Three days in February have been a whirlwind for the feisty little institution known as Leo High School.
On Thursday our one-of-a-kind principal, Mr. Shaka Rawls, received statewide recognition: an Outstanding Achievement in Education award from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in conjunction with the Secretary’s celebration of African-American Heritage Month at the Thompson Center downtown. Mr. Rawls was not only an honoree, he was the keynote speaker, and his powerful remarks about committing to the ongoing struggle drew a standing ovation. It was the second of the day to come Leo’s way; earlier, a three-song set by the World-Renowned Leo Choir, under the direction of the incomparable Ms. LaDonna Hill, brought the crowd to its feet.
On Friday the Choir provided music for the Honorable Steven C. Seeger’s installation as a federal judge for the United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, the ceremony taking place at the Dirksen Federal Building downtown. Again, the Choir’s rendition of the National Anthem was truly spectacular.
Within minutes of the completion of another memorable performance we were on the road to New Lenox for our Catholic League basketball finale against Providence Catholic. Behind sophomore Cameron Cleveland’s 20 points, Leo rolled, 56-43, wrapping up a 17-14 regular season, including a 10-5, second-place finish in the Catholic League White Division. Seventeen wins is a little less than we’d grown accustomed to over the previous four seasons, but we dealt with youth, inexperience and injuries all year and still managed to go 10-5 in the ultra-competitive Catholic League. I have a feeling we’re going to be a tough out in the state tournament, which begins with regional play at St. Francis de Sales on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
On Saturday we joined our Friends from the Big Shoulders Fund in hosting an African-American History Quiz Bowl for grammar-school-age students from eight Big Shoulders schools. Our Leo guys served as MC’s, judges, greeters, ushers, etc. They did a bang-up job. The announcement of St. Ailbe’s as the winning school touched off a wave of delighted squeals that I’m sure I’ll still be hearing next Friday.
While the Quiz Bowl was taking place in the auditorium, two freshmen basketball games were being played in our gym. Taking into account participants, parents, school administrators, siblings … we must have had 300 people moving in and out of our building, in our neighborhood, on a dead-of-winter Saturday morning. Leo’s importance to the unfortunately and unfairly maligned Auburn-Gresham community cannot be overstated.
As we catch our breath before the next wave of events, I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to be associated with Leo High School. It’s a truly special place.
By Dan McGrath