Chicago Bears owners: keep Crane High School open
Two weeks before giving school $20,000, McCaskeys ask schools chief to respect George Halas' alma mater
02/01/2012 1:10 PM
The family that owns the Chicago Bears is joining the fight to save the Near West Side’s Crane High School, lobbying Chicago’s schools chief to keep Bears founder George Halas’ alma mater open.
In early December, the team had a 75-pound plaque from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, featuring Halas’ likeness, installed at the school. That award came with a check for $20,000, which Halas’ heirs the McCaskeys requested go towards improving equipment for the school’s football team.
But in a letter dated Dec. 28, team co-owner Patrick McCaskey — Halas’ grandson — wrote that the dedication had been dampened by news of Crane’s impending closure, and a charter school taking its place.
In the letter, addressed to Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, McCaskey said his family wanted to see the school stay open to honor the past as well as provide for neighborhood kids in the future.
“Please reconsider closing, phasing out, or changing the school status from what it is today,” McCaskey wrote. “The rich history of the school, along with an extensive list of outstanding alumni, deserves the respect of having their legacy continue on into the future so they have a home to which they can return.”
The school was central to Halas’ development as a person and as an athlete when the man who would become Papa Bear was growing up at 18th Place and Wood Street, McCaskey wrote.
“At Crane, grandpa went out for football, track and baseball, but struggles with weight — particularly, his inability to gain any — turned out to be an issue,” he said. “Grandpa weighed 110 pounds when he started at Crane, yet despite eating everything his mother put on the table (and then some), he managed to put on just 10 more pounds by the time he graduated.”
Nevertheless, Halas met his future wife Min while pitching for Crane in a baseball game against Harrison High School, as she heckled him during the game.
The McCaskey family is trying to preserve Halas’ legacy of striving for success, he said, not just by winning championships but also by helping other people. McCaskey said he’s served as “principal for a day” at Crane six times, and he’s seen the staff’s dedication firsthand.
“We lend our support to the principal, Richard Smith, the staff, students and community to keep Crane High School a neighborhood school, just as it was when my grandfather attended Crane,” McCaskey wrote. “The children of the neighborhood need a neighborhood school to attend that sits in close proximity to where they live. Please let the tradition continue on just as the tradition of the Chicago Bears continues on.”
Two weeks later, on Jan. 11, the Pro Football Hall of Fame sent the check to the school, with the wish that the entire donation be used for the school’s football program.
Crane Athletic Director Bennie Horton said the letter was a huge boost for the group of teachers, students, parents and community activists dubbing themselves the Crane Coalition fighting to keep the school open.
“It’s a tremendous help,” Horton said. “The request is really being considered … it went straight to Brizard, and if Brizard got it, you know the mayor’s got it.”
A spokesman for the Bears confirmed the letter was authentic. CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan confirmed that they had received the letter, but sent back a generic response identical to one the schools have been giving out throughout public hearings on Crane.
“We simply can no longer accept the status quo that has failed our children year after year,” Shuftan wrote in an email. “We know that these decisions are not easy but they are necessary if we are to provide our children with the opportunity to access a higher-quality education.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s press office deferred comment to CPS.
The McCaskeys join several prominent politicians who have spoken out against closing Crane, current and former aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Walter Burnett (27th) and Ed Smith (28th), as well as U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and State Sen. Annazette Collins. A formal vote on the plan to phase out Crane could take place at February’s CPS board meeting.