Major General Walker ’75, to lead National Guard troops for Biden inauguration

Chicago South Sider, ex-St. Sabina altar boy, leads National Guard mobilization for Biden inauguration

Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard overseeing the military mobilization for Joe Biden’s inauguration, graduated from St. Sabina, Leo, UIC and Chicago State.

Jan 17, 2021, 7:51pm

WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard overseeing the massive military mobilization for Joe Biden’s inauguration in the wake of the deadly Capitol siege, is a former St. Sabina’s altar boy and Leo High School graduate who grew up at 75th and Aberdeen.

By Wednesday, when President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in at a heavily fortified Capitol, there should be between 22,000 and 25,000 guard members in parts of the city, Walker said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

While the security concerns are extraordinary and the threat level high, it is routine for National Guard members from around the nation to come to Washington to bolster inauguration security.

There were some 8,000 National Guard members deployed to the city for President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration and about 7,000 in 2013 when President Barack Obama was sworn into a second term, Walker said. The troops are coming from every state, including Illinois, which over the weekend had 267 National Guard members in the city.

There is unprecedented security here because of the Capitol attack by a Trump-supporting mob on Jan. 6, leaving five dead. There are multiple law enforcement agencies in play — all under the Secret Service — and troops in Walker’s command are the most visible.

The National Guard’s job is to support U.S. Secret Service, the Capitol Police, the Park Police and the D.C. Police Department. National Guard troops also provide security for members of Congress and their staffs around the Capitol, the White House and the National Mall.

Meeting this mission and moment is Walker, 63, who attended St. Sabina grammar school and continued as an altar boy while at Leo, graduating from the school at 7901 S. Sangamon St. in 1975.

Walker was the Leo High School Alumni Association Man of the Year for 2019, with the association calling him “one of the highest ranking and most decorated military leaders in Leo history.”

Walker’s undergraduate years were at the University of Illinois at Chicago; his master’s is from Chicago State University.

Walker’s military service started with the Illinois National Guard in 1981, which ran concurrently with his time as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He was with the DEA in Chicago for a year and from there Walker did stints in various cities and abroad. He worked in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in the 1990s and after the 9/11 attacks, he spent a year in the Pentagon.

In all, Walker has been with the National Guard and DEA simultaneously for 30 years.

Walker said as a young boy he wanted to be an Army officer, and watching the “Untouchables” as a youth “inspired” him to be a DEA agent.

“As a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I always knew I wanted to serve. I had two ambitions, and I’m at the summit of those ambitions,” Walker said.

“He’s an icon in this neighborhood,” by Jeff Vorva

‘He’s an icon in this neighborhood’: Injuries kept Michael Holmes from the NFL. His head, and his heart, brought him back to Leo.


JAN 04, 2021 AT 12:13 PM

If Michael Holmes hadn’t suffered leg and knee injuries in 1980, there are no guarantees he would have been an NFL player.

Those injuries, however, didn’t help Holmes in training camp when the Buffalo Bills gave the former Illinois running back a quick look before taking a pass.

“I could still run in a game,” he said. “But the cartilage was deteriorated, and I could only seldom practice. You can’t do that in the pros.”

One of the most decorated sports figures in Leo history called it a career after a season with the Chicago Fire in the American Football Association.

Who knows how far he could have gone if injuries hadn’t cut short his career? Holmes doesn’t dwell on that.

After stints working with Mayor Harold Washington’s planning department and coaching and teaching at Fenger, Holmes came back to Leo. He has spent 30 years at the school as a teacher, coach and administrator.

Holmes will be the fifth recipient of the Leo Lions Legacy Award at the school’s scholarship benefit, which will be held Jan. 12 as a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Holmes follows Andrew McKenna, William Conlon, Thomas Owens and William Sheehy as legacy honorees.

Holmes’ biggest supporters laud his ability to change the lives of hundreds of students over the years, and he doesn’t think that would not have happened if he had made it to the NFL.

“I probably wouldn’t have been involved personally, but I probably would have been involved financially,” he said. “I think God needed me to be personally involved. That’s the blessing that I look at it as. Yeah, you can always give money, and we have some alumni who give a lot of money and we are appreciative of that.

“But for me, being a kid from a neighborhood, I needed to be back here. I believe God puts you where he needs you the most. He needed me at Leo High School and doing the things that I’m doing.”

Holmes was the head coach of the football team from 1993 to 2000 and took the position over again in 2007. He still holds that spot. In 2013, the Lions won 10 games, just the seventh time in school history with double figures in victories.

In the late 2000s, Leo was at a crisis stage with less than 125 students, and the possibility of closing the school up loomed large. Dan McGrath took over as president of the all-boys school in 2010.

McGrath said Holmes has played a big part in recruiting students. Now, the school has close to 200 students, and next year could be in the 210 range.

“His dedication to the kids and his dedication to the school is remarkable,” McGrath said. “He worked with Harold Washington. Mike could have had a (more comfortable) life but decided that Leo was in his heart.

“He’s an icon in this neighborhood, and even students who have never stepped foot in Leo High School know who he is and respect him.”

One of Holmes’ former students and players is Shaka Rawls, who’s now the school’s principal. McGrath said Rawls has been another key player in boosting Leo’s enrollment.

Rawls, meanwhile, praised Holmes.

“Michael Holmes has been an influential figure in my life since I played football for him back in the ’90s,” Rawls said. “He’s a main reason I am working at Leo.

“I’m not sure where I would be in life, much less working at Leo, had it not been for the investment he made in my life.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

David Gross ’22 interviews Chicago Bear Anthony Miller

By David Gross

Leo High School Class of 2022

Anthony Miller of the Chicago Bears is my favorite NFL wide receiver, so I was really excited when the Bears offered me an opportunity to interview him.

Miller, 26, is in his third year with the Bears, joining them in 2018 as a second-round draft choice from the University of Memphis. He was the 51st overall pick and the sixth wide receiver taken in that year’s draft.

The interview took place on Tuesday, Dec. 15, via Zoom; Miller was at the Bears’ Halas Hall training center and I was at Leo. He covered many things, including the Bears’ playoff chances, which are still alive after the December 20 30-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that evened their record at 7-7. 

I was a little nervous at the start, but he helped me relax by telling me to call him “Anthony” rather than “Mr. Miller.”

Anthony had chosen Black Lives Matter as his message for the “My Cleats, My Cause” game the week before, and he addressed the significance of his decision: All lives can’t matter if Black lives don’t matter, he explained, adding that he would support the movement even if he were not Black because he believes in the equality of all people.  

Growing up in Memphis, Anthony said he was aware of racial inequality, but that his only experience with overt racism was being randomly pulled over by police, “which is a pretty common thing in the South.”

The transition from Memphis to Chicago has gone pretty smoothly, Anthony said, adding that he looked forward to coming to Chicago because “it’s a big, exciting city,” although he is still getting used to the cold weather.   

Memphis, he added, was the inspiration for much of his “Drip”—his style, which, he said, makes him one of the more fashion-conscious Bears. As he builds on his “Anthony Drip,” he said he’s avoiding designer stores and doing more shopping at Black-owned businesses and boutiques. He’s also supporting his girlfriend’s up-and-coming clothing line, and as a Nike athlete, he has his choice of Nike wear at his disposal.

Anthony’s girlfriend gave birth to a baby in June. Not that there’s any upside to a pandemic, but Anthony said COVID restrictions are keeping him at home more, enabling him to spend time with his 6-month-old son and bond with him.

Anthony believes that running track in high school helped make him a better football player in that it improved his conditioning and his speed. He’s known for an exceptional burst off the line that makes him one of the more dangerous slot receivers in the NFL, though he said he views himself as an all-around receiver who happens to line up in the slot primarily. 

Anthony said he didn’t really have a favorite wide receiver growing up, but he looked up to Steve Smith Sr. because he was small but tough and didn’t back down from anyone. He likes to watch film of Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs and the other top wideouts to see how they run routes and get open.   

He said he “didn’t hold it against” the five wide receivers who were taken ahead of him in the 2018 draft, but that it gave him motivation to prove he was as good as they were. He also said he paid no attention to “mock draft” projections that ranked him from 10th to 20th among wide receivers because he knew he was better than that. Also, he saw from the Bears’ depth chart that he’d have an opportunity to play right away as a second-round pick, and that gave him additional motivation as well.

The Bears’ wide receiver group, with Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and himself as the leaders, is among the most underrated in the NFL, Anthony believes. 

Anthony said he’s conscious of the fact that pro athletes are expected to be role models because so many young people look up to them. He accepts that responsibility and said it makes him feel good to know that young people look up to him.

Anthony has 45 catches for 462 yards and two touchdowns this season. He’s also being used as a punt returner. He impressed me as a really good guy who works hard to perfect his craft and has a really great future ahead of him.

Editor’s note: The interview Leo junior David Gross did with Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller on Tuesday, Dec. 15 came about through the Bears’ partnership with Invisalign. More on that later.

The Zoom call—Miller was at the Bears’ Halas Hall training center and David was at Leo—began at 2:30 p.m. We had a hard stop of 2:50 because Miller had to get to a meeting, and just before 2:50 a Bears PR rep started wrapping it up. “Last question, David.” 

Said Miller: “Hey, the meeting’s just down the hall. I can stick around. If you’ve got two or three more questions, David, ask away.”

Leo President Dan McGrath, a longtime sports journalist, told David he must have really made a connection, because “in my 40-plus years of interviewing athletes, never once did I have one volunteer to stick around and answer more questions.

The Bears have a promotional agreement with Invisalign, an ultra-modern orthodontics firm that bills itself as an alternative to metal braces for teens and adults. David didn’t know it until the interview was over, but because he was chosen to conduct it, he will receive a free Invisalign treatment to correct an overbite that makes him a little self-conscious about his smile.

His dad Gary, a Leo grad from Principal Rawls’ era, was near tears when we told him. “I’ve been trying to scrape together the money to get that boy’s teeth fixed, and now it’s going to happen,” he said.

Pretty cool to be able to do something nice for a great Leo family.

Khalil Mack and Anthony Miller chatting up Leo kids within three weeks of each other. Not bad for a scrappy little school on the South Side. Further proof that the sun never sets on the Leo Empire.

Text to give to the Leo Scholarship Benefit

We have a TEXT TO GIVE way to donate to our 2020 Scholarship Benefit honoring Coach Michael Holmes. Just text LEOLIONS to 243725. It’s an easy way to donate to the Benefit. Thank you! The Benefit will be live streamed on Tuesday, January 12 at 6 p.m. central. (

Tax Credit Scholarship Applications open January 12 and 13

Tax Credit Scholarship Applications open in early January for two different Scholarship Granting Organizations! Be prepared to apply at both portals as soon as they open to give you a better chance of receiving a TCS! 

1. Big Shoulders Fund Scholarship Granting Organization opens for applications on Tuesday January 12th at 8am here:

• Big Shoulders Fund SGO is open this week with a practice application only from December 15th-December 20th for families to become familiar with our application. Check out the Application Sneak Peek here: PRACTICE APPLICATION

• They are offering Tax Credit Tuesday Information Sessions Via Zoom: December 29 at noon – English Link Here & Español Link Aqui and January 5 LIVE Q&A at noon

• Follow the Big Shoulders Fund on social media for the most up to date information.

2. Empower Illinois opens January 13th for applications for the 21-22 School Year here:

Bears’ Great Khalil Mack Joins Our Students for a Zoom Call

As ZOOM guests go, they don’t come much more special than Khalil Mack. 

The Chicago Bears’ All-Pro outside linebacker joined Leo High School students for a ZOOM call on Monday, Nov. 10, and, in a discussion that lasted more than an hour, he repeatedly demonstrated that there is more to him than football.

Principal Shaka Rawls invited the entire student body to join the call, revealing only that a “special guest” would be a participant. More than 160 young Lions jumped on. With Mr. Rawls moderating the discussion, they heard Mack tell of growing up in Fort Pierce, Fl., where football was an early fascination—”I sneaked into a Pop Warner league when I was seven, and you were supposed to be nine,” he recalled with a smile.

And yet Mack’s career nearly ended before it began because of a high school knee injury that limited him to one varsity season.

Thus he was not heavily recruited, and considered himself fortunate to receive a scholarship offer from the University of Buffalo. “My dad always taught us that it’s not what life puts in front of you, but how you handle it,” Mack said.

During his four years at Buffalo, Mack not only developed into a first-round NFL draft pick, he learned life lessons that were just as essential to his development as man.

“The coaches had a grading system that assigned a numerical value to how much you were contributing, not just to the success of the team but toward helping your teammates become better people,” Mack said. “It took me till my senior year to earn a maximum grade, a ‘4.’ That’s when I decided I’d rather be a better teammate than I am a player.” 

If Mack checks both boxes, he credits his father’s influence.

“I grew up in the church, and my dad was pretty strict —he made sure we walked the line,” he recalled. “Take advantage of the window while it’s open … Get your grades now and worry about the girls later —the girls are always going to be there. You have to serve others to get a sense of who you are.

“My upbringing set me up for everything that has happened in my life,” Mack said. “Sometimes I almost sound like my dad when I’m talking.”  

After he had terrorized Mid-American Conference offenses as a pass-rushing linebacker, the then-Oakland Raiders picked Mack in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the fifth overall selection. “I felt so blessed,” he said, “Coming from where I came from, it almost didn’t seem real.” 

But when he saw how good he was …

“It bothered me that I wasn’t the No. 1 overall pick,” he conceded. “I played with a chip on my shoulder.”

Indeed, Mack was an instant star in the NFL, a two-time All-Pro, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. He did not miss a game during his four seasons in Oakland and considers himself fortunate to have had future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson as a teammate.

“He taught me how to work, how to get ready,” Mack said. “ ‘Can’t nobody push me harder than I can push myself.’ That’s the power of the mind.”

As Mack’s rookie contract was expiring, he sought a salary commensurate with his stature as one of the league’s top defensive players.

“I’m petty like that,” he said. “I pay attention to details.”

Citing salary-cap limitations, the Raiders refused to meet Mack’s demands and traded him to Chicago.The Bears went 12-4 and made the playoffs in his first season, but the last two have been a struggle as inconsistent quarterback play hampered the offense. The defense has been more solid, but Mack often finds himself the target of double and even triple-team blocking schemes.

“It’s in me to want to be the best at whatever I’m doing, and it bothers me when I’m not able to affect the game the way I want to,” he said. “But if they’re putting two and three guys on me, somebody else ought to get through.”

Mack didn’t publicly back Colin Kapernick’s national anthem protest against police brutality and racial injustice back in 2016 and prefers to keep his views on social justice to himself. But as a young NFL player, he experienced his own “Black Lives Matter” moment in Florida that he shared with the Leo audience.

“I was driving a rental car to the airport to fly back to Oakland when I got pulled over,” he recalled. “Minor infraction —I might have turned without signaling. Nothing on me, no warrants, so he had to let me go. But when he realized that I played for the Raiders, he said, ‘You’re not one of those ‘take a knee’ guys, are you?’ If you are, I might have to take you in.’

“It took me a while to process that in my head —why would he say that? But it’s real, man, it’s out there. You have to decide what side you’re on.”

Mack has no problem with athletes being viewed as role models and accepts the responsibility. 

“It’s taking advantage of that window,” he explained. “You have to understand what your influence is and use it now, because when you’re done playing, nobody’s going to care about you or pay attention to what you have to say.” 

As the conversation concluded, Mack thanked the young Lions for their rapt attention and promised to visit Leo when COVID restrictions are relaxed enough to permit it. He also advised them to take advantage of the downtime the pandemic has inadvertently created.

“Use this time to learn and help yourself get better,” he said. “You might not know what you’re getting ready for, but you should be getting ready for something.”

Save the Dates for Tax Credit Scholarships

The start of year four of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, made possible by the Illinois Invest in Kids Act, is right around the corner.

Big Shoulders Fund will open its application on January 12, 2021 at 8 a.m.

Empower Illinois reservations will open at 6:30 p.m. on January 13, 2021.

More information will be available in December.

Covid Concerns Cause a Return to Remote Learning

COVID concerns have tossed another curveball at Leo High School.

Three weeks after the resumption of in-person classroom instruction, Principal Shaka Rawls announced that Leo will return to remote learning beginning Monday, Nov. 9 and continuing through the Thanksgiving break, which starts on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

“This is being done out of an abundance of caution,” Mr. Rawls said. “The number of positive COVID tests in the communities we serve has elevated the risk factor to an unacceptable level.”

Leo began the school year with an upgraded and improved version of an on-line platform implemented last spring, when Gov. Pritzker ordered all state schools closed in response to the rapid spread of the Corona virus. Remote learning was in place throughout the first academic quarter, with classroom instruction resuming on Monday, Oct. 19.

Beginning Monday, Nov. 9, all classes will be taught remotely, although allowances will be made for students who would be unsupervised at home. Leo’s administrative staff will be working in the building, so a limited number of students will be allowed to come to Leo and attend classes remotely.

Teachers also will be available for on-line “office hours” for any students who may have missed or struggled with that day’s lesson. Leo hopes to resume classroom instruction on Monday, Nov. 30. 

“This process has been difficult for everyone, but the buy-in and cooperation from the teachers has been exceptional from the outset,” Mr. Rawls said. “Teachers teach better and students learn better in a classroom setting. We all believe that one of the best things about being at Leo is being at Leo—the kids interacting with their teachers and with each other, developing that bond that means so much to us. You don’t get that through a computer screen. You have to be here. 

“But the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, families … everybody involved with Leo is always going to be our top priority.”

Athletics and other extracurricular activities remain on hold as Gov. Pritzker’s Department of Public Health and the IHSA continue to battle over the risk levels of various sports. 

Plans remain in place for football to play a seven-game spring season. Basketball might also become a spring sport; following a recent spike in positive COVID tests, the Department of Public Health upgraded the basketball risk factor, postponing, for the time being, a December-to-February, conference-games-only schedule the Chicago Catholic League had hoped to implement. Talks among Catholic League members are ongoing, but basketball competition is on hold till further notice.

The cross country season went on as scheduled, although state-level competition was eliminated. Bowling also has been deemed safe enough to be held. Wrestling, its risk factor also upgraded, has been moved to the summer, with baseball likely to follow owing to an overcrowded spring schedule.  

The world-renowned Leo Choir also has been silenced temporarily, as state officials cited communal singing as a risk factor in spreading the virus and banned it.

“We’ll make adjustments as needed,” Mr. Rawls said. “We’re Leo. We’ll find a way to make this work.”

Cross Country Team Wrap-Up

Cold, blustery conditions made it tough going for lithe, lean runners, so the cross country season ended on a mildly disappointing note for Leo sophomore Ja’keem Cole and senior teammate Kobe Roberts.

Cole, Leo’s leading runner all season, placed 64th at the Harvest Christian IHSA Sectional meet in Elgin on Saturday, Oct. 31. Roberts was 75th. Their times for the three-mile course—18:41.40 for Cole, 19:07.60 for Roberts—were well off their personal bests, which spoke to the difficult conditions..

Sectional competition was the culmination of the cross country season, as COVID concerns prompted cancellation of the state meet. So reaching the sectional was a noteworthy accomplishment for both Leo runners. The previous week they had led the Lions to a sixth-place finish at the Bishop McNamara Regional in Kankakee.

COVID concerns also resulted in a change to the format of IHSA competition. At the regional, the top five teams and top five individual finishers from non-qualifying teams moved on to the sectional. So Leo, with its sixth-place showing, fell one spot short of advancing as a team.

Cole placed 18th at the regional, covering the three-mile course in 17:23.15. Roberts was 23rd in 17:29.89. Seniors Damen Ward (32nd, 17:55.35) and Ri’chard Coleman (33rd, 17:56.38) and sophomores Tim Wilson (46th, 18:30.61) and David Hannah (65th, 19:28.52) also contributed to Leo’s sixth-place finish behind Herscher, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Chicago Christian, Joliet Catholic and host Bishop Mac.

At the Catholic League meet in Glenview one week earlier, Cole had trouble dealing with the windy conditions and was more than 50 seconds off his regional time, placing 43rd overall in 18:14.19. But his tightly bunched teammates joined him leading Leo to a second-place showing (behind Montini) in the CCL White Division and an eighth-place finish overall, behind Loyola, St. Ignatius, Fenwick, Marmion, Brother Rice, DePaul Prep and Montini.

Coleman (46th, 18:25.2), Ward (48th, 18:39.9), Roberts (49th, 18:41.9) and Hannah (64th, 19:43.9) rounded out the Leo contingent.

Congratulations to all the Lion runners and to first-year Coach Andre Weathers on a strong season.