Members of the boys’ soccer team at George Washington High School on the Far South Side were excited to finally return to the pitch last week, more than six months after high school athletes learned that fall sports were being pushed to the spring.
But after just two days of tryouts, that excitement turned to frustration when they learned they were being booted from their home field in Calumet Park with little explanation. Though students were told the decision was based on COVID-19 restrictions, it’s unclear who made the call or why.
On Sunday, a group of students held a news conference at the field to press for answers and attempt to salvage the season.
“This is where we love to play,” said Gabriel Fuentes, a sophomore on the soccer team. “For us to not have our own field is kind of ridiculous.”
In a message shared with the Sun-Times, Washington’s athletic director, Matt Jandura, said the park district was “still awaiting directives” about Restore Illinois and how it affects public parks.
“This weekend, the adults behind the scenes have been trying to say, ‘What’s going on?'” Joe Trost, an advocate for student athletes, told reporters. “And there’s been no answers.”
Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, told the Sun-Times that high school athletes “can play if they’re following the youth sports guidelines.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office referred questions to spokespeople for CPS and the park district, who didn’t immediately respond. Jandura also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, another youth soccer program announced plans Sunday to start using the same field Washington has called home since 1995. The Futbol Club Rayados de Monterrey, located in Chicago and northwest Indiana, noted on Facebook that teams from its soccer academy would begin practicing there Monday.
Amid the confusion, the boys’ soccer team at Washington is under the gun to find another home field.
The team is now mulling whether to start practicing at Pullman Park, which is about six miles from Calumet Park. However, Washington’s Friday home opener against Walter Payton College Prep will likely be rescheduled, according to coach Al Perez.
As Trost noted, state rules require teams to practice seven straight days before playing any games — and CPS schools were already “behind the ball last week.”
“Whereas suburban schools actually started practicing on Monday, CPS didn’t start practicing until Wednesday,” Trost said.
Trost was among those on Sunday who said the thinly explained decision exemplifies the inequities faced by students at schools like Washington, which doesn’t have on-campus soccer facilities like other Chicago Public Schools and those in the suburbs.
“For schools like us — like neighborhood high schools [in] working-class communities, like Black and brown communities — we have to keep facing these injustices brought on by COVID-19,” said Trinity Colon, a junior who plays on the girls’ soccer team.
Trost added that members of the boys soccer team could also miss out on opportunities for college if the season is nixed. College scouts are likely to keep an eye on Washington’s players, given the school has been successful in the past and even won the 2A state championship in 2014.
“It’s really through the power of sport that they have an opportunity to get to college,” Trost said.