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Hoops Brouhaha: A Chicago Catholic athletic conference that had denied a predominantly black parochial school a place in the league, citing safety concerns, voted last month on new policies that will lead to the school's full participation.

When the Southside Catholic Conference voted in May to deny St. Sabina School a place in the league that represents 21 city and suburban parishes, a Pandora's box cracked wide open. Out spilled fear and anger, charges of racism, escalating resentment, and frustration.

Conference members who had voted against admitting St. Sabina said they feared that teams traveling to the city's South Side, where the school is located, would be in danger. The Rev. Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina Church, alerted the Chicago news media about the vote, and accused the league of racism. ("Sports League To Reconsider School's Rejection," June 13, 2001.) The local controversy quickly became a national news story.

After a rebuke from leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, who said they were "saddened and disturbed" by the league's decision, and several meetings between Cardinal Francis George and conference members, the group in July took another vote and admitted St. Sabina to the league.

But still the storm had not settled. When some parishes said they might forfeit games scheduled at St. Sabina rather than play there, Father Pfleger said his parish would pull out of the conference unless the other teams agreed in writing not to back out of games. Issues of racism, he said, were not being adequately addressed.

The cardinal supported St. Sabina's requirement, but Hank Lenzen, the chairman of the athletic conference at the time, said that the demand was unreasonable and that he couldn't guarantee all parish teams would play at St. Sabina.

"The Southside Catholic Conference will no longer be dragged into a confrontational discussion with people that only want to talk about race and not the safety of their own area," Mr. Lenzen wrote to St. Sabina's athletic director on behalf of the 21 parish teams.

On Aug. 9, the league voted to approve new policies on racial taunting, safety requirements, and unwarranted forfeits of games, according to Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the Chicago Archdiocese.

After months of this painful public drama, St. Sabina will begin play in boys' basketball this fall. "There is still work that needs to take place," said Sister Anita Baird, the director of the archdiocesan office of racial justice. "There must be time for healing and reconciliation to take place."

—John Gehring [email protected]

Vol. 21, Issue 1, Page 14

Published in Print: September 5, 2001, as Sports

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