WEST LOOP — Days before homecoming, Whitney Young Magnet High School canceled the remainder of its football season in an announcement Monday.
The selective-enrollment Chicago public school at 211 S. Laflin St. will instead designate its Thursday soccer game against Curie Metropolitan High School as its homecoming game for the year.
Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner announced the change over the school's loudspeakers at the end of Monday's school day. She said the team didn't have enough players to compete.
"This is the best-case scenario, and I think it's the right decision," Kenner told DNAinfo on Tuesday. "We collectively as a school decided it was not safe to play football with the numbers we had."
But senior football players will still be honored during the homecoming pep rally and at the soccer game, which will be a competitive face-off between two excellent teams, Kenner said. She met with the football team Monday to discuss the decision, as well.
After a handful of injuries over the weekend and at least two student athletes rendered academically ineligible, the team dwindled to 19 players, below the Chicago Public Schools threshold of 22 students, Kenner said.
When it comes to a students' academic eligibility, "we are a no-nonsense school, and students have to be maintaining their grade point averages in the classroom," Kenner said. "That's a rule we have here, and it's a stiff rule."
Kenner said Tuesday that football will be back for the 2018-19 school year with "some major changes," but declined to give specifics.
The football team was halfway through its season, with two October games remaining, in addition to Thursday's homecoming game. The team was trounced in all of its early games, and the school had put out word that it needed more players even after the season started. One parent said she saw early practices that featured fewer than 20 students.
A drop in football players has been an issue not just at Whitney Young, but at high schools nationwide as concern grows over the risk of brain injury in contact sports, Kenner said.
"Parents are afraid to allow their children to play, and students are choosing other sports," Kenner said.
Word of a possible season cancellation came last week in the student newspaper, the Beacon. The school already had canceled a Sept. 15 game against Taft High School, and a petition was circulating among students to switch the homecoming game to soccer, although some were not in favor of the idea, according to the Beacon.
"Homecoming wouldn't have the same feeling if the game leading up to the dance wasn't a football game," senior Manuel Caracamo told the paper. "There is just something about football that makes it the ideal sport."
The school's homecoming dance was rescheduled for Oct. 21, although that change predated the football program's cancellation and was attributed to the conflict with Yom Kippur Friday and Saturday.
Kenner said in the Whitney Young Weekly newsletter sent Sunday that "some of the feedback I received from parents was quite negative" regarding the dance change.
But "I try every single day to ensure students' needs are being addressed first," Kenner wrote. "Let's always try to have a civil discussion and work toward resolution in matters that affect our Whitney Young family."
That newsletter advertised the football match as the school's homecoming game one day before the announcement of the season cancellation.