Catholic Trio Plays Solider Field Prep Bowl

August 30, 2010

by: Tom Danyluk

CSN Staff Writer

For years they played a thing at Soldier Field called the Prep Bowl – public school champs versus Catholic league champs. Chicagoland football wars. The season’s grand finale. In the ’42 game, during the war years, they were raising right hands and swearing players into the service right there on the field.

And in 1937 it was Leo High vs. Austin High and 120,000 swarmed the place and that’s still the all-time record for single-game football attendance. The nearest threat to that total converged during a NFL exhibition in back in 1994, Cowboys versus Oilers and the rowdies of Mexico City. Announced crowd: 112,336.

The Prep title game has long since closed down, but a trio of generous Chicago football men have set up an annual event that honors the tradition of that old playoff. They’ve hosted for six years now, and it’s called The Chicagoland Pre-Season Prep Bowl.

“Three games in one day,” says Jim McHugh, one of the event’s founders. “The whole point is get some of the better teams in the area together – Catholic versus public, ideally – and give them a chance to play in a big venue, a pro stadium. So the kids can look back and say, ‘We had a chance to kick off on the same field that the Chicago Bears play.’”

McHugh has been working the clock at NFL games for 25 years. During the regular season it’s the Bears, then a to-be-determined site for his playoff duty. Last year he worked the Indy-Jets AFC title game, and the year before that it was Seahawks-Packers in the divisional round, in a pretty Lambeau whiteout.

“Snow so thick you couldn’t read the names or the numbers,” says Mchugh. “We had a helluva time keeping things straight for that one.”

McHugh says the Soldier Field thrill is sometimes a bigger deal to the officials assigned to the event than it is to the juniors and seniors out there tearing up the turfs.

“A typical high school game has five officials; we upped it to seven for this event and there are no shortage of volunteers,” he laughs. “They love coming down to work these games.”

The event’s other organizers are Tim LeFevour (GM operations, soldier Field) and Frank Lenti. Lenti was Donovan McNabb’s coach at Mt. Carmel High, and he stresses that another appealing part of this Prep Bowl show is luring back alumni from winning times and letting them work their magic with the crowd.

“The recognition of former championship teams,” Lenti says, “gives the fans the opportunity to see the best of our past, along with the best of our current student athletes.

“It’s a non-profit deal for us,” says McHugh. “The goal is to raise enough dollars to pay the bills, the cost of opening the stadium for a day. The satisfaction when it all comes together, that’s for free.”

2010 Chicagoland Pre-Season Prep Bowl Results

Game 1: Simeon 47, Mt. Carmel 41. Back and forth, a day of sprints to the goal line. Carmel falls one sprint short.

Game 2: Morgan 16, Providence 14. Last play – Providence man whacks a 47-yarder, plenty of distance but wide by a pencil length. “On a high school field, that’s good,” moans a voice in the press box.

Game 3: Notre Dame Niles 19, Fenwick 13. ND storms 65 yards late to steal it. Drama abounds. 30 years ahead, 121,000 will claim to have seen it.

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