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Simeon High School Student Beats Homelessness, Wrestles His Way to the Top

By Wendell Hutson | February 28, 2014 6:50am
 Antoine Cobb, an 18-year-old senior at Simeon Career Academy High School, placed fifth in the state's 2014 sectionals for wrestling.
High School Wrestler
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CHATHAM — Simeon wrestler Antoine Cobb has overcome more than a slew of opponents on the mat on his way to winning the Chicago Public League championship and placing fifth in state in his weight class.

The 5-foot-8 senior at the South Side school not only fought to stay in shape and maintain his grades while his family was homeless; he also had to fight to become eligible to compete at Simeon when he transferred from Hyde Park Academy High School before his senior year.

But his success in wrestling — which he hopes to continue this weekend when he and his team compete Saturday in Bloomington in the IHSA Class 2A state quarterfinals for the first time in Simeon history — comes as no surprise to his coach.

"He has beaten the odds and shown that he would not be denied," Wolverines coach David Burchett said. Cobb, an Englewood resident, racked up a 34-3 record this year in the 160-pound weight class.

Cobb, 18, originally attended Hyde Park high school, where he wrestled and starred in football, and even led the team to the state playoffs.

But his family had financial problems, and they ended up moving into a West Side shelter for three months during his junior year.

"My family fell on hard times, and we lost our home" to foreclosure, Cobb said.

While his family was homeless, Cobb continued to attend Hyde Park, where he started as a freshman. But it wasn't easy.

He went from having his own bedroom to sharing a room with his parents, his two younger sisters and a little brother. His grades suffered.

"I couldn't eat when I felt like it, watch TV when I felt like," he said. "I was totally depressed and did not do much but sleep, wake up early to go to school and then come home later to go to bed. I didn't even have a bed to sleep on. I had to sleep on a cot."

And getting to Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., was tough on public transportation.

"Trying to get to Hyde Park was hard because I had to get off the Red Line at 63rd and State Street, which is not a good place to be standing around at 7:30 in the morning," Cobb said. "The travel became too difficult because public transportation was not convenient enough."

He also didn't always feel comfortable in the neighborhood surrounding Hyde Park Academy.

"No one ever robbed me or beat me up, but there were some guys from the neighborhood hanging around after school looking to ... mess with us," he said.

So Cobb decided to transfer to Simeon, 8147 S. Vincennes Ave., in February 2013, even though he knew little about the school that is Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose's alma mater.

"I picked Simeon out of the blue. I knew it was easier to get there taking the Red Line," he added. "Little did I know that I would come to love this school and make a lot of new friends."

When Cobb transferred to Simeon, he hoped to continue playing football, but he was ruled ineligible, even though he insists he didn't transfer for athletic reasons.

"I did not transfer to Simeon to play sports. I transferred to Simeon because it was easy to get to using public transportation."

Frustrated he could not play football, Cobb focused on wrestling. That, Burchett said, turned out to be great for Simeon, which won its first public league title in school history last month.

"Antoine is a good kid. He is the type of athlete any coach would want to have on his team," Burchett said.

Last week, Cobb placed fifth in the Class 2A individual state finals in Champaign.

"He put everything he had into wrestling and made it Downstate and placed fifth. He was relentless with his workouts and soaked up every bit of coaching he could get," Burchett said.

On Tuesday, the team won its sectional meet against Evergreen Park, and the now Simeon will face Geneseo in its quest for a state title. And if the team advances to the semifinals later that day, it will be the first public league team to do so since Lane Tech did in 2000, according to the Chicago Public League Sports Blog.

Regardless of the outcome Saturday, Cobb said his choice to focus on wrestling has paid off as he's received multiple scholarship offers to wrestle in college. He declined to name which schools he is considering, but said he plans to decide by next week.

"I knew my parents could not afford to pay for my college education since my brother is already away at school," Cobb said. "So I turned a sport I love into a roadway to college."

Cobb said he wants to become a physical therapist or follow in the footsteps of a former football coach of his who served as a U.S. marshal.

Cobb and his family have since moved in with his grandmother in Englewood. He said his parents — and particularly his father — have been his biggest source of inspiration.

"He would always motivate me to keep my head up and tell me, 'Don't let life get you down,' which at times it did," Cobb said. "I am so thankful to them for encouraging me to stay strong."