Crane old-timers recall the good times

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Crane old-timers recall the good times

Eugene Ford, Tim Robinson, Carl Merritt, and James Jackson remember the way it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School was a showplace on the West Side. They are saddened by recent reports that the 121-year-old school is being "phased out" by the Chicago Board of Education.

"Crane was another world back then," said Ford, a 1965 graduate who was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in basketball. "America was coming into its own with issues that had to be dealt with. We rode the back of the civil rights movement. Doors opened up. We pursued opportunities."

"To hear that Crane is closing is sad. They talk about (former Chicago Bears owner and coach) George Halas being the most famous alumnus of the school. But there were a million George Halases at Crane. Basketball was king. There were many good teams and players who brought the student body together, that created great school spirit and pride."

Last Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced that Crane and Dyett would be slowly phased out of existence and four struggling elementary schools would be closed by summer. Crane will stop enrolling freshmen and the dwindling student body will begin sharing space with Talent Development Charter School.

Crane built its reputation on basketball and its West Side rivalry with Marshall. Ford led Crane to the 1964 city championship. Robinson led Crane to the 1957 Public League title. Jackson was an All-State selection in 1974. For 40 years, Merritt has organized the CraneMarshall reunion that annually attracts 300 to 500 alumni.

The school has produced many outstanding basketball players, some of whom went on to compete in the NBA. The list also includes Tony Allen, Cory Blackwell, Dan Davis, Ken Colliers Norman, Bob Dillard, Anthony Manuel, Joe Daughrity, Jerome Freeman, Nate Williams, Andre Wakefield, Joe Reiff and Sherron Collins.

It is argued in some circles that too much basketball and not enough academics, the same formula that ended King's basketball dynasty, was the reason behind Crane's demise. That and too much violence and the razing of the Henry Horner and Rockwell Gardens housing projects that effectively turned the community from a neighborhood to transient.

"We had a West Side neighborhood then," Ford recalled. "Now the kids are bused in. They are transients. The neighborhood has broken down. The family was more intact then, more structured. You don't have that today."

But, Ford insists, there is always politics. "So many school superintendents come to Chicago. All of them come with new ideas of how to fix the problem of the public schools. But we've never had one superintendent who was a product of city schools, someone who knows what is going on from within the system," he said.

Robinson, a minister, is reminded of the old gym with the running trackbalcony surrounding the playing floor. He recently spoke to players on the 2011-12 squad in the new gym. It is hard for him to believe that his alma mater is being phased out.

"If they are going to phase out the school, I'd be disappointed," he said. "Back then, there was a high spirit of pride in the school. I can't recall any major incidents. The student body was involved. There were a lot of activities, a lot of expectations because of the basketball team.

"Everyone made sure there was an environment where everybody looked forward to going to school. We have competition with Marshall but it was clean. CraneMarshall was the biggest rivalry in the city at that time. The students took great pride in it."

Jackson, who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years, attended Crane because all of his brothers and sisters and most of the kids in his neighborhood went there. Crane also had a tradition for producing good basketball teams and players.

"It was a tough school in a tough area and the thing I remember most even before I went to the school is I always heard stories from my brothers about the basketball teams," Jackson said. "It had a reputation as one of the best schools in the area for basketball."

Jackson attended Medill Primary and was recruited to Crane by coach Dan Davis, a Crane graduate who had played with Ford on the 1964 city championship team.

"To this day, I am in contact with Dan," Jackson said. "On my visit to Chicago last year, he did some personal training with my son. He took us to Crane to watch some games. I was proud to show my son my heritage of high school basketball."

"I can't imagine basketball without Crane on the West Side of Chicago. Crane developed me into the player I was, it kept me off the streets and out of trouble and gave me direction in life. I will certainly be sad to see the school gone, all those memories."

Merritt, a graduate of 1958, recalled that the school was more than basketball. "We had great teachers at the time. If you wanted to learn, you would learn, from music to shops. We also had a great band. Of course, we always had good basketball, great players," he said.

Merritt organized the first CraneMarshall reunion in 1974. He arranged for top-notch singing groups, including the Drifters and the Spaniels. One of the first groups was Merrit's own, the Tomcats, which featured six Crane and Marshall graduates. The event got bigger and bigger. Sit-down dinners attracted crowds from 300 to 400, as many as 500, with alumni coming from New York and California.

He recalls when he attended Crane, there was only one policeman, a man named Peterson, who patrolled the hallways.

Despite reports of repeated violence and declining attendance, Merritt doesn't believe Crane will be phased out as was Austin, another West Side school with a great tradition in football.

"Someone suggested that we should put together a group to save Crane," he said. "But I think we should wait to see what (the board) has planned. Maybe Crane will be better. Nobody wants to send kids there now because of violence. I still live in the same house that I lived in when I went to Crane. I think the neighborhood is getting better. More people are moving in."

Interestingly, George Wilson almost ended up at Crane. He graduated from summer school at Crane, then enrolled at Marshall where he became a three-time All-State basketball player and the leader of Marshall's 1958 and 1960 state championship teams. He also has been involved in the CraneMarshall reunion for 40 years.

"My feelings would be the same if I heard Marshall was closing," Wilson said. "MarshallCrane was the big game on the West Side. It meant the world to me. When I talk about my days at Marshall, I always will mention Crane. I have fond memories of that rivalry. We didn't hate each other. We were very competitive with each other. We were always friends."

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Throw the names Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. all in a hat and pick one. It doesn't matter which name you pull out. They're all studs.

Anybody who plays fantasy football should know who the top wide receivers in the game are.

Check out that parity. Only one player that we disagree on.

Analyzing the top guys and telling you which one to draft isn't rocket science. That's why we're here to give you advice on who to target, which sleepers to keep an eye on and the busts for the 2016 season.

Top Targets

Eric Decker, NYJ: When will Decker get his due?? Dude's had his own TV show, has a celebrity wife, played with Peyton Manning and now plays in the biggest city in the U.S. and yet he's still an afterthought in fantasy. Decker has proven to be one of the most consistent players in the league over the last few seasons and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. He's had four straight years of at least 74 catches and 962 yards and scored double digit TDs in three of those four seasons. Last year, he scored 12 TDs in 12 different games, earning double digit fantasy points in nine of his final 10 games. For a guy that's going in the fifth round as the No. 24 WR, that's incredible value. — Tony Andracki

A.J Green, CIN: I know it's a little bit of a "Captain Obvious" moment to tell you that you should target Green, but I'm going to explain why anyway. Currently, Green has an ADP of 13, which has him falling out of the first round in many leagues. Outside of the "Big 3" Green is arguably the safest wide receiver to target in your draft and should be snatched up if he's available anywhere close to the end of the first or the start of the second round. Gone from the Bengals are wide receivers Marvin Jones and Muhamed Sanu, meaning the target burden is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Green in 2016. He should easily blow his 2015 targets (132) out of the water with only Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and the Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard tandem as the only trusted targets for quarterback Andy Dalton. As a WR1, Green is an excellent piece to build your team around. — Scott Krinch

Sleepers

Donte Moncrief, IND: Moncrief is a sixth-round pick right now, but count on a higher return on your investment than that. The third-year wideout has a rather high floor considering he's not yet an established name and his ceiling could eclipse that of teammate TY Hilton. Moncrief has a great rapport with Andrew Luck, who should be happy, healthy and back to his dominant self in 2016. Everything here spells breakout this season. — TA

Kevin White, CHI: The wait is over. Bears fans and fantasy players alike are happy to finally see White return to full health. White, the 7th overall selection in 2015 who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, has been drawing rave reviews throughout the preseason, being compared to Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne by Bears' wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. White heads into the 2016 season as the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Equipped with off the charts athleticism and speed for his 6-foot-3 frame, White is expected to play a significant role in the Bears offense. His 8th/9th round ADP puts him behind wideouts like DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, all players that may have a higher floor than White, but don't possess the type of ceiling that he does. If you want a high upside guy in the later rounds, White is your man. — SK

Busts

Allen Hurns, JAX: I hate to label Hurns as a bust heading into the 2016 season because I really like him as a player on the upstart Jaguars offense. However, the problem I have with Hurns is the fact that he's going off the board before the likes of Tyler Lockett, Sterling Shepard and Kevin White. The three aforementioned wide receivers all have massive ceilings next season, while Hurns will undoubtedly see a decline in last season's numbers. I can't see Hurns repeating his 2015 stretch where he went seven straight weeks with a receiving touchdown. Blake Bortles is going to spread the wealth between Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee and Hurns, in addition to having a full season of Julius Thomas. If you're expecting another big year from Hurns, temper your enthusiasm. There are too many targets to go around in Jacksonville. — SK

Sammy Watkins, BUF: This isn't about Watkins' talent level. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. But he's being drafted in the third round and I simply don't think he will provide that kind of value. From the No. 12 WR on the board, you'd expect him to be a guy you set and forget in your lineup every week and Watkins is not that. For starters, there is his injury history (he missed three full games last season and was limited for a few others) and he already has a foot issue this season. Then factor in the fact the Bills offense under Tyrod Taylor is not a passing offense and more about ball control and letting Taylor improve or use his legs. Watkins will have some big games, but he won't be consistent enough to warrant such an investment. — TA

Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

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Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

"Those who stay will be champions."

That's the familiar motto of Michigan football.

Well, consider that motto co-opted by the Wolverines' in-state rival.

Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, tweeted out this image Thursday. Check out the slogan on the right.

Whoa!

Now, this is certainly nothing new, social-media flaps between the two programs. Jim Harbaugh makes a habit of going after people on Twitter, and Mark Dantonio has had his own veiled Twitter shots at Harbaugh & Co. in the past, too.

And, truthfully, Michigan State has reason to boast, as it's the program that's done the most winning in the Great Lakes State in recent seasons. Dantonio has led the Spartans to a trio of conference championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the past three seasons alone, the Spartans are 36-5 with two conference titles, wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Michigan has won double-digit games in a single season just twice since 2006.

So while riffing on the Wolverines' motto raised a few eyebrows, the Spartans aren't wrong.