Football team from "failing school" makes playoffs
Football team from "failing school" makes playoffs Phillips Academy assistant coach Michael Larson left, poses with Phillips Academy player Jamal Brown, 19. Unlike other teams, the Wildcats must lug their helmets and pads to a city park to practice because they have no field of their own (AP photos)
Football team from "failing school" makes playoffs
Lexile: 970L

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The Phillips Academy Wildcats must lug their helmets and pads nearly a mile. They go to a South Side Chicago city park to practice. They have no football field of their own.

A former gang member-turned-star safety, Jamal Brown, sleeps at the assistant coach's house. He and six other teammates fit the school system's technical definition of homeless because they don't live with either parent.

The city's first all-black high school already made history by becoming the first team from the embattled public school system to advance to the state finals in 32 years.

"Football isn't as hard as our everyday lives," said Brown. He is the 19-year-old former dropout and gang member who is headed to college on a football scholarship. "You'll have to break our legs to make us stop coming."

The school has students from a range of South Side neighborhoods, including some that are plagued by gang violence and senseless killings. As a freshman, one of the team's seniors was even shot in the ankle in a drive-by shooting.

The 600-student academy was deemed a "failing" school four years ago. That led city officials to fire and replace much of the school's staff. Today, 90 percent of its students go on to college, its website says.

The football coaches won't allow the Wildcats to dwell on disadvantages, like the lack of a home field, no sports equipment like blocking sleds and the mile-and-a-half round-trip to practice every afternoon. It's one of many public schools that must share a home stadium in another part of the city. It means the Wildcats play a patchwork schedule instead of every Friday night like most schools.

"There are 100 reasons, but in the end they're excuses," head coach Troy McAllister said. "We don't want any excuses."

The team knew it was for real early in the season. It crushed a far better outfitted team from 3,000-student high school in Naperville, a suburb west of Chicago. The score was 40-7.

But the biggest challenges for the Wildcats are the ones some have faced individually. Seven don't live with parents or legal guardians, hence the homeless designation. But their teammates have rallied around them.

"We say to parents, 'You are going to send us a boy and we are going to send back a young man,'" McAllister said.

Brown has faced longer odds than most. His father died of a heart attack before he was born. He only sporadically sees his mother, who is in prison. After the death of a beloved family friend he was living with, he dropped out of school as a sophomore and started hanging with a gang.

After a year of that, he says he felt compelled to get his life back on track.

"I didn't want to get locked up and accomplish nothing," he said.

Upon returning to school, he feared rival gangs. Sometimes he wouldn't leave the apartment in his housing complex because of gunfire. So, he gladly accepted assistant coach Michael Larson's invitation to come live with him.

"It's nice to see him not having to watch his back anymore," Larson said.

Today, Brown commutes to school by subway. He and quarterback Dewayne Collins both recently committed to play football at Illinois State University.

Critical thinking challenge: What does Jamal Brown mean by, Football isn't as hard as our everyday lives?

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Assigned 155 times

  • GD2000marine
    12/08/2014 - 01:09 p.m.

    Jamal brown means by "Football isn't as hard as our everyday life," that life is harder than football and that you have to make a life and death choice to go and become a gang member or are you going to become something more than that a person who is successful in life with a job and a career, and/or a family.

  • Alecl-OBr
    12/08/2014 - 01:40 p.m.

    Is this a city? Gunfire isn't allowed in cities! Football is not as hard as our everyday lives. Football is a game in which you can have fun, but also get injured. Meanwhile our everyday lives are hard; harder than a one-hour game on the field! We have to go to school, do homework, work for money, and even try to stay alive when there is gunfire! I wonder why someone would join a gang, when other gangs are just going to try to kill you? Life is scary sometimes, even in Ketchikan, Alaska.

  • Eriku2
    12/08/2014 - 08:54 p.m.

    This article is about football. The high school team has to travel a mile to their field cause they don't have their own. This shows how commited people can be

  • arifv-Tho
    12/08/2014 - 11:03 p.m.

    They trained when they were skipping school to just win a football games. They trained when they were sposed to be at school. The school probably got in trouble.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    12/09/2014 - 01:54 a.m.

    I think this is cool because I never thought that someone who has lost a lot of things would successfully get a scholarship in football. I never thought of that happening. I also never thought that the the Phillips Academy would succeed because in past years, they always had to switch teachers every year and today, it turns into a school where 90% of the students that go there, graduate to college. That is a huge achievement for the Academy. It has succeeded in getting students that are from gangs to successfully graduate high school and into college.
    Critical thinking challenge: What does Jamal Brown mean by, Football isn't as hard as our everyday lives?
    Answer: Jamal Brown means that playing football isn't as hard as living your life. Life has a lot of unfair and difficult things in your path in life.

  • Jm1999white
    12/09/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    what he's saying is that football is a hobby it could be a job but to get to that job you have to go threw middle school, high school, collage. its what u do in school that will count on your career.

  • Aw2000red
    12/09/2014 - 08:46 a.m.

    That's inspiring for kids that come from nothing and now some of them sre getting scholoar ships from college. I think that now they believe that anything is possible.

  • jacobp-Weh
    12/09/2014 - 10:01 a.m.

    Jamal Brown meant that his life is better on the field. When he is off he said is has to watch his back so he doesn't get shot at. He was also a former gang member. That is why I think life is easier on the field.

  • elizabethl-Eic
    12/09/2014 - 10:45 a.m.

    That's a great story. I can't believe that a "failing" school made it to the playoffs. I can't believe that one of those guys got shot in the ankle. Wow, I have no words.

  • jakes-Eic
    12/09/2014 - 10:45 a.m.

    These bad people that were in gangs and homeless, all banding together to play football and getting their life back on track is inspiring. I'm glad they decided to turn their life around.

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