CHICAGO — What's in a name? A lot, if you're UNO Soccer Academy, a charter high school in Gage Park.
The school is in the process of changing its name after it has twice unsuccessfully tried to become a full member of the Illinois High School Association. The school is currently an approved member of the organization — but not a full member — and only full members are eligible for the IHSA playoffs.
The boys soccer team recently finished its season 17-2-1, its only losses coming to city power Lane Tech, but it is not allowed to compete in the IHSA postseason.
IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha said the decision to keep the school, which was founded in 2013 with a state-of-the-art complex at 5050 S. Homan Ave., out of the playoffs stems from the UNO Soccer Academy Charter name, which "projects that the school’s mission is based in soccer" and could give it an unfair advantage in recruiting.
Troha said the school has twice applied to become a full member, once last year and again in January. Both times the application for full membership was not accepted due to the school's name, Troha said.
The school also recently appealed the most recent decision to the IHSA's Board of Directors, which upheld the previous rulings, Troha said.
"The issue lies in that the school name projects that the school’s mission is based in soccer," Troha said. "That obviously poses an issue as 'high schools' around the country specializing almost solely in collegiate sports preparation continue to grow, and most are unable to receive membership in their respective state high school associations.
"That is because these schools create issues in competitive equity and recruiting. We are not alleging that impropriety has occurred at UNO Soccer Academy Charter, but their name creates a perception issue within our membership. Especially when weighed against the fact that the other schools in their network are named after individuals or areas of the city."
Troha said the IHSA has "not received any reports of, nor are we investigating any recruiting allegations regarding the team or school."
UNO soccer coach Matthew Ribbens said the school is in the process of changing the name and the school will likely be named after a well-known Latina woman. Other UNO schools in Chicago already ae named after people, including Hector Garcia and Esmeralda Santiago. Ribbens said Thursday he hopes the school has a new name by spring.
"The name is misleading. We are not a soccer academy, and we do not recruit; therefore we are changing our name to be in the IHSA next season," Ribbens said.
The UNO Soccer Academy was named after soccer in part because the sport is "beloved by the school community and is an important tool for engaging students," according to the school's website. The site also describes the design as a "soccer-themed high school."
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