Lions Fall to Loyola

By Dan McGrath

The Loyola  Academy Ramblers were a coaching manual come to life in their 50-37  Catholic League victory over the Leo Lions at Leo on Friday, February 26.

The Ramblers (8-3 overall, 5-1 Catholic League) embodied patience at both ends of the floor. They set hard picks. They made hard cuts. They disdained questionable shots. They moved, they moved, they moved, often running 20-plus seconds off the clock before even considering a shot. By the eighth or ninth time a Rambler broke to the basket, he was open for a layup.

On defense, they swarmed, playing a straight man-to-man but switching everything with help-and-recover tactics that stymied Leo. It wasn’t so much that the Lions shot poorly, it’s that they barely shot at all, squeezing off just 33 shots all night and hitting 15. Fourteen turnovers added to the hosts’ frustration on a night when the pace of the game suggested they could ill afford any. 

Leo shot just six free throws, converting three. The Ramblers were 13-for-16 at the line after some slap-happy Leo defense had them shooting bonus free throws early in the final period. 

Thirty-seven points represented both a season low and  a moral victory for Leo (3-4): Loyola had held its first 10 opponents to 34.7 points per game. The Lions were within two (18-16) at halftime, but managed just five points in the third quarter, coming up empty on 10 of 11 possessions at one stretch as the Ramblers sneaked away.

Scotty Dean’s game-high 19 points included three three-pointers and a 6-for-6 showing at the foul line. Fellow senior Jalen Axibal added 16 points for Loyola. 

Thirteen of Tyler Smith’s team-high 15 points came in the fourth quarter for Leo. Fellow sophomore Ja’keem Cole, Leo’s No. 2 scorer, managed eight points before limping off on a twisted ankle midway through the final period. He’ll have until Wednesday, March 3 to recover; Leo’s Monday, March 1 game at Mt. Carmel has been postponed because of COVID issues involving the Caravan.

Leo’s sophomore team saw its four-game winning streak halted as Loyola registered a 39-31 victory in the preliminary game. 

Junior Cameron Cleveland Talks About Dr. King


A request from the Chicago Bears turned into a memorable series of events for Leo junior Cameron Cleveland.

Cameron was one of 12 Leo students who participated in a Bears Care-sponsored distribution of gift baskets to needy families from Auburn Gresham and other neighboring communities just before Christmas.

In January, in conjunction with the Bears’ observance of Dr . Martin Luther King Day, the team asked Cameron and students from other schools to submit an essay on Dr. King’s legacy and what it means to him and his family.

Cameron wrote the essay and recorded it on video as well. The Bears were so impressed that they shared it with some of their media partners, including Chicago’s FOX-32, the broadcast outlet for all of the Bears’ NFC games each season. FOX, in turn, decided to interview Cameron about his commitment to community service as part of a series of stories it was doing in conjunction with Black History Month on its morning show, Good Day Chicago. The interview aired on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The essay, the video and the FOX interview are included here. Cameron, as usual, represented us like a champion, but no surprise there; he is the top-ranked student in the junior class with a GPA well above 4.0 as a result of the honors courses he has taken. He’s also the captain and leading scorer on the Leo basketball team, which again is no surprise; Cameron is the younger brother of Fred Cleveland, a two-time All-State point guard who was Leo’s Class of 2019 salutatorian.

The Cleveland family has been a great addition to the Leo Family, and we salute them.

Dr. King
by Cameron Cleveland ’22

Dr. King’s legacy means everything to me and my family. My grandfather and his siblings grew up in Selma, Alabama and were fortunate enough to participate in the march to Montgomery and be part of such a historical event in American History. They partook in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were trampled over and sprayed with fire hoses. They fought so I would be able to learn and capture the most out of every opportunity that I am given. This is why I am passionate about learning and strive to do the best I can in any and everything I do. Dr. King is an inspiration to me and my family, a symbol of the freedom and prosperity we have in today’s society.  He was a leader, activist and symbol of peace in the African-American fight for Civil Rights. I strive to accomplish and be an icon of those dreams Dr. King expressed in his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech. He lost his life fighting for the rights Me, My Family and the other future generations of Blacks in America have today. This means everything to me and is why Dr. King in the flesh and his legacy mean so much to me.

Cameron’s video

Cameron’s interview on FOX Chicago

Lions Reach .500 in Turning Back Montini

By David Gross

The young Leo Lions basketball team showed some grit in reaching the .500 mark for the first time this season by turning back Montini 61-57 on Wednesday, Feb. 24 in the Lions Den.

Montini came into the game with a 1-5 record, but that’s deceiving: The Broncos’ previous opponents included such Catholic League powerhouses as Fenwick, Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel and St. Rita. Their lone victory, over Loyola Academy, suggests they have potential.

But Leo (3-3) forced Montini into 20 turnovers, offsetting 15 by the Lions. The Broncos also enjoyed a 32-21 rebounding advantage, including 12 offensive rebounds, but they couldn’t convert enough of those second-chance opportunities. They also missed nine free throws. 

Leo got another solid game from its young guard line of sophomores Ja’keem Cole and Tyler Smith and freshman Christian Brockett, and one of the night’s more encouraging developments was forward Rob Smith’s continued strong play inside. After establishing season-highs with 13 points and eight rebounds against Marmion on Monday, the 6-foot-2 junior came back with 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks against Montini. 

Tyler Smith scored 12 points with five rebounds and four steals. Brockett also scored 12, on 5-for-9 shooting, with six rebounds and two steals, while Cole contributed 10 points, two rebounds and three steals. Junior Cameron Cleveland managed eight points after averaging 19 in the previous three games.

Forward Andrew Stokes led Montini with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. 

Leo’s sophomore team improved to 4-1 with a two-point victory over Montini’s sophs, 49-47.

With a freshman, two sophomores and three juniors in the rotation, the young Lions are clearly improving and building some momentum with three wins in their last four games.

Now comes the hard part: Loyola at home on Friday, Feb. 26, followed by road games at Mount  Carmel (March 1), Fenwick (March 3) and Brother Riace (March 5). The St. Joe’s game, postponed earlier because the Chargers were in COVID quarantine, will be played at Leo on Saturday, March 6, with a 3 p.m. tip.

Lions Run Past Marmion 76-59

Leo basketball is still Leo basketball, and even with a young, undersized team composed of five new starters, there are nights when the Lions are simply going to out-talent an opponent. 

That was the case in Aurora on Monday, Feb. 22. All five starters scored in double figures as Leo (2-3) ran past Marmion Academy 76-59 in a Catholic League matchup. The Cadets (0-2) were playing only their second game after spending the first two weeks of this truncated season in COVID quarantine. They competed, but were clearly outmanned.  

Leo’s starting guard line of sophomore Ja’keem Cole (18), junior Cameron Cleveland (17) and sophomore Tyler Smith (12) combined for 47 points and were almost impervious to Marmion’s attempts at pressure defense, weaving through it to create one good shot after another.

But for the first time this season the Lions enjoyed an advantage up front as well as junior forward Rob Smith scored a career-best 13 points with eight rebounds and two blocks. Senior Kobe Roberts took down six rebounds with two blocks in limited minutes.

The most intriguing player on the floor, though, may well have been the youngest. Christian Brockett, a mere freshman, missed only one shot all night while scoring 14 points with seven rebounds, three assists and five steals. This after the 5-foot-11 guard had scored 27 points in leading the Leo sophomore team to a 46-38 victory over Marmion’s sophs in the preliminary game. 

“He has a chance to be a special player,” Leo Coach Jamal Thompson said.    

Meanwhile, the Lions have a chance to reach the .500 mark when they host Montini (1-5) at Leo on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Then the schedule turns into a minefield: Loyola at home, at Mount Carmel, at Fenwick, at Brother Rice.

“We’re a young team, but we’re playing hard and we’re learning,” Thompson said. “I definitely see progress.”   

Lions Fall to De La Salle

By Dan McGrath

The question that accompanied De La Salle High School’s Meteors to Leo for Saturday’s Catholic League makeup game against the Lions: How is this team winless?

The Meteors boast a college-sized front line featuring 6-foot-9 Marcelius Cohen, 6-7 Jamil Wilson and 6-5 Caleb Jenkins. The trio’s imposing length was surely a factor in Leo’s nightmare shooting performance (37 percent for the game, 5-for-23 on three-pointers) and its glaring inability to get an offensive rebound.

But the biggest reason—figuratively if not literally—behind De La Salle’s breakthrough effort was guard DaJuan Bates. The 5-11 junior was like a kid in a candy store in Leo’s cozy gym, erupting for 40 points in a 66-51 victory and taking it upon himself to shoot the Lions down each time they threatened.

“We let him go wherever he wanted and do whatever he wanted,” was Leo Coach Jamal Thompson’s on-the-money assessment.

Bates had 19 of De La Salle’s 30 points in the first half as the Meteors built a double-figures lead that withstood sophomore Ja’keem Cole’s late seven-point flurry. He left the heavy lifting to backcourt mate Miles McGee in a three-point third quarter, as if he were conserving his energy to turn back Leo’s final push.

Sure enough, the Lions’ press forced some turnovers and Cameron Cleveland began finding the range with his shot, and it was a 53-47 game with just under four minutes remaining. But Bates simply took over, scoring 18 in the quarter and 10 in a 13-4 run with which De La Salle closed it out.

His 40 included six three-pointers and a 6-for-6 showing at the free-throw line in the final period.

Cleveland finished with 20 points for the second straight game and Cole had 15 for Leo. It was a commendable effort, but Bates’ shooting and all that size were too much to overcome as Leo’s overmatched front line managed just six points total.

The teams were scheduled to play this game on Monday, Feb. 15, but snow forced the five-day postponement. The sophomore game will be made up later. Leo’s Friday, Feb. 19 game against St. Joe’s also was postponed because the Chargers are in COVID quarantine.

The Lions (1-3) are back in action Monday, traveling to Marmion for a 6:30 game. The Cadets were in COVID quarantine earlier and have played just one game, losing to Mt. Carmel.

Lions Roll Over Providence-St. Mel

By Dan McGrath

The Leo Lions aren’t likely to get much taller over the course of a six-week season, and the best they can do in terms of acquiring experience is 15 games. 

Thus size and youth loom as season-long challenges. 

But the guard-heavy roster is quick enough and deep enough to press like swarming, irritated hornets, which the Lions did in Wednesday night’s Catholic League exercise with Providence-St. Mel on the West Side. 

The Knights never knew what hit them. It was 23-7 after a quarter, 52-20 at the half and 88-45 at the finish as Leo (1-2) rolled to its first victory of this truncated season. 

Now the Knights (0-4) are not to be confused with Fenwick, DePaul Prep and the other aspirants to Catholic League royalty. But for one night at least, it was nice to see the Lions display the take-no-prisoners swagger that helped carry them to an average of 22 wins over the previous five seasons. 

And, for one night at least, Leo’s basketball future seemed as intriguing as its storied past. Underclassmen accounted for 87 of the Lions’ 88 points, with junior Cam Cleveland putting up an effortless 20 and the sophomore backcourt duo of Tyler Smith (18) and Ja’Keem Cole (17) combining for 35. 

But most of the good stuff came off the Leo press, which had the hosts talking to themselves and committing 15 turnovers before halftime. 

“Something to build on,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “Easily our best game. We really got after it defensively.”  

Leo shot 14 free throws total in its first two games, hitting just three. The Lions shot 19 in Wednesday’s first half and 27 for the game, making 16 and remaining on the attack on offense throughout the evening. 

Leo’s sophomore team (2-1) made it a sweep for the evening, riding a 24-8 third-quarter burst to a 75-44 victory in the preliminary game. 

The Lions will have an extra day to savor their first win and make preparations for the next one. Friday’s home game with St. Joe’s has been postponed and will have to be rescheduled because the Chargers are In COVID quarantine. 

So Leo is back in action Saturday (Feb. 20), hosting De La Salle in a makeup for Monday’s snowed-out game. Tip-off is at 2 pm. 

Lions lose a heartbreaker to Providence

Jamal Thompson’s coaching mantra is succinct, forceful and time-tested: If we run our offense, we’ll get good shots. 

He knows that, without the inside muscle of the Anderson brothers and the outside firepower Fred Cleveland, Malcolm Bell and Terrance Ford gave Leo over the last four years, his smallish young Lions lack a dominant player and are dependent on constant movement—of the ball and of themselves—to create offensive opportunities.

Just 1:37 into a Catholic League matchup at Providence Catholic on Friday, Feb. 12, Thompson saw the same type of standing-around listlessness that had undone the Lions in a 24-point pasting by St. Ignatius in Monday’s season opener. So he called timeout and reminded them—loudly—that their effort was unsatisfactory.

Message delivered. What followed was 30 minutes of back-and-forth, highly entertaining basketball, played with an earnestness that more than made up for what it lacked in artistry. In the end, a familiar-looking combination of inside muscle (Hampton Dauparas) and outside firepower (Jack Wajda, Jimmy Arentz) was the difference.

Three-point shooting brought Providence back each time Leo threatened to pull away, and the Celtics won 52-50 when Arentz knocked down a three-ball from the deep corner with 17 seconds remaining. The Lions’ final possession was futile. Providence had two fouls to give before putting Leo in the one-and-one bonus and used them, leaving the Lions just seven seconds to make their last move. Ja’keem Cole, whose runner in the lane had put Leo up 50-49 a bit earlier, was swarmed when he drove the lane this time. Jamari Allen could do nothing with his desperation pass as the hulking Dauparas loomed over him, so the Lions didn’t get off a shot.

An unsatisfying end to an exemplary effort. Thompson could take heart from the fact that three juniors and two sophomores were on the floor at the end of the game, and a freshman gave him some meaningful minutes as well. So it’s likely there are better days ahead for the Lions (0-2), but there will be some bumps in the road to getting there. 

Sophomore Tyler Smith scored 12 points for the Lions. Junior Cameron Cleveland had 11. Allen, a 5-foot-11 junior with a linebacker’s body and a Lion’s heart, scored only three points but took down eight rebounds and made the 6-5 sophomore Dauparas work for the seven points he earned after blitzing the Lions with seven in the opening five minutes.

Junior Jack Wajda hit four of the Celtics’ eight three-pointers and finished with a game-high 17 points. Arentz made two three-pointers and scored 10.

The night was not a total loss for Leo; the sophomore team (1-1) used a 14-1 run in the third quarter to beat the Providence sophs 44-35 in the preliminary game. And the Lions have no time to feel sorry for themselves; they’re back at it on Monday, Feb. 15, facing De La Salle in their home opener. The sophomores tip off at 5, followed by the varsity game at 7. 

Mr. Rawls wins Principal of the Year Award!

When a ballplayer is elected to the Hall of Fame, it’s a point of pride for him that he’s able to add “HoF” to his autograph. According to urban folklore, the honorific makes the signature worth more at card shows.

It’s not “HoF,” and it’s not likely there will be any card-show invitations, but “PoY” is a three-letter symbol of achievement that Leo Principal Shaka Rawls can add to his signature if he’s so inclined: Principal of the Year. Mr. Rawls has been selected as Principal of the Year for the Cook County region of the Illinois Principals Association, after being nominated by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools.

“It’s my name on the plaque and I’m grateful for the honor, but this is really an award for the entire school and what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Mr. Rawls said. 

A statewide Principal of the Year will be selected from among the regional winners and announced in the spring. With Mr. Rawls coming out of the state’s most populous region with the most high schools, we like his chances. 

We also like his performance.

“This is a terrific honor for Shaka, and certainly well-deserved,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “It says ‘2021’ on the plaque, but the award really symbolizes all he has been able to achieve in his five years here. I can’t imagine there’s a principal out there who’s had a greater impact on his or her school than Shaka has had on Leo.” 

Dr. John Glimco, who oversees Archdiocesan secondary schools as Associate Superintendent for the Office of Catholic Schools, presented Mr. Rawls with the PoY award in a ceremony at Leo on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The COVID pandemic and the restrictions it has necessitated have disrupted schools nationwide, but Leo’s ability to keep functioning smoothly is an example of the leadership PoY selectors recognized in choosing Mr. Rawls for the award, Glimco said.

“All of us at the Arch are very proud of Shaka, and delighted that a Catholic school principal is the recipient of what is a really prestigious honor.”

Josh Hale, President and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund, also attended the presentation. “Shaka’s the best,” Hale said. “His leadership, his commitment … what he has brought to Leo makes us proud to work with you guys.”

Leo’s streak of graduating 100 percent of its seniors has reached 10 years during Mr. Rawls’ tenure. Enrollment has increased by nearly 60 percent in his five years, with the largest freshman class in 15 years and the highest overall enrollment in 12 years in the building for the current school year.

But he’s far from finished. “This is no time for touchdown dances,” Mr. Rawls said. “Let’s get to work.” 

Lions fall to St. Ignatius in return to basketball

St. Ignatius has experience to augment its formidable size, length and quickness, which made the Wolfpack a tough opening-night matchup for a small, youngish team with five new starters and exactly one week of practice.

That would be the Leo Lions, and the 63-39 spanking they took from the Wolfpack at the eerily quiet St. Ignatius gym on Monday, Feb. 8 was indeed painful.

COVID restrictions delayed the start of the Catholic League basketball season by more than two months, and the restrictions remaining in place limited the “crowd” to a handful of school officials. If the atmosphere was reminiscent of a Saturday morning freshman game, the caliber of play went along with it, at least on the visitors’ side. 

Leo went with a five-guard alignment for much of the evening as Coach Jamal Thompson juggled bodies in search of a lineup that might mesh. Guards are not inclined to rebound, so the Lions took a pounding on the backboards, and it’s on them to prevent that from becoming a regular occurrence now that they’re playing without a voraciously rebounding Anderson brother for the first time in five years.

Worse, Leo exacerbated its rebounding indifference by failing to hustle back on defense, so A.J. Redd (16 points), Richard Barron (12) and Koby Gilles (12) frequently shot nothing more challenging than a layup in outscoring the Lions 40-39. 

Mix in 0-for-7 free-throw shooting, 2-for-15 three-point shooting and 17 turnovers and you have the recipe for a blowout. It was 20-8 after the first quarter, and it never got much closer. Sophomore Ja’keem Cole led the Lions with 10 points. 

Season opener or no, Thompson was unsparing in his criticism of his team’s shot selection and indifference to rebounding and defense. St. Francis de Sales’ decision not to play this season took Wednesday’s game off the schedule and left the Lions with three days to practice before their next outing, at Providence in New Lenox on Friday, Feb. 12.

The St. Ignatius sophomores set the tone for the evening with an oddly similar 65-37 victory in the preliminary game.    

Major General Walker reflects on his time at Leo

South Side native-turned-general commands 25,000 troops providing security for Biden inauguration

JAN 19, 2021 AT 6:05 PM

Growing up in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, William J. Walker longed to be a soldier like the ones he saw on “Combat!” a 1960s television drama about American troops fighting in France during World War II.

But even in his wildest boyhood dreams, Walker — now a two-star general — acknowledges he could not have imagined his current reality.

As commander of the D.C. National Guard, the major general is overseeing more than 25,000 troops providing security for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago. It’s the largest military presence for a swearing-in ceremony in modern history, far surpassing the 9,500 Guard members mobilized for Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

Unlike four previous inaugurations Walker has been involved with, the majority of National Guardsmen in D.C. this week are armed. The heavy military presence has drawn comparisons to war zones around the world, but Walker said that his troops are there upholding their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution.

“The image we’re projecting is a safe and secure environment for the peaceful transition of presidential power,” he said. “We’re asking the residents of the Capitol area to be patient with us, to understand what we’re trying to do. I know there is some inconvenience, but I hope they understand that it’s necessary.”

The Pentagon has been performing background checks on the National Guardsmen tapped for inauguration mission security, and 12 were removed Tuesday because of alleged ties to right-wing extremist groups. Walker’s spokesman said the general could not comment on the vetting process, citing security reasons.

None of the 300 Illinois National Guard members sent to D.C. for the inauguration have been relieved of their duties because of security concerns, a spokesman said.

Walker joined the military in 1981, enlisting as a private with the Illinois National Guard. Though he later transferred to the New Jersey National Guard, he said he has always felt gratitude toward the Illinois Guard for giving him his start.

He shared that appreciation with several Illinois troops Monday when he met with them at the U.S. Capitol. Amid his many obligations this week, Walker said it was important for him to seek out the units from his home state and share his story.

“I talked to the privates and I talked to the officers,” he said. “I told them you can go as far as your ambition will take you, you just have to be focused and disciplined.”

Walker said much of his focus and self-discipline was shaped by his Catholic upbringing and education on the South Side. He attended St. Sabina grammar school and dutifully served as a parish altar boy at 10:15 Mass each Sunday morning.

He also attended Leo Catholic High School, where he said he thrived under the strict rules and the confidence instilled in the all-male student body.

“The education I received at Leo Catholic provided me the tools to do whatever I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Walker said. “The discipline, the structure, the order — they provided it to me.”

Those tools proved useful as Walker embarked on an ambitious career path. In addition to being inspired by “Combat!” Walker said he was equally fascinated with “The Untouchables” and hoped to be a federal agent too.

“When I was supposed to be doing homework, I was watching those two shows,” he said, laughing. “They inspired me.”

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago and earning a master’s degree from Chicago State University, Walker took a job with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He rose from an entry-level agent to deputy assistant administrator before reaching mandatory retirement.

Throughout his 30-year DEA career, he continued to serve in the National Guard, with deployments that sent him all over the world. He became a full-time officer with the National Guard in 2017.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said.

Walker said he returns home to Chicago about twice a year. Each time, he seeks out Gino’s East pizza and Mass at St. Sabina. He has met with the Rev. Michael Pfleger on several occasions but was unaware until a few days ago that Pfleger had been removed from the parish after a 40-year-old sexual abuse allegation was announced this month.

“I like Father Mike and I think he has done a lot for the community,” Walker said. “I believe in him and I hope things turn out favorably for him.”

Walker last visited Chicago in 2019, when the Leo High School Alumni Association named him its man of the year. A recipient of the Bronze Star and multiple meritorious service medals, Walker is one of the most accomplished military leaders in the school’s history.

Since his visit, the school has begun offering the military aptitude test to students each year. Four Leo graduates also joined the Army after attending an all-school assembly honoring the general.

“He’s such a strong, confident individual. He made a great impression,” said Leo President Dan McGrath. “For the kids to see someone like that from the neighborhood — not just from the school, but from the neighborhood — who had accomplished so much, it meant something.”