Hales Franciscan; Undefeated Off the Field
Every year in Illinois, over 550 high schools have kids suit up to play football, many of those players feel they have a chance to make the playoffs, maybe even get a shot at the state title, but the players at Hales Franciscan usually aren’t in that group.
Hales is a small school that hardly looks the same size as most high school. With an enrollment of 180, primarily African-American students, it's located on the south side of Chicago in the Bronzeville-Kenwood area where it's been since 1962.
With a small class room settings and a dedicated staff, that make sure it’s students know that they can achieve great things and that college is the only option, Hales has done something with it’s students that most of the other local high schools could only dream about. Its students went undefeated in 2005 for getting accepted into colleges they applied for.
Athletic director & student councilor James Thornton, wants people to know Hales is more than just a basketball factory. “We had Jerome Randle on the [basketball] team and he’s at Cal-Berkley now. Michael Robinson, was our salutatorian. Some people thing all we do here is play basketball”.
The academic requirements for a student athlete at Hales are actually above what the IHSA says they need to be. Students need to maintain a 2.0 GPA, be passing 5 of 6 classes and be in study hall for 1 hour 3 days a week before practice.
While the Spartans feel they can hang with any team in the state when it comes to basketball, the football team can’t boast such prowess. Going 2-33 over the last 4 seasons, the Spartans don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of their opponents they way some of the other Catholic League teams do.
When asked if the school has ever thought about switching to another conference or possibly going independent, Thornton replied, “It’s been talked about in the past, but nothing seriously.” The Spartans, who were in the Chicago Prep Conference for a brief period in the 1990’s, just feel right in the Catholic League. “It’s a dog fight every year from top to bottom, but [the Catholic League] tries to keep it competitive by moving around underperforming teams in each sport. Next year we’ll be going to a 3 division conference in football.”
There are bright points along the way, to the football season though. Last year as well as this year Hales had the dubious honor of playing top ranked Mt. Carmel. While you might wonder how playing Mt. Carmel and getting beat 56-6 or 61-6 has a bright side, the Caravan head coach & athletic director Frank Lenti shared a little story about some trash talking his players had with a rival Catholic League football team.
That six was on a late game 60 yard kick return, but can still be the kind of moral victory for a team like Hales.
Senior running back & defensive back, Steve Dunlap, who's currently getting some interest from the University of Indiana, feels he’d be more likely to pick a football scholarship from a school that has good academics than a good football team.
Dunlap started playing football in at the Pop-Warner level with the Dolton Bears, stuck with football at Hales even after winning just 2 games in his freshman season, before being bumped up to varsity his sophomore year and seeing just one victory in those 2 seasons.
Dunlap says he’s never thought about giving up football. “I can take losing, but I’ve got an opportunity to show case my skills & talent and to get better through repetition. I have strong dreams of playing in college.”
While he is partially filling out his own dream of someday playing football in college, he’s also filling his father’s dream of him attending Hales. “My father wanted to go to Hales, but things happened and he couldn’t. He wanted me to go here and get the experience & opportunities [academically] that Hales has. It’s a good atmosphere for young men growing up.”
Even if his college gridiron dreams never come to bear fruit, Steve will leave the playing field knowing that he could hang in the Catholic League “My selection to the All-Conference team for the White division my junior year, is something I’ll never forget”.
Phil Hogan is the last of the Catholic priests at Hales Franciscan, ha’s been at the school since 1964. Hogan says the school formed after the old Corpus Christi High School on King Drive (which at the time was called South Parkway), was “getting old and worn out”. The Franciscans told the bishop & the diocese that if they purchased the property, the Franciscans would staff it. Because there was a need for a school in this part of the city”.
While Hales Franciscan wasn’t meant to be an exclusively African-America school, “there were white & Chinese students when the school first opened” Hogan added, “but as the neighborhood changed so did the make up of the school”. With the African-American community in the area being underserved at many of the other private schools in the city, father Hogan said “the priest & brother here let it be know, that we’d take anyone if they were willing to work”.
Working at being better people is one of the first things you may notice about the students at Hales, from the politeness during interviews and even walking through the halls, the young men of Hales do their best to appear perfect, even if they are not. “When you put them on the line,” Hogan says, “they put all their faults and all their hang ups, which they may create themselves away and will let you believe that they are perfect. Are they? They could become. And that’s our motto, ‘If not the perfect man, they can become.”
Father Hogan, recalled a day a few years back when he was outside changing the letters on the marquee outside the school, “an older woman comes up to me and says, I’ve been in this neighborhood for a long time. And when I see some kids coming I’m thinking ‘oh here comes some trouble’, but you’ve got some of the most unbelievable young people I’ve ever met. When I’m around, they all straighten up and say ‘watch your language around the lady’. So you just remember father, if things aren’t going right with them at school, just remember I’m telling you these kids are ok.”
Chris Peeples (SS/RB) started playing Pop Warner when he was 6. “When I started I felt like I was forced to play football, but I got use to it, then I just fell in love with it”.
Peeples, also has been playing varsity since he was a sophomore. When asked if he’d ever thought about giving it up, he replied similar to Dunlap. “Even though we’re not winning, I want to play in college. I’m watching my academics and trying to make sure I get a 23 or 25 on my ACT.” Peeples knows that if he takes care of himself off the field, his chances of playing on the field in college will increase. “I just want to make sure that I am eligible, so I can play in college”.
As with all athletes, Peeples understands that there is life after football. If he doesn’t make it to the college gridiron, the one thing he’ll take with him from his time as a Spartan is the fact that everyone stuck together. “For some of them this is their last year and I want it to be memorable for them.” (more... page 2)