By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The championship trophy has been awarded. Celebrations all over Chicago have been held. Scholarships have been offered. The only thing that was needed to honor the Wendell Phillips Academy football team was some bling.
From college national championships to the Super Bowl, for decades, rings have adorned the fingers of football champions. For a group of young champions at Chicago’s first predominantly Black high school, a gift such as this once seemed distant. It was the team that won the hearts of thousands after it made history with a stunning victory on a crisp fall evening.
Despite the recognition, there wasn’t any money to purchase rings for the entire team.
That’s when Stanley L. Hill, a judge with the Circuit Court of Cook County, huddled with a large group of alumni and scored a victory of their own. Many alumni from the school’s class of 1966 raised the $10,585 that was needed to purchase 50 stylish rings for the Phillips’ players and coaches.
The rings were part of an afternoon of pride at the storied school in Bronzeville. Alumni, parents and school administrators on April 27 cheered as football players put a ring on it following a brief ceremony that highlighted the team’s amazing win last November.
Thousands in Chicago celebrated when Wendell Phillips Academy became the first public high school in Chicago to win the state championship. The Wildcats not only beat Althoff Catholic from Belleville, but pummeled the Crusaders 51-7.
“You worked long and diligently to go undefeated and win the state championship and richly deserve this honor,” Hill told players at the ceremony. “It gives me pleasure to present you with these commemorative championship rings which mark our appreciation for your sacrifice of time and effort. Each time you look at your ring, it will bring credit to you and honor for the fine job you have done.”
The victory capped a comeback off the field for Wendell Phillips Academy. In 2010, the school where Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole attended, became a turnaround school. Grades and graduation rates were among the lowest in the Chicago. Now, grades, attendance and graduation rates are up and the school is once again a beaming symbol of pride.
At the ring ceremony in the school’s library, members of Wendell Phillips class of 1966 were among 150 people who packed the room to celebrate the latest honor. Alumni from nearby Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School also attended the ceremony.
Everyone clapped when Wendell Phillips Academy football team entered the room wearing the hooded blue and white sweatshirts—the school’s colors.
James Hudson sang the ballad, “Wind Beneath My Wings” as a part of a musical tribute to the players.
The room erupted with cheers as footage from the historic games was played. Many clapped as they saw quarterback Quayvon Skanes score two touchdowns at the Illinois High School Association’s state championship game for football. In all Skanes ran for 141 yards and scored a total of four touchdowns.
“The final score was shocking,’ said head coach Troy McAllister who has been coaching at the school for six years. “We had a good game plan.”
Another star player, defensive lineman Amir Watts, received numerous scholarship offers after scoring a touchdown during the championship game.
The win drew praise from leaders across Chicago, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. For Wendell Phillips alumni, the win is an incredible achievement that many will never forget.
“It was exhilarating,” said Roderick Taylor, who attended the game and Tuesday’s ring ceremony. “You can just feel the pride and energy in the stands. And to see these young men conduct themselves in a professional manner was inspiring.”