Alberto Reyes looked across the well-kept field at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep during pregame warm-up drills Saturday evening and declared it a beautiful place for a baseball game.
Two weeks after their originally scheduled game, players and coaches from Brooks and Walter Payton College Prep stretched across the baselines during pregame introductions in a show of solidarity in the Roseland neighborhood and prepared to play.
They hoped the game, which Payton won 11-2, would end a racially tinged controversy that has stretched from the North Side to the South Side after Payton didn't show up for the original April 27 contest, reportedly because Payton parents feared for their children's safety in Roseland.
"I think when the (Payton) players got here, they were stunned," said Reyes, a Brooks junior first baseman. "They saw a field that looks beautiful. … There are really no hard feelings anymore. Just a simple game of baseball between us, and that's it."
The controversy started when Payton coach William Wittleder told the Chicago Sun-Times that the original game was canceled because Payton parents didn't want their sons traveling to Roseland, which has been hit by shootings and other crimes in recent years. Reyes said he felt hurt "in my chest and my heart" because "they were basically saying our neighborhood isn't good enough for them."
Payton Principal Tim Devine later disputed that report, saying the cancellation stemmed from "leadership issues within the baseball program." Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said the team didn't have bus transportation and parents only had three days notice about the game. Payton is on the Near North Side.
Wittleder declined Saturday to discuss what happened the day of the original game, saying his team has tried to stay away from the media reports and focus on baseball.
"We learn from what happened in the past, and we focus on right now," Wittleder said. "The boys and myself have been through a lot of adversity, and I think they're still standing, and we're still standing."
Brooks coach Bryan Street expressed support for Wittleder after reports of backlash against the coach from some Payton parents.
"You're always going to have people in your corner, and you're going to have people on the other side," Wittleder said. "It's always been like that in high school sports."
Anthony Beale, a Brooks assistant coach and 9th Ward alderman, said he thinks a lesson can be learned from the controversy.
"Hopefully it just opens people's eyes," Beale said. "Sometimes ill feelings peek their heads up at the wrong time, and I think that was one of those times. I think it's a reminder: Don't stereotype, and let's get past perceptions of communities."Copyright © 2015, RedEye