By: Luke Drase
The Chicago Teachers Union strike has reached day three. Despite claims that progress was made over the weekend, no deal has been reached between the CTU and CPS.
Through the negotiations, one of the most talked about subjects has been the impact on CPS athletics.
The now three day long strike has forced the hand of the IHSA, to no fault of their own, which has already resulted in the forfeiture of all boys soccer playoff games.
On the horizon are some key deadlines for other sports potentially impacted by the strike. For teams in the playoff hunt, a week nine forfeiture could be the difference between a playoff berth and staying at home.
Even for those teams already qualified, if the strike extends to the weekend the IHSA will not seed those qualified CPS teams.
Despite the inconvenience and disappointment for many student athletes, we have to look at the bigger picture and long term stability for CPS athletics.
Everybody has heard the main two arguments coming from the CTU, smaller class sizes and the placement of nurses in every CPS school. But what is conveniently forgotten is the CTU is also fighting for more funding for athletics, better stipends for coaches, and more experienced coaches.
With CPS’ aversion to put anything in writing, it sets a dangerous precedent for the future stability of CPS athletics, especially those in lower income areas.
If there’s not enough funding for a school nurse position, what’s to say that athletics aren’t next on the chopping block? Especially massively expensive sports like football.
Jeff Lucco, the head soccer coach at Taft high school whose team was one of those affected by the strike chimed in.
“I think what gets lost is that sports have been severely underfunded in CPS for decades. We have a system of inequality within a system of inequality and the CTU has listened to teachers and coaches and made it a priority to push for equity in sports,” said Lucco.
“We know the importance of state tournaments but as a union member that is a coach, I also see on a daily basis how hard we have to push for equipment, coaches, and transportation. Our city can give our billions in TIF funds to private development but they can’t fully fund athletic programs. This is our chance to make sports a priority and measurable reform sometimes requires sacrifice. This is bigger than just the now.”
Coach Lucco is correct in his assessment that athletic funding or lack-thereof, has been an issue for decades. As a former CPS athlete I have seen the consequences first hand.
Through 13 years in CPS, including four as a high school athlete from 2007-2011, I have experienced everything from hearing rumors that 16″ softball was going to be cut, my bowling coach having to pay for games out of his own pocket, and having teams forfeit their volleyball playoff match because they couldn’t afford a bus.
Now I was fortunate enough to have gone to Northside, arguably one of the best funded schools in all of CPS, but if this was the treatment we received it’s nearly impossible to imagine what goes on in the underfunded schools in high poverty areas.
If CPS suddenly decides that athletics are no longer a priority, then what? The schools have to fund the entire bill?
Even very successful coaches like Corry Irvin, who led the Whitney Young girls basketball program to ten state appearances and three state titles weighed in on the issue.
“As a former CPS coach and SPED teacher, the lack of equity across the district was disheartening,” said Irvin.
“It’s unfortunate a strike is needed to draw attention to a system that has become unequal and instead of providing a quality education to all students, has become the haves and have nots. There is no place for that in a public educational system. While the strike will hurt fall sports in the moment, the goal is to better them in the long term.”
Yes, the current crop of students get hurt, especially the seniors. And I can absolutely see 17 year old me in tears if my last 16″ softball season cut short because of a strike.
But looking back on it now, the hours I spent in the gym and on the field were some of my best memories of high school, and that is coming from someone who had zero shot at playing at the next level.
I empathize with the current seniors, but I also want future generations of athletes to succeed in CPS both in the classroom, and on the field long after my playing and writing days have come to an end.
We shouldn’t have to live in a world where Freshman B volleyball coach in the suburbs are paid more in one season than most CPS varsity coaches make in five, and the strike, as inconvenient as it may be, is the only way to stabilize CPS and it’s athletic programs.
Imagine a CPS where kids don’t have to find their own rides to games, where an injured athlete can be treated correctly on site, where coaches receive an acceptable stipend, have the proper training, and don’t have to spend money out of their own pocket for the betterment of their athletes.
But most importantly, imagine a CPS where kids can be kids, and go to school and play sports in a safe, supportive environment.
Yes the strike is inconvenient and current students are the ones who suffer, but I know a stable CPS athletic program is something I want for my future kids, and you should too.