By Dan McGrath

The largest freshman class to enroll at Leo High School in more than 20 years got a sense of what a special place Leo is when they showed up for Opening Day on Thursday, August 10.

More than 50 Leo alums ranging from the Class of 1963 to the Class of 2023 were on hand to salute 86 newcomers, as well as some 150 “returning veterans,” greeting them in the courtyard with “Welcome to the Leo Brotherhood” as they arrived for the first day of class as Lee begins its 98th year of service at the corner of 79th and Sangamon.

Office of Catholic Schools Superintendent Greg Richmond, Sixth Ward Alderman William Hall and a large contingent of our friends from the Big Shoulders Fund and the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp. also joined the welcoming party. A drumline from GADC provided energetic background music. TV crews from NBC-5 and CBS-2 Chicago filed stories for their afternoon news programs.

The weather cooperated—it was a cool, clear morning, almost too nice a day to be in school, but an ideal day to be outside celebrating Leo.

“There’s no better way to kick off a school year,” Principal Shaka Rawls said amidst the festivities.

The Opening Day celebration arrived one year after Principal Rawls, so this was our seventh. Mr. Rawls conceived it as a means of connecting the generations of Leo Men, as well as reminding the young Lions that by enrolling at Leo, they’re becoming part of something special.

“Alumni support and involvement is a big reason why we’re so special,” Mr. Rawls added, thanking the alums for their participation. “It’s important for the young guys to see that the day they arrive.”

After the ceremony the students assembled in the auditorium, where Superintendent Richmond spoke to them about upholding Leo’s traditions and Principal Rawls outlined expectations. Admissions Director Kevin McNair was cited for the energy and effort he put into assembling such a robust freshman class.

As the Young Lions headed off to class, the alums and other guests moved to the cafeteria for coffee, juice and pastries served by the Leo Parents Club.

“This is the largest group of kids we’ve had in the building since I’ve been here, by a lot,” said Leo President Dan McGrath, who is beginning his 14th year. “What it means is we’re set up to have another great year.”