The celebratory prep rally was on at Wendell Phillips Academy HS (WPA), 244 E. Pershing Rd., as elected officials, alumni, well-wishers, and students decked out in Wildcat blue and white honored the student athletes responsible for the school’s second state championship in three years.
The undefeated Wildcats (14-0) defeated Dunlap HS (13-1), 33-7, to capture the IHSA Class 5A championship at Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois in Dekalb on Nov. 25. The victory further solidified WPA’s place in Chicago Public School history as its 2015 state championship was the first ever won by a CPS school. WPA previously competed in the IHSA Class 4A division to win their first title.
Kicking off the joyous occasion was the WPA drill team, majorettes, cheerleaders, and mascot who all gave rousing performances– so much so that WPA principal Matthew Sullivan joined in on the fun with moves of his own. Sullivan emceed the festivities, which included speeches from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and several other dignitaries.
Emanuel applauded the football team’s “drive, dedication, and determination” for their success. He went as far as to say WPA’s burgeoning football program is worthy of another “d” for dynasty. He took the moment to also acknowledge WPA’s accomplishment of three consecutive years of 100 percent college acceptance including 11 million dollars in scholarships.
“These kids are champions on the field and off the field,” said Emanuel. “They’re not just champions on the field, they’re role models off the field and in the community and they create family.”
Following the prep rally, McAllister called the energy surrounding the championship “like Star Wars with everything moving so fast.”
“I kept saying, ‘these young men deserve everything coming their way’ so for them to take a break, hit the pause, and just appreciate everything as it comes…lightning has struck twice,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan noted in order for WPA’s players to perform on the field, they first had to demonstrate they could perform in the classroom. He said the football players are positioned to be role models for the entire student body. He said 100 of the school’s 630 students participated in football this year, which allowed for the creation of the first ever freshman team that also enjoyed great success.
“If they’re not academically eligible, they don’t play; it’s as simple as that,” said Sullivan. “We’ve had starters not play in playoff games and those expectations have been set at the beginning of the year. [Head coach] Troy McAllister does not waiver on that at all. Period.”
McAllister called the past few weeks “fun” to coach the players as well as work alongside his coaching staff. He echoed Sullivan’s sentiment about the value of academics amongst the players changing the culture of a school on the field and academically.
“I think sometimes the football team really has the ability to change a school,” said McAllister. “If the football players are leaders in our school and they’re going to class and if they’re getting the grades, then maybe some of the other kids who aren’t as involved with extracurricular will want to get involved with something– not necessarily football but maybe our chess club or maybe play on our soccer team.”
McAllister said he thinks the school has become recognized for its football program at this point. He said over the years several WPA players have gone on to play collegiate football at the NCAA Division I to NAIA level. He said currently seven of his players have offers to Division I schools.
“If you’re a young man in 7th or 8th grade in the City of Chicago, I don’t think there’s a better place to go for an opportunity when it comes to football and academics,” said McAllister.
McAllister said that his seniors have “set the tone” for his underclassmen. He said over the past two years they’ve had two strong groups of freshmen who initially struggled with expectations but eventually found their way as the season wore on.
“When [the seniors] came in, we still had our issues with changing the culture in our program, and I think they sometimes realize what not to do and I think they saw a little bit of that and progressed from there,” said McAllister.
Senior running back Craig Elmore, who played on both state championship teams, called this year’s title “special.” He is the only player in CPS history to have won two state championships. He ran the ball for 76 yards on 18 carries for two touchdowns along with a catch for 23 yards in this year’s championship game.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to go out like that,” said Elmore. “Sophomore year I didn’t take it serious so senior year I knew I had to get it done so I played every play like it was my last.”