Name, tradition to live on with sports

By Barry Temkin
Tribune staff reporter

May 31, 2007

Austin High may be dying, but its sports program is not.

Though they will attend separate schools, students within the Austin building will still compete as Austin.

"We'll share an athletic program," said Bill Gerstein, principal of Austin Polytechnic Academy, one of the three smaller schools that will replace Austin.

That, Gerstein said, is what has taken place in most similar situations in the city, including at South Shore, where he has been principal of one of the four schools in that building.

Calvin Davis, director of sports administration for the Chicago Public Schools, said a common sports program is almost a necessity given a general shortage of gyms and other athletic facilities.

"It's probably the only way it can work," he said.

The question is whether this new arrangement can restore Austin to anywhere near the athletic heights it reached during the first 70 years of the last century before -- like most Chicago Public League schools -- its program declined sharply.

Particularly in football, Austin was once a power. In 1937 legendary halfback Bill DeCorrevont led it into the Kelly Bowl to meet Leo High School in what still ranks among the biggest games ever in Chicago football.

The Kelly Bowl, which later became known as the Prep Bowl, matched the city's Public League and Catholic League champions at Soldier Field. DeCorrevont led Austin to a 26-0 victory over Leo before a crowd estimated at 120,000.

It was one of six trips to the Prep Bowl -- and three victories -- for Austin, the last trip and victory coming in 1958. In 1952, Abe Woodson, a future University of Illinois and San Francisco 49ers star, led the team there. That was also the year Woodson won the 120-yard high hurdles title at the state track meet.

Austin reached the state baseball quarterfinals in 1966, but other than in boys basketball and a one-game trip to the state football playoffs in 2004, it has had little success since. It is perhaps telling that its greatest athletic talent of those dry years -- basketball standout Mark Aguirre -- transferred to Westinghouse in 1976 after his sophomore year.

Gerstein, however, believes the new era of Austin sports will be a success regardless of its teams' won-loss records. He said alumni and community residents "were vehement" in wanting to retain an Austin athletic program and he favors it himself.

"My experience at South Shore, and I think what will be experienced here, is it's a way to get kids from different schools developing a community within the building, which is really important," he said. "It's kids from different schools working for a common goal."

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

   Home Page