Suburban High School Forfeits Game over Safety Concerns after West Side Shooting

(Chicago Tribune) Wheaton’s St. Francis High School has forfeited Friday night’s football game against Chicago Hope Academy on the city’s West Side because of safety concerns, St. Francis President Tom Bednar said.

Hope’s Sept. 29 game against Providence Catholic at Altgeld Park in the East Garfield Park neighborhood was interrupted by gunfire a few minutes after kickoff. Chicago police said someone in a vehicle shot and wounded a 36-year-old man driving on West Harrison Street, just south of the park.

Bednar said the school has played at other fields in the city without issue. But the shooting, along with gunshots reported near Little League games at Altgeld Park over the summer, convinced the school to keep its team at home.

“We tried to look at other venues, but given the time, that wasn’t going to work out,” he said. “Out of concern for students at both schools, we decided to forfeit the game.”
Bob Muzikowski, Hope Academy’s founder, said that was the first violent episode in 13 years of Hope football. The two teams finished the game after police responded to the shooting, and he said security would have been robust at Friday’s game.

Providence officials said in a statement that they, Hope Academy and the Chicago Catholic League “will carefully review security plans, procedures and logistics for future athletic events to ensure that all student athletes, teams and fans (will be) in a secure and safe environment.”

Though St. Francis offered to host the game or find a neutral site, Muzikowski said it was important to play the game — which would have been Hope’s homecoming — as scheduled.
“We’re not going to be run off by the punks,” he said. “You can’t start that precedent or no one will play us.”

He said a junior varsity game against Chicago Bulls College Prep at Altgeld Park Monday evening went off without any problems. Hope is scheduled to host its next home game Oct. 20 against Kankakee’s Bishop McNamara, whose administrators could not be reached for comment.

Hope’s record with the forfeit is 5-2; one more win in their final two games will assure them a place in the Illinois High School Association playoffs. If they were to be seeded high enough to get a home game, IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said he would not ask them to move it.

“We know that it is impossible to 100 percent guarantee the safety of any event, but I am very confident in the measures Hope Academy would have taken for (the St. Francis game), as well as for any future games they will host.”

Muzikowski speculated that St. Francis’s 1-5 record might have been a factor in the decision to forfeit, but Bednar said that had nothing to do with it.
“I would hate to be the one to have to answer questions (if a St. Francis student were hurt),” he said. “Safety is first.”

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