A player on a girls high school softball team on the Southwest Side is blasting Chicago Public Schools for failing to arrange a bus to transport the team to a critical playoff game last week, forcing them to forfeit and taking them out of the running for the city championship.
It is an example of the inequity between sport programs in CPS, said Alyssa Lopez, the player on the Hancock College Prep team. She said teams at schools like hers with many students from low-income families have to depend on the school district’s scarce resources while those in wealthier communities can lean on parents and fundraising for support. Hancock’s student body is 72% low-income and 92% Latino.
“Having to forfeit for a reason beyond our control, especially during playoffs, is extremely unjust,” Alyssa, a junior, wrote in a detailed letter that she sent to CPS officials, the media and posted on Twitter. “Transportation and funding are way beyond a student’s control and should not even be considered as a reason to forfeit.”
Alyssa, who made the all-city softball team, said it was especially disappointing because the team has a new coach who pushed them to work really hard this year. She believed her team could advance far in the playoffs and was astounded they were forced to end their bid after the first game.
Alyssa said several other teams at her school also have been left in a lurch and unable to compete this year.
Chicago Public Schools officials say they are “sorry to hear whenever a school must forfeit a game for any reason, but particularly due to a lack of transportation.”
“Experiences and lessons learned on the playing field are important to a well-rounded educational experience and we want to make sure that every student, regardless of their school location, has access to sports and the ability to play in games,” CPS officials said in a statement.
They acknowledge that securing buses has been a problem for teams across the city and say central office departments step in as much as possible to troubleshoot problems. But they note a nationwide shortage of bus drivers. In Chicago, it took until March to get all students with special needs routes to their schools. Officials said they have had to prioritize academic programs over sports.
Students and parents from CPS schools across the city, including in schools with more affluent students, also reported issues with busing sports teams this year and in years past.
But Alyssa suspects schools with wealthier parents can get around the problem by having parents with the time and resources to drive players.
“I think it shows that the schools on the South Side are pushed aside, like, they don’t really matter,” she said.
“Our school is a primarily Latino selective enrollment high school whose sports are constantly overlooked because of our disproportionate equipment, fields/gyms, location, and overall image,” Alyssa wrote in her letter.
“Although I am writing today from my experience at Hancock— one of the top academic schools in Illinois — this issue is bigger than us. It is the other South Side school kids, equally as passionate, who can’t play a game because they do not have equipment. It is the South Side school kids who are finding a way to build something better for themselves, but are told their school isn’t worth it. It is the South Side school teachers and coaches who have to constantly tell their teams `I’m sorry but …’ because they cannot get their team to a game.”
Alyssa said what unfolded last Wednesday when they had to forfeit the playoff game came after a series of failures. After blowing out an opponent, Hancock was told they would play Lincoln Park High School at the North Side school on Wed. May 4.
But they couldn’t find a way to get there. They had three options: a CPS-approved bus company, carpooling, or public transportation. None of the three CPS-approved bus companies could send a bus, Alyssa said.
Taking the CTA was not an option. The game was scheduled just an hour after Hancock’s school day ended. The journey on two buses and two trains would take more than an hour.
The third option was carpooling. Few of the Hancock students can drive or have cars. And most parents work long hours and cannot take off, she said. And even if a few could, CPS rules prohibit driving more than a few students without huge liability insurance, which Alyssa noted few can afford.
Alyssa said the team hoped the game could be rescheduled so they could come up with something, but that wasn’t possible. The city championship game was Monday.
“I was honestly really upset because this was the first time that we’d done this well in a season,” Alyssa said. “We thought we were going to make it at least a couple more rounds. It was upsetting to see the whole team’s reaction, especially for a reason we can’t control.”