Friday afternoon was just about the nicest day of the year in Chicago, and I thought I would ride my bike down the lakefront to coach first base for a friend’s elementary boys softball game. The kids were all friendly and having a good time, but one thing was clear: there are a lot of city kids who don’t know the rules of baseball. As a child of suburbia, we had all the rules down pat by the end of the 2nd or 3rd grade. With these kids, it was nearly impossible to teach most of them that you can overrun first base, or run through the bag, as we used to say. They were slamming on the breaks and nearly falling down as a result. Taking a lead off was also confusing for them, and we were getting picked off of first like all day long. They would usually get back to the base on time when the pitcher threw over there, but sometimes they would start their lead off again while the first baseman still had the ball, and they would promptly get tagged out. One kid got out to a couple steps for his lead off, turned to ask me a question, and failed to see that the pitcher was throwing over there to pick him off, which he did. We were all having a laugh, but not at all at his expense, and the kid was laughing at himself too. More important than whether or not they look like the Yankees out there is that students are getting outside, they’re being exposed to a new game that they may end up enjoying, and they are part of a team.
I got talking to the other school’s coach, and he said they only have seven eighth graders in their entire school. They had to put a fifth grader in the lineup to round out the team, and he was small even for a fifth grader. I thought for sure he was a batboy until I saw him come up to the plate and beat out a pretty hard hit grounder. Most likely due to enrollment, they will be closed at the end of the year. Yes, if the numbers are way down than I’m sure in many ways it makes sense to move those kids into a neighboring school, but if it’s such a failing school in the eyes of the bureaucrats, than why is it that there was a parent spectator for just about every boy on that team, and meanwhile the school I was coaching had zero parents watching for a school over enrolled at close to fifteen hundred students? What I saw there did not appear to have the makings of a failing school; It was a loving and supportive community with terrific kids and coaches who really cared. Their coach told me that it took him four seasons to win their first game, so if that doesn’t show commitment, I don’t know what does. Hell, they beat us something like seventeen to six.
To put in all that time, energy, and hard work day after day as a member of that staff only to have it all suddenly shut down on you has got to be hard to take, especially considering that the people who make the decisions about that building don’t know the first thing about the staff, parents, or kids in it – they just know about the data. Their coach said that the school is across from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house. Chicago’s mayor seems big on closing down schools, but I think he should have taken in this ballgame on Friday to put a few faces to the numbers. After all, there are a lot of parents out there quite happy with their children’s public education, and they can’t all afford private schools, especially the ones Rahm’s kids attend.