By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
The consequences of building the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park will mean the displacement of thousands of city youth who use the current athletic fields at the site for sports like baseball, track, football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and softball, according to a member of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC).
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the University of Chicago announced the site for the presidential center last month, they made no mention of where the dozens of athletic teams who use the fields for games and practices would go. With August being the deadliest month in Chicago in the past 20 years, park advocates say reducing positive team activities for youth is not the way to go.
Kenneth Newman, a member of the JPAC and a soccer referee for over 30 years in Illinois and Florida, has traveled all over the world officiating matches and says sports, like soccer, give youth the opportunity to have an international experience.
Newman is one of many outspoken critics of the Obama Presidential Center because he says it will do more harm to the community than good by displacing so many athletic programs. He also said the city of Chicago is in dire need of more stadiums for Chicago Public Schools and by building the library on the Jackson Park site, they are making the situation worse.
“This track and accompanying field was built by the park district. It is not CPS property, but it is used by CPS schools, private schools and even colleges,” Newman told the Crusader earlier this week at the site. “If we are to believe what the city and Obama Library Foundation claim that the track will be relocated, wherever it is placed, it will be further away. There will be less parking and farther away from bus stops or for people riding bicycles or getting there in a wheelchair. Removing this track from this location does nothing to enhance the use of the track in another location. And, it will make it more difficult for local students and local residents to use it.”
The track and adjacent athletic fields at Jackson Park are used on a daily basis. Local residents often come in the morning and evening to walk around the track for exercise. Hyde Park Career Academy uses the facility for its football team along with the boys’ and girls’ track and field program. The baseball and softball fields are used by Mt. Carmel, Kenwood, University of Chicago Lab, and Hyde Park high schools during the season. There is also a girls’ rugby league made up of charter schools that play at the field. There are also between 50 and 75 youth football players that play in the Jackson Park program.
“All of these programs will be negatively impacted, and I don’t see any way of a positive result,” Newman said. “If the Obama Library goes from 63rd Street all the way north to the Midway Plaisance…there isn’t enough empty land to replace what they are taking.”
In recent years, the city tried to address some of the issues regarding facilities in Chicago. Lindblom Park opened a new outdoor track and field that has lights and is used by the Lindblom Math and Science Academy’s sports teams. There is also a plan to build a multi-million-dollar indoor track facility at both Lindblom and Gately Park in the Pullman community.
Last week, the Crusader learned that Simeon Career Academy will have a new athletic turf field built for their football team to practice on and for their baseball and softball teams to play on. Phillips High School practices and plays some of its football games at a newer turf field in the Bronzeville community. Last season, Phillips became the first Public League school to ever win a state football championship, which Newman said is irrefutable proof that if the resources are provided to CPS athletes, they will find plenty of success.
Off the top of his head, Newman said he could name several other sites that would be great for building a stadium because they are not being used. He said the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital would be a good spot, along with the acres of vacant land near 43rd & Cicero where the old LeClaire Courts housing complex used to be. He said by not building stadiums or putting the proper resources and staff into the Chicago Park District facilities, city leaders are culpable in the increase in violent crime.
“You have 70-plus CPS high schools and only seven stadiums. That is a 10-to-1 ratio of schools to stadiums. That is not going to do much to keep young people active in sports when they have to travel four to five miles just to get to the stadium,” Newman said.
He went on to say the African-American community needs to really understand the gravity of the situation and should be enraged their tax dollars are not being spent in their own community to help the youth. He said the two sports that give the most college scholarships are cross-country and soccer.
“CPS is really missing the boat by not encouraging their students to play soccer at the elementary-school level, especially for female students,” Newman said. “There are 350 elementary schools. I would guess there are probably just over 100 that have soccer programs. For those communities that are not supporting or demanding there be soccer programs in their elementary schools, they’re only hurting their own kids from a fitness and world culture standpoint.”
The maintenance of the seven stadiums CPS currently has comes into question. Chicago Public League coaches have complained for years about the conditions of the turf field at Hanson Stadium and the lights that poorly illuminate the field during night games.
“The turf is downright dangerous because it is so worn out, and it should have been replaced 10 years ago, but they have ignored this issue,” Newman said. “There are ways of funding this. There is $400 million in TIF money in reserve that the mayor controls. If he were to just build one new stadium a year for the next 10 years, we would start cutting gang activity and the horrible violence that is currently going on would not be happening.
“This problem has been going on for decades because of the neglect of CPS regarding their need for athletic facilities since World War II. It has been a major mistake on the part of CPS, the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois—all of whom play a part in governing the city’s schools. Building this Obama Library here is only adding to that problem.”