Like most coaches in the Chicago Public Schools, Simeon's Robert Smith is deeply concerned about reports that all of the city's interscholastic sports programs below the varsity level will be scrapped unless educators find other ways to pay for a $700 million budget deficit.
"We're setting our kids up for failure if there is no underclass or feeder programs for athletics. What will they be doing? They can't go to the parks," said Smith, who guided Simeon to its third boys state basketball championship in the last five years in March.
"All of the young men and young ladies aren't good enough to play on the varsity. They already have too much idle time as it is. Will they hold a basketball or baseball or football in their hands? Or will they hold a gun in their hands? We have to help them make a decision as to what they will be holding in their hands."
Smith, who recently declined an invitation to apply for the head coaching position at Chicago State to stay at Simeon, points out the values of participating in high school sports. Surveys indicate that athletes have better attendance records than other students, that they have better graduation rates, that a higher percentage of them go to college. And they aren't prone to be involved in gangs, drugs or street violence.
"So you're going to take that away from us? Smith said. "There are kids on the streets right now, from 2 to 7 o'clock, when kids get shot and killed. They have nothing to do during a time when they used to be involved in after-school activities. Dropping sports isn't the answer."
Smith said he and many other coaches are searching for answers. "With so much debt in the school system, I don't know what the answer is," he admitted.
He called upon all former and present professional athletes with Public League roots to give back to their schools. He pointed out that two of his former players who currently are playing in the NBA, Derrick Rose and Bobby Simmons, have donated money to Simeon.
"All professional athletes should be giving back," Smith said. "They have to realize that they wouldn't be where they are at if they didn't have sports, if they didn't come out of the city schools.
"I do know that if I didn't have sports, I wouldn't be where I am now. It got me through everything else. At this point, we're killing our youth. We've got to do something about it."