A strike by school teachers in Chicago has spread from the picket line to the playing field.
Thousands of high-school athletes, shut out of class for more than a week, are arguing, rallying and even filing lawsuits for the chance to compete in post-season play.
Hanging in the balance, they say, are not just the pursuits of state-championship glory and lifelong memories, but scholarships that for some represent a lone opportunity to attend college and, in some cases, escape drugs and violence in city neighborhoods.
“We’ve been working for this goal of making this stage, running in the post-season, since June,” said Ian Bacon, a senior cross-country runner at Jones College Prep and a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on Thursday against the Illinois High School Association. “This fight … it’s not just for us. It’s for all the future student-athletes that may find themselves in this situation.”
About 25,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union walked out of classes Oct. 17.
They continue to negotiate with administrators for the US’ third-largest school system, but disagreement remains over issues such as class sizes and staffing.
The work stoppage also idled action in football, tennis, soccer and cross-country.
Union vice president Stacy Davis Gates, a basketball player in her Indiana school days, was sympathetic to the young competitors, saying: “This sucks.”
“Student athletes spend a lot of time in preparation to make sure that they can meet the highest level of competition,” Gates said. “I am not going to say anything to them that’s going to make this feel any better because it will never feel any better.”
A Chicago Public Schools spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The strike came as competitors were gearing up for state playoff runs. Solorio Academy missed their chance to win a second state soccer championship in three years because the tournament began last week.
The lawsuit by Jones Prep and other cross-country teams argues that a different interpretation of an Illinois High School Association rule could still allow runners to answer the state-meet gun on Nov. 9.
Football teams who have completed eight games and won at least five were expected to be seeded for the playoffs by the association.
However, its rules stipulate that the strike must end by Tuesday night, allowing the teams to suit up for three days of practice before going full-tilt in the first playoff round Nov. 2.