Gately site diminishes Prep BowlTHE WEATHER WAS SNOWY, BUT IT DID NOT PREVENT A TREMENDIOUS CROWD, MOSTLY YOUNG FOLKS, FROM WATCHING THE LANE-FENWICK GAME A SOLDIER FIELD, SATURDAY. HERE'S PORTION OF HUGE CROWD OF 54,265. SUN-TIMES FILES (1959)
Updated: November 22, 2011 6:48PM
Mount Carmel didn’t expect to have another home game this season.
Not after losing in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Not even after clobbering Brother Rice in the Catholic League playoffs.
Friday, the Caravan are home for a final time, playing Simeon, the Public League champion, in the Prep Bowl.
At Gately Stadium.
Not Soldier Field, which always held what was once the biggest attraction in high school sports anywhere in the world.
Yes, Gately has new FieldTurf — which automatically makes the playing surface better than Soldier Field. Then again, your back yard is probably a better playing surface than Soldier Field. That happens when the field sits below lake level at the bottom of a hole dug into a landfill nearly 90 years ago.
But we digress. This year’s Prep Bowl will be at Gately, where Mount Carmel plays, and which a bunch of Public League teams also call home.
A game at Gately? No big deal.
A game at Soldier Field? Big deal.
Sketchy field or not, Soldier Field is Carnegie Hall for football players.
Since 1924, the greats have played there. The 1926 Army-Navy game was played there, dedicating what had been known as Grant Park Municipal Stadium. Soldier Field was the home to the College All-Star Game, and briefly, the Chicago Cardinals. The Bears moved there in 1971. Renovated completely in 2002 — with at least $23.95 spent on grass seed — it offers an eclectic mix of a modern arena shoehorned into the original façade.
If you’re a kid growing up in Chicago, and you play football, you want to play at Soldier Field. Here are 11 notables who have played or coached there: Butkus. Unitas. Sayers. Starr. Namath. Payton. Montana. Rockne. Halas. Lombardi. Parseghian.
The change of venue to Gately Stadium is, at least on the surface, due to money. Somehow, after years of having the money in the Chicago Board of Education budget, this year the money wasn’t there. Public League director of sports administration Calvin Davis, who makes six figures annually and is in charge of that budget, told the Sun-Times’ Mike Clark last week, “This year we could not fund the game at the level it was funded previously.”
Davis should have been on the ball. Instead, he fumbled it.
Since then, Public League officials have clammed up. Mickey Pruitt is the administrator for football. All he could say Tuesday was, “I can’t talk about it,” doing so five times before hanging up.
There was enough money in the budget to throw a dinner downtown for both Mount Carmel and Simeon on Monday night, but not enough to rent the place the game has been played at every year, except during the 2002 renovation. Strange, given the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Park District, as the names imply, are departments of the same government.
So Mount Carmel and Simeon, who opened the season at, of all places, Soldier Field, will finish the season at, of all places, Gately Stadium.
“I’m just glad to be in the game,” Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said as rain pelted down Tuesday morning. “I just want to play.”
Lenti, who would line up the Caravan to play in Gately’s parking lot if he had to, remembers the 1967 Prep Bowl, when he was among 58,324 spectators in the Soldier Field stands.
“It was my junior year and we played Dunbar,” Lenti said. “It was a huge deal. I was not on the football team. They told me to go home as a freshman. I was too small.”
But he was there, and remembers the 37-0 rout fondly. While the game is more a consolation prize these days, students and supporters of Mount Carmel and Simeon should have the same opportunity Friday at noon. Instead, they will assemble at Gately.
You get the feeling this wouldn’t have happened if Richie Daley was still mayor. What does Rahm Emanuel do for a living, anyway?