Chicago is high on DuSable right now

DuSable High School varsity football head coach Konesha Rhea.

Tonight I photographed a group of football players from DuSable High School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. You may have heard of them. Recently the team, along with Fenger High, was featured on every TV news cast in Chicago, and surprise surprise while I was there today NBC’s national broadcast crew was too, doing a piece that will be featured on the Nightly News with Lester Holt.

What’s all the hype about? Well if you haven’t heard, their head coach Konesha Rhea is a woman, now in her second year in that position. Two weeks ago she faced off against another female head coach, first year coach Jouscelyn Mayfield, in what has pretty much been ruled the first ever varsity high school football game between two female head coaches – ever.

So that’s why I was there right? Doing a follow up piece for one of the local papers? Nope. I was there for the same reason I was at their game the week before the historic event; because they were there – and in a way they shouldn’t be. So you can bet your bottom dollar I wanted to make sure these kids had photos to prove it.

What do I mean when I say “they shouldn’t be there?”

The football part

Part of my job is to pay attention to high school sports. Which means I generally know who’s been winning and who has been losing.

DuSable didn’t win a single game during the 2021 season, two of which they had to forfeit. Due to the pandemic they didn’t have a 2020 season and in 2019 they had a lone victory, an 8-6 win in week 1 against CICS-Quest. A team that only scheduled 6 of its 9 potential games and that school is no longer around. That was their last on-field win.

This year DuSable has a single victory in 5 games so far. A week 1 forfeit by Juarez, who has forfeited all of their following games as well. As things go for kids, this is enough to create an exodus by potential returning players. It definitely has a lot to do with the fact Coach K’s team this season is heavy on freshman.

So lots of teams have slumps?

You’re right, DuSable was actually in a Chicago Public League conference that was IHSA playoff eligible in the last decade. They made the class 6A playoffs in 2010, and the class 5A playoffs in 2014 & 2015.

DuSable isn’t exactly a high school anymore

Six-to-Ten years ago DuSable had an enrollment over 1,000 students and my have had as many as 1,700 in 2010. They took on regular season games against private & suburban schools like Marist, Marmion, Aurora Christian, & even a 2017 Morris team that would finish second in 5A that year, and as I mentioned above, it seemed to help them play better.

However, by the late 2010s the school dipped below 1,000 and had fallen to about 500 students. Many Chicago Public high schools were seeing this type of drop in enrollment. Especially on the south & west sides.

Having less students doesn’t make you any less of a high school though and the DuSable building and name are still used, however if you do a search on the Chicago Public Schools website for “DuSable” you will see there is no result. DuSable as a school, technically doesn’t exist.

The school was essentially phased out starting in 2003, part of a program called “Renaissance 2010” which pushed for charter schools to take over CPS schools (hint; it didn’t go so well). By 2005 three separate high schools started to operate inside its walls. Today only two of those schools remain, Daniel Hale Williams School of Medicine and Bronzeville Scholastic, each of which has an enrollment of about 75 students, and from what I understand are run by CPS now and not the charter system they started under.

Let me just add a little side note here; Daniel Hale Williams was African-American surgeon and should have his own high school named after him. He was the first person in the world to preform open heart surgery successfully and he did it at Provident Hospital. Oh, which by the way, he also founded.

A Numbers Game

If you look around this state you will see small rural schools co-oping with each other to hold onto 11-man football. Many others have gone to 8-man football even though they have closer to 250 students. Some schools that small have dropped football all-together. With only 150 students DuSable’s football team is an enigma.

Chicago Loves DuSable. Oh Do They?

Within the last few years moves have been made to rename a few streets in Chicago after prominent African-American figures. A long time coming I may add. None more famously than the renaming of Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive.

Regardless of how you feel about this, I couldn’t help but watch this whole process go on, as good people fought over ways to enrich the lives of black people by changing a few road signs as opposed to, I don’t know, maybe investing in the future of actual black children in a school who name is one we apparently hold in so high esteemed people thought it should be on the most prominent through-fare in the city.

Imagine if they spent that time working on making DuSable High one of the most prominent schools in the city.

Illinois varsity high school football game between the Titans of Fenger from Chicago and the Panthers of Du Sable from Chicago, at Gately Stadium, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2022.(Photo copyright of Vincent D. Johnson)
Which gets us back to why I’m photographing these kids.

I live pretty close to DuSable and I drive by these kids practicing almost every day. For all those reasons I mentioned above, not many people would be down on these kids if they walked away from the game. So to see them there every day, beyond the losses, beyond having to forfeit, and beyond even having the numbers or name of your school to play behind. Sharing my talents with these kids is the least I can do. They earned it and every yard they gain this season and next. Which I will be back for.

Long after the rest of the media & CPS official have this season listed as a historical note. I’ll be there Hoping that each little photo I make will get one more kid to pick DuSable as their school or go play play football next season. I’ll also be around this basketball season too.

Lastly, this post started out as a Tweet.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’d like to help out or volunteer” with the sports programs at the school. Well, I’d say don’t hesitate to reach out to them, or I can try to put you in touch with people there.