Football is Here--Lots of Changes this Season

It’s game day. Start of the high school football season. I have basically taken a month off since the last of the summer basketball tournaments, but I’m back and so is football. Big changes this year so let’s get into it.

Opening night.

The area’s top teams are starting with out-of-state opponents. Sun-Times #1 Nazerath and #2 Loyola play out-of-state. The highest ranked City of Chicago teams, Simeon and Phillips also have out-of-state games to start the season. Opening the season against out-of-state opponents is just dumb. Who cares about that? But don’t get me started.

The marquee matchup of the evening, in Chicago at least, might be #14 Mount Carmel v. Curie at Mount Carmel’s new Barda-Dowling Stadium on campus at 64th and Dante. It should be fun to see Mount Carmel with a true home field. I might have to head down to that one.

We have Lane v. Lake View to entertain us this afternoon in what I am christening the 47th Ward Bowl. Both schools are located in Chicago’s premier neighborhood and the athletic programs at both are on the rise. My alma mater, St. Viator takes on Prospect this evening. Hersey was the usual opening week nemesis back in my day. Now it’s neighboring Prospect High School to open the season. The Lions should have their paws full.

Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic League Combine for Football.

This football season is gonna be different. The Chicago Catholic League and the East Suburban Catholic Conference have combined for football—again. The CCL and ESCC have formed one combined conference with 24 teams in 6 divisions. Basically, all the Catholic high schools that play football in the Chicagoland area will be in what amounts to one large conference with six mini-conferences inside based upon the school size, football participation numbers and program success. Here is a link to the combined schedule: click here. According to the press release on the ESCC website, there was a unanimous vote in favor of the combination by all the principals of the CCL and ESCC schools.

As explained to me but DePaul Prep’s Athletic Director, Pat Mahoney, the ten member ESCC was have difficulty with some larger schools having successful programs and others struggling to compete. The larger fourteen school CCL, which was divided into four divisions based upon enrollment, football participation and programs success was able to split into divisions that provided a chance for the smaller schools to be competitive.

Older readers among you may recall they tried this before. From 1996 to 2002, the CCL and ESCC combined into the “Metro Catholic Conference.” The difference between then and now is that the Metro Conference required member teams to play a full schedule of conference games. There was no room for regional or historic rivalries. And no room for traveling out-of-state for games either.  The new arrangement has fixed that. The new CCL/ESCC will have only seven conference games. Each team can schedule two non-conference games.

I am looking forward to the new arrangement. It should give some the smaller Catholic school a chance at six wins and some playoff births.

DePaul Prep Football Preview.

Frequent viewers to this channel will recall that much of my coverage has been on DePaul College Prep teams. Big changes on this front as well.

Long time head football coach and Gordon Tech state championship team member, Bill Jeske, is out as coach of the Rams. Bill lead the Rams to much success during his tenure even with the challenge of declining enrollment at Gordon and declining participation in football on Chicago’s northside.

But Bill is not gone. He is staying on as freshman football coach. Something of Gordon remains.

Taking over for Bill as varsity coach is Michael Passarella. Coach Passarella comes from a stint as a game analyst with the Cleveland Browns, an assistant and offensive coordinator at the College of DuPage and as an assistant coach at a high school in Texas.

“Coach Passeralla has brought a new enthusiasm to the program. The kids are excited about football. We have increased participation. Winning six games and making the playoffs is not outside the realm of possibility this year,” Pat Mahony told me.

He might just be right. This year’s DePaul schedule is tough but doable. DePaul Prep Rams look to rebound from last year’s winless season. The Rams lost to Marmion, Chicago Hope, Leo, Fenton, Wheaton, St. Joseph, St. Ignatius, DeLaSalle, St. Rita and St. Laurence.

With the maturing of a young team lead by talented senior quarterback Zach Burhans and Sr. WR Michael “Mikey” Flynn, the Rams will surprise some people.

The CCL/ESCC schedule provides some significant changes as well. The Rams will take on Roosevelt (2-5 in 2018), Sullivan (6-5), Carmel (4-5), Leo (3-7), St. Laurence (4-7), Marian Catholic (1-8), Providence (5-5), Joliet Catholic (10-4 and 5A State Champion) and St. Joseph (1-9). Hopefully for the Rams, the addition of two CPS teams and the addition of Marian Catholic to the Red Division will give the Rams a fighting chance at a winning record. Carmel, St. Laurence, Providence and especially, Joliet Catholic will be long shots. Upset one of those teams, handle the rest, and there you have it—the IHSA playoffs. Once you’re in, who knows. Just ask Tom Kleinschmidt. The Rams basketball team won 3rd in state last year. Maybe the Rams football team could find itself in DeKalb come Thanksgiving. Just saying.

Preps Coverage.

In other news, Mike Clark took over for Beth Long covering football in the Sun-Times. We will be well served by the professional in-depth coverage by Mike Clark. Michael O’Brien will continue his coverage as well. It’s great to see the Sun-Times dedication to prep sports coverage. Michael O’Brien and Joe Henricksen do such a great job on basketball. Michael and Mike will be great working on football.

It seems the Chicago Tribune has completely abandoned covering high school sports. I looked at the Tribune website high school sports page. The last story published was from July. Embarrassing. There is such a void in coverage out there; a million stories to tell; a  million photos to publish.  

There you have it. My first long form blog post. It’s not exactly journalism. Not exactly commentary. I will try to do more. Throw in some news, analysis, commentary and photographs. Hope you like it.

Riverside-Brookfield Shootout Preview

Time to get back into basketball. The June 21-23, 17th Annual Riverside Brookfield Summer Shootout field and schedule have been announced. The field is packed with top teams including a Chicago area appearance by two-time 4A state champ Belleville West.

The 64-team tournament includes: Belleville West; 4A runner-up Evanston; 4A third place Curie; 3A state champ East St. Louis; 3A runner-up Bogan; 3A third place DePaul Prep; 1A state champ Providence-St. Mel; 4A sectional champs Stevenson, Bolingbrook and Simeon, 3A Regional champs St. Viator; 2A regional champ Uplift.

A couple of first round games should prove interesting. The DePaul Prep Rams, (CCL Blue champs and 3A third-place), take on Belleville West, 4A state champ the last two-years, late Friday at 8:45 p.m. The Rams recently murderous schedule adds a doozy. The Rams graduated three starters among the best in school history, Perry Cowen, Raheem Anthony and Pavle Pantovic. This game should prove quite a challenge for the Rams even though the Maroons will not have two time player of the year and Ohio State recruit E. J. Liddell. We should get a good preview of the Rams new look with the talented group of sophomores as well as juniors D.J. Shower and Brian Mathews.

Another interesting first round game is ESCC 2019 champ Marian Catholic against rival St. Viator, Saturday at 12:35 p.m. Pool M is curiously packed with Marian Catholic, St. Viator, defending 1A state champ Providence-St. Mel as well as Northern IL-Big 12 East conference champ DeKalb.

The Chicago Catholic League is well represented with 10 of its 16 teams in attendance. Conspicuous in its absence is CCL White Division champs St. Rita. Perhaps this has something to do with the recent dismissal of this coach Gary DeCesare.

The Chicago Public League also has top teams in attendance (in no particular order): Curie, Bogan, Simeon, Whitney Young, Uplift and Lincoln Park.

Frequent viewers of this channel know that I tend to concentrate on Chicago Catholic League and CPS games. I am looking to branch out some this year and take in more suburban games. I definitely have to see Max Christie at Rolling Meadows. The Mustangs take on Curie on Friday at 6:55 in R-B’s main gym.

I am also looking forward to seeing Notre Dame’s talented young team with juniors Anthony Sayles and Troy D’Amico. Marian Catholic better watch out for Notre Dame this season. The Dons are going to be good.

The thing about these preseason games is that they are not really like an in-season matchup. The games are quick, the lineups are fluid and don’t reflect the probable in-season starting line-up. There isn’t a whole lot of defense played. I wish I was a more seasoned analyst to tell one exactly what to look for. But I am neither a sportswriter nor a basketball expert. I am photographer and a fan.

As for the photography of this event, it doesn’t lend itself to great picture taking opportunities. Many of the games are in a field house and small gyms without the best light. I am also not as prepared as usual on which players to watch. I am not there to take photos as much as gain intelligence on the best teams to photograph in the upcoming season.

Nevertheless, I am jazzed about the start of the pre-season, at least for me. Hope to see you there—June 21-23 at Riverside-Brookfield High School. I see what I can do about getting some stories and photos up in IL Preps Insider as well.

DePaul Prep Handles St. Francis de Sales

The #12 DePaul Prep Rams (12-3, 6-0) defeated the St. Francis de Sales Pioneers (1-17, 0-7) 87-34 this evening (Jan. 8, 2019) at DePaul’s Tom Winiecki Gym. I haven’t seen a win by so much in my memory. I don’t really know what to write about the game. Had my team been on the receiving end of a 50 point defeat I would not be happy about it. But it didn’t seem to me that the Rams were trying to rub it in. It seemed like they just really wanted to play and were not thinking much about the score. The starters didn’t want to come out of the game. They just wanted to play.

The Rams will have their chance on Saturday when Nick Irvin’s Morgan Park Mustangs enter the Tom Winiecki Gym for the marque game of the Steve Pappas Shootout. Should be a big crowd and a chance for the Rams to prove themselves against top competition.

As for the photos, I used the auto ISO seething for a game just to see how it would work. The ISO just as high as 12,800. Those photos came out very grainy. I set it at 6400 in the last game and it was still pretty grainy even on a phone screen. So I dropped the ISO to 4000 to see how that would look. I had of boost the exposure on all the shots but they were not grainy. The highlights might blown out a little but not too grainy. I guess one must just pick one’s poison.

Hope you like the photos.

Half Over and Plenty Left to Do for DePaul Prep Rams

The season is half over. 29 regular season games with 14 in books. The DePaul Prep Rams record stands at 11 wins, 3 losses and 5-0 in the Chicago Catholic League. The Rams are ranked #12 in the Sun-Times Super 25 and #15 in the Chicago Tribune top 20.

The Rams have wins over #23 Providence St. Mel and #13 Leo. The three loses have been to Benet Academy, (12-3, 4A, currently ranked #16), Marian Catholic (14-1, 4A, #4) and Oswego East, (11-2, 4A, #17) by a total of nine points. So basically, the Rams have a couple good wins and three “good” losses.

It has been a long time since a DePaul Prep or Gordon Tech team has been this good. The Rams last won the Catholic League in 2000. The 11-3 mark is the best in the tenure of Coach Tom Kleinschmidt.

The first part of the year made believers out of those that thought the Rams might not be very good given the loss to North Chicago in last year’s sectional final. The Rams made a believer out of me early when the just appeared to play angry. Serious as a heart attack. Ask Notre Dame and Lane Tech. Those games impressed me. The Rams put those good teams away. Providence St. Mel came into the Tom Winiecki Gym hot and with a lot of hype. The Knights left soundly defeated.

The Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, while disappointing for the Rams, was not a failure. They lost a close game to a very, very good Marian Catholic team. I have seen a lot of good teams this year: Evanston, St. Viator, Bloomington, Morgan Park, Curie, Uplift and Bloom. Marian Catholic looked just as good as any of those teams. As for losing to Oswego East in a double overtime 3rd place game, that means nothing. Who cares about a third-place game? Not me.

Still, the season is half over. It’s too early to be a good season. There is a great deal of work left to do and many very good teams to overcome.

The best teams left on the regular season schedule are #5 Morgan Park, #21 St. Laurence, #22 New Trier, and then CCL rivals Brother Rice, Fenwick, Loyola and St. Rita. The best is yet to come, a preview game against Morgan Park, a trip to Quincy, a fun one in a big shootout against New Trier and then the Catholic League games. Win the Catholic League. That’s what I want to see. Win the Catholic League.

After that, we’ll just have to see what happens.

Providence St. Mel Defeats St. Ignatius 62-40

I was impressed by Providence—St. Mel. For a really old building, the facility is impressive. The building was well lite and immaculate.

The gym? Not so much. The light was probably the worst I have seen in the Catholic League. It’s pretty much all about light. We all need clean, white light and lots of it.

As for the game, it was a fast game—one hour and ten minutes. It was well played, not very many fouls. The refs did a good job.

The Wolfpack came out playing well. They made some outside shots and harassed the Knights big men inside enough to make them miss a ton of shots. St. Ignatius also did a great job breaking the press early and scoring off the press break. It was 26-23 at the half.

The second half was a different story. The Knights dialed up the defense. The Wolfpack stopped scoring off the press break. They were limited to some good outside shooting. Providence St. Mel began scored inside and off the break and pulled away.

I ran a Twitter poll on which game I should go to and this game won with 42% of the vote. Really glad I went. Another gym added to my list. Saw another CCL team, St. Ignatius.

The photos are not so good. I boosted the ISO really high. I just wanted to see if I could get away with it even though I pretty much already know that 12,800 is too high. I guess I just prefer grainy photos to photos that are too dark. There are a couple good ones. The dunk by PSM’s Deion Jackson is pretty good. Love the expression on his face.

I hope you like them.

DePaul Prep Edges Leo in OT

The #11 ranked DePaul Prep Rams edged the #4 Leo Lions on Friday (December 21, 2018) 61-58 in DePaul’s Tom Winiecki Gym. This matchup of the top teams in the Chicago Catholic League did not disappoint. One could tell that it was going to be close in the end even as the Rams opened a six-point early lead.

There were a great many Leo fans in the crowd. I haven’t seen so many opposing fans since the last time Loyola came in. The game got a little chippy. I didn’t really see what was going on. I have a very narrow field of view looking through a 70-200 mm lens all evening. I miss a lot. But of what I saw, it did not look too bad.

Leo’s DaChaun Anderson played inside against DePaul as well as anyone has this year. He is a beast and can finish. Myles Thomas was solid as usual. And of course, Fred Cleveland. He seems so small out there but I have never seen a small guard like that so able to drive and score.

With 4.1 on the clock in the fourth quarter, after DePaul’s Raheem Anthony missed the second of his 1 and 1 with the scored tied, Leo senior guard Fred Cleveland took an outlet pass and launched a shot from three quarters court which banked in off the glass for an apparent Leo victory. But with the ball in air, a ref blow his whistle repeatedly waiving off the shot because of a travel by Fred Cleveland. I didn’t see it in real time but seeing it on video, it looked like a travel to me and the referee started the call before the shot when it. Nevertheless, the Leo faithful were not happy.

In OT, the Rams finished as usual. They seem so determined this year. I wish I could pick a standout performance by one of the Rams. But they all played well. They all contributed. Pavle scored inside. Ty Johnson hit a big 3 late. Perry scored inside and outside including another monster dunk. Lance played great defense, rebounded and hit his shots. Brian Mathews come off the bench in the first half and hit two big free throws. Solid and determined all the way round. The Rams rallied back from losing the lead late in the game.

The Rams improved there record to 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the Catholic League. The games against Blue division CCL teams begin after the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic which starts the day after Christmas. The Lions record drops to 9-2 overall and 4-1 in the Catholic League. Leo’s #4 ranking is in some jeopardy but if they fall, they won’t fall far. They played well but were edged in the end by the talented and determined #11 ranked Rams.

As for the photography, I took 2130 photos. That’s a lot more than I usually take. I am not sure why—just a lot of action. I tinkered around with the settings again, going with a fixed ISO at 6400, rather than automatic. The auto setting was pushing up to 12,800 which gave me images that were too grainy. These images came out okay but I had to boost the exposure on all of them.

So onto the Christmas tournaments. I am not sure where I will be yet. I will be out at Hinsdale Central for some games but I will be looking for the best matchups of teams I haven’t see yet. I had planned to go to Pontiac but I don’t know if I will this year. We’ll see.

DePaul Prep Dismantles Providence-St. Mel 73-53

The DePaul Prep Rams dismantled the Providence-St. Mel Knight 73-53 s on Friday evening (Nov. 28, 2018) . The Knights came in off busting into the Super 25 with a #18 ranking, just behind the #16 Rams. This was a premier game this opening night of Chicago Catholic League play.

It was a tight game through much of the first half. The Rams opened a 32-24 half time lead on the strength of Ty Johnson’s three pointers.

The third quarter as all Rams—just took them apart in all phases. It was all Rams after that. If they can do anything, they can finish.

One CCL game down. Mt. Carmel next Friday.

Brother Rice Continues CCL Blue Dominance with 21-14 Win over St. Rita

Brother Rice hosted St. Rita Friday night (Sept. 28, 2018) in a Chicago Catholic League Blue showdown. The Crusaders maintained their lead in the conference with a 21-14 defeat of the Mustangs.

The Crusaders opened the scoring early in the first quarter with a 73 yard touchdown pass and run from senior quarterback John Bean to senior wide receiver Dylan Summers.

The Crusaders took the 7-0 lead into half time and opened the third with a long touchdown run by John Bean. The Mustangs answered immediately thereafter with a kickoff return touchdown by St. Rita sophomore wide receiver Henry Wilson to make the score 14-7.

In the fourth, Brother Rice senior cornerback Danny Fitzgerald picked off an errant pass and returned the ball deep into St. Rita territory. The Crusaders capitalized on the Fitzgerald INT with an inside touchdown run by senior running back Jessi Plunkett.

Despite a late St. Rita touchdown drive, Brother Rice held for the win improving its record to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Catholic League Blue.

ESCC v. CCL All Star Game

I have to apologize for a previous version of this blog post. My remarks about Notre Dame College Prep's gym comparing the it light to light in some other gyms were, well, unfunny and ill-considered. I wrote:

Notre Dame "has a dated fluorescent lighting system. Clearly, one ought not judge the merits of a school by the quality of the light in its gym but maybe we ought rethink that a little. The light in DePaul Prep's and St. Viator's gyms is excellent. (Just a tip for you parents with kids in elementary school.)

I apologize. I wasn't trying to insult Notre Dame. The gym is just fine. It was a humorless attempt at some photographer inside baseball reference to different qualities and quantities of light in school gyms for the purposes of taking photographs. No other purpose than that. 

I feel especially bad from causing a problem for Coach Shea Boyle who I have been lucky enough to know for years now. He has always been so gracious to me. Forgive me. 

So, with written, back to the matter at hand.

Notre Dame College Prep hosted the all-star game on Friday, April 20, 2018. It was a typical all-star game--all shooting and no defense. But fun nevertheless. Nice to see these kids have some fun without all the pressure. I didn't really have a rooting interest. I attended St. Viator, a million years ago and my brother Dan teaches there now. But my kids went to Gordon Tech/DePaul Prep and I shoot a lot DePaul Prep events as you might have noticed if you looked at my portfolio page. 

The game wasn't exactly a true all star game. It was only seniors. And not all the schools sent players--DePaul Prep, Loyola, Mt. Carmel for starters, probably others but I didn't exactly keep count. 

I included more photos than I usually do so I could include as many of the players as possible. Some images might not be up to normal publication standards. I included a photo of the referees which I do not ordinarily publish. However, I wanted to honor these refs. Two of whom I see regularly working CCL games. They do excellent jobs. For the most part, all the refs that work CCL games are very good. On occasion, some are not so good but that's pretty rare. 

I hope you like the photos.