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Small school team beats bigger challengers

Submitted on Thu, 10/18/2007 – 12:31.
Story by Sal Cano

Despite having a student body of less than 200, members of Chicago Hope Academy‘s football team do not consider themselves underdogs. And they don’t shy away from big challenges.

This year, the team has already played – and beaten – Roberto Clemente and Washington high schools, which have more than 1,500 students.

“We’ll play anyone,” said Mike Laneve, head coach of Chicago Hope Academy, a non-denominational Christian school located at 2189 Bowler St. in the Near West Side.

Laneve has watched his team, whose record is 3-4, play schools with winning traditions, such as St. Laurence High School (Catholic League Champions: 1972-74, ‘76, ‘77, ‘79, ‘82-‘85 and 1987).

“We look forward to the challenge of showing it’s not about how big you are but how well you play as a team,” Laneve said.

On Oct. 19, the team will travel to Rock Island to play Alleman Catholic High School (Western Big Six Champions: 1975, ‘78, ‘81, ‘84-‘86, ‘89, ‘90, ‘94, ‘95, 2003-06).

“I applaud them for what they are doing,” said Steve Smithers, athletic director for Alleman Catholic, whose record is 4-3.

Smithers said Chicago Hope is heading in the right direction with its football team.

“They understand what it takes to develop a successful program,” Smithers said. “You want to build confidence, but you also want to see where you want to end up, and you find that out by playing against schools that have been successful.”

Alleman Catholic is closer to Chicago Hope in student body size, with an enrollment of about 475 students. But that is it still more than double the number of students at Chicago Hope.

Smithers also stressed balance in building a successful football program.

“You have to be careful that you don’t demoralize your team at the expense of playing good competition,” he said.

Competition is something Washington High School football coach Thomas Johnson said a school should be recognized for rather than the number of student enrollment.

“It doesn’t matter how many kids go to a school, it’s about the players that want to play football,” said Johnson, whose team lost to Chicago Hope 55-28 on Sept.1.

For coach Laneve, who is in his first year as the school’s athletic director, being careful wasn’t much of an option. When Laneve arrived at Chicago Hope Academy, the football schedule was already made.

Also, because Chicago Hope Academy is not in an Illinois High School Association conference, scheduling games is more difficult than it is for most school teams.

Teams in an IHSA conference are guaranteed a certain number of games based on how many teams are in their conference. This leaves athletic directors with only about three games to set up and schedule.

Not being part of a conference left Chicago Hope’s coach with the task of finding enough games to have a full season.

But Chicago Hope looks forward to being a part of a conference as soon as next year, Laneve said.

“To build a football program, you need continuity,” said Ben Wilson, Wheaton Academy football coach, whose junior varsity team lost to Chicago Hope on Oct. 1.

For Chicago Hope Academy, success on the field aims to be a good building block for the team members, who have shown they can take on tough challenges. And win.

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