in shootings. Most of the violence took place on the South and West sides of the city. Although none of the shootings occurred in Roseland, the entire South Side has been stigmatized by the gun violence.

That isn’t fair, but it also isn’t surprising.

But Brooks’ baseball coach, Bryan Street, seemed genuinely offended by the Payton parents’ reluctance to let their players travel to Roseland at night.

He accused these parents of not giving Brooks “a chance.”

“That’s what hurt me . . . So we’re done with them. I’ll never play them again,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Yet, I can understand where some of these parents may be coming from.

I’m not proud to admit it, but I don’t travel certain streets at night when I have my grandson in the car.

Crime can happen anywhere. But by now, I have a good idea where I run the greatest risk.

Obviously, this is not something parents should have to worry about, but they do — especially when they are not familiar with the area.

Unfortunately, because of the increase in homicides that we experienced last year on the South Side, the entire area must seem like one big shooting gallery.

The deaths of Hadiya Pendleton and Cornelius German, both 15, in separate shootings near President Barack Obama’s home in the Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood compounded the fear.

Payton’s baseball coach did little to relieve the stress some parents must have felt over the Saturday night game.

Players were told on Wednesday that a bus would be available to take them to the game. But on Saturday, players got another email notifying them that the bus would not be provided and that they would have to find their own transportation, according to a parent.

On a Saturday night?

Parents of athletes are a dedicated bunch, but I can see how a last-minute transportation snafu would cause a problem.

On Monday, Timothy Devine, the principal at Payton, and D’Andre Weaver, Brooks’ principal, tried to put out the racial firestorm by issuing the following joint statement:

“This has been a very unfortunate misunderstanding between our school communities . . . [It] is time to move past this and allow our student athletes to focus on their futures. We look forward to both of our schools meeting on the field again soon,” the principals said.

But this spat goes beyond high school baseball.

At the heart of this controversy is a lingering suspicion that Brooks has not been treated as an equal among the elite high schools.

Indeed, in responding to this controversy over a canceled baseball game, school officials felt compelled to point out Brooks was recently named by U.S. News and World Report as a gold medal school — ranked the 13th best high school in Illinois, right behind New Trier High School.

Brooks’ students have not only had to prove themselves academically, but they’ve had to do so while navigating neighborhoods plagued by violence.

Last December, armed thugs began robbing students who were on their way to school, forcing volunteers to help police ensure the students have safe passage.

However, had the Payton baseball team come to Brooks, they wouldn’t have had to worry about their own safety because the campus itself is secured behind locked gates. The game apparently has been rescheduled for this Saturday.

Even if the decision to cancel the baseball game at Brooks on April 27 wasn’t motivated by bigotry, it was nonetheless a slap in the face.

Hopefully, the next time these teams meet on Brooks’ turf, concerned parents at Payton will understand that Brooks is part of the solution, not the problem.

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