Lions Handle Urban Prep Englewood

By Dan McGrath

As the only returning player with discernible experience, senior Keeland Jordan knows the Leo Lions will be counting on him to bring a lot to the table this basketball season.

Jordan, a long-armed, 6-foot-4 forward, was up to the task in the first two games, delivering 47 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks while driving the Lions to nonconference victories over Public League campaigners Bowen and Urban Prep Englewood at Leo on Nov. 28-29.

Jordan had 23 of his career-high 29 points in the first half and collected eight rebounds and four blocks in a 63-26 dismantling of Bowen. He followed with 18 points, four rebounds and two blocks as the Lions took care of turnover-prone UPE 56-24.

Granted, neither outmanned opponent would ever be mistaken for a Catholic League challenger. But with all the turmoil the Lions have been through in the previous four months—a coaching change and the wholesale departure of last season’s returnees—a 2-0 start is a welcome development.

Jordan was a valued contributor off the bench during last season’s 25-5 campaign, but rarely, if ever, did he put up an outside shot. The work he put in over the summer was in evidence as he rattled home seven three-pointers in the two games and attacked the basket with a sense of purpose, getting to the foul line 23 times. If he hadn’t missed nine free throws, his scoring total would have been more impressive.

Point guard Kevin Jackson’s defensive energy was a factor in Leo’s forcing 41 turnovers and allowing just 50 points in the two games. Jachi Lewis totaled 21 points and 13 rebounds. Fellow senior Christian Scott took down 15 rebounds, while sophomores Neal Anderson and Jerry Brown and freshman Malachi Adams looked like legit candidates for Coach Jamille Ridley’s rotation.

Prelims out of the way, it’s on to Catholic League competition for the Lions; they’re at Providence-St. Mel on Friday, Dec. 2, and play host to Providence Catholic on Tuesday, Dec. 6. The two teams are a combined 2-4, so a good start in conference play isn’t out of the question.

That’s a good thing, because the meat of the CCL schedule will be here soon enough.

Lions Basketball Season Preview

The Leo Lions begin the 2022-23 basketball season as a much different team than they thought they would be, but they’re prepared to embark on a new era.

Jamille Ridley takes over as coach for Jamal Thompson, who departed after a 25-5, Catholic League championship season. Cameron Cleveland and Austin Ford graduated, and returning starters Jakeem Cole, Tyler Smith and Christian Brockett and top reserve Tristan Taylor also opted to take their talents elsewhere. So it will be a new-look Lions team that takes the floor for the season opener against Bowen on Monday, Nov. 28 at Leo. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

The Lions will hit the ground running, with four games in the season’s first week. They face Urban Prep Englewood on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 7. The Catholic League opener finds them at Providence-St. Mel on Friday, Dec. 2 (7 p.m.), followed by a visit from Providence Catholic on Tuesday, Dec. 6 (7 p.m.).

Ridley has an extensive Chicago basketball background, having served as an assistant coach on state championship teams at Whitney Young and Orr. He was also a longtime coach in the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program and worked as director of basketball operations under Coach Steve McClain at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

After playing high school ball at De La Salle, Ridley attended the University of St. Louis and was student manager for Hall of Fame Coach Rick Majerus and top assistant Porter Moser, who later became the Loyola Chicago coach and took the Ramblers to the 2019 Final Four.

“Jamille has been around good people, and that certainly helps,” said Tom White, De La Salle’s athletic director who was Ridley’s coach with the Meteors. “And he’s almost a basketball savant in terms of his understanding of the technical aspects of the game.”

Ridley is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead. “It’s not an ideal situation with the losses we’ve sustained, but it’s still Leo,” he said.”It’s an honor and a  great opportunity to take over such a quality program. I’m prepared for it.”

Senior Keeland Jordan gave the Lions some meaningful minutes off the bench last season and will be in the middle of things this year after a strong summer. Fellow seniors Jachi Lewis and Christian Scott and junior Malcolm Box will be in the frontcourt rotation as well.

Senior Kevin Jackson has rejoined the basketball program after an all-conference season as a football wide receiver and could start at guard. Juniors Joshua Ball and Isiah Gibson are in the mix as well, although nothing is etched in stone. Ridley will not be averse to playing sophomores and even freshmen as he seeks to build for the future while remaining as competitive as possible this season.

“I’m not going to predict how many games we’ll win or where we’ll finish or anything like that,” he said. “I am going to promise that we’ll play hard, play tough and compete every night. We’ll make Leo proud.”

As for the former Lions, Jamal Thompson took an assistant’s job at St. Rita. Jakeem Cole left for Perspectives Leadership Academy, after a brief stop at Rich Township. Tyler Smith is at Kenwood, Christian Brockett is at Curie and Tristan Taylor is at Thornridge.

Rich Township Proves to be Too Much for Lions

By Dan McGrath

Effort acknowledged

Rich Township hit its number in qualifying for the IHSA playoffs with a 32-0 thumping of Leo in the Lions’ Senior Day regular-season finale at St. Rita on Oct. 22.

The Raptors had averaged 32 points in compiling a 4-4 overall record. A fifth win qualified them for the IHSA playoffs, while the Lions finished 2-7 overall and 0-6 in Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference competition in Coach Mike Holmes’ farewell season.

Quarterback Myrion Hogue was a one-man gang for Raptors, piling up 128 yards on 18 carries, with touchdown runs of 2, 2, 4, and 30 yards. 

Leo, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going on offense as sophomore quarterback Darion Lee sat out the game, idled by the bumps and bruises he sustained over the previous eight weeks. Senior Matthew Harvey took over and completed five of 18 passes for 41 yards with two interceptions, one of which Raptors cornerback Demond Munson brought back 56 yards for a touchdown. 

Rich linebacker Jeremiah Williams spent as much time in the Leo backfield as Harvey and helped hold the Lions to 34 rushing yards on 21 carries. 

Despite the disappointing record, Leo was well represented on the Catholic League All-Red Division team. Senior linebacker Thomas Sims was voted defensive player of the year, junior defensive end Joshua Burke was named outstanding lineman, and senior wide receiver Kevin Jackson shared the offensive player of the year award.

Lee joined the threesome on the All-Red Division first team, along with senior cornerbacks Tim Durr and Jamari Winters and senior linebacker Isiah Knox. Defensive end Nick Armour, wide receiver Coby Triplett, guard Keshawn Colbert and center Garry Brown were named to the second team.

Our First Flag Football Season: A HUGE SUCCESS!

As nightfall approaches, and often earlier, motorists tend to drive down 79th Street with their car windows up and their doors locked. They clench the steering wheel in a death grip and stare straight ahead, intimidated by the boarded-up storefronts and Auburn Gresham’s overblown reputation as a dangerous place. 

We see it all the time.

So you had to wonder what those motorists were thinking as they came upon a stretch of 79th Street between Morgan and Sangamon on Friday evening, Oct. 21. 

Dangerous? Hardly.

Kids were dashing about on a brightly lit field with smiles on their faces that matched the illumination. Cheerleaders, music, balloons, spectators numbering in the hundreds … all there for the championship game of the first Leo High School-sponsored Flag Football League, which brought energy, vitality and visibility to a community Leo has long been honored to serve.

When we applied for a grant to refurbish a field that was sorely in need of repair, we stipulated that the finished product would be a community resource and not just a Leo High School facility. The Chicago Bears and the NFL Grassroots Foundation took us at our word and approved the grant, and the project was completed in late summer. As a first step toward honoring our “community” pledge, we formed a flag football league for neighborhood elementary schools.

We started small, with sixth-through-eighth-grade co-ed teams from St. Sabina, the Academy of St. Benedict the African, Paul Cuffe STEM Academy and Barbara Sizemore Leadership Academy playing six weeks of Saturday-morning doubleheaders. At the conclusion of the double-round-robin schedule, ASBA was on top with a 5-1 record, followed by St. Sabina at 4-2.

Thus they qualified for the championship game, which was played “under the lights” to give it a little more pizazz. To say a good time was had by all is a gross understatement. 

St. Sabina was a little bigger and a little faster, with a strong-armed QB whom we hope to see throwing passes for Leo in the near future. Two late touchdowns gave our neighbors from South Racine a 33-21 victory over our friends from Englewood. From their joyous reaction, you’d have thought the Sabina kids won the lottery or the Super Bowl or both. 

Great night for the kids, great night for the community, great night for Leo, which is nothing if not a great neighbor to all who call Auburn Gresham home. And a salute to Leo Admissions Director Kevin McNair, who embraced the flag-football project from Day 1 and saw it through to fruition … only to realize he might have to work twice as hard next season.

We have already received inquiries from four additional schools hoping to join the league next year. We’ll be ready for them. 

Coach Holmes: One of a Kind

Coach Holmes.

The crowd for the Rich game was probably Leo’s largest of the year for a home game as dozens of Coach Holmes’ former players and other alums turned out to congratulate him and say thanks for 30-plus years of distinguished service to Leo.

A poster recounting his career highlights, a football autographed by this year’s team and gift cards to some of his favorite restaurants were among the gifts Coach Holmes received. He was honored at a reception at Leo following the game.

Over three-plus decades as an athlete,coach, classroom teacher and school administrator, no one has done more to embody the spirit of Leo High School than Mike Holmes ’76.

Coach was the Leo Alumni Association Man of the Year in 2018 and the Leo Lions Legacy Award recipient in 2020.

His most enduring legacy may be the dozens of Leo athletes who earned college scholarships while playing for him. Inspired by his example, many of them followed Coach Holmes into the coaching profession.

Among his other accomplishments: 

• Coach is one of the most decorated athletes in Leo history: All-American in football, All-State in baseball

• He was a double Lawless Award winner as Catholic League Player of the Year and Coach of the Year

• He has coached four additional Lawless Award winners, including son Aamir Holmes in 2016

• Under Coach Holmes the Lions have made multiple IHSA and Chicago Prep Bowl playoff appearances, including a state semifinal berth in 2013 

• Dozens of Leo student-athletes earned college scholarships while playing for Coach, and five went on to play pro football  

Coach Holmes has had a truly great and undeniably impactful run as the heart and soul of Leo High School.

Bad Conditions and a Loss at Marmion for the Lions

By Dan McGrath

Wind, rain and a rapidly falling temperature made for miserable playing conditions as the Leo Lions traveled to Aurora to face Marmion Academy in a Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic matchup of 2-5 teams on Friday, Oct. 14.

It was not a night for championship-caliber football, and there was no suggestion of it by either team in Marmion’s 27-0 victory.

The Lions had negative rushing yardage for the evening, even after senior Tim Durr popped out 26 yards on three fourth-quarter carries. They lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions. On their lone trip inside Marmion’s 20-yard line, a holding penalty, a quarterback sack and a blown-up screen pass transformed first-and-goal from the 10 into fourth-and-goal from the 38. 

Trailing 7-0, the Lions took over at their own 8 after a Marmion punt with 19 seconds left in the first half, only to fumble the ball away on the next snap. Jacob Stumm then scored from a yard out to give Marmion a two-touchdown lead.  

Combined with its negative rushing yards, the 105 yards in penalties Leo was assessed more than offset quarterback Darion Lee’s 126 passing yards, achieved on eight completions in 26 soggy attempts.  

The Cadets weren’t a whole lot better on offense—starting quarterback Ryan Prell was 4-for-14 for 69 yards with a touchdown and an interception—but didn’t have to be as Leo turnovers preceded three of their four TDs.

Prell scored one and passed for one, a 21-yard strike to Benjamin Morcos. Backup QB Henry Garrison was on the money with his first three throws, including a 13-yard TD to Xavier Flores.

Leo (2-6) will conclude its season with a nonconference Senior Day matinee against Rich Township at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Saturday, Oct. 22. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. The high-flying Raptors (4-4) average 32 points per game.

A reception saluting Mike Holmes’ 30-year coaching career will be held at Leo after the game. All are invited.       

Lions Brought Down by Nazareth

By Dan McGrath

Nazareth Academy brought an uncharacteristic 2-4 record into a Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic crossover encounter with Leo on Thursday, Oct. 6 in La Grange.

More surprising, the normally dynamic Roadrunners were averaging a mere 16 points per game.

They exceeded that number on their first possession of the second quarter and kept at it, hammering out a 42-6 victory that dropped the Lions to 2-5 and obliterated any playoff hopes that might have lingered.

The driving rain that fell shortly before kickoff decelerated into an intermittent drizzle as the evening wore on, but the Lions handled the football like a slippery bar of soap, throwing two interceptions and losing three fumbles before halftime. 

Their best possession of the first half brought them to the Nazareth 10-yard line after Kevin Jackson traveled 38 nifty yards with a screen pass. But a holding penalty and a lost fumble on the next two plays negated the effort and summed up the type of evening it was for the visitors, who played without injured starters Tim Durr and Merrick Sample.

They wouldn’t score until backup quarterback Matthew Harvey found Coby Triplett for a 20-yard TD pass in the final period. By then it was 42-0 and a running clock had hastened the proceedings.

Nazareth may lack the weapons of years past, but has a promising one in the developmental stage. Sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk displayed impressive command of the soggy field while completing 11 of 21 passes for 154 yards and scoring a touchdown on a 2-yard run. 

The Roadrunners didn’t have gaudy offensive numbers, but didn’t need them as Leo turnovers had them working with a short field much of the evening. Anthony Angulo and Brendan Flanagan ran for two touchdowns apiece, and linebacker Brady Gorman brought an interception back 13 yards for a score.  

Leo is back in action on Friday, Oct. 14, traveling to Aurora to face Marmion (2-4 going into Friday’s game at Carmel-Mundelein) in its Catholic League/ESCC finale. The season ends with a Senior Day nonconference matchup against Rich Township at St. Rita’s Cronin Field on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. 

Headed for retirement, Mike Holmes will coach his final game for the Lions and will be honored at a postgame reception at Leo. 

Joseph A. Power ’70: 2022 Leo Lions Legacy Award

Joe Power

Joseph A. Power Jr., a 1970 Leo graduate and one of the most successful and highly regarded trial lawyers in Illinois, is the recipient of the 2022 Leo Lions Legacy Award.

Power, founder and managing partner of Power Rogers LLP, will be honored at the seventh annual Leo Scholarship Benefit on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. All proceeds from the event go to the Leo Scholarship Fund, which enables Leo to provide tuition assistance and other support to the vast majority of its 200-plus students, many of whom live below the federal poverty level and qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“For a man of his many accomplishments, Joe is a truly humble guy, so we’re delighted that he is allowing us to recognize him in this manner,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “The Leo Lions Legacy Award is our most significant honor, and Joe is a most deserving recipient.”

Joe follows Andy McKenna ‘47, Bill Conlon ‘63, Tom Owens ‘54, Bob Sheehy ‘71, Michael Holmes ‘76 and Gen. William J. Walker (USA-ret.) ‘75 as Lions Legacy Award honorees. 

As founding/managing partner of Power Rogers, Joe directs one of the most impactful law practices in the state of Illinois. He has been included in a book called “The Best Lawyers in America” every year since 1987. The National Law Journal recognized him as one of the top 10 litigators in the United States. Chicago Lawyer magazine cited him as one of “30 toughest lawyers” in all types of practice in the Chicago area.

The Illinois State Crime Commission honored him as “A Protector of the Working Man.” He is a past recipient of the City Club of Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year” award, and was named “Board Member of the Year” by Chicago’s Little City Foundation.

“You would not be able to count all the people Joe has helped in some way over the years,” said Bob Standring, Joe’s Leo classmate and former football teammate. “I consider it an honor to be his friend.”

Joe graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1974 and earned his law degree from the Loyola University School of Law. Along with Leo, those are two of the many institutions Joe supports, as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Misericordia, Catholic Charities, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, the Big Shoulders Fund, the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and St. Gabriel’s elementary school, where he graduated in 1966.

The Leo Alumni Association honored him as its Man of the Year in 2018.

Joe and his wife Susan have four sons and three grandchildren and reside in Chicago.

The Scholarship Benefit will begin with a cocktail reception at 5:30, followed by dinner and the program at 6:30. For more information, or to make a reservation, please contact Rina Tsang of Patricia Hurley and Associates at rtsang@pjh.chicago.com. 

An Honor for Principal Rawls

The Rev. Robert E. McLaughlin Faith Foundation challenges its supporters to invest in hope. 

It’s named after Rev. Robert E. McLaughlin, who devoted his career as a priest to improving the lives of young people. Since Fr. McLaughlin’s death in 2005, the Foundation started in his honor has offered financial support to organizations whose primary purpose is the betterment of young lives. Leo High School has been the recipient of McLaughlin Foundation grants for the last four years.

This year, the Foundation is also recognizing Leo Principal Shaka Rawls, whose commitment to bettering the lives of his students embodies the “spirit of hope” philosophy that informs the McLaughlin Foundation’s operations. 

Mr. Rawls will be honored at the Foundation’s annual golf outing and dinner at Park Ridge Country Club on Monday, Oct. 3, along with Helen Bruns Ryan, a generous, longtime supporter of Josephinum Academy. 

“It is not the things we get but the hearts we touch that determines our success in life.” The Foundation used that quote from Fr. McLaughlin in citing Mr. Rawls’ accomplishments at Leo, including a 60-percent enrollment increase and 100-percent graduation rate.

And this, from St. Ignatius Loyola: “Love ought to show itself more by deeds than by words.” Leo High School’s motto is Facta non Verba: deeds, not words.

“I very humbly accept this honor on behalf of Leo High School,” Mr. Rawls said. “It may be presented to an individual, but it recognizes the team effort that’s involved with everything we do at Leo.” 

Flag Them Down

Football of the flag variety has also caught on at Leo.

In obtaining a grant from the Bears and the NFL Grassroots Foundation to refurbish the school’s athletic field, Leo stipulated that the facility would function as a community resource and not be limited to use by Leo. It is fulfilling that role as the site of a Leo-sponsored flag football league involving 6th-through-8th-grade teams from four neighborhood elementary schools: St. Sabina, the Academy of St. Benedict the African, Barbara Sizemore and Paul Cuffe Stem Academy. 

All four teams have been in action in Saturday doubleheaders that began on Sept. 10. Close, competitive games have drawn large, enthusiastic crowds. Leo Admissions Director Kevin McNair has taken the lead in getting the league up and running, on very short notice, and supervising it. 

“Even before we started I was hearing from other schools about wanting to join,” McNair said. “We could easily double in size next year.”

St. Sabina, St. Ben’s and Sizemore are the early league leaders with 2-1 records. The championship game will be played “under the lights” on Friday, Oct. 21.

“It’s great to see so many kids enjoying themselves in an outdoor activity that’s both healthy and a lot of fun,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “As a good-will gesture to the neighborhood, this is hard to top.”