Strike suspended, so CPS football teams can play in state playoffs

All of the Public League football teams that qualified for the state playoffs endured a stressful, confusing two weeks.

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Simeon football players lead a chant with cheerleaders and other students outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office at City Hall, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.

Simeon football players lead a chant with cheerleaders and other students outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office at City Hall, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

All the Public League football teams that qualified for the state playoffs endured a stressful, confusing two weeks. They couldn’t practice and were never sure whether they would be able to play their first-round playoff games.

Simeon had a particularly wild roller-coaster ride. The Wolverines needed the Illinois High School Association to waive its eight-game minimum for playoff qualification. That happened last Friday. Then they needed the Chicago Public Schools to allow them to practice during the strike Wednesday. That happened just hours before the IHSA was about to impose a deadline Wednesday afternoon that could have forced all the CPS teams to forfeit.

It was a difficult situation, but somehow nearly everything fell Simeon’s way. The Chicago Teachers Union suspended the strike Thursday, so all the CPS football teams can take part in the playoffs Saturday. The Wolverines will host Lakes at noon at Gately.

‘‘It’s amazing that, in the end, it all worked out pretty good for us, actually,’’ Simeon quarterback Jacquez Woodland said. ‘‘Everything came together.’’

Wolverines coach Dante Culbreath said principal Trista Harper was instrumental in spearheading the appeal that persuaded the IHSA’s board of directors to waive the eight-game rule.

Simeon’s players also took action, organizing a trip to City Hall to meet with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The meeting didn’t happen, but it led to increased media attention about the athletes’ plight and led to Lightfoot reaching out to Culbreath and mentioning Simeon in news conferences.

‘‘It’s time for us to move on and focus on our kids,’’ Lightfoot said after the strike was suspended. ‘‘And I look forward to watching Simeon on Saturday play and be victorious.’’

Woodland, Khalyl Warren, Ronald Haggins, George Robinson and Brandon Taylor spearheaded the movement. Warren’s Twitter bio now says he’s an activist.

‘‘I learned that your voice has power, no matter who you are,’’ Warren said. ‘‘Always speak your mind if there is a problem. Your voice always has power.’’

It was a wild two weeks.

‘‘I’m excited,’’ Warren said. ‘‘I’m ready to show people what we have. I know the team is excited at this point. We are thankful to everybody that helped get us here.’’

Now 19 CPS football teams will have to change gears quickly to prepare for the playoffs. They will have only two practices with their full coaching staffs. Meanwhile, their opponents will have been practicing and game-planning for them all week.

‘‘We won’t be behind,’’ Woodland said. ‘‘We practiced a lot. We know what we have to do. Getting the connection back with the receivers could take awhile. We need to run some plays and getting our timing back.’’

The suspension of the strike came too late for most of the other fall sports. CPS golf, soccer and tennis teams were forced to forfeit their playoffs last week. Fifty-six schools forfeited girls volleyball playoff games Monday. Nearly 3,000 CPS students had their playoffs forfeited because of the strike.

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