Hundreds of student-athletes in the Boston Public Schools are facing an all too common dilemma this spring as they discover there are no buses to deliver them to games outside the city.
Should they dare just find their own way there? Or not play at all?
In the latest indignity for Boston’s chronically disadvantaged student-athletes, the curbside strandings in some cases have triggered challenging treks to unfamiliar places, as if the city’s boys and girls were thrust into an unwelcome urban high school adaptation of “The Amazing Race.”
Every day this week alone, student-athletes and coaches across the city were left standing or scrambling for contingencies, as buses were nowhere to be found Monday for the Charlestown baseball and O’Bryant softball teams, Tuesday for the Boston International softball team, Wednesday for the Madison Park boys’ volleyball team, and Thursday for the English baseball team.
Rarely does a morning go by without BPS players and coaches arriving at school wondering if they will be able to play games scheduled for that afternoon — games that might help teams secure tournament berths and enable players to showcase their skills and improve their chances of competing beyond high school.
“We just don’t have enough bus drivers to get everything done every day,” said Rocco Zizza, the longtime softball coach at Boston Latin Academy.
BPS officials said a shortage of drivers has caused buses to be unavailable for 15 percent of trips for sports teams, with travel to games outside the city disproportionately impacted.
“In an effort to ensure safe transportation to our students’ athletic activities, Boston Public Schools has reached out to several vendors to accommodate trips. However, every company that we have tried to work with has declined to offer their services, citing the shortage of drivers,” BPS spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell said. “We will continue to strategize ways to address this issue.”
The president of the Boston school bus drivers’ union, Andre Francois, said he was unaware of the problem but not surprised. He said BPS has compounded the problem with some poorly designed routes that have made fewer drivers available for after-school trips.
“When you don’t hire enough drivers and make a bunch of bad routes, then you have this problem on your hands,” Francois said.
He said there is no reason why drivers would balk at transporting student-athletes beyond the city limits.
“We drive anywhere anytime,” Francois said.
School districts across the state have coped with scattered disruptions in sports travel due to driver shortages. But nowhere have large numbers of student-athletes arrived at school with more uncertainty about the prospect of playing their road games than in Boston.
In late April, there was the odyssey of the O’Bryant boys’ volleyball team. With no bus in sight and a game pending in Revere, the boys set out on foot from their campus on Malcolm X Boulevard, hopped on a downtown train at Roxbury Crossing, boarded a shuttle bus at State Street for Logan, transferred to the northbound Blue Line, climbed off at Wonderland, and hiked more than a mile amid heavy traffic to the gymnasium at Revere High School.
Once there, they defied yet another challenge facing Boston’s historically shortchanged student-athletes by serving, digging, and spiking their way to victory.
“We’ve been very lucky so far to somehow have been able to play every game,” O’Bryant coach Paul Pitts-Dilley said.
But challenges loom, as problems cascade across the city.
On Monday, the lack of buses forced postponements of the Charlestown baseball team’s game in Abington and the O’Bryant softball team’s game in Revere.
On Tuesday, with no bus to carry the Boston International softball team to Randolph, Randolph graciously agreed to travel to Boston to play.
On Wednesday, Madison Park had little choice but to postpone its volleyball game in Somerville due to the bus predicament.
And on Thursday, the English baseball team, with no bus available, managed to muster enough parents to transport players to a game in Ashland.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Boston Latin Academy softball team is scheduled to play in Lynnfield.
“The kids are asking me if there will be a bus,” Zizza said. “I say, ‘Well, there’s supposed to be a bus, but it’s really hit or miss.’ "
He said the problem is so common now “that it’s really baked into the bread.”
Latin Academy needed to postpone a game against Bishop Fenwick in Peabody April 4 for lack of a bus. Then, when no bus was available for the rescheduled game May 10, team parents took matters into their own hands and drove the girls to the North Shore.
Zizza expects a similar scenario to unfold Friday with Latin Academy’s Lynnfield game, and Saturday, when the girls are due to play in Methuen.
Suburban schools, which generally have had more trouble this spring hiring game officials than arranging transportation, have been sympathetic. Randolph in particular has helped to accommodate BPS baseball, softball, and volleyball teams that have experienced bus problems.
“It’s tough for everybody involved, for the Boston schools and for their opponents like us, to have games canceled because a team can’t get a bus,” said Randolph athletic director Tony Price, who grew up in the Boston schools and was a member of West Roxbury High School’s state champion basketball team in 1984. “At the end of the day, we’re disappointing the young people.”
Concord-Carlisle, with one of the state’s best funded athletic programs, arrived on time by bus to play baseball Monday in East Boston. Aaron Joncas, Concord-Carlisle’s athletic director, said he understands the transportation pressures urban school districts face.
“There’s a trickle-down effect because they have to get everybody home from school first before they can do everything else,” Joncas said.
At O’Bryant, the volleyball team, with no bus available Thursday, , rode the Orange Line to a game in Malden. But reaching Danvers Monday for a game against St. John’s Prep poses a more daunting challenge.
It will be Senior Night at the Prep, the final home game.
“Those kids worked really hard and deserve their Senior Night,” O’Bryant’s Pitts-Dilley said. “We don’t want to stand them up.”
Pitts-Dilley has ruled out trying to reach Danvers via the MBTA commuter rail to Beverly. Most likely, he said, he will “beg parents” with cars for help.
Or the nearly unfathomable could happen.
“Who knows,” he said, “maybe they will surprise us and give us a bus.”
Globe correspondents Matt Doherty, Ethan Fuller, and Ethan McDowell contributed to this story.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.