Donations from Chicago Bears, NFL help Leo HS rebuild field

By MIchelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Donations from Chicago Bears, NFL help Leo HS rebuild field

Staff, students alumni and donors gathered for the dedication of the newly renovated Alumni Football Field at Leo Catholic High School on Aug. 11, 2022. Backed by the Chicago Bears and other organizations, the field was dedicated on the first day of school. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A drone view of Leo High School’s new Alumni Field. (photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago Radio and TV Department)
Members of the Leo High School choir sing the National Anthem to open up the celebration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dan McGrath, president, addresses the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A drone view of Leo High School’s new Alumni Field. (photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago Radio and TV Department)
Pat McCaskey, vice president of special projects for the Chicago Bears, addresses the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Shaka Rawls, principal, shouts the school cheer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

After a year of renovation, Leo Catholic High School students are enjoying the newly rebuilt Alumni Field at 79th Street and Morgan Avenue.

The field, with new turf and lights and a new scoreboard, was dedicated on Aug. 11, Leo’s first day of school.

The refurbishment was made possible in part by a $200,000 grant from the Chicago Bears, the NFL Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and was part of $6 million in grants awarded by the NFL Foundation’s Grassroots Program.

As far as baseball coach and physical education teacher Michael Anderson was concerned, access to Alumni Field could not come soon enough.

“The kids are just champing at the bit for the field to be up again,” said Anderson, a 1991 Leo graduate, last spring, when his team had to travel to other fields in the area to practice. “We are absolutely ready. The kids are excited and the alumni are excited. Everyone else has their own field. … That’s the thing about it. It’s the feeling that it’s ours. It’s the students being connected to the Leo pride, literally and figuratively.”

While the field was dedicated Aug. 11, students had been able to use it once the work was certified as complete earlier this summer.

Leo High School President Dan McGrath said the project cost about $400,000 altogether, and the school had already moved ahead with the work when they were notified in November 2021 that they would receive the grant from the Bears.

The original field was built after the Irish Christian Brothers, who founded Leo, left their residence and turned the property over to the school in the early 1990s. The school was able to acquire a couple of neighboring properties and raised money from alumni to build a turf field on the site in the mid-1990s.

More than a quarter century later, the ground under that original field had settled, creating a lumpy, uneven surface, and the turf itself was down to nubs, McGrath said.

“You could be running full speed and step into one of those holes and really hurt yourself,” he said. “We’re very grateful for the grant, but the work had to be done.”

Now that it is finished, Leo will open the field up to community members, including residents of the nearby St. Sabina Elders Village and the St. Leo Veterans Residence, who will have the opportunity to use the field to walk. Similar programs existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, McGrath said.

He also hopes to host a flag football league for elementary school students.

While Alumni Field was never used for games — it’s not quite big enough for a regulation football field, and has no stands — it was used by almost all the school’s teams for practices, as well as gym classes.

“We did everything out there,” said Anderson, speaking from the school game room, where students can spend their Friday gym classes playing table tennis, pool or even video games. “Football, dodgeball, field hockey. We played cricket out there. They would say, ‘I’ve never done this before,’ and then they end up loving it.”

Anderson said having the students playing on the field is good for them, good for the school and good for the neighborhood.

“It’s a beacon of hope for the community,” he said. “People come down 79th Street and see young men out there honing their skills.”


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