AUBURN GRESHAM — Michael Holmes, varsity football coach at Leo High School, said he hopes his team can end its season as state champions.
And if that happens, the all-boys Catholic school at 7901 S. Sangamon St. would receive yet another trophy to add to its growing collection, which now numbers more than 40. That's why Holmes said the school has decided to build an athletic Hall of Fame to not only house the growing trophy collection but also to spotlight athletic success stories.
"Fundraising for the $100,000 we estimate it will cost to build a Hall of Fame will start after the Christmas break," Holmes said. "We have one of the richest sports histories in Chicago."
That history includes the 1937 Prep Bowl against Austin at Soldier Field, which drew a a record crowd of 120,000 people, according to Dan McGrath, Leo's president.
"That was the most attended Prep Bowl game ever to this date," recalled McGrath. "Of course that was also when we had over 800 students, too."
Today the school has 153 students, McGrath said. And unlike Hales Franciscan High School, which became a co-ed school this year, he said there is not a push from Leo officials to do the same.
"I don't think our alumni would support changing our history as an institution of learning for boys," McGrath said.
The new Hall of Fame will be build in an empty area next to the student cafeteria. Besides trophies, the section would include jerseys, photos and "plenty of stories about our student-athletes," Holmes said.
Boys basketball and football teams are often the most popular at high schools, Holmes said, but Leo's track team has quietly become a powerhouse after winning seven state titles including back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
The Leo football team, meanwhile, dispatched Ottawa Marquette Saturday, and is heading to the IHSA semifinals, where it will face Lena-Winslow from northwestern Illinois town of Lena.
Most students at Leo are black and come from low-income households, and 95 percent receive financial aid of up to $4,000 to help pay the $7,500 annual tuition, McGrath said, adding the school has had a 100 percent graduation rate for the last three years.