CHICAGO — For the second time this season, the football team at Chicago Hope Academy has seen an opponent pull out of a game citing safety concerns.
"Student and fan safety is always our No. 1 priority during athletic competitions. Recent events near Altgeld Park in Chicago led to the decision to pursue alternative options,'' said Terry Granger, principal of Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, which was scheduled to play Hope Academy on the Near West Side Friday night.
"After extensive consideration and meeting with parents and coaches, Bishop McNamara Catholic High School has decided to abstain from participating in the Oct. 20 football game against Hope Academy due to safety considerations,'' he said in a statement, according to the Kankakee Daily Journal.
The school offered to play the game at a neutral site or to play on Thursday or Friday afternoon or Saturday morning but an agreement could not be reached, according to the Daily Journal account.
Earlier this month, Wheaton's St. Francis school canceled a game against Hope, citing a Sept. 29 shooting near the park at 515 S. Washtenaw Ave. during a Hope game.
Noting Friday was to be senior night at Hope, Chicago Hope Academy football player Najee Harris told ABC7, "It's pretty devastating for our senior night to be canceled for a random shooting that took place three weeks ago."
Hope officials said they had arranged for extra police protection during the game, a move the Illinois High School Association said was sufficient, according to CBS2.
To honor the senior players, the school has set up a touch game against the faculty Friday, according to its Facebook page.
"Come out to honor our Seniors and enjoy a Coaches/Faculty vs Eagles Touch Football Game. This is a free event for everyone. The Seniors will be honored at 7:00 with the game to follow. Your support would be greatly appreciated," the post said.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church expressed his anger in a Facebook post.
"As a Catholic and as a Catholic Priest I am both embarrassed and outraged," the activist priest wrote. "This is unacceptable and why our Children grow up with Fears and Stereotypes. And you dare to call yourselves Christians?????"
Hope Academy, a nondenominational Christian school at 2189 W. Bowler St., was founded about 15 years ago to "educate the whole person — physically, mentally, and spiritually," according to its website.