Brooks College Prep Students Weigh in on Baseball Flap: 'I Felt Judged'

By Darryl Holliday and Mark Konkol  on April 30, 2013 7:07am  | Updated on April 30, 2013 11:59am

ROSELAND — The Eagles, the Mustangs and the mayor. 

That's what it was all about for baseball players and fans at Monday night's game at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep.

After Walter Payton College Prep refused to let its players face off against Brooks last weekend, in part due to safety concerns by parents from the North Side school, the Brooks baseball team was eager to prove itself against Morgan Park's Mustangs.

But according to those at the game, the mayor's visit was enough to heal hurt feelings.

"Just his presence here made the community feel like they're somebody," said Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep Principal D'Andre Weaver. "It made them feel respected and loved."

Students who came out to support their team, the Eagles, expressed similar feelings.

Kierra Langston, 14, and Jaleya Bell, 15, both freshmen at Brooks, said they felt disappointed when Payton decided to call the game off.

But worse than that, they said, they "felt judged."

"It wasn't nice — we're really not a bad school," Langston said, listing the school's academic and extracurricular achievements.

The baseball field itself illustrates her point, she said.  It's huge, well-lit, gated, expertly landscaped, and has lights that are rated for Triple A professional baseball.

Despite his celebrity status at the event, Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn't take center stage at the game, preferring instead to watch several innings with Brooks' principal and fans from the bleachers.

"It was a big honor ... not a lot of people come out and support us," said Bell, a freshman on the track team.

Langston said she wasn't sure whether she could approach Emanuel at first. His visit was a surprise to her and a group cheering the Eagles on.

"I didn't know if he was gonna let me take a picture with him," she said with a smile. "But he did."

In fact, the mayor took several photos with the teens before heading to the home dugout to shake hands with players.

"I came to show my support," Emanuel said. "These are good kids, and I want everyone to know it."

The Eagles, who are coached by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), lost 2-1, but that didn't seem to kill the team's competitive spirit.

"I hope [Payton] comes prepared to play because it's going to be a tough ballgame," Alberto Reyes, a Brooks junior and team first baseman, said of a rescheduled game.

"I was shocked when I first heard they weren't coming," he said. "I can't believe racism still can cause that sort of trouble. They should have been here playing with us."

Beale, moments after giving his team an end-of-game pep talk and several laps to run, told reporters he doesn't buy claims from Payton administrators that they didn't have enough players to field a team at Brooks last week.

He dismissed it as "damage control" but said the team is looking to move forward.

"It's unfair that people place stigmas on certain communities," he said. "[Payton] will have to come out and see exactly what they missed."

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll confirmed the game was rescheduled after schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett met with Payton's coach Monday evening to discuss the controversy, which led to charges of racism.

Payton College Prep will travel to Brooks College Prep on the South Side to play the Eagles Saturday.

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