Members of Oak Park and River Forest High School’s girls’ varsity field hockey team insist there’s no discrimination on their squad, or for that matter other OPRF sports teams.
Several girls’ field hockey members attended the District 200 Board of Education meeting last month to respond to a board member’s public comments about the racial makeup of some sports teams at the high school.
Sharon Patchak-Layman broached the issue at an August board meeting. The two-term board member suggested that team sports at the high school should be more racially diverse and open to all kids She urged the high school to do more to encourage more minority students to join sports teams, and attempt to have those teams reflect the general racial makeup of the entire student body. Her proposal called for bringing sports teams within a range of plus or minus 10 percent of the overall student body by 2015. Her fellow board members, however, opposed such a target, calling it a quota.
Patchak-Layman did not specifically mention any sports teams when she made her proposal. But a Sept. 26 Wednesday Journal story examining the racial makeup of a handful of teams at the high school, including girl’s field hockey, described its mostly Caucasian makeup. That story also reported that some teams have mostly minority players.
At D200’s Sept. 27 meeting, several field hockey players came to address Patchak-Layman’s proposal and the Wednesday Journal article.
“Our racial gap, it should not be addressing us. It shouldn’t be targeting our high school sports,” said OPRF senior Gabriel Warner, who plays on the girls’ varsity field hockey team.
Warner noted that the girls’ varsity team is a competitive program without a feeder program. One of Patchak-Layman’s points about encouraging more kids to join was for OPRF to work with the grade schools to develop more feeder programs.
“Our high school can’t do anything about those kids beforehand,” Warner said. “They come to the school and they try out for the team, but like I said, we have a competitive sports program.”
Warner added that the feeder program issue should be addressed directly at districts 97 and 90 or at the village level.
Several board members expressed appreciation for the team, Warner and her comments. Amy McCormack stressed that the diversity/racial gap proposal did not come from the entire board, nor was that the board’s position but was instead the view of one board member.
Board member John Phelan agreed with McCormack.
To Warner specifically, he added, “Your position is the right one. Everyone needs to select the sport or activity they’re interested in, pursue it and the chips will fall where they may,” he said.
“We do want to make sure that every sport is welcoming to every group which I am absolutely certain field hockey is, as is swimming and others are,” Phelan added. “But we just want the coaches to be sensitive to it and that’s ultimately what the board approved, was to make sure everyone felt comfortable in trying any activity that was available at this high school.”