Black parents that send their children to Mt. Carmel Catholic High School to play football know that it will be tough, but hope that the outcome will make their children better people and productive citizens.
Mount Carmel is a football mecca and few would
argue with its success. Led by Frank Lenti, an old school Catholic League football coach who rules his teams with absolute authority, Mt. Carmel is second only to Joliet Catholic with 13 Illinois state football championships
under its belt.
Mt. Carmel also has a record of consistently producing college level players, which is a major factor that
attracts Black parents, sometimes with limited resources, to the Catholic League football powerhouse.
But behind the bright lights, state championships, and college recruiting come allegations of academic
discrimination, punishment vs. payment, and a football first mentality that many of those same Black parents did not anticipate.
Legacy On Hard Times
Mt. Carmel is one of the last Catholic high schools on the Southeast side of Chicago, struggling to maintain its connections to its traditional base while keeping a tight grip on changing Black athletes.
Mt. Carmel has to maintain the delicate balance between staying connected to its legacy while generating revenue under current market conditions.
Mt. Carmel’s issues are compounded by its physical location, which is at 64th and Dante, in a neighborhood bordered by the edge of the University of Chicago and Stony Island.
Based on its location alone, Mt. Carmel has to fight the stigma of being in the “hood” as it also tries to
compete with rival Catholic schools that are located closer to “safer” enclaves on the Southwest and
Northwest sides of Chicago.
Increasingly, the same Catholic schools in those same enclaves are becoming a refuge for the residents of the Northwest and Southwest sides seeking to protect their children from the ills that plague Chicago Public Schools, a fact that Mt. Carmel’s Principal John Stimler readily admits.
“We have to compete for students with places like Saint Rita and Marist and it’s a challenge to get them to come here when their parents are concerned about shootings on Stony Island,” he lamented.
“It’s really tough. We have the other schools saying we are going to be the next Hales,” he continues, referring to Hales Franciscan High School, the predominately Black Catholic high school located on 49th and Cottage Grove.
Mt. Carmel’s history and legacy as a football powerhouse keep the alumni contributing and college recruiters in the building.
But some parents allege that as Mt. Carmel continues to struggle to find the resources to operate, it has traded academic excellence for a win at all costs mentality to appease the alumni who are willing to write checks for champions.
That is why some allege Mt. Carmel is willing to go to extreme measures to control its players.
One example is Foster Williams IV, a standout player on the rise whose parents are actively involved in his life and football career.
They agreed to send their son to Mt. Carmel for the opportunity to play for Lenti with hopes that the powerful coach could translate his football skills into a scholarship opportunity.
But after three years, when Williams’ parents could no longer afford Mt. Carmel’s $11,300 tuition and fees, they decided to transfer him to Simeon because of financial hardship. Mt. Carmel Principal Stimler disputes that.
Stimler says, “Foster Williams was a disgruntled
parent who thought his son was better than he was, so he transferred his son to Simeon so he could play football. He used financial hardship as a way out.
“If a kid goes to school three years at Mt. Carmel, we bend over backwards to make sure they graduate from here, so that wasn’t really the issue. Mr. Williams
transferred his son purely for football reasons, which just isn’t right,” said Stimler.
Williams’ father tells a different story. “I could not afford Mt. Carmel anymore. How can anyone tell me my finances? They did not want my son to play anywhere else,” Foster Williams III said in an interview.
Williams also states that when he decided to transfer his son out of Mt. Carmel, his family was
subjected to threats and intimidation from the school, coaches and players.
According to Williams, it began with Mt. Carmel trying to convince him to stay, but when they realized that he was determined to transfer to Simeon, things got ugly.
Williams says Lenti allegedly told a team captain that he would make sure that Williams would never be recruited by colleges. “Lenti tried to make sure my son could not play in Chicago his senior year,” Williams says. “He chose to sink his teeth in to my son. They tried to make him an example for the other kids, using fear and intimidation.”
According to Williams, one evening, a group of Mt. Carmel players showed up at his doorstep looking for his son and pinned a note to the door demanding his son’s Mt. Carmel football helmet.
“It was a helmet I paid for. My son used it for summer camps so we bought it outright,” Williams
recounted. “In today’s world, why any grown man would send a group of young people to my door is just
unbelievable. It’s just plain irresponsible. They crossed the line.”
Principal Stimler, referencing the same incident, said, “His son kept one of our helmets, painted it blue, and posted it on Twitter. So yes, maybe coach encouraged some of the boys to go get the helmet. I mean come on, he posted our helmet, painted it blue, so of course nobody liked that, and you know how kids are.”
Williams also alleges that, to back up Lenti’s threat that Williams would never play football in Chicago again, Mt. Carmel refused to provide his son’s transcripts in a timely fashion because of unpaid “fees.”
Williams said it was a tactic to “make my son miss the eligibility deadline. But I paid for everything, including the fees. I wanted to make sure we could walk out of there free and clear.”
But after giving Williams the transcripts, Mt. Carmel asked the IHSA to block Simeon from allowing Williams to play football based on boundary restrictions. “We did ask the IHSA to enforce its own rules,” confirmed Stimler, who is coincidentally a member of the IHSA board.
The rule he references requires a student athlete transferring from a private to public school to sit out
athletics at their new school for one year. This applies even if the student-athlete already resides in his or her public school district.
Williams believes that Stimler wanted to eliminate his son’s high school career and any potential scholarship opportunities at the same time his family was going through financial hardships.
“What they did to my son, it was just wrong!” the elder Williams emphasized. “When we said we couldn’t afford it anymore, they told us to ‘get a loan,’” his wife chimed in.
Williams eventually won his case with the IHSA and his son was able to play for Simeon after missing one game. He finished the season as a standout and has received interest from some colleges. But Williams says his son is discouraged about his future prospects
because of his decision to leave Mt. Carmel.
In the meantime, his father Foster Williams III is emphatic when speaking to Black parents who are considering sending their kids to Mt. Carmel to play football.
“If your kid is good, they sink their teeth into them,” he says. “And if you don’t do what they say, they do their best to ruin them, both athletically and academically.”
(The Chicago Defender gave Mt. Carmel the opportunity to respond to the allegations. They declined, but did send a letter in response to our inquiries.)