They feel like the forgotten ones: Football teams training on hazardous turf, soccer teams practicing on fields without goals, track teams running in school hallways for lack of access to training facilities. They are players who share uniforms because there are too few to go around, players who yearn for more qualified coaches and a few fans in the empty stands, players who never make it to the field because of academic woes and the scourge of deadly street violence. In a golden age of professional sports in Boston, they are portraits of a bleak reality for student-athletes in the city's public schools.
Gunshots rang out at least six rounds in rapid fire as girls played softball last month at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, just blocks from Boston police headquarters. Only a few girls flinched at the gunfire, and none ducked for cover as a pack of youths sprinted from the shooting site amid the scream of sirens and screech of tires from approaching police vehicles. For student-athletes across the city, the chilling cacophony of violence has become part of the soundtrack of their lives.
He was the golden boy, a football captain and student leader hand-picked by the headmaster of Jeremiah E. Burke High School to appear on stage with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino last September as a symbol of hope at the start of a new school year. But Brandon Cook was headed for a fall.
Every new sports season in the Boston public schools starts with a reminder to all coaches: An athletic trainer is available for injured players. Trouble is, there is only one trainer for thousands of student-athletes in 18 high schools scattered over nearly 50 square miles of the city.
Boston schools Athletic Director Ken Still said he would remove Boston English football coach Keith Parker if he could. But in a city where the best coaches routinely complain about ill-prepared, uncommitted, and underqualified colleagues failing their student-athletes, the hiring and firing of coaches is controlled by each schools headmaster rather than the athletic director, who may be better suited for the task.
It was Friday Night Lights, Boston-style: 11 supporters for more than 60 players, coaches, and cheerleaders as South Boston capped its 2008 football season at Moakley Park. As thousands of commuters rolled past on the nearby expressway and downtown financial towers twinkled in the distance, the expanse of empty bleachers in the football stadium looked like the aftermath of a fire drill.
After a Globe review found the citys high school athletics program plagued by serious inadequacies in funding, facilities, equipment, coaching, and oversight, city leaders were scrambling for answers this week to problems that have festered for years and have cost countless students opportunities to make the most of their athletic abilities.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino will announce the creation of a multimillion-dollar charitable foundation and consortium of professional sports teams, colleges and universities, and corporations to enhance opportunities for Boston student-athletes - a potential breakthrough for Bostons chronically underfunded high school athletic system.