BRONZEVILLE — When school starts Aug. 19, Hales Franciscan High School will no longer be boys only.
"Hales Franciscan is now accepting applications from girls to attend beginning this fall," Principal Erica Brownfield said, after the board of the all-boys Catholic school recently voted to go coed.
Since opening in 1962, Hales has served a predominately black student body, most from neighborhoods such as Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville, Washington Heights and Woodlawn, Brownfield said.
The admission of girls won't change the school's tradition of academic excellence, Brownfield said.
Tuition at Hales, with an enrollment of nearly 200, is $7,500 a year. Students wear uniforms, and religion is among the courses offered at the school named after Alexander of Hales, a Franciscan scholar. An International Baccalaureate program is also available.
The switch by Hales follows a similar one by De La Salle Institute, formerly an all-boys Catholic high school at 3434 S. Michigan Ave., which in 2002 began admitting girls.
But unlike De La Salle, where girls attend classes at a separate campus at 1040 W. 32nd Place, boys and girls will share classrooms at Hales.
The school already has a girls cheerleading team, and Brownfield said girls now also will be allowed to try out for sports teams. In 2011, Hales won the state's Class 2A boys basketball championship.
Not everyone is embracing the change.
The Rev. Phil Hogan, a priest at Hales known simply as "Father Phil," said an alumni meeting is planned for Saturday after the annual Bud Billiken Parade & Picnic in Bronzeville to talk about the changes taking place at the private institution at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
"Alumni meet almost every year up here after the parade. They are going to be meeting inside the football stadium, and you can bet they will be talking about the girls that will soon occupy the building," Hogan said.
Sean Jernigan, 22, graduated in 2009 from Hales and said he is unsure whether admitting girls will help or hurt the school's image.
"In a way, I can see where they are going. The school needs more students in order to stay open, and by allowing females to attend, it could help boost enrollment," said Jernigan, who lives in West Chatham and earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Ohio Northern University in May.
"But then on the other hand, having girls in the classroom could be a distraction for boys and cause them to lose focus with their studies," he said.
Fellow Hales alumnus Antonio Solsberry, 22, said he embraces the change and would have loved to attend high school with girls.
"Women are healthy for men. It is important for schools to have a relaxing atmosphere for its students, and interacting with the opposite sex is as good as it gets," Solsberry said.
Kenneth Johnson, 21, said he prefers that his alma mater remain all boys.
"Had it not been for Hales being an all-boys school, I doubt if I would have done so well in school," said Johnson, who lived in Bronzeville when he attended Hales in 2008 but now lives in Iowa. "I don't think the male teachers will talk to the girls the same way they talked to us when we screwed up. My mother has always told me that a man should not raise his voice at a woman."
In 2007, Michael Jordan donated $5 million to Hales' capital campaign to renovate the school, which included a new football stadium.
"Success is not just being on TV doing commercials. It's being able to do what your dreams have always been," Jordan said during a December 2007 speech to Hales students. "Once you set those dreams, whatever that may be, when you strive to reach those dreams, that to me is a successful person."