79th Edition of March Madness Has Fenwick Ties

Three Fenwick Friars are among the teams selected for the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments this year.

By Mark Vruno

Loyola-Chicago (28-5) won the Missouri Valley Conference this season and punched its ticket to the Big Dance. (Chicago Tribune photo)

The 2018 edition of March Madness commences today as the NCAA Basketball Tournament play-in games tip off. There’s still a buzz coming from Rogers Park on the North Side of Chicago, where the Loyola University men’s team is in the “Big Dance” for the first time in more than 30 years (since 1985). Presently, there are 17 Friars enrolled at Loyola, including Kevin Latz ’16, who exclaims, “Students are more excited about Loyola basketball than ever before! I know some students who are even flying to Texas for their first game. A lot of students are talking about watching their basketball games for the first time, which is great for school spirit.” Latz and his classmates are cheering loudly for the 11th-seeded Ramblers, which take on the 6th-seeded Miami Hurricanes on Thursday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. in Dallas.

Fifty-five years ago, the Ramblers defeated Mississippi State to win the National Championship amid Civil Rights tension.

Fenwick’s own math-teaching whiz Roger Finnell ’59 was a student on campus in the early 1960s, when the Ramblers won the National Championship. Mr. Finnell’s memories of that special time:

“1963 was my senior year at Loyola. I remember everyone being amazed at all of the really good teams we were beating, including Ohio State early in the season — sort of like how Loyola first got noticed this season when they upset Florida, ranked top 5 at the time.

“First semester I was in a tough Political Science class with two basketball bench players. They did not survive to be eligible second semester!

“I remember the night of the championship game. It was a Saturday night, and the game was only on the radio with a television replay that night at around 10:00. Certainly nothing like the coverage these days.

“I remember the famous story of when we were going to play Mississippi or Mississippi State in an early tournament game. The Mississippi governor was threatening not to let the team play us because we had African-Americans on the team (four of five starters). Their coach literally snuck the team out of the state a day early to prevent the governor from blocking their travel to the game site.

“The championship game was very exciting to listen to and very close all the way. I remember the play-by-play announcer (Red Rush?) going wild when we won in overtime.

“I believe the present Loyola team is only one victory shy of matching the 1963 win total. Go Ramblers!”

Selection Sunday

Planek and the “other” Friars are in!

The Friars of Providence College punched their ticket to the 2018 NCAA Division I Tournament by beating Creighton in overtime in the Big East Tourney quarter-finals last Thursday. Fenwick double-Friar Tom Planek ’14, a 6’7″ senior forward on Provie’s men’s basketball team in Rhode Island, walked on and subsequently earned a scholarship. Those Friars have posted a win-loss record of 21-13 and lost an exciting overtime game to Villanova on Saturday night in the Big East Tournament. On Friday, their 10th-seeded team will play Texas A&M (#7 seed) at 11:15 a.m. in Charlotte, North Carolina (so-called West Region). Planek, who has seen action in 12 games to date this season, earned his bachelor’s degree in three years and will graduate this spring with an M.B.A. He is from Oak Park.

Danny Dwyer is the second of seven members of FHS’s Class of 2014 who played college basketball in the 2017-18 season. Dwyer is a 6’8” senior forward for the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), which won the Ivy league conference tourney on Sunday with a 68-65 victory over Harvard. In the Midwest bracket, the 16th-seeded Quakers will take on the mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the first round on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Wichita. Originally from River Forest, Dwyer has faced some health-related challenges this season but still is on the team.

Nixon’s MSU team is in the NCAA Division II Tourney.

Jamal Nixon is a 6’4” freshman guard for the Minnesota State Mavericks (Mankato) in the Northern Sun Conference; hometown: Plainfield. The 24-9 Mavs earned an at-large berth in the Division II NCAA Tournament and are seeded 8th in the Central Region. On Saturday they upset defending national champion Northwest Missouri State, then defeated Southwest Minnesota State 74-70 in the semifinal game on Sunday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Next, they face Northern State (from South Dakota) for the region championship and a berth in the final eight. Tipoff is 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in Maryville, Missouri.

Nixon, Dwyer and Planek join these other Friars who hooped it up at the next level this season:

Continue reading “79th Edition of March Madness Has Fenwick Ties”

Black History Month: My Fenwick Experience

By Marlon R. Hall, Sr., EdD., Guest Blogger

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”  ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Dr. Marlon Hall

My journey to Fenwick High School began as a student in 1972. I was one of 11 African-American males that year who entered as freshmen. At the time, there were only two African-American males in the entire school. The most memorable episode of African-American student integration of schools in the history of our nation occurred 15 years earlier when nine students entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They were called the “Little Rock Nine.”  I am calling us, “The Fenwick 11.”

The route to Fenwick began at my grammar school, Our Lady of Sorrows, on the West Side of Chicago. During our eighth grade year, high school representatives traveled to our school to speak about the advantages of attending Gordon Tech, Providence-St. Mel, Hales Franciscan, Holy Trinity, St. Ignatius, Loyola Academy and Fenwick.

The Fenwick representative was a man by the name of Mr. Kennedy. At the time, he was the Dean of Students/Vice Principal. His presentation really fascinated me. He spoke about the famous alumni, the class schedule and the opportunity to be enrolled in a Physical Education course for four years. The athletic prowess in me loved the idea of time in the gym for four years. Previously, I had the privilege of attending a basketball game in the old Lawless Gym in 1965. My cousin, Darnell, was playing for the St. Phillips High Lightweight basketball team in the Annual Fenwick Junior Basketball Holiday Tournament, so I was aware of the school, the township of Oak Park, and the ‘el’ ride from the West Side of Chicago.

Marlon Hall as a Fenwick freshman in 1972-73.

I decided that Fenwick was the place for me after Mr. Kennedy’s presentation. I arranged a campus visit with Mr. Kennedy, and he introduced me to Greg Stephans, an African-American student at Fenwick who took me on a tour of the campus. After the tour, I took the entrance exam with five of my classmates. After the testing was completed, one of my classmates was fully accepted, one was rejected, and the rest of us were told that we needed summer enrichment in math, English or reading. For four weeks in the summer, I took a math course with Mr. Finnell and a reading course with Mr. Kucienski (self-appointed ‘Sir’). During those few weeks, I became acquainted with the Fenwick community, travelling to Oak Park, and met new people like Don Howard, Henry Tolbert, George Kas, Kevin Galvin and Kevin Prendergast. They became freshman classmates of mine at Fenwick. I finished the courses sufficiently and I was fully accepted into Fenwick High School.

The ‘N’ word and other slurs

What happened during the next year was unexpected! I guess I was naïve coming from the West Side of Chicago. After the summer school experience, I thought that I would be able to successfully integrate into the Fenwick community. But I was called nigger, bourgie, burrhead, ‘boy,’ and one upperclassman one day decided to take it out on me and slapped me across the head and said, “Nigger, why did you come to this school!” This was not part of the program.

I was spit upon. Pennies were thrown at me, and my classmates threw rocks at us as we walked to the bus stop or the el stop. I can look through my Blackfriars 1973 Annual and remember every Fenwick student who communicated some type of racial slur or comment at me during my brief tenure at the school. The insults hurt but made me stronger. I decided to leave Fenwick after my freshman year. I transferred to Hales Franciscan, where I completed my high school education. Out of the 11 freshman, only three remained to graduate in 1976. They were Donald Howard, Henry Clarke and Wilbur Parker.

In the early 1970s, racial tension ran high in schools across America, from Virginia to Illinois. Oak Park and Fenwick were no exceptions.

Since leaving Fenwick in 1973, I realized that I should have remained and completed my education there. I have voiced that opinion to other members of the Fenwick 11 whom I remain in contact with. They agree. But, why did nearly all of us leave? Fenwick is one of the greatest educational experiences any student could have, especially a “ghetto” kid from Chicago’s West Side. The ridicules, the snickers, the violence afflicted, the racial slurs that I suffered made me a stronger individual.

Continue reading “Black History Month: My Fenwick Experience”

Learning from My 50th Fenwick Reunion

By Mike Shields ’67

I graduated from Fenwick in June 1967 and attended my 50th class reunion this past September 9th. Class reunions, particularly 50th reunions, by their very nature, are always fraught with surprises. And there is always the question of ‘going or not going,’ but this reunion was well planned, energetic, hit the right notes and, overall, my wife and I had a wonderful time. More significantly perhaps was the fact that I learned a few things about Fenwick, or was reminded about a few things, and what it meant to me and likely many of my classmates – things that one can see more clearly looking back over 50 years – a very unique perspective.

Shields, the author, knows never to stand on the Fenwick Shield!

In this blog post, I mention below some of the things that really stood out for me at this class reunion. Hopefully, these recollections will encourage others to reconnect with Fenwick and, in general, support the school’s ongoing mission to guide and inspire each and every student to lead, achieve, and serve – not only to help oneself but also to help make the world a better place.

  • Surrounded by my many classmates, almost all who had lives of achievement (i.e. U.S. Ambassador, Governor, Judge, Architect, Doctors, Lawyers, Business Executives, Entrepreneurs, etc.), I had a profound sense of feeling very fortunate of having gone to Fenwick. There is no doubt in my mind that Fenwick’s unique combination of strong ethics, drive for academic excellence and serious thinking, and its competitive and ambitious student body elevated us all to a much higher level than many other schools, not an insignificant thing during our formative teenage years. I mentioned the word fortunate but we were also very lucky to have gone to Fenwick even though I suspect many of us didn’t realize it at the time.
  • Although many of us had not seen each other since June of 1967, it was very easy to ‘pick up the conversation.’ We really enjoyed each other’s company. Why? I think the reason is that during our Fenwick years we were a lot closer to each other than we realized. Fenwick in those years was a very serious, no-nonsense place that stressed discipline, learning and achievement, and I believe we came to depend on each other to successfully make it through its rigors and challenges. That easy camaraderie was clearly visible five decades later at the reunion.
  • Throughout the evening we talked and talked, and even had a group sing of the Fenwick Fight Song. Even though so many of my classmates had truly notable life achievements, no one came across as ‘full of themselves.’ These guys were down-to-earth and seemed very satisfied with their lives. That was really good to see. And in the many conversations, it was clear they had a genuine fondness for Fenwick and what it provided them.
  • The final thing that really stood out for me during the evening was how truly dedicated the people who run Fenwick are to this day. The list of these people is long, and several were at the reunion from the school’s current President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. to dedicated teachers like Roger Finnell (who taught his very first math class at Fenwick to us in September 1963 and is still teaching!) to key staff such as Vice-President of Institutional Advancement Chris Ritten and Director of Alumni Relations Cameron Watkins; it was really clear and impressive that all of these people not only want Fenwick to continue on but to thrive and excel. They are an inspiring and dedicated group just as their counterparts back in the ’60s, etc. were.
Mike Shields in 1967 (yearbook photo)

In closing, I do hope that this blog post of my perspective on Fenwick and its lifelong value and positive impact might be read in particular by some younger alums and even a few current students. I say this because I myself over the years, as I became busy achieving my own high goals and raising a family, sometimes ‘forgot’ about Fenwick. This 50th reunion, reminded me, however, of many things, as I’ve noted above, with perhaps the most important thing being how lucky I was to go to Fenwick. It truly made a huge positive difference in my life.

About the Author: After graduating from Fenwick, Mike Shields received a bachelor’s degree in economics, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa Honors, from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1971; he received a Master of Business Administration Degree from the University of Chicago in 1973. Shields spent almost all of his professional career at Abbott Laboratories focused primarily in financial management. Mike and his wife, Karen, reside in Niles, IL.