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.