Mt. Carmel: Black Parents Want Out of Football Mecca

 

by

Maze Jackson

By all accounts most parents that sent their kids to Mt. Carmel Catholic High School thought they knew what they were getting themselves and their children into. Known as a “football school,” Black parents that send their children to Mt. Carmel to play football know that it will be tough, but hope that the outcome will be better mean and productive citizens. Knowing this, they optimistically place their children in the care of Mt. Carmel.

Mount Carmel is a football mecca, few would argue with its success because the proof is in the pudding. Lead by Frank Lenti, an old school Catholic League football coach who rules his teams with absolute authority, Mt. Carmel is second only to Joliet Catholic with thirteen Illinois state football championships under its belt. Mt. Carmel also has a record of consistently producing college level players, which is a major factor that attracts Black parents, sometimes with limited resources to the Catholic League football powerhouse.

But behind the bright lights, state championships, and college recruiting come allegations of academic discrimination, punishment vs. payment, and a football first mentality that many of those same Black parents did not expect. This first in a series of articles will focus on Mt. Carmel as one of the last Catholic high schools on the south-east side of Chicago, struggling to maintain its connections to traditional base while keeping a tight grip on changing Black athletes.

Legacy on Hard Times

Mt. Carmel has to maintain the delicate balance between staying connected to its legacy while generating revenue under current market conditions. Mt. Carmel’s issues are compounded by its physical location which is at 64th and Dante, in a neighborhood bordered by the edge of the University of Chicago and Stony Island. Based on its location alone, Mt. Carmel has to fight the stigma of being in the “hood” as it also tries to compete with rival Catholic schools that are located closer to “safer” enclaves on the southwest and northwest sides.

Increasingly, the same Catholic schools in those same enclave, are becoming a refuge for the residents of the northwest and southwest sides seeking to protect their children from the ills that plague CPS, a fact that Mt. Carmel’s Principal John Stimler readily admits.

“We have to compete for students with places like Saint Rita and Marist and it’s a challenge to get them to come here when their parents are concerned about shootings on Stony Island. It’s really tough,” he lamented. “We have the other schools saying we are going to be the next Hales,” he continues, referring to Hales Franciscan High School, the predominately Black Catholic high school on 49th and Cottage Grove.

But Mt. Carmel’s history and legacy as a football powerhouse keep the alumni contributing and college recruiters in the building. Some parents allege that as Mt. Carmel continues to struggle to find the resources to operate, it has traded academics excellence for a win at all costs mentality to appease alumni, who are willing to write checks for champions. Which is why some allege Mt. Carmel is willing to go to extreme measures to control its players

Football Plantation

One such example is Foster Williams IV. By all accounts, Williams was a standout player on the rise whose parents were actively involved in his life and football career. They agreed to send their son to Mt. Carmel for the opportunity to play for Lenti with hopes that the powerful coach could translate his football skills into a scholarship opportunity. But after three years, when Williams’ parents could no longer afford Mt. Carmel’s $11,300 tuition and fees, they decided to transfer him to Simeon because of financial hardship, a fact that Principal Stimler disputes.

“Foster Williams was a disgruntled parent who thought his son was better than he was, so he transferred his son to Simeon so he could play football. He used financial hardship as a way out. If a kid goes to school three years at Mt. Carmel we bend over backwards to make sure they graduate from here, so that wasn’t really the issue. Mr. Williams transferred his son purely for football reasons, which just isn’t right,” said Stimler.

Williams’ father tells a different story. “I could not afford Mt. Carmel anymore. How can anyone tell me my finances? They did not want my son to play anywhere else,” Foster Williams III said in an interview. Williams also states that when he decided to transfer his son out of Mt. Carmel, his family was subjected to threats and intimidation from the school, coaches and players.   According to Williams it began with Mt. Carmel trying to convince him to stay, but when they realized that he was determined to transfer to Simeon, things got ugly.

It began with Lenti allegedly telling a team captain that he would make sure that Williams would never be recruited by colleges. Williams says,” Lenti tried to make sure my son could not play in Chicago his senior year. He chose to sink his teeth in to my son. They tried to make him an example for the other kids, using fear and intimidation.”

According to Williams, one evening, a group of Mt. Carmel players showed up at his doorstep, looking for his son, and pinned a note to the door demanding the helmet. “A helmet I paid for. My son used it for summer camps so we bought it outright,” Williams recounts displaying a paid email from Mount Carmel. “But in today’s world, why any grown man would send a group of young people to my door is just unbelievable. It’s just plain irresponsible. They crossed the line.” Williams said.

“His son kept one of our helmets, painted blue, and posted it on Twitter. So yes, maybe coach encouraged some of the boys to go get the helmet. I mean come on, he posted our helmet painted blue, so of course nobody liked that, and you know how kids are,” Stimler said, referring to the same incident.

Williams also alleges to back up Lenti’s threat that Williams would never play football in Chicago again, Mt. Carmel refused to provide his son’s transcripts in a timely fashion for “fees,” which his father said was a tactic to “make my son miss the eligibility deadline. But I paid for everything including the fees. I wanted to make sure we could walk out of there free and clear.”

But he wasn’t free and clear according to the school. After giving Williams the transcripts, Mt. Carmel asked the IHSA to block Simeon from allowing Williams to play football based on boundary restrictions. “We did ask the IHSA to enforce its own rules,” confirmed Stimler, who is coincidentally a member of the IHSA board.

The rule he references is IHSA bylaw No. 3.043.3, which requires a student athlete transferring from a private to public school also to sit out of athletics at their new school for one year. This applies even if the student-athlete already resides in his or her public school district.

Stimler wanted to eliminate the younger Williams’ high school career and any potential scholarship opportunities at the same time his family was going through financial hardships. “What they did to my son, It was just wrong!” the elder Williams emphasized.

“When we said we couldn’t afford it anymore, they told us to ‘get a loan,’ his wife chimes in.

Williams eventually won his case with the IHSA and his son was able to play for Simeon after missing one game. He finished the season as a standout and has received interest from some colleges. But he is discouraged about his future prospects because of his decision to leave Mt. Carmel. According to his father, he “knows Coach Lenti is going to ruin me, he’s done it before.”

In the meantime, his father Foster Williams III is emphatic when speaking to Black parents who are considering sending their kids to Mt. Carmel to play football. “If your kid is good they sink their teeth into them. And if you don’t do what they say, they do their best to ruin them, both athletically and academically. Do not say I did not tell you! But as for us, we just want amnesty for our kids” he says as large group of parents waiting to tell their story nod in agreement,

(The Chicago Defender attempted to give Mt. Carmel the opportunity to respond to the allegations. They declined, but did send a letter in response to our inquiries.)

 

 

 

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