Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett at a press conference announcing "wall-to-wall" International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes at Taft High School and Lincoln Park High School. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
In the wake of a fatal shooting that followed a scuffle at a high school basketball game, Chicago Public Schools’ CEO warned all CPS coaches Wednesday that if they didn’t play by the rules of sportsmanship, their sports programs could be in jeopardy.
“In light of last week’s tragic incident after an athletic competition, it is clearer than ever how essential it is that coaches work within the guidelines of the sports programs to address the behavior of our teams and our fans,” Barbara Byrd-Bennett wrote in the letter that went out to coaches via their principals.
“Children’s lives are at stake. What school level and central office administrators do in conjunction with coaches to address this grave concern will ultimately determine whether our sports program is promoted or eliminated,” the letter continued.
Byrd-Bennett said she’ll further address the matter at a coaches meeting on Feb. 2. Despite language in the letter saying that Byrd-Bennett will end programs unless coaches shape up, a CPS spokeswoman insisted she wasn’t issuing any threats.
“She has very high expectations for all leaders in our district,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. “She’s trying to underscore that if we don’t have sports programs in place that put the interests of children first, she will take appropriate action, whatever action she determines that needs to be taken.”
Earlier Wednesday, Byrd-Bennett suspended the basketball coaches of Morgan Park High School and Simeon High School for four games each. Simeon coach Robert Smith and Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin must attend the games but cannot coach at them, according to CPS.
“Public tirades and verbal altercations between coaches, and/or that occur in front of students, jeopardize the future of our sports programs,” she wrote, referring to a Jan. 16 scuffle at a high school basketball game between fierce rivals Simeon and Morgan Park. “That type of behavior furies and fuels impressionable students, and threatens our ability to host games in a safe and non-hostile climate.”
Simeon is the three-time defending state champion and currently ranked No. 2 in the Sun-Times Super 25, while Morgan Park also is a perennial power, currently ranked third.
An important basketball game between rivals Morgan Park and Simeon was held at Chicago State University on Jan. 16. At the end of the game, one player from each team pushed each other during the handshake line, according to CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan.
The coaches allegedly violated CPS’ Coaches Code of Conduct when they shouted at each other after the students pushed each other.
“It was quickly cleared up, and players moved into their respective locker rooms,” Shuftan said.
Section two of the code calls for coaches to be respectful role models. Section five forbids them from engaging in “unsportsmanlike conduct, including use of profane or abusive language, disrespect of game officials, taunting of opposing players and coaches, throwing objects or other conduct that a reasonable coach or official would consider unprofessional.”
Irvin and Smith engaged in some online trash talking, as well.
Then outside in a parking lot in an allegedly unrelated incident, Tyrone Lawson II was fatally shot. Two brothers since have been charged with his murder.
Since their suspension, Irvin and Smith could not be reached for comment. After the game known as “The Battle of Vincennes” for the street on which both schools sit, Irvin told the Sun-Times that Simeon started it.
“I’ll just say that,” Irvin said. “One of the Simeon players pushed [Lamont Walker]. They want to fight. That’s just classic Simeon. They think they can get away with everything and do what they want to do.”
“We don’t want to do that. We are here to play basketball. I guess their leader thinks it is OK to do that. Which is [Simeon coach] Rob Smith.”
Smith said last week that a videotape of the incident doesn’t match what Irvin said.
“The tape tells everything,” Smith told the Sun-Times. “I’m not allowed to tell what happened on the tape, that is up to CPS. I didn’t want to pass judgment on their players or my players without seeing it.
“Unfortunately at the end, tempers got flaring. We don’t condone that here at Simeon. I’m pretty sure they don’t condone that at Morgan Park.”
The longtime head of CPS athletics, Calvin Davis, now has a boss. The district would not call the change a demotion for Davis but said it has hired former Hyde Park High School Principal Thomas Trotter to supervise him, Carroll said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who frequently attends CPS high school basketball games, was asked whether he supports suspensions for the basketball coaches at the rival schools.
“I think all of the adults [who] went to that game have a role to play in setting an example for our kids. That includes the refs. That includes the parents in the bleachers. And it also includes the coaches,” he said.
“Players look to you. Kids going to the schools as well as going to the games look to you. And if you had any role or position in which you did not set an example, that’s more than just unfortunate.”
Emanuel said adults everywhere set an example for kids in how to resolve conflict.
“Our kids don’t know that. You set an example,” the mayor said.
“All of us in our lives every day — but especially when you’re a coach, you’re a mentor, a referee. You’re a person people look to, to set judgment.”
On Wednesday at Bogan, Simeon played its first game without Smith on the sideline. Simeon won 67-48 in front of a sold-out crowd. There wasn’t violence at the game.
“I never worry about our crowd,” Bogan coach Arthur Goodwin said. “We know all of our students and that’s all we let in. You can control your own house. We let the Simeon parents in tonight because we know them too.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman