NORWOOD PARK — Ashley Nallen could not have been more excited when her sixth-grade volleyball team from Oriole Park Elementary School celebrated a winning season by waving a Chicago Cubs "W" flag on the court.
But Ashley — whose fifth-grade team did not do as well last season — was crushed when her coach told her that despite the team's success on the court, its season was over because of Chicago Public Schools budget cuts.
"It was a nasty surprise, that's for sure," said Jennifer Nallen, Ashley's mother. "She was really looking forward to playing in the championship game. And the season had already been cut short."
Before the school year started, CPS officials announced they would eliminate funding for elementary school sports teams and stipends for 5,300 grade school coaches to save $3.2 million in an attempt to help bridge what officials said was a $1.1 billion budget deficit.
After an outcry, CPS officials reversed plans to eliminate the district's elementary school sports programs — but warned that schools would have to find a way to pay coaches, buy equipment and get players to games.
Despite the district's financial crisis, seventh- and eighth-grade teams will play for league championships this month.
"How do you do one without the other?" Nallen asked. "If the parents would have known, we would have kicked in a few bucks."
Heather Cherone says the money simply ran out:
Last year, teams with fifth- through eighth-grade students with the best records in each regional league competed in championship games for a trophy and bragging rights.
There are several leagues across the city, typically divided by region and which high school the elementary schools' students are slated to attend after graduation.
CPS representatives did not respond to questions about cuts to the district's elementary sports programs Wednesday, despite promising to do so even though the district's offices were closed for Veterans Day.
Oriole Park Elementary School was one of 16 elementary schools on the Far Northwest Side to get stipends of $1,000 and $1,500 to help preserve their sports programs from Taft High School's Local School Council.
"At least she got to play," Nallen said of her daughter. "She had a lot of fun."
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