Van Dyke verdict led to strong, controversial reactions from local schools

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Hope Academy’s Lafavian Fain (1) carries the ball against Mount Carmel, DeKalb, Illniois, August 25, 2018. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

Like most Chicago-area high school administrators, Leo president Dan McGrath was worried about how the city was going to react to the Jason Van Dyke verdict.

McGrath used a wait-and-see approach ahead of Leo’s football game Oct. 5 at Hope Academy.

“We stayed in touch [with Hope Academy] throughout,” McGrath said. “We said nothing is happening over here, and they said nothing is happening over there, so let’s play.”

Other high schools across the area had their own take on what they thought was going to happen if Van Dyke, a Chicago Police officer, was acquitted of killing Laquan McDonald.

Within an hour of the verdict being read, Chicago Public Schools told coaches and athletic directors that games Friday were canceled “out of an abundance of caution regarding the timing of the Van Dyke trial verdict announcement.”

Montini, the No. 14 team in the Sun-Times’ Super 25 rankings, postponed a game against Fenwick, which is located in Oak Park.

“Due to the current events in the city of Chicago, tonight’s Varsity Football game against Fenwick has been postponed,” a now-deleted tweet from Montini’s football Twitter account said.

Montini plays Providence this weekend. The Celtics forfeited a game against Mount Carmel last weekend for similar reasons. The game originally was scheduled for Friday at Gately, then moved to Saturday afternoon at Mount Carmel. Then Providence forfeited.

The principals, presidents, athletic directors and coaches at Montini and Providence didn’t answer the Sun-Times’ request for comment.

The Chicago area has a long history of incidents involving parents and schools that have used safety as a guise for fearmongering. There have been several high-profile incidents.

In 2002, St. Sabina was denied entry into the Southside Catholic Conference because of parental safety concerns. In 2013, parents from Payton’s baseball team raised similar concerns about a game at Brooks. And in 2005, the implosion of the SICA conference in the south suburbs was overshadowed when a Lincoln-Way school-board member left a racist voicemail for a Sun-Times reporter.

McGrath, a former sports editor at the Chicago Tribune, chided Providence for backing out even when Mount Carmel provided another option.

“One of our Catholic League contemporaries from the comfy suburbs had accepted a forfeit rather than travel to the ominous and foreboding South Side for a game,” he said in a Facebook post.

Hope Academy athletic director Keith Sanders echoed McGrath’s sentiments about the suburban schools fearing the worst about city residents.

“Race is part of it, but they just won’t mention it because it’s a delicate conversation,” Sanders said. “People don’t want to admit they are racist sometimes.”

Chicago mayoral candidate Neal Sales-Griffin graduated from Mount Carmel in 2005. He said he was the victim of racist behavior as a member of the football and track teams. His father, Anthony, is a retired Chicago police officer.

“They made assumptions,” Sales-Griffin said. “These incidents blend together. I hope this is a hard lesson for people who anticipated violence. I hope they realize we all want the same thing. We want everyone to be happy, healthy and safe from harm.”

Young football coach Christopher Mallette was the basketball coach at St. Sabina when it left the SCC. He wonders what the endgame was for the schools that had concerns playing games in the city.

“If I were to tell you that I’m not comfortable going to the North Shore as a black man, I’m not going to my kid’s game [because] I’ll get stopped by the police, you’d tell me that’s not rational,” Mallette said. “What’s the message to a black kid who’s playing on a team that refuses to play in the city? What’s the message my coaches and administrators are sending me?”

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