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.

CPS Quarterfinals: Simeon 66, Lane 59

Simeon Wins CPS City Championship

I photographed the Simeon v. Orr CPS championship game today (Feb. 18, 2018) at Chicago State's Convocation Center. Great game. Great venue. Great light. 

The Sun-Times' Michael O'Brien wrote a very good account of the game which I won't try to best here. I have seen Orr many times over the past three years and, of course, I read Rick Telander's wonderful series last year about the team. So I was kind of hoping they could continue the Cinderella story by knocking off powerhouse Simeon. Ya, that didn't happen. Simeon is good. Really good. Workmanlike. Never-in-doubt kind of really good. Great even. 

Here are my photos. Of two state championship teams.