Public League needs football Hall of Fame

Public League needs football Hall of Fame
April 4, 2012, 5:09 pm
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With all due respect to the ghosts of Walter Eckersall and George Halas and Knute Rockne and Buddy Young, it is difficult to fathom why the Chicago Public League hasn't found time over the last 100 years to create a Hall of Fame to recognize the great football players, coaches and teams that have been produced in the city.

In fact, a Public League Football Coaches Association hasn't even been organized to establish a Hall of Fame and nominate honorees. You'd have thought that somebody would have taken a hint from the very active Public League Basketball Coaches Association or the tradition-rich Chicago Catholic League Coaches Association's Hall of Fame.

Hubbard football coach Elton Harris said he was trying to organize an association for Public League football coaches that would include a Hall of Fame. Over the years, there just hasn't been enough interest in the project.

It's a shame because the Public League, like the rival Catholic League, is filled with history and tradition dating to the 1880s. The Hyde ParkEnglewood rivalry, the oldest in Illinois and one of the oldest in the country, dates to 1889.

All you need to know is it was a Public League player, the legendary Bill DeCorrevont, who attracted a record crowd of 120,000 to Soldier Field for the 1937 Prep Bowl. That's 120,000 as in more people than have ever witnessed a football game at any level, high school or college or professional, before or since.

For years, the Public League was every bit as competitive as the Catholic League. From 1934 to 1959, the Public League held a 14-10-2 advantage in the Prep Bowl rivalry. Then the Catholic League won 16 in a row until Vocational stunned St. Rita 13-6 in 1976.

"I guess God wanted to make me a (bleep)," said a shocked St. Rita coach, Pat Cronin.

From the 1930s to the early 1970s, before the Illinois High School Association introduced the state football playoff in 1974, the Prep Bowl was the most celebrated high school event in the nation. It annually attracted as many as 70,000, 80,000, even 90,000 people to Soldier Field.

Players such as DeCorrevont, Dale Samuels, Bill Gay, Buddy Young, Abe Woodson, Jack Delveaux, Mike Lind and Dick Butkus became icons.

In the last three decades, Public League football highlights have been few and far between. Robeson finished second in the 1982 state playoff, the only Public League representative ever to qualify for the championship game. Only three others have ever reached the semifinals.

Until basketball became the game of choice for youngsters in the city in the 1960s and 1970s, the Public League produced many players who went on to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Football League Hall of Fame.

The distinguished list is headed by Walter Eckersall, George Halas, Knute Rockne, Fritz Pollard, Dick Butkus and Buddy Young.

It also includes DeCorrevont, Alf Bauman, Abe Woodson, Bill Fisher, Don Stonesifer, Tony Canadeo, Pete Pihos, Lou Rymkus, Hugh Gallarneau, Al Brosky, Bill Gay, Russell Maryland, Otis Armstrong, Darryl Stingley and Vic Schwall.

Don't forget Jim Grabowski, Al MacFarlane, Jack Delveaux, Rick Kreitling, Dale Samuels, Mike Lind, Rocky Harvey, Alex Rodriguez, Dempsey Norman, Ken Ferguson, Jack Sawin, Chris Zorich, Keena Turner, Mike Morgan, Tony Klimek, Chuck Ulrich, Corey Mays, Trezelle Jenkins, Kelvin Hayden, Nate Lyles, Walter Stanley, Fred Evans, Lou Gordon, Mike Schwager, Chuck Logan, Mack Herron, Cyron Brown, Mickey Pruitt, Corbin Bryant and Martez Wilson.

And what about the coaches? Bernie O'Brien, Chuck Palmer, Bill Heiland, Frank O'Keefe, Al Manasin, Chuck Harvey, J.W. Smith, Roy Curry, Glenn Johnson, Al Scott, Sam Bronswick, Carl Bonner, Sherman Howard, Joe Stepanek, Terry Lewis, Lexie Spurlock and Frank Esposito.

The best Public League team ever? Lots of candidates, including Austin 1937, Schurz 1949, Fenger 1954, Lane Tech 1959, Robeson 1982 and Julian 1989.

The 1937 Prep Bowl is perhaps the most celebrated high school football game of all time. DeCorrevont, one of the most publicized high school athletes in history, ran for three touchdowns, including a 47-yarder, and passed for another as Austin defeated Leo and Johnny Galvin 26-0 before a crowd estimated at more than 120,000. He also returned three punts for 67 yards and quick-kicked a 53-yarder. Other Austin standouts were tackle Alf Bauman and quarterback Sonny Skor.

In 1949, Schurz lost its opening game to New Trier but won 11 in a row, closing with a 20-7 victory over previously unbeaten Fenwick and Johnny Lattner. Ken Swienton scored two touchdowns and Bob Fudala ran 60 yards for another.

Fenger's 1954 powerhouse went 11-0-1 and featured three players who went on to play at Illinois--fullback Jack Delveaux, end Rich Kreitling and tackle Ron Nietupski. Delveaux rushed for 82 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 20-13 victory over Mount Carmel. Linemen Dick Calder and Ray Karczewski also stood out.

Lane Tech overpowered Fenwick 19-0 in 1959. It was the Indians' seventh shutout in a 9-0-1 season. The line was spearheaded by 250-pound Mike Schwager and end Chuck Logan. Quarterback George Bunda scored twice and fullback Pete Stamison rushed for 87 yards.

Robeson coach Roy Curry always called his team's loss to Rockford Guilford in the championship game of the 1982 state playoff "the most disappointing loss of my career." Robeson, led by Mickey Pruitt, Tim Spencer, Jimmie Spraggins, Tiffany Hamilton and Vincent Tolbert, led 12-9 and was attempting to run out the clock when Guilford recovered a fumble on its 38 with 2:35 left and scored the winning touchdown with 45 seconds to play. Robeson finished 11-2.

In 1989, Julian scored the most points in Prep Bowl history, crushing Fenwick 48-14 and marking the Public League's first victory in the series since 1979. Quarterback Torrance Garfield completed 13 of 26 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns, three to Mike Griffin, as Julian finished 14-1.