WOODLAWN — The only litter at Friday night's championship girls volleyball game between Whitney Young Magnet High School and Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep was the back-and-forth trash-talking chants between fans.
That's after a last-minute venue change for the tournament angered parents, coaches and players. CPS switched the games to Hyde Park Academy on Wednesday morning, the same day as the semi-final matchups.
Whitney Young's head coach, Jaime Walters, called the change "embarrassing" and said trash was piled at the front doors of the gym and its players were harassed on their way into the game, among other complaints.
But after Friday night's game, Walters said the team's experience was better. CPS had extra security on-hand for the game and sent a cleaning crew in to make sure the gym was ready for the event.
"It was better," Walters said. "The championship still should not be in a high school gym, but it was fun."
Walter's Whitney Young Dolphins faced off against the Brooks College Prep Eagles. Signs and balloons decorated the gym as fans cheered on their teams. Whitney Young topped the Eagles in an exciting match, giving the Dolphins their fourth consecutive championship.
After the game, Walters said she still believed the championship should be played in a college gym, like most other high school sports. Walters had said the venue change "would never happen for boys' basketball or boys' football."
The championship and semi-final games were originally scheduled at courts at a private gym on the West Side, but CPS officials said the games were switched to Hyde Park Academy because the of costs. The district tried to use space at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but no space was available.
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 team a home-court advantage, a CPS spokesperson said.
After Friday night's game, Trotter said he was satisfied with the switch and believed Hyde Park's gym brought an "old-fashioned high-school sports" feeling to the game.
"I think it was a great atmosphere," Trotter said. "Both teams were awesome."
Trotter said Friday's atmosphere may have been lost or would have been different at a different facility, because it would have been larger.
But Walters dismissed that claim.
"That doesn't matter because when we've played at UIC in the past, it's been fine," Walters said. "We're in this every year. Some of these teams are never here. They've never gotten to participate in that."
Brooks head coach Amber Payden said it would have been nice for her girls to experience playing in a different environment, like a college gym, but said her players tried not to let the venue change affect them.
"How it was handled, true it was disappointing, but my girls and myself, we just didn't let it get us down," she said.
Payden said CPS did its best to rectify the situation and added she is not upset with officials there.
But Payden did say she felt the controversy distracted people from the fact that Brooks College Prep had reached the championship.
"It's unfair to our kids," she said. "It's taken all the attention off of the fact that we're one of the first South Side schools [to play in the championship]."
Payden said the Brooks seniors were the first team she coached when she got to the Roseland high school. Her team had come a long way — sometimes practicing four hours a day — since their first year.
"The girls made a pact their sophomore year to make it to city [championship] their senior year, and they did it," she said.
When she found out about the venue change, Payden and others decorated the Hyde Park gym with balloons and had her team make signs for the game.
"We were going to make it feel like a championship game," Payden said. "We were like, 'You know what, I understand this happened, so let's just make it look nice.'"