Black, White Kids in Chicago Play Ball

CHICAGO (AP) — The boys of the Southside Catholic Conference played their first games since a racial controversy erupted earlier this year, despite lingering tensions that persist among parents.

On the court, there was no hint of the controversy that preceded the games surrounding the admittance of a predominantly black school into the mostly white league.

But in the bleachers Saturday, parents, administrators and some players said a few basketball games won't fix the attitudes that nearly kept St. Sabina parish from joining the league.

``The issues that brought it on in the first place still need to be resolved,'' said Renee Jordan, a St. Sabina mother who almost held her son off the fifth-grade team because of the bickering.

The racial tensions date back to the 1960s, when ``white flight'' to the suburbs started transforming St. Sabina from an Irish-American parish to a black one.

When St. Sabina petitioned for inclusion in the 21-parish intramural league this year, its pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, said he got angry calls saying blacks ``ran us out of St. Sabina.''

Conference members in May voted to deny the school entry, saying they feared for the safety of players, coaches and families who would travel to St. Sabina's largely middle-class neighborhood.

The conference reversed that vote in June, but some coaches said they would forfeit games at St. Sabina and the school waffled on whether it wanted to be part of a league without a no-forfeits rule.

The school eventually opted to play and about 300 people, mostly black, watched the games Saturday.

Jordan said she only let her son play after talking to him and learning that he was neither intimidated nor angry.

When game time came, his excitement told her she had made the right decision. ``I could have dropped him off last night and he would have been just fine sitting here until it started,'' Jordan said.

Conference chairman Michael Phelan said the situation around the league remains tense, but he's not sure what more the conference can do.

``What we are is a parochial athletic league,'' he said. ``What we can do is play the games. We can't solve society's problems. We might be able to do something, but we sure as hell can't solve the problems.''

Saturday's games were exactly as Margie Harrington envisioned they would be. They were high-energy, low-scoring contests — typical of games played by youngsters from grades five to eight

``I was for it from the beginning,'' said the white mother from visiting squad St. Alexander. ``If kids want to play, why deny your kids?''

The fifth-graders started the action with a 20-15 win, and St. Sabina went on to take three out of four.

``It feels good. I'm just happy to be able to play,'' said Jordan's 11-year-old son, Jordan Sodipo, after winning the first game.

``Everything was good,'' he said. ``The players showed sportsmanship.''

Now St. Sabina hopes to turn sportsmanship into fellowship.

``I would like to see the kids come together with more than just the basketball,'' St. Sabina athletic director Chris Mallette said. ``It's one thing to say, 'I play with black people,' or, 'I know black people at work.' It's another to actually have a relationship.''

The league has about 5,000 students in grades five through eight who play basketball and golf, among other sports.

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