One of the perceptions about high school students is that they are always getting into trouble. It’s not a very positive image.
But on March 9, 2012, Marist High School students from the Catholic school on the southwest side of Chicago made a very positive impression that anyone attending the Marist-Simeon high school 4A sectional championship game will never forget.
It was still light outside at 6 p.m. on that Friday, when we arrived at Argo High School to watch a game that Marist fans hoped we be another incredible upset. Two long lines of basketball enthusiasts extended out about 20 yards in opposite directions from the front doors of the southwest side public school.
We had been to Argo three days earlier to watch Simeon beat a very talented Whitney Young team, 55-49. No problem getting into that game on that day, when we watched Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo enter the packed stands together, before being ushered downstairs for courtside seats with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I’m sure they were there to watch 6’10” sophomore Jahil Okafor and 6’8” sophomore Paul White on Whitney Young, as much as they were there to see the great Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, Kendrick Nunn and company. A close game, but the Wolverines won with smart play and experience.
Upon our arrival for the Marist contest, we were informed that the game was already soldout. One of my twins, Maggie, scrambled and found two tickets to get her and Kelly in the door. I had to use my media credentials and thankfully was allowed in. We were extremely lucky to enter those doors and have been grateful ever since that day.
This championship game pitted the underdog Marist Redhawks against the best team in Illinois and one of the top teams in the country, Simeon. Marist High School is located on the far southwest tip of the city on 115th Street between Cicero and Pulaski. It became a very popular and competitive school for the sons of blue-collar workers that lived in the area, many working for the City of Chicago and required to live within the city limits.
Earlier in the day, the southwest side had mourned the passing of U.S. Marine Corporal Connor Lowry, who was killed in Afghanistan on March 1. A motorcade with Lowry’s remains traveled from Midway Airport down Cicero Avenue and across 103rd Street to Brother Rice High School, where Lowry graduated in 2006. The street was lined with southsiders and students from Brother Rice, Mother McAuley, and Marist waving American flags.
Marist and Brother Rice are usually rivals, but not on this day.
Once at Brother Rice, an Honor Guard played taps. Lowy’s sacrifice wasn’t just a Brother Rice loss, but felt by the entire Southside Irish community, who are proud patriots of the United States, but always wear the green of Ireland with great pride. Lowry was one of them and Southsiders showed up en masse exhibiting their respect for his contribution and sacrifice for the country.
So when we entered Argo High School that evening, we witnessed the spirit of the procession carried over into the very large gymnasium, as we watched more than 500 Marist students, all dressed in white t-shirts, pack into one side of the stands. It was a standing-room only crowd and when the Star Spangled Banner was played, the Marist student section led it with a loud, proud rendition, an American flag held high in the middle of the pack, all done to honor Corporal Lowry. It was impressive and I thought of how proud the Marist principal, teachers and parents must have been watching those kids. This section showed their pride in America and those who made the commitment to service, the ultimate sacrifice, like Connor Lowry.
It was somewhat of a surprise that the Marist team made it to championship game. They had to upset two of the best teams in the state, Curie and Bogan, to get there. They earned those upsets with heart and determination. They never quit and won two very close games. The heart and desire they showed on the basketball court is a school-wide trait, as the student section proved on this evening. Win or lose, they would all fight together to the end, players competing on the court, students cheering in the stands.
The Simeon players on the court, and on the bench, just stared up at the Marist student section as they got louder and louder. They had to know that this would be an opponent who would give them a tough battle. The Simeon student section, which may have numbered 20 students, tried their best to compete with the cheers and jeers of the Marist faithful, but they were greatly outnumbered. The one thing they had in their favor was their ultra-talented basketball team. When the game started, Marist jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, and with each outside shot made by guard Tyler Oden, the Marist students erupted with cheers, filling the Argo gym with a deafening roar Simeon kept their composure and looked like a college team working the ball quickly from side to side, two-guard Nunn (now the point guard for the Miami Heat) and center Parker (selected number 2 in 2014 NBA draft) hitting their shots to close the lead.
Throughout the first quarter, the score was close, Simeon pushing the pace and Marist working hard to stay with them. The Redhawks moved the ball quickly along the perimeter, with the very quick guard Oden scoring from the three point line twice. The Redhawks other guard, L.J. Williams, made good passes to Nic Weishar, who scored under the basket to keep the game close. Simeon had a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Talking to his team on the sidelines before the start of the second quarter, Simeon head coach Robert Smith knew he had to take the Marist students out of the game. The only way to do that was to build a lead and keep it. That is precisely what his team tried to do. Nunn was hot from the outside, hitting two three-pointers. Weishar, who went on to play football for Notre Dame, answered only once from the outside. Simeon point guard Jaleni Neeley stole the ball and fed Parker who threw down a hard slam dunk to ignite the Wolverines crowd. The Marist students just got louder yelling, “Over-rated! Over-rated!” Despite the impressive dunk, they letting Simeon know that they weren’t quitting. They wanted to win for Colonel Lowry.
Then, Nunn hit another nice three-point shot to put his team up 23-16 with 3:53 left in the first half. A minute later, he drove down the left baseline for a nice layup, and one. With the Marist crowd yelling “pressure, pressure” he sank it.
After backup point guard Reggie Norris hit a three-pointer and Parker slammed home a dunk at the buzzer, Simeon took a 34-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The show continued during the break. Simeon had about 12 cheerleaders on their squad and each game two of them performed a routine which includes front flips down the entire length of the court. At the end, one of the cheerleaders lifts her chin up and turns around quickly showing the opposing cheerleaders her derriere, a visual snub that no-one in the crowd could miss, especially the cheerleaders on the receiving end of it. Marist had three times as many cheerleaders and didn’t appreciate the obvious snub. They stared down the two cheerleaders, then lined up and each of them did front flips to give a dose of disrespect right back to the Wolverine squad. People in the stands just smiled at the competitive display.
When the teams returned to the court, Marist came out with a renewed determination in the second half, and worked hard to close the lead. With about three minutes left in the third quarter however, some of the Marist players started showing their frustration. Senior Matt O’Reilly got into a physical battle with with 6’7” Steve Taylor under the basket, followed by some angry words back and forth that put Taylor on the line, where he missed both of his freethrows. This once again fired up the Marist students, who watched Parker miss a three-point shot and shouted out, “Over-rated! Over-rated!” The taunts only served to inspire Parker, who made a beautiful spin move on the baseline, drove and scored with a nice soft runner.
The Redhawks’ Weishar, a real warrior to be sure, followed with a drive to the basket and scored. Then, Simeon guard Jaylon Tate made a nice move at the top of the key, pulled up for a jumpshot to score. Simeon led by 49-29 at end of the third quarter.
Everyone in the stands, and on the court, wondered if Marist could pull out another miracle and come back to win. They had witnessed the Redhawks comeback against Bogan, overcoming a 15-point deficit with three minutes left to win the game with three-point shots.
The energy from both teams was high, but Simeon worked hard against a motivated opponent to win, 65-44.
Somehow the score didn’t reflect the feeling in the building that night. If Marist had hit a couple of key shots, it may have turned into a different game. Unfortunately, they didn’t.
The headline in the paper said that Simeon halted Marist’s run, a miracle run. The administrators, teachers, parents, student, players and coaches all had to be thrilled with a great basketball season, leaving everything out on the floor against the great Simeon Wolverines.
Of all the Simeon games we attended, we always remember the Marist contest. The memory is vivid of hundreds of Marist students in white t-shirts cheering, chanting, singing and hoping to inject their will onto the court and inspire their team to another miracle on the day the southwest side remembered Connor Lowry.