Wrestler Jordan Anderson learns a lot while competing in Champaign

Qualifying for the 2020 state high school wrestling tournament may well have been a life-altering experience for Leo senior Jordan Anderson.

“When I put my shoes up and came off the mat after my last match,” Jordan said, “I had a lot of memories. I couldn‘t help thinking about how far I’d come in two years. It was a pretty good feeling.”

The son of Leo teacher/coach Mike Anderson, Jordan competed at 152 pounds and qualified for the IHSA Class 1-A state meet with a third-place finish at the Bowen Sectional. A week earlier he’d won the Class 1-A Bowen Regional, leading a five-man Leo contingent into sectional competition, but he was the only Leo wrestler to advance.

Junior Martin Pumphrey (second at 195 pounds), freshman Esai Jacinto (third at 106 pounds), sophomore Amari White (third at 138 pounds) and freshman Amir Pumphrey (third at 160 pounds) were the other Leo wrestlers to reach the sectional. Jordan became the third Leo wrestler in the last six years to become a state qualifier, following heavyweight James Britten (2015) and James Foy (2018), the state runner-up at 138 pounds.  

Competing at the State Farm Center on the U of I campus in Urbana-Champaign, Jordan defeated Mikel Ent of Auburn by a 6-2 decision in his first-round match. “I was nervous,” Jordan acknowledged, “and when you combine nerves with the lights, the noise … that was probably the most tired I ever got during a match or afterwards.”

His quarterfinal opponent, John Sexton of Champaign-St. Thomas More, would go on to finish fourth in the state after beating Jordan on a 6-3 decision. “I lost to a guy who was 44-2, but I felt I held my own with him,” Jordan said. 

The  tournament ended for Jordan when Curtis Green of Westmont pinned him in a wrestleback. Thus he finished 1-2 for Champaign and 29-9 for the season, but he wouldn’t trade the experience—or his interactions with Coach Michial Foy—for a better record.

“I didn’t wrestle freshman year because I had a broken wrist,” he recalled. “Sophomore year, I didn’t really buy in, and I should have because Coach Foy is an Olympian with all this knowledge that he wanted to share with us.”

Better late than never.

“I’m totally bought in now,” Jordan said. “What Coach Foy instills in us about focus and fighting through adversity goes way beyond wrestling. My grades improved, so I became a better student, and I feel I became a better person. I guess I was content with being average, but not now. I never knew a sport could have such an effect on  how you learn.”

Jordan shared an embrace with Coach Foy after his final match. “It was really kind of emotional that he’s not going to be my coach anymore. I learned so much from him. He said, ‘There’s more after this. The lessons you learned are going to stay with you,’ and I really believe that.”

Lions’ season comes to an end against Fenger

By Dan McGrath

Illinois Lutheran, Grant Park, Newark … the three-game diet of cupcakes on which the Leo Lions had feasted left them ill-equipped to deal with the gristle and grit they encountered from Chicago Public League campaigner Fenger in the title game of the IHSA Class 1-A Ottawa Marquette Sectional on Friday, March 6.

Self-inflicted mistakes were the story in a 56-55 defeat that ended Leo’s season and sent Fenger (20-14) on to the Illinois State Supersectional.

Reaching 20 wins for the fourth time in five years, the Lions finished 20-15. But “what might have been” is the feeling they’ll be left with, and it’s not very satisfying,

“Everybody could have done better tonight, including the coaches,” Leo Coach Jamal Thompson said in a locker room that was library-quiet. “I feel like I let the kids down.”

Thompson didn’t shoot 35 percent for the game, including 4-for-16 on three-pointers. He wasn’t assessed either of the two fourth-quarter technical fouls that gave the Titans four points and two additional possessions and fouled Leo point guard Terrance Ford out of the game. He didn’t grant an all-access pass in the lane to Fenger’s unorthodox lefty Donovan Taylor, who improvised his way to a game-high 20 points and seven assists. He didn’t commit any of Leo’s five fourth-quarter turnovers.

Thompson didn’t allow Willis Baker to sneak into the lane and rebound a missed Fenger free throw that led to an additional possession and a bucket in a one-point game. He wasn’t the victim of a Baker steal that became a three-point play and trimmed Leo’s four-point lead to one on the final play of the third quarter, revitalizing the Titans just when they seemed to be unraveling.

Despite all that, Leo was still in position to win the game after rebounding the second of Dejuan Currie’s two missed free throws with 15 seconds left and Fenger leading 56-55. With Ford having fouled out, Kendale Anderson (16 points) and Tim Howard (12 plus 13 rebounds) were the most logical options. But guard LaShaun Glover barrelled his way into the lane from the baseline and got so jammed up in traffic that he couldn’t get a shot or a pass off and turned the ball over, touching off a delirious celebration on the Fenger sideline while the Lions looked on in stunned disbelief.

Game over.

Season over.

What might have been.

“We certainly had our ups and downs this year,” Thompson said. “We won 20 games against a great schedule. We were 10-5 in the Catholic League. Kendale was a horse all year, and we rode him. Tim played great these last few weeks of the season. I loved coaching these guys, I really did. But it’s hard to think about any of that right now.”

After Kevin Drumgoole suffered a season-ending knee injury, Anderson and Howard were the only seniors who took the floor for the Lions. Thirteen of the 15 players who suited up against Fenger will return next season, and reinforcements will arrive from a sophomore team that was 20-7 overall and 13-2 in the Catholic League.

But, as Thompson noted, it’s hard to think about any of that right now.

“This one’s going to hurt for a while,” he said.

Lions take care of Mt. Carmel with the Cardinal in the house

By Dan McGrath

Perhaps the Leo Lions should offer Cardinal Blase Cupich season tickets.

The spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago was in the house for Leo’s Catholic League White set-to with Mt. Carmel in the Lions Den on Friday, Feb. 7. The Lions were looking for a pick-me-up after dropping two straight games in dissimilar and  discouraging fashion, and after watching their sophomores lose a 52-51 heartbreaker to the Caravan sophs on Shane Curtin’s buzzer-beating three-pointer as time expired.

The Cardinal seemed to enjoy himself in the raucous atmosphere the near-capacity crowd created. His presence may have given the Lions the lift they needed, but their own solid, spirited play at both ends of the floor was the real catalyst in a 74-59 victory that snapped Mt. Carmel’s seven-game win streak.

“Good effort,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “We earned that win.”

Leo is 14-12 overall and 7-4 in Catholic League play, while Carmel fell to 10-13, 4-7.

The 15-point final margin is deceiving. The Caravan hung with Leo for the better part of three quarters, trailing 48-42 after three. Carmel then tried to press Leo out of the delay game it went to to protect the lead, and the Lions exploited soft spots in the middle and along the baseline. Tim Howard scored six of his team-high 16 points in the final period and Kendale Anderson collected six of his 15. Meanwhile, sophomore Cameron Cleveland came off the bench to hit all four of his fourth-quarter shots, his eight points fueling a 26-point final period that broke open a tight game.

“Tim was big all night, and Cam gave us a nice lift off the bench,” Thompson said.

Anderson had nine rebounds and Howard six for the Lions, while Terrance Ford added eight assists to his 15 points while running the team with poise and efficiency.

Andre Bennett had a game-high 23 points for Carmel and Jadyn Benson scored 14. Caravan freshman Deandre Craig had eight off off the bench and looks like a player to watch … much like Leo freshman Ja’Keem Cole, who made a surprise start and got the Lions going with five first-quarter points.

But the most telling number of the game was six, as in six Leo turnovers. That’s a season-low for the Lions, who had averaged 20 in their previous four games.

“Good things happen when you take care of the basketball,” Thompson said.

Cardinal Cupich would bless that notion.

C.J. McCollum, Blazers’ All Star Guard, meets with our young journalists

A “journalism lesson” from an athlete usually consists of a harsh rebuke of a story deemed overly critical or negative—sports figures have been airing out sports writers since the invention of the printing press.

C.J. McCollum is different. The Portland Trail Blazers’ 28-year-old All-Star guard is both a 20-point scorer and a staunch advocate for a free and informed press, having majored in journalism at Lehigh University. An accomplished blogger/podcaster, McCollum intends to make writing his career after basketball. He shares his knowledge and appreciation of the craft through Press Pass, a program designed to promote interest in journalism and literacy among Portland-area high school students.

McCollum brought a version of Press Pass to Leo students on Monday, Nov. 25. Bill Figel, Leo’s journalism teacher, reached out to McCollum through the Trail Blazers, described Leo’s journalism program and sought a meeting with McCollum for the “Leo Newsmen.” McCollum was amenable, but last year’s meeting had to be postponed because he was injured and missed the Blazers’ only trip to Chicago.

He honored his commitment this year, meeting with 15 Leo Newsmen for roughly 20 minutes in the United Center stands before the Blazers played the Bulls. Open and approachable, McCollum told the students that he started writing game stories through his own eyes while a student at Lehigh, and that doing so helped him recognize things in the flow of a game he might otherwise have missed. He took courses to sharpen his grammar and punctuation and expand his vocabulary, and he talks regularly with NBA beat writers about how they developed their stories and came by their insights.

He said these conversations left him with a better understanding of a reporter’s job, so he has a less adversarial relationship with “the media” than many pro athletes. He said he hadn’t been keeping a journal, but he planned to start because “writing is like any other skill. You get better at it by doing it.” After his playing days, he hopes to write a book about his life in basketball, as well as a children’s book explaining the game to youngsters and biographies of people he finds interesting.

McCollum had some important advice for the Newsmen as he wrapped up the discussion. “I’ve got people on the South Side of Chicago. I know how it is down there. You guys be safe,” he said.

With that he went out and dropped 21 points on the Bulls, with three rebounds and three assists in a 117-94 Blazers romp.

“He’s a great guy, and he played a great game,” Leo junior Caron Gordon said. “That was a fun night.”

Tobias Sample wins the Lawless Award

Leo’s disappointing football record (3-6, 21-1) did not diminish opposing coaches’ opinion of Tobias Sample—they recognized the versatile senior as winner of the Lawless Award as Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Red Division Player of the Year.

Sample was truly an all-purpose performer for the Lions, seeing action at running back, quarterback and defensive back. He emerged as one of the most dangerous kick returners in the entire conference, and even handled his team’s kickoff duties.

If the Lawless Award is intended to recognize the division’s best player, Sample has the bona fides: He gained more than 700 yards on 113 carries as a running back, scoring four touchdowns. He threw two touchdown passes and caught one and brought two kickoffs and two punts back for scores, adding two two-point conversions.

As a defensive back, there were at least four occasions when he ran down an opponent from behind and tackled him short of the goal line when the ball carrier appeared to have clear sailing to a touchdown.

An honor student and a member of the National Honor Society, Tobias ranks within the top five of the senior class academically and should have ample opportunity to continue his athletic career in college. He qualified for four events in the state track meet as a junior—two sprints and two sprint relays—and hopes to compete in football and track in college.

“Tobias is the embodiment of a true student-athlete,” Leo President Dan McGrath said. “The Lawless Award is well-earned recognition. We’re very proud of him.”

Senior lineman Dorion Owens, senior linebacker Jordan Anderson, junior linebacker Trenton Guilford, junior running back Jalen Johnson, sophomore wide receiver Rayion Davidson and sophomore quarterback James E’Akels joined Tobias on the All-Red Division first team. 

Quarterback Aamir Holmes, son of Leo Coach Michael Holmes, was Leo’s last Lawless Award winner for football, in 2016. Guard Fred Cleveland won a basketball Lawless in 2018.

Seniors Thomas, Harris and Randle signed their letters of intent

Congratulations to (left to right) Myles Thomas, Jalen Harris and Jonathan Randle, Leo seniors who signed letters-of-intent to continue their athletic careers in college on Thursday, March 21 as school President Dan McGrath looked on. 

Thomas, who helped the Lions to a 24-9 record with regional and sectional titles this season, will play basketball at Elmhurst College. Harris, the second leading ground gainer for the Leo football team, will play football and run track at Wisconsin Lutheran University. Randle, the No. 1 pitcher for the Lions’ baseball team the last two seasons, will pitch for Harper College. 

When football standout Darryl Ousley-Parr and basketball All-Stater DaChaun Anderson sign their letters later this month, Leo will have 10 scholarship student-athletes in the Class of 2019—not bad for a school our size. It’s worth reiterating that Leo is a school of opportunity. 

DeChaun Anderson, the 12th Lion to receive an athletic scholarship

With his parents, DeChaun Anderson and Nikia Bell, looking on, along with Highland Coach Chad Boudreau, Leo High School’s DaChaun Anderson signs a letter-of-intent to attend Highland Community College, Freeport, Il., on a basketball scholarship. As a senior, the 6-foot-7 Anderson averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds per game while shooting 64 percent in helping the Lions to a 24-9 record, with regional and sectional championships. As a junior he averaged 14 points and nine rebounds for the 20-6 Lions, who were undefeated champions of the CCL White Division. He made the IHSA Class 2-A All-State team and the Chicago Catholic League All-Conference team both years. He also played in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game in Pontiac earlier this month. “We’re delighted to add DaChaun to our program. We believe he has barely scratched the surface of his potential, and we look forward to helping him continue his development as a student-athlete,” Highland Coach Chad Boudreau said. Anderson is the 12th student-athlete from the Class of 2019 to receive an athletic scholarship, an impressive achievement for Leo, which will begin its 94th year of operation at 79th and Sangamon in mid-August. 

Football signing day

Coach Michael Holmes looks on as four seniors from Leo High School’s 2018 football team sign letters of intent to continue their playing careers with college scholarships. The Lion signees (left to right) are defensive back Devin Flakes, linebacker Jokon Cousett, defensive tackle Gabrell Spruill and offensive tackle Elijah Lamptey. Flakes and Cousett signed with Concordia St. Paul, Spruell with Missouri Valley State and Lamptey with Kent State.

Lions win first playoff game

The takeaway from the Leo Lions’ 100-48 beatdown of Noble Street-Baker in the first round of an IHSA Class 2-A Regional on Tuesday, Feb. 19, is that the Lions won’t have it so easy again in the state tournament.

Baker plays in a CPS charter-school league that is simply not as competitive as what Leo faced during a 20-8 regular season in which Public League challenger Uplift was the only Class 2-A opponent on the docket. So it was hardly surprising that, after a  brief 2-2 tie, Leo ran off 17 unanswered points and outmanned Baker never got closer than 17 down the rest of the way.

“You try to get what you can out of games like this, and I think we accomplished some things,” Coach Jamal Thompson said.

Leo, now 21-8, will face the winner of a Wednesday night charter-school meeting between ACE-Amendla and regional host UCCS Woodlawn at Woodlawn on Friday, Feb, 22 for the Regional title at 7 p.m. The winner advances to next week’s 2-A Sectional at Marshall High School.

The Lions dressed 12 players. All of them played and 10 of them scored, with Fred Cleveland collecting 18 points, five assists and four steals in fewer than 20 minutes. DaChaun Anderson had 12 points and nine rebounds and Myles Thomas scored 15 in similarly abbreviated action.

It was a night for the bench to show its stuff. Junior Tim Howard took advantage of extended playing time and scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Adarius West, continuing to establish himself as a credible backup point guard, had 11 points and four assists.

Josh Forest scored 18 for Baker (7-16).

“Everybody  knows it’s win or go home, and I think our focus was pretty good,” Thompson said. “We just have to keep it going.”

Jack Fitz returns to Leo

Jack FitzgeraldWELCOME HOME
Leo is proud to announce that, with the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Jack Fitzgerald ’69 is returning to the Lions as a special assistant to the athletic department.

“This is a tremendous development for Leo,” school President Dan McGrath said. “I’ve known Jack since we played together at Leo. I’ve been trying to get him back in the building for a long time, and I’m delighted that he has agreed to join us.”

“Coach Fitz” will serve as a resource for Leo’s coaches and assist with administrative duties as he re-acquaints himself with the high school sports scene. He has spent the last 12 years as Midwest college scout for the NBA’s Miami Heat, a seasonal job he will retain. Before joining the Heat he was an assistant coach at St. Xavier University for six seasons, helping the Cougars reach the NAIA national tournament five times.

Coach Fitz was a two-sport standout at Leo, achieving All-Catholic League recognition in basketball and baseball. After graduating from Lewis University, he coached both sports at Leo and is the most successful basketball coach in school history, having won 317 games while averaging just under 19 wins a year in 17 years as the Lions’ head coach, with four Catholic League titles, six regional championships and two sectional crowns.

“No one is more respected in Catholic League circles than Jack Fitzgerald,” McGrath said.

After a year at Tinley Park, Coach Fitz moved on to Richards, where he won four more regional titles and another sectional crown, and helped Dwyane Wade develop into a high school All-American and future NBA star. In 24 years at the high school level, Coach Fitz compiled a record of 444-213 (.678), with 10 regional championships and six sectional titles. He is a member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame, the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

With the health-induced retirement of Catholic League Hall of Famer Ed Adams, Mike Holmes ’76 has assumed the role of athletic director. Holmes already serves as as admissions director, head football coach and facilities manager, so Coach Fitz’ presence will lighten his workload.

“I played for Jack, had him as a classroom teacher and watched his teams for many years,” Holmes said. “No one brings more to the table in terms of knowledge and integrity, and love for Leo.”

Principal Shaka Rawls ’93 also had Coach Fitz as a classroom teacher at Leo and is eager to welcome him back.

After spending more than a dozen years around college and professional athletes, Coach Fitz is eager to revisit his high school roots.

“Leaving Leo in 1993 was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made,” he said. “I am honored and proud to once again be able to contribute to such a great school with special people.”