NEAR WEST SIDE — A last-minute decision to move the city's girls' volleyball championship to a Woodlawn school was ripped as "embarrassing" by one of the coaches whose team will play in the match Friday.
Coaches, parents and players of Whitney Young Magnet High School said the facilities, used during Wednesday's semifinals, were substandard, the gym's entrance was littered with trash and its bathrooms had no water. They also charged players were harassed before the game at Hyde Park Academy High School.
“This would never happen for boys' basketball or boys' football,” said Jaime Walters, the varsity coach at Whitney Young, which will compete for its fourth championship in a row. “It’s embarrassing to have to play a championship at Hyde Park."
While Chicago Public Schools officials acknowledged the venue change, they said they hadn't received reports of major problems at Hyde Park.
“There’s no bias to how [girls'] sports programs are treated over any program,” CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said. “We care about all our sports programs and treat them all equally.”
A coach at Hyde Park called the harassment charge a "flat-out lie."
Walters said she got the call from CPS Wednesday morning that the semifinal matches later that evening and the championship game Friday would be moved to Hyde Park, at 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., instead of being played at a top-notch private gym on the West Side, as CPS noted on a bracket emailed to teams last week.
But the coach said when the team arrived Wednesday, there was a pile of garbage near the gym’s entrance and no running water in a bathroom used by players.
Meanwhile, Walters, as well as players and their parents, said the girls were verbally harassed by what appeared to be male students, both as the players walked through the halls to the gym and in the gym before the match.
“We had boys hollering disrespectful things at us," sophomore player Gabriella Rodriguez said. "One guy yelled at me, ‘Let me take you home’ and that made me feel really uncomfortable.”
Rodriguez’s mother, Rosa, said the boys eventually were kicked out by faculty, but she said the experience still worried her.
“I don’t mind the location as long as it’s a safe location. But the girls were bothered, and I didn’t feel safe being there,” she said Thursday. “The thought of us having to go back [Friday], I don’t even like it.”
After the match started, Walters said a player smacked her arm against one of the unpadded poles holding up the nets. Play was stopped so pads could be installed.
"They weren’t ready, they weren’t prepared because it was so last-minute," she said.
Antonne Samuels, the head boys' basketball coach at Hyde Park, said his school only learned it would be hosting the matches on Wednesday. He said they had to race to clean and prepare the gym.
He acknowledged trash was still at the entrance of the gym when the teams arrived and the water was not working, but said the trash was removed and said water was turned on after the teams left.
Samuels called the school's management of the event "smooth," and said the harassment accusations were false. He said there weren’t any students from his school — which didn't have a team playing in either match — at the gym Wednesday evening.
"Whoever you are getting your information from is giving you a flat-out lie," Samuels said.
CPS' Barrett said the district had not received any reports that the volleyball players were harassed.
She said the Hyde Park facility was chosen because the private gym ended up being too expensive and courts at a facility at the University of Illinois at Chicago were “not available in a timely manner for the tournament.”
CPS sports administration executive director Thomas Trotter decided not to play games at any of the four schools in the tournament to avoid giving any a home-court advantage, Barrett said.
Instead, Trotter picked Hyde Park Academy, where he previously served as principal. Barrett said Trotter’s previous ties to Hyde Park Academy weren’t a factor in the decision to play the tournament there.
“There was no prejudice in the decision on where to play,” Barrett said.
Trotter was at Wednesday’s semifinal games and did not notice any problems, although some parents complained to the Hyde Park principal that “some bathroom stalls” didn’t have toilet paper, Barrett said.
“Since that time, [Trotter] has reached out to Hyde Park staff to make sure that toilet paper and other necessities are in the restrooms,” Barrett said.
Trotter did not return a call seeking comment.
Whitney Young will play Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy at Friday night's championship. Officials at Brooks could not be reached for comment.
Walters said this isn’t the first time CPS has slighted girls' volleyball. Last year, on the day the final match was scheduled to be played, Walters said she was notified the game was pushed to the following day.
“They’re not doing their job,” Walters said of CPS officials. “It’s wrong. It’s very wrong to do to these kids.”