Lions Wrestling Schedule

IHSA Team State Finals
US Cellular Arena
Bloomington, IL
Start Time: 9 a.m.

IHSA Team State Finals
US Cellular Arena
Bloomington, IL
Start Time: 9 a.m.

Staff Sergeant James Fagan ’13, USMC

James “J.D.” Fagan graduated from Leo in 2013 as class valedictorian. He was also a baseball standout and a member of the chess and bowling teams. 

On Thursday, Feb. 16 he returned to Leo as Staff Sergeant James Fagan, USMC, having chosen Leo as the site of the ceremony for his promotion from sergeant to staff sergeant.

“This is a significant step in a Marine’s career,” said Chief Warrant Officer Richard Whelan, USMC, who presided. “It’s like all the sergeants’ names are listed on a board, and the ones best suited to continue to serve and fulfill our mission are selected for promotion to staff sergeant. What it says is we want this individual to remain in the Marine Corps.” 

Sgt. Fagan joined an ROTC program while attending college at SIU-Edwardsville. The military lifestyle appealed to him, as did the opportunity to avoid accumulating thousands of dollars in college debt.

“The government is paying for my education,” he told an assembly of Leo students, “and I’m seeing the world.”

Since enlisting for active duty, Sgt. Fagan has deployed to South America, Spain, Germany and Israel. He is currently assigned to the Marine Recruiting Station at 51st and Pulaski in Chicago.

“It’s not a bad life, and there’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment in the work you do,” he said in urging his fellow Young Leo Men to consider the military as an option. “Ten years ago, I was sitting there just like you, wondering what was next for me. I’m grateful that the Marine Corps opportunity presented itself. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.” 

Bears Coach Eberflus, WGN’s Glenn Marshall and Author Nick Brooks

An NFL head coach and a best-selling author. A young mayoral hopeful and a committed-to-the-truth street reporter. 

All were among the speakers who visited Leo High School and interacted with the students during Black History month. Here’s a brief rundown of each presentation:

“Approach it as a partnership” 

Before he begins full-scale preparations for his second season as Bears coach, Matt Eberflus told Bears Care Director Marge Hamm that he’d like to visit one of the organizations that partners with Bears Care in community-service projects.

Mrs. Hamm, a longtime friend to Leo, suggested Leo High School. Eberflus came on Friday, Feb. 24. In his talk and in the Q&A session that followed, he made a strong impression on the students with his candor and his easy, approachable demeanor. 

“There are three things that I believe are essential to success in any endeavor,” Eberflus, 52, told an all-school assembly. “Be on time, be respectful and work hard, to the best of your ability. Commit to those three things and you’ll get results.”  

A football player since the fourth grade, Eberflus said he always knew he wanted to coach, and he got into it immediately after graduating from the University of Toledo. He was a two-time All-Mid-America Conference linebacker, but he lacked the size and speed NFL teams require at the position. 

“Nick Saban, the Hall of Famer, was our head coach my senior year, and even though I was only around him for a year, how he went about it really made an impression. He was a major influence. We still talk regularly.”

In Eberflus’ experience, the best coaches are those who approach the job as a partnership. “You’re not only trying to build a better player, you’re trying to build a better person—someone who can be all he can be,” he explained. “If you’re successful in that, you’ll build trust. And trust is essential to any relationship.”

Eberflus reminded the boys that progress toward one’s goals requires persistence and patience: He put in 30 years as an assistant at the college and pro levels before landing the Bears’ head-coaching job in January 2022. After a lengthy tenure as defensive coordinator at the University of Missouri, he moved to the NFL as linebackers coach with the Cleveland Browns. He later coached the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers and was defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts when the Bears hired him.

“I had six head-coaching interviews,” he said, “and then two offers: the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Bears. I chose the Bears. The history, the tradition, the McCaskey family, the city … It’s a great job, and there’s so much inspiration for wanting to do a great job. 

“We didn’t get off to a great start (3-14), but we’re going to build something here that the fans can be proud of. I’m positive of that.”


“You’ll see yourselves in some of the characters”

Nick Brooks, whose second novel “Promise Boys” is a young-adult best-seller, visited Leo on Friday, Feb. 10 and discussed how the book came about at an all-school assembly.

The plot centers around the murder of the principal at Urban Promise, a Washington, D.C., charter school. Three students of color are immediately viewed as suspects because they had been resistant to the principal’s oppressive approach to discipline. It occurs to them that solving the crime is their best chance to avoid being charged with it.

Brooks told the Leo students he drew heavily on his six years as an inner-city educator in his native D.C. “I was researching the book and I didn’t know I was researching it,” he said. “Working and interacting with at-risk kids is where my knowledge and inspiration comes from. You’ll see yourselves in some of the characters. 

“I saw too many incidents of teachers and staff trying to break down young men rather than build them up,” he added. “They seemed oblivious to the damage they were doing.” 

Brooks said he considers himself a storyteller rather than simply an author. After he left teaching, he graduated from the University of Southern California’s TV and Film Production program and has produced and directed two short films, one of which, “Bee,” was honored at the American Black Film Festival.

He also produces and performs hip-hop music under the name Ben Kenobe.

Promise Boys, Brooks said, “is not just a murder mystery. There’s a strong social element to it. I’m trying to use art to create social change.”

Encouraged by his mother and some teachers to keep a journal recording what was going on around him, and how he felt about it, Brooks said he discovered early on that he wanted to be a writer. “And here I am, standing in front of you.”

He urged the Leo students to follow his example. “Whatever is in your heart, I want to encourage you to pursue it,” he  said. “If I can do it, I believe anybody in this room can do it.”

The early buzz around Promise Boys has sparked interest among TV and film production companies, Brooks said. “Would any of you like a role in the movie?”

Every hand in the room shot up. It was pretty clear Nick Brooks had made an impression.   


“Speak out … and seek solutions”

Ja’Mal Green, at 27 the youngest candidate in Chicago’s crowded mayoral race, visited Leo on Thursday, Feb. 16. He spoke to the journalism and social-studies classes.

Green grew up in Auburn Gresham, just east of Leo on 76th Street, and he knows the Leo story. He told the students he was their age or younger when he began his career as a community organizer/activist, and he’s been “stirring it up” ever since.

“If there’s a situation that bothers you or doesn’t seem fair, speak out—but also seek solutions,” he said. “When I found out Chase Bank was engaged in exclusionary lending practices, I went after them and kept after them. I was banned from every Chase branch in the city, probably the country. But eventually they agreed to provide a billion dollars in mortgage loans for underserved communities on the South and West Sides that they had purposely been neglecting.”

Green said he is not in favor of defunding the police, but he does support a reallocation of police funds to provide better mental health training for officers,  since many of the offenders they encounter are dealing with mental health issues.  

He said the overall city budget should be reconfigured to provide more affordable housing and an assurance of cleaner air and water. He believes lower property taxes would help halt the exodus of Chicago residents to the suburbs and beyond.

 “Chicago has been and should be a great city, one of the world’s greatest,” he said. “When I’m elected—not if, but when—it will be once again.”  


“Tell the stories of people in my city”

Glenn Marshall, street reporter for the WGN Morning News, addressed an all-school assembly at Leo on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Marshall, a native of Matteson, IL., graduated from Rich South High School and Northern Illinois University. He said he jumped at the chance to return to Chicago after previous career stops in Springfield, Boston and Atlanta.

“To be able to tell the stories of my people in my city … I couldn’t pass that up,” he told the students. “There are plenty of Black women, but you don’t see too many Black males on TV in this market. That’s one reason why I feel an obligation to do it well and get it right. I want to be an inspiration to young brothers like you.”

Marshall acknowledged encountering racism at certain junctures of his career, particularly in Boston. “There was a news director who made it pretty clear he didn’t like the way I looked or the way I sounded—now why would that be?” he recalled. “Fortunately, he got fired before I left. 

“But there was a lesson in it. You have to put in the work and be so good at your job that they can’t question your qualifications.”

The Morning News airs from 4 to 10 a.m. and is WGN’s highest-rated program. Marshall feels fortunate to be part of it. The biggest drawback to the job, he said, is “the crazy hours—I’m usually in bed by 6:30 p.m. so I can be up by 2 a.m. for a conference call on what stories we should cover.”

Too often, he said, they involve guns and violence on the city’s streets, which wears on him. Marshall said he was particularly mortified by the murder of a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old, allegedly by their accomplices in a gun-shop robbery, who sought to silence the youngsters before they could tell what they knew. 

“First off, that kids that young could be caught up in gang-banging is a tragedy unto itself,” he said. “But to have those two young lives taken before they had a chance to experience any kind of life … It breaks your heart.”

Our Lions Season Ends

The worst thing that could have happened to Leo basketball was to have senior standout Keeland Jordan miss an IHSA Class 2-A regional semifinal against CICS Longwood at South Shore High School on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Didn’t happen.

The next worst was to have Jordan shaken up in a car accident the day before the game. That did happen, and it affected him, though you might not have noticed if you weren’t watching closely. 

Jordan followed up a scoreless first half with a remarkable second, going for 25 points on sheer effort. But the Lions never led in the game, never escaped the early 15-3 hole they dug for themselves waiting for Jordan to get going.

Their season ended in a 61-53 defeat. And while they competed from the opening tip to the final horn, the Lions couldn’t overcome turnovers (21), missed free throws (11) and the tattooing they took on the defensive backboards.

“I’m proud of you guys,” Coach Jamille Ridley said in a somber postgame locker room. “It wasn’t easy, being thrust into a situation with all those guys leaving. But the seniors stepped in, the young guys stepped up …

“You gave us everything you had, every night. Left it out there. This team will always be special to me.”  

Leo got back into the game with a scrappy halfcourt trap that discombobulated the Panthers, limiting them to six points in the second quarter. With Jachi Lewis (8), Emanuel Walker (6) and Neil Anderson (4) combining for 18, it was a three-point game (21-18) at the halftime break.

Jordan’s first bucket of the night brought the Lions within one, but he missed the tacked-on free throw that would have tied it. Longwood then converted three straight empty possessions into six points. The Panthers led by seven, and Leo gradually saw the curtain fall on an 8-23 season.

Kenric Mosby has an unorthodox shot that will never be featured in a coach’s manual or an instructional film, but the 6-foot-6 rover connected often enough to score 19 points, two on a breakaway slam that pretty much sealed the deal with 2:19 remaining. 

Terrence Hilliard scored 15 points and DeMarco Hawkins had 12 for the Panthers (9-16), who made it two in a row over the Lions, following up the 48-35 ‘W’ they achieved in a shootout at Marshall five weeks earlier.

Leo says goodbye to Jordan, Lewis and fellow seniors Kevin Jackson, Amare Hall, Christian Scott and Koby Triplett. Sophomores Anderson and Walker and freshman Zion Wilkins return, along with some other promising talent from the lower levels.

Ridley was already thinking of next season before he left the locker room.

Lions Win Their Playoff Game Against Butler

By Dan McGrath

A team commits 20-plus turnovers, misses seven layups, goes 8-for-17 at the free-throw line and sees its top scorer achieve half his normal output … you wouldn’t like its chances.

But the Leo Lions overcame all that with stellar defense and productive bench play in rolling Butler College Prep 57-30 in the first round of their IHSA Class 2-A Regional at Butler on Saturday, Feb.18. Improving to 8-22, the Lions extended their season into a Regional semifinal meeting with CICS Longwood (8-16) on Wednesday at South Shore High School. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

“Survive and advance,” Coach Jamille Ridley said. “That’s what it’s about this time of year.”

Leo lost to Longwood 48-35 in the Marshall Shootout on Jan. 15. It was the fourth game of a week that found the Lions mired in a season-worst nine-game losing streak and, simply, not playing well. But the younger players on the roster have begun to mature and gain confidence over the last month as Ridley gains confidence in using them.

“We’ll be better prepared and I think we’ll play better this time,” he said.

Sophomores Neil Anderson (13 points) and Emanuel Walker (12) were big-time contributors against Butler, Walker connecting on four rainbow three-pointers and Anderson handling the physical stuff underneath. Freshman Zion Wilkins was one of the primary ballhandlers against the Butler press and also scored five points. 

Keeland Jordan had an off day shooting the ball and managed half his 22-point average, but he was a factor elsewhere with eight rebounds, four emphatic blocks and three steals. Fellow senior Jachi Lewis had eight points, six rebounds and four assists, while Kevin Jackson (four points) helped Wilkins keep the ball moving through the Butler defense. 

Jermain Sellers had 15 points and Denim Fields 10 for the Lynx, who finished 10-19.  


St. Rita Defeats Our Lions

By Dan McGrath

This was rather predictable: St. Rita was bent on avenging an embarrassing 59-57 home loss to Leo last season in which the Mustangs blew a 15-point second-half lead and could only watch as Austin Ford’s last-second putback all but handed the Catholic League title to the Lions. 

Jamal Thompson, Leo’s Lawless Award-winning coach last season, was on the St. Rita bench as an assistant, having walked out on Leo under less than friendly circumstances, followed by five returning players. 

The Mustangs were 19-10 overall, 11-1 in the Catholic League; Leo was 7-21, 2-10 going into its final home game of the season. 

In the end, the Mustangs had too much size and too much firepower and bullied their way to a 71-40 victory on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Save for some silly chirping at the end, the game was incident-free, even though it fit the classically cliched description of a battle between two teams that just don’t like each other. 

The quote is attributed to the former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”  

The 21-2 run with which St. Rita closed the first quarter qualified as a knockout punch, but the Lions got up from it and kept swinging. 

Still, every time they threatened to make it interesting, Nojus Indrusaitis would feather in a three-pointer or Morez Johnson would pound down a thunder-dunk. Indrusaitis finished with 30 points and Johnson had 20.

The 31-point final was fairly indicative of the size, talent and experience gaps between the teams, though Leo’s Keeland Jordan certainly went down swinging with 15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals before leaving to a nice ovation in his final home game. 

Competing in the 2-A bracket of the IHSA state tournament, Leo is the No. 10 seed in the Julian Sectional and will begin Regional play against Butler College Prep (10-18) at Butler (821 E. 103rd Street) on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winner advances to the next round at South Shore High School on Tuesday, Feb. 21

Unlike last year, Leo’s expectations are modest. But they call it “the second season” for a reason. 

Fenwick Bests Lions 57-25

By Dan McGrath

At halftime, the score from Oak Park was Fenwick 28, Keeland Jordan 16, Leo 3.

So when a painful foot injury forced Jordan to the bench, it was pretty obvious where things were headed for the Lions. With Jordan scoreless, they managed just six points in the second half of a turnover-filled, 57-25 thumping at Fenwick on Friday, Feb. 10.

With one senior and three juniors on a sophomore-dominated roster, Fenwick is clearly building for the future, and the Friars (18-12, 7-6 Catholic league) gave an intriguing glimpse of it as sophomores T.J. Pettigrew, Nathaniel Marshall and D.J. Porter combined for 32 points.

Veteran E.J. Hosty, their lone senior, was honored in Senior Night ceremonies, and his teammates collaborated in sending him out memorably by getting him 10 points.

On what was a forgettable night for Leo, Jachi Lewis (4), Christian Scott (3) and Kevin Jackson (2) provided the only points Jordan did not.

The Lions (6-21, 2-10) will close out Catholic League play against St. Rita at Leo on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Jamal Thompson, Leo’s former coach, will be on the Mustangs’ bench as an assistant.

As the state tournament gets under way, Leo has been seeded 10th in the Julian Class 2-A Sectional and will face No. 7 seed Butler College Prep in a first-round regional game on Saturday, Feb. 18. The site and time are to be determined.

The ultimate Leo Man has taken his leave of the Leo Community

Andrew J. McKenna, a graduate with Leo’s Class of 1947 and one of the school’s strongest and most loyal supporters, died in his Winnetka home on Tuesday, Feb. 7, surrounded by his large and loving family. He was 93.

Mr. McKenna was known as “Andy” to his friends, as “Cubby” to his 24 grandchildren and as “the Chairman” to fellow business and civic leaders, in deference to his penchant for winding up as the head of virtually every organization with which he involved himself.

Mr. McKenna truly was one of the most influential power brokers in Chicago history, a pillar within the city’s business, civic, philanthropic and sports communities for more than a half-century. He served as board chairman for such noteworthy institutions as the University of Notre Dame, McDonald’s Corp. and both the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

And yet, Leo High School always held a place in Mr. McKenna’s heart, from his days as an honor student, senior class president and sports editor of The Oriole, the school newspaper. 

“I am equal parts saddened and stunned by Andy’s death,” said Leo President Dan McGrath, a longtime friend of Mr. McKenna. “I thought, or I should say I hoped, he would live forever. We have not had a better friend.

“I wouldn’t think of making a significant decision without running it by Andy first,” McGrath added. “He was probably the wisest, most clear-thinking individual I have ever known, and also the nicest. Leo High School is forever indebted to him. The world is a lesser place today.” 

In 2016, Leo held its first Scholarship Benefit to celebrate its 90-year anniversary, and to fund tuition assistance for deserving students who were increasing in number as Leo’s enrollment grew. Mr. McKenna agreed to accept the first Leo Lions Legacy Award as recognition for his lifetime of service to others. 

With a who’s who of Chicago dignitaries in attendance at the Four Seasons Hotel, more than $2 million was raised for the Leo High School Scholarship Fund. The Benefit has become an annual event, and with Mr. McKenna’s continued support, it is Leo’s No. 1 fundraising vehicle.

“His whole life has been about investing in others,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said in delivering the Benefit invocation. “Tonight we have a visible way of seeing how that investment has promise of paying great dividends in the future.”

Mr. McKenna’s leadership touched all manner of Chicago institutions, ranging from the Chicago Bears to the Lyric Opera. 

• He is the only man to have served as chairman of Chicago’s two major league baseball teams, literally saving the White Sox for Chicago when the team seemed headed for Seattle after the 1975 season. The Cubs on his watch ended a 39-year postseason drought by winning a National League East division title in 1984. 

• He served 12 years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, and 16 years as Chairman of the Board of Directors at McDonald’s, the international fast-food giant.

• Lurie Children’s Hospital, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry are among the many civic entities to which Mr. McKenna devoted his time, treasure and talent. He was one of four co-founders of the Big Shoulders Fund.  

And yet, he always found time for Leo.

“A lot of the values I still adhere to today date to my time at Leo,” Mr. McKenna told an interviewer in 2019. ““Ambition, responsibility, work ethic, time management … I don’t know that I could have got more out of high school.”

At the Scholarship Benefit, Mr. McKenna recalled taking three streetcars from his South Shore home to Leo every day, but he said he was well-served by the experience. He urged the young Lions in attendance to follow his example.

“The world is yearning for young men like you, and the opportunities are enormous. Show up. Get involved. Stick with it.”

This quote is a succinct summation of his definition of a life well lived, which his most assuredly was:

“At the end of life, I think the measure of success is not how much you’ve got, but how much you’ve given.

“Not how much you’ve earned, but how much you’ve returned.

“Not how much you’ve won, but how much you’ve done.”

Mr. McKenna’s wife of 66 years, Joan preceded him in death in 2019. Survivors include seven grown children, 24 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren … and a grateful city.

Facta Non Verba—Deeds Not Words. It was not just a school motto to Andy McKenna. It was a way of life. 

Dan McGrath

Lions Lose to St. Laurence on Senior Night

By Dan McGrath

Leo’s Senior Night crowd was loud and boisterous, but St. Laurence seemed to feed off its energy more than the Lions did in administering a 60-42 Catholic League beat down on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The Vikings (19-10 overall, 6-6 Catholic League) pressed ferociously and attacked the basket relentlessly in taking control early and never letting up.

“We’re a work in progress,” assistant coach Jim Tracy said before the game. St. Laurence had five sophomores in its starting lineup, so that progress will be interesting to track as time goes on.

Sophomore Jacob Rice feathered in five three-pointers on his way to a game-high 20 points. Fellow sophomore Zerrick Jones, with a linebacker’s build and a Ferrari motor, muscled his way to 17 points and was pretty much unstoppable whenever he chose to attack the basket. The officials rewarded him with 12 free throws, nine of which he made.

As he has all season, senior Keeland Jordan led Leo with 16 points, despite wearing various St. Laurence defenders like an extra shirt all evening. Fellow seniors Christian Scott (12 points) and Jachi Lewis (10) also reached double figures. Once again the Lions (6-20,  2-8) were their own worst enemy, committing 17 turnovers in sustaining 20 losses for the first time since 2012-13.

They’re at Fenwick (15-12, 6-6) on Friday, Feb. 10.

Bill Holland Alumni Night

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By Dan McGrath

The scoreboard didn’t cooperate, but it hardly mattered to the near-capacity crowd that turned out at Leo for Bill Holland Alumni Night on Friday, January 20.

Leo’s Alumni Association sponsors a basketball outing each season. The Mt. Carmel game was chosen for this year’s event, and it was dedicated to the memory of Bill Holland ’73, whose death in June from a heart attack hit all of us in Leo Community like a punch to the stomach.

Bill was the Class of ’73 valedictorian, student body president and football captain—a quintessential Leo Man. And he didn’t stop being the quintessential Leo Man as an alum—he served on the school’s Advisory Board, he was an active, engaged member of the Alumni Association, he was a regular at pretty much every Leo event that was held.

“Other than his family and his many friends, I don’t know of anything that meant more to Bill than his association with Leo,” his wife Cathy said.

With that in mind, Bill’s family and friends decided to fund a Leo scholarship in his name. “Seed money” came from in-lieu-of-flowers donations received during the wake and funeral. Contributions continued to roll in after the services, enough to fund a full scholarship for a former junior high student of Bill’s teacher/daughter Colleen—the young Leo Man is currently a sophomore, and his tuition will be covered for the remainder of his time here. 

Additional funding came from a share of Alumni Night gate receipts and the sale of commemorative T-shirts. In all, more than $12,000 has been raised, so there will be two Bill Holland Scholars walking the halls of Leo beginning next year.

“Bill would be so proud,” Cathy Holland told the crowd as she and daughters Colleen, Mary Kate and Patty were recognized pregame, along with Bill’s grandson Connor, who offered a “Go Leo!” exhortation. 

“That he’s able to continue doing things for Leo after he left us … it’s just amazing.”

Bill Holland was an amazing guy. We thank his family and friends for their thoughtful generosity. 

Lions Have a Good Showing at the IHSA Wrestling Regional

By Dan McGrath

Rigorous Catholic League competition proved to be good preparation for the IHSA state series for Leo wrestlers Nick Armour, Chris Mathis and Fred Chandler.

Armour, a sophomore heavyweight, pinned all three opponents and took first place at the IHSA Class 1-A Regional at St. Laurence High School on Saturday, Feb. 4.

Mathis, a senior, placed second at 120 pounds, and Chandler, a freshman, finished fourth at 138 pounds. Sophomore Trevor Turpin also competed, but lost both his matches and didn’t place.  

The top three finishers in each weight class advance to sectional competition, so it’s off to Coal City and the 1-A Sectional for Armour and Mathis on Feb. 10-11. Chandler also will advance if any of the three wrestlers who finished above him are unable to compete for any reason. The top three sectional finishers advance to the state meet Feb. 16-18 at State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus.   

 As a team, Leo placed seventh among 10 teams with 47 points. Host St. Laurence won the regional with 150.5 points and Nazareth was runner-up with 133.5 points.

 Armour was an All-Catholic League Red Division defensive lineman as a sophomore for the Lions, while Mathis is an honor student and a member of the National Honor Society. We wish them well at the sectional.