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After outcry, park district says Washington HS soccer team can keep playing at home field

After students held a news conference calling for answers when they were told they were getting booted from Calumet Park, the Chicago Park District issued a statement saying the soccer field would be ready Monday “as previously indicated to the team.”

Joe Trost, an advocate for student athletes, holds a press conference Sunday with students from George Washington High School after the boys’ soccer team learned they couldn’t play at their home field in Calumet Park.
Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Members of the boys’ soccer team at George Washington High School on the Far South Side were excited to finally return to the pitch last week, more than six months after high school athletes learned that fall sports were being pushed to the spring.

But after just two days of tryouts, that excitement turned to frustration when they were led to believe they were being booted from their home field in Calumet Park with little explanation. As the team pressed for answers, they were forced to cancel last Friday’s tryout.

Then on Sunday, a group of students held a news conference at the field in an attempt to bring attention to the issue.

“This is where we love to play,” said Gabriel Fuentes, a sophomore on the soccer team. “For us to not have our own field is kind of ridiculous.”

But later Sunday, Michel Lemons, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District, said the field would be ready Monday “as previously indicated to the team.”

However, coach Al Perez said he only learned that his team could keep playing at Calumet Park through Lemon’s statement. And in a text message shared with the Sun-Times, Washington’s athletic director, Matt Jandura, previously said the park district was “still awaiting directives” about how the state’s reopening plan affects public parks.

“This weekend, the adults behind the scenes have been trying to say, ‘What’s going on?’” Joe Trost, an advocate for student athletes, told reporters during the news conference. “And there’s been no answers.”

Lemons didn’t immediately respond to questions about the reason for the confusion or Jandura’s previous statement. Meanwhile, Perez said he remains “in the dark” about what exactly happened.

“This is just another day in CPS,” he said.

Also on Sunday, another youth soccer program announced plans to start using the same field Washington has called home since 1995. The Futbol Club Rayados de Monterrey, located in Chicago and northwest Indiana, noted on Facebook that teams from its soccer academy would begin practicing there Monday.

Amid the confusion, the boys’ soccer team at Washington believed they were under the gun to find a new home field. After coming to a hasty agreement to practice at Pullman Park, which is about six miles from Calumet Park, Perez said he feels he need to “save face” and use both fields.

Now, Washington’s Friday home opener against Walter Payton College Prep will likely be rescheduled after the team missed out on last Friday’s tryout. As Trost noted, state rules require teams to practice seven straight days before playing any games — and CPS schools were already “behind the ball last week.”

“Whereas suburban schools actually started practicing on Monday, CPS didn’t start practicing until Wednesday,” Trost said.

Trost was among those on Sunday who said the recent uncertainty exemplifies the inequities faced by students at schools like Washington, which doesn’t have on-campus soccer facilities like other Chicago Public Schools and those in the suburbs.

“For schools like us — like neighborhood high schools [in] working-class communities, like Black and brown communities — we have to keep facing these injustices brought on by COVID-19,” said Trinity Colon, a junior who plays on the girls’ soccer team.