The Austin High School Tigers football team won the last game of their season against Al Raby School on Friday, Oct. 13 at Hanson Stadium. The win, occurring during Austin High School’s final Homecoming game, gave the team the Varsity Inter-City Division Championship, and allowed them to finish with a 7-1 record, along with the No. 1 seed in the division.

Click here to view a slide show of photos from the football game.
Photos by Terry Dean

The team will go on to face No. 8 seed DuSable High School at Hanson Stadium, located on Central and Fullerton, on Wednesday Oct. 25. The game takes place at 3 in the afternoon.

Close to 100 Austin high school students, and students of the Austin Entrepreneurship and Business Academy, a Renaissance 2010 charter school located in the Austin High School building at 231 N. Pine, attended the final regular season game.

Carrying signs and placards of support for the Tigers, the show of support was a well-deserved salute to a team that came into the 2006-2007 season with little to lose and even less to gain. It was a team that was initially not even supposed to exist by this November.

Last Friday would be the final regular season game played by the team under the Austin Community Academy High School name.

Following last season, there was much doubt over whether a team could be assembled.

But when the dust on the field settled Friday, the players had completed a 46-6 win over a young and maturing Al Raby team. After the game, there was celebration, followed by an heir of uncertainty.

“There were several players who were not on the team last year that agreed to play for the team this year,” said Tigers Coach Joseph Wilson, also known as Pop Wilson. “Others were simply recruited from classes through just observing the untapped potential.”

At the end of the 2005-2006 year, there were only five players left on the Tigers squad from the senior class. The Chicago Public Schools, which closed Austin High School in 2003, told the school that it could not green light the school’s participation in team games unless they assembled a full roster.

“Essentially, I appealed to them like this: ‘I’ve seen you basically hanging around campus before and after school with little keeping you occupied, why not play a sport, and get involved with an activity that will challenge you and benefit you academically in the long run,” said Wilson, referring to the private tutoring provided by the school for players on the team.

The mass recruitment was a success. The team was able to field 30 players, including five who were on the squad last year. Students such as Signey Henry and Lamain Gant, each of whom had not played since their sophomore year, were now strapping on the cleats in their senior year.

“I had a few health issues that didn’t allow me to play last year,” said Gant, a corner back on the team, “although this year, once I was cleared to play and made the team, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. I also wanted to prove to the coach (Wilson) that I had matured and gotten better since I last played.”

With the school now converted to a Ren 2010 school – there’s one last class of Austin HS seniors set to graduate next June – some players felt a sense of urgency this year.

“Absolutely,” replied Henry, the team’s receiver. “We were uncertain what we would be able to accomplish this year because we really had no varsity players, and many had barely played before. But we really bonded that first week at training camp, and after we won our first game, [then] lost our second to Orr High School, we went on a roll that has led to an undefeated steak in our last six games.”

The Tigers entered last Friday’s game with a 6-1 record, and the game was never in doubt. They led 32-6 by half time, and scored another touchdown on a run about a minute and a half to start the third quarter. Al Raby scored its lone touchdown late in the first half and was shut out the rest of the way.

Tigers Left tackle Curtis Clay noted the motivation gained from the coaching staff, which includes assistant coach Steven Tadlock and offensive coordinator Daniel Thomas, and the students themselves, who were visible at all the team’s home games.

“There were low expectations for the team, but people still came out in support,” said Clay. “It gave us even more incentive to go out and really perform. The coaches also pitched the ‘last dance’ theme which also was a factor in our success.”

The team continued the celebration at the Homecoming dance later that Friday evening at the school.

“I am very proud of how well the team has played, and how they were able to overcome all the adversity both in their personal lives and academic lives to put together a great season,” said James E. Wimes, assistant principal of the Austin Entrepreneurship Business Academy. “I honestly would have been satisfied with a sub-par season. However, considering all that they have overcome and gone through for the sake of winning games anyway, they deserve much praise.”

They had the ‘eye of the Tigers’ one might say.

Terry Dean contributed to this article