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For high school athletes, strike could put scholarships on the line

For high school athletes, strike could put scholarships on the line
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Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 11:33pm

 Dante Culbreath is head football coach at Simeon Career Academy on Chicago's south side. It's safe to say the football program here is a powerhouse - they've won six city titles in the state public school division.

Many of the team's seniors are scouted by some of the biggest-name colleges and universities, and this year should be no different.

However, as the Chicago teachers strike continues, the threat that many of this year's top athletes will miss some crucial games is a real one.

"Simeon is known for getting kids in Division I programs," Culbreath said. "It'll be pretty bad if our guys can't get out and play football, because a lot is riding on them being able to play football."

The junior varsity football team at Simeon is already missing out. Their first game was set for Monday, the first day of the strike.

"It's already serious because every time we step on the football field it's an interview for us. No matter what level it is. I have young men being offered scholarships as sophomores."

One of Culbreath's standouts this year is offensive lineman Kendall Moore. Moore says he's been offered a few scholarships already, but being able to play all his games this season could mean more opportunities and more options.

"It's very important because after college I want to start my career," Moore said.

He and his mother, Khem Davis, said that without a scholarship, college would be out of reach.

"It is a must-have. Otherwise it would be impossible for us to afford for him to go to a college that's worthy," Davis said.This week, Moore is helping spearhead player-led practices because coaching staff are not permitted to work with students in any way during a strike.

According to the by-laws of the Illinois High School Association, schools may not "participate in an interscholastic contest or activity during the time the member school is not in session due to a strike by teachers or other school personnel."

The Chicago Public Schools requested a waiver be granted that would allow schools to continue their athletic contests, but it was denied.

When high school athletes are being scrutinized by college recruiters, missing just one or two games -- especially for players on the verge of a particular division - can be the difference, said former NFL linebacker Mickey Pruitt.

"It's a big impact on students just because you have borderline student athletes who are trying to get a scholarship in Division I that could affect him from not playing football," said Pruitt, who is now a football coordinator with Chicago Public schools.

And unlike other sports, it's nearly impossible to make up a missed football game.

"It's hard to fix football just because we usually play one game a week and I know the teams probably lose a game this week if they are still on strike," Pruitt added.

One more thing to consider, Pruitt and Culbreath point out: Any school days lost to the strike have to be made up at the end of the school year, which, if it extends well into the summer, could overlap with the summer training often required at the college level.

Culbreath offered a plea to both sides of the strike.

"I just hope they get it together, get us in school so these young men can go to school for free."

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