Chicago-area Catholic youth athletic league changes decision, agrees to admit black parish

Posted: Friday, June 22, 2001

CHICAGO (AP) -- A Catholic athletic conference that refused to admit a primarily black grammar school, saying parents worried about sending their children to its neighborhood for games, has reversed its decision.

The Southside Catholic Conference voted Wednesday to invite St. Sabina School to join its youth league. The Rev. Michael Pfleger, who had accused the predominantly white conference of racism for not admitting his school, said he was pleased the decision was unanimous.

''I'm also looking forward to the possibilities for our kids to build relationships ... to break down some divisions, some barriers and misperceptions,'' Pfleger said.

Conference members voted 11-9 last month against admitting the school. Some said they were concerned about the safety of players, parents and coaches traveling to play games in the South Side neighborhood where St. Sabina is located. Pfleger had said he was offended by suggested alternatives that St. Sabina be admitted on condition games there be played only during the day or that there be no home games.

Last month's vote and comments from some members also drew harsh criticism from the archdiocese.

Conference members promised Wednesday to make St. Sabina students welcome.

Executive Director Hank Lenzen said there is some lingering animosity toward Pfleger among members of the conference because of the way he reacted to the first vote. ''However, everyone worked hard to get the focus back on the children, where it belonged,'' Lenzen said.

''The earlier decision not to admit St. Sabina was not made by a sweeping majority,'' Lenzen said. ''We will continue to work to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on safety issues of concern to our member parishes, including St. Sabina.''

He said he couldn't guarantee that all the players would show up to play at St. Sabina when games begin in the fall, though. The league has 21 parishes and sponsors football, basketball, soccer and golf for more than 5,000 children in grades five through eight.

Cardinal Francis George said Sunday that he believed the safety of the children was the overriding concern of black and white parents. ''Once the admission takes place, we will have to address those concerns,'' he said.

Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who lives within blocks of the church, declared the largely middle-class neighborhood safe.

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