South Side student athletes now have a new sports facility where they can practice.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut the ribbon Tuesday for a new indoor track in Gately Park in Pullman.
The 139,000-square foot facility at 10201 S. Cottage Grove Ave. also will serve as the new flagship site for After School Matters, the non-profit group that hosts programs for students in the 8th through 12th grades at at the Gately Park site and two other locations.
Joyce Chapman, president of the Gately Park Advisory Council, said the facility is “a long time coming for the Far South Side.”
After School Matters and the Chicago Park District announced the project in 2018, according to CEO Mary Ellen Caron. It was to open last year but was delayed by the pandemic.
Tuesday was the first day of programs at the new facility, which has seats for 3,500 spectators and, LIghtfoot said, will “put Chicago on par with New York City and Boston” when it comes to track and field championships.
“I don’t ever want to hear again that nobody comes to Chicago to look for track talent because we have it in abundance,” said Lightfoot.
The building is named for Conrad Worrill, a longtime Northeastern Illinois University professor who died last year. Worrill, a runner in high school, had long pushed for an indoor track, so today’s student-athletes could practice year-round despite Chicago’s unforgiving winters.
“He was a runner at Hyde Park High School 50 years ago, and he had to run through the school halls” because there was no indoor track, Caron said.
With the new track, Chapman said Chicago could “build our new Olympian.”
But there is more than the track. The building’s After School Matters wing has art and dance studios, music rooms, culinary spaces, tech labs and a rooftop garden spread over two floors.
Although the program has served over 350,000 participants in its 30-year history, Caron said this summer is the largest class yet, with 14,000 students.
One is Danny Barksdale, 16, in the Les Enfants dance program. He can see the building from his school across the street, though even as watched during three yeas of construction, he hadn’t known what it was going to be.
“When I heard it was for After School Matters, it made me smile,” Danny said. “We finally have an opportunity where we don’t have to travel far away just to do what we like. We can be safe and enjoy other activities.”
Destynee Smith, 16, has been in another After School Matters’ dance program, Forward Momentum Chicago, for five years. She hopes to see the facility used by other youth teams around the city.
“After School Matters (helps) lower violence and get a lot of kids off the street and have something to do with their days and just brighten up everyday life,” she said.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.