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Crane old-timers recall the good times

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Crane old-timers recall the good times

Eugene Ford, Tim Robinson, Carl Merritt, and James Jackson remember the way it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School was a showplace on the West Side. They are saddened by recent reports that the 121-year-old school is being "phased out" by the Chicago Board of Education.

"Crane was another world back then," said Ford, a 1965 graduate who was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in basketball. "America was coming into its own with issues that had to be dealt with. We rode the back of the civil rights movement. Doors opened up. We pursued opportunities."

"To hear that Crane is closing is sad. They talk about (former Chicago Bears owner and coach) George Halas being the most famous alumnus of the school. But there were a million George Halases at Crane. Basketball was king. There were many good teams and players who brought the student body together, that created great school spirit and pride."

Last Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced that Crane and Dyett would be slowly phased out of existence and four struggling elementary schools would be closed by summer. Crane will stop enrolling freshmen and the dwindling student body will begin sharing space with Talent Development Charter School.

Crane built its reputation on basketball and its West Side rivalry with Marshall. Ford led Crane to the 1964 city championship. Robinson led Crane to the 1957 Public League title. Jackson was an All-State selection in 1974. For 40 years, Merritt has organized the CraneMarshall reunion that annually attracts 300 to 500 alumni.

The school has produced many outstanding basketball players, some of whom went on to compete in the NBA. The list also includes Tony Allen, Cory Blackwell, Dan Davis, Ken Colliers Norman, Bob Dillard, Anthony Manuel, Joe Daughrity, Jerome Freeman, Nate Williams, Andre Wakefield, Joe Reiff and Sherron Collins.

It is argued in some circles that too much basketball and not enough academics, the same formula that ended King's basketball dynasty, was the reason behind Crane's demise. That and too much violence and the razing of the Henry Horner and Rockwell Gardens housing projects that effectively turned the community from a neighborhood to transient.

"We had a West Side neighborhood then," Ford recalled. "Now the kids are bused in. They are transients. The neighborhood has broken down. The family was more intact then, more structured. You don't have that today."

But, Ford insists, there is always politics. "So many school superintendents come to Chicago. All of them come with new ideas of how to fix the problem of the public schools. But we've never had one superintendent who was a product of city schools, someone who knows what is going on from within the system," he said.

Robinson, a minister, is reminded of the old gym with the running trackbalcony surrounding the playing floor. He recently spoke to players on the 2011-12 squad in the new gym. It is hard for him to believe that his alma mater is being phased out.

"If they are going to phase out the school, I'd be disappointed," he said. "Back then, there was a high spirit of pride in the school. I can't recall any major incidents. The student body was involved. There were a lot of activities, a lot of expectations because of the basketball team.

"Everyone made sure there was an environment where everybody looked forward to going to school. We have competition with Marshall but it was clean. CraneMarshall was the biggest rivalry in the city at that time. The students took great pride in it."

Jackson, who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years, attended Crane because all of his brothers and sisters and most of the kids in his neighborhood went there. Crane also had a tradition for producing good basketball teams and players.

"It was a tough school in a tough area and the thing I remember most even before I went to the school is I always heard stories from my brothers about the basketball teams," Jackson said. "It had a reputation as one of the best schools in the area for basketball."

Jackson attended Medill Primary and was recruited to Crane by coach Dan Davis, a Crane graduate who had played with Ford on the 1964 city championship team.

"To this day, I am in contact with Dan," Jackson said. "On my visit to Chicago last year, he did some personal training with my son. He took us to Crane to watch some games. I was proud to show my son my heritage of high school basketball."

"I can't imagine basketball without Crane on the West Side of Chicago. Crane developed me into the player I was, it kept me off the streets and out of trouble and gave me direction in life. I will certainly be sad to see the school gone, all those memories."

Merritt, a graduate of 1958, recalled that the school was more than basketball. "We had great teachers at the time. If you wanted to learn, you would learn, from music to shops. We also had a great band. Of course, we always had good basketball, great players," he said.

Merritt organized the first CraneMarshall reunion in 1974. He arranged for top-notch singing groups, including the Drifters and the Spaniels. One of the first groups was Merrit's own, the Tomcats, which featured six Crane and Marshall graduates. The event got bigger and bigger. Sit-down dinners attracted crowds from 300 to 400, as many as 500, with alumni coming from New York and California.

He recalls when he attended Crane, there was only one policeman, a man named Peterson, who patrolled the hallways.

Despite reports of repeated violence and declining attendance, Merritt doesn't believe Crane will be phased out as was Austin, another West Side school with a great tradition in football.

"Someone suggested that we should put together a group to save Crane," he said. "But I think we should wait to see what (the board) has planned. Maybe Crane will be better. Nobody wants to send kids there now because of violence. I still live in the same house that I lived in when I went to Crane. I think the neighborhood is getting better. More people are moving in."

Interestingly, George Wilson almost ended up at Crane. He graduated from summer school at Crane, then enrolled at Marshall where he became a three-time All-State basketball player and the leader of Marshall's 1958 and 1960 state championship teams. He also has been involved in the CraneMarshall reunion for 40 years.

"My feelings would be the same if I heard Marshall was closing," Wilson said. "MarshallCrane was the big game on the West Side. It meant the world to me. When I talk about my days at Marshall, I always will mention Crane. I have fond memories of that rivalry. We didn't hate each other. We were very competitive with each other. We were always friends."

Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

In the last eight days, the White Sox have put four players on the injured list.

Aaron Bummer, arguably the team's best and most important relief pitcher, became the latest to join the sizable contingent of banged-up South Siders when the team sent him to the 10-day injured list Saturday morning with a biceps strain.

Bummer departed Friday night's game against the Cleveland Indians with biceps soreness after noticing something was amiss when he threw a pitch in the seventh inning. That pitch was immediately preceded by a throwing error, Bummer spiking a throw to first base into the ground and putting two men on base with two outs. Bummer got a visit from the trainer and left shortly thereafter.

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The 26-year-old lefty emerged as a key cog in the White Sox bullpen with an excellent 2019 campaign, posting a 2.13 ERA in 67.2 innings of work. He's off to a similarly terrific start this season, with a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings.

The White Sox added Bummer to the group of young players they've locked up with long-term contracts in the last few seasons, and after getting that deal in spring training, he's under team control through the 2026 season.

Without him, manager Rick Renteria will have to turn to other options for high-leverage situations. Closer Alex Colomé, as well as Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero, have been strong in continuing their late-inning roles from a season ago. Rookie Codi Heuer and veteran Ross Detwiler have also been mighty impressive as part of a generally strong White Sox relief corps so far this season, and both could see more action in higher leverage spots.

Bummer's injury adds to a lengthy list for the White Sox. The team has 40 percent of its Opening Day starting rotation on the injured list along with its starting middle infield and top relief arm.

The injury updates from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week were relatively positive, and none of the current injuries — aside from that of young pitcher Jimmy Lambert — seem to be of the long-term variety. However, in a season such as this one, which is already more than 23 percent over and done with, even missing the minimum 10 days of an injured-list stay is akin to missing a month during a normal campaign.

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

Per Hahn, injured starting pitchers Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López, both on the IL with shoulder soreness, could be back in the next few weeks. Shortstop Tim Anderson, put on the injured list last weekend with a groin strain, is expected back when his 10 days are up in the coming days. Second baseman Nick Madrigal, whose Tuesday-night shoulder separation looked like it could have been something significantly worse, could be back in action in just a couple weeks. And designated hitter Edwin Encarnación, who also left Tuesday night's game early, missed an IL trip altogether, even though he remains out of the lineup for a fourth straight day with SC joint inflammation.

And now Bummer. It's a long list of maladies for these White Sox, worrisome in any scenario but perhaps more costly in a short season in which numerous players talked about staying healthy as a hopeful competitive advantage. But the White Sox are certainly not the only major league team bitten by the injury bug through the first couple weeks of this most unusual season, the months-long layoff and a brief ramp-up period before Opening Day figuring to have something to do with that.

The White Sox, expectedly, will continue to soldier on with pro sports teams' favorite mentality: next man up. The team called on a pair of arms from its alternate training site in Schaumburg, bringing local favorite and 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Burdi to the major leagues, along with Drew Anderson. The bullpen churn also saw the White Sox designate Brady Lail for assignment Saturday morning.


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How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

There was a lot the Western Conference's No. 12 seeded Blackhawks did right to upset the West's No. 5 seeded home ice Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Here's some observations:

Greasy goals

There was a common theme for a lot of the goals the Hawks scored against the Oilers, they were hard-earned and a lot of them were deflected into the Oilers' net. Five of the Blackhawks' 16 goals in the series came off deflections.

Matthew Highmore had a tip-in late in Game 3 to set the table for the 4-3 comeback victory, then scored the same way to put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period of Game 4. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had a Connor Murphy shot deflect off his shin pad for the game-winning goal in Game 3 with 1:16 remaining in regulation.

Throughout the series, the forwards got the puck to the D-men in the offensive zone and got to the front of the net to create a screen or try for a tip-in. The formula constantly worked for the Hawks and they need to keep at it for as long as they're in the postseason.

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Keeping McDavid and Draisaitl in check

Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid had the first and second most points in the NHL before the pause, respectively.

Against the Blackhawks in the qualifying round, they had a combined 15 points (five goals, four assists for McDavid; and three goals, three assists for Draisaitl), which may not read like an accomplishment, but considering the uncanny offensive talent the two possess, the Hawks definitely succeeded in limiting their chances and keeping them from reaching their full level of production or potential in the series.

Related: More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

Coach Jeremy Colliton and his Hawks definitely got the best of McDavid and Draisaitl when they were the home team and had last change in Games 3 and 4. Colliton often put Toews' line against McDavid's — as well as the Blackhawks' fourth line with center David Kamp occasionally. 

Toews and his line were able to play solid defense against McDavid and the other Edmonton combos they faced. The Blackhawks captain was also able to help the Hawks hang onto the puck, winning 55.34% of the faceoffs he took in the series. McDavid won 43.1% of his draws in the qualifying round.

The PK

The Hawks went 12-for-17 on the penalty kill, including 5-for-5 in Game 4, in the play-in series against the Oilers. Chicago only allowing Edmonton five power-play goals in the entire series is pretty impressive as the Oilers touted the best power-play in the league during the regular season.

Maintaining a strong PK would benefit the Hawks in Round One, but so would staying out of the box to avoid an unfavorable momentum swing.

Captain seriously good

Toews had a monster series, resembling his former 2010 Conn Smythe-winning self in how he was able to take over some of the games in the qualifying round against top players like McDavid and Draisaitl.

In addition to being able to limit McDavid and win a majority of his draws, Toews had seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ had two two-goal games (Game 1 and Game 3) in the series and won a battle behind the net to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck in front for the series-clinching goal in Game 4.

The Crow

After missing the first 12 days of the Hawks' Phase 3 training camp after recovering from COVID-19, Crawford progressed into looking like the two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie he is and appears to have plenty of quality hockey left in the tank.

After allowing 13 total goals in the first three games of the series, Crawford played his best contest on Friday, saving 43 of 45 Oilers shots for the win. It definitely looks like he's now in postseason form.

Young guns

The Blackhawks younger players really stepped up in the qualifying round series. After Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach was arguably the most consistently good Hawk.

Dach, 19, was only held off the scoresheet in Game 4 after logging a three-game point streak with four assists to start the series. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to score a point in his first three playoff games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985.

Kubalik, 24, set a new Blackhawks record for rookie points in a playoff game with his five-point performance in Game 1, scoring two power-play goals and picking up three assists. Steve Larmer held the previous record. Larmer had four points (one goal, three assists) in Game 2 of the 1983 Division Finals. Larmer went on to win the Calder Trophy in 1983.

Kubalik also became the first player to record five points in his postseason debut in NHL history. 

Highmore, 24, put the Hawks ahead 2-1 at 7:56 of the first period of Game 4 after tipping in a Duncan Keith shot from in front of the net. It was the second straight game Highmore scored off a deflection. In Game 3, he tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third period, deflecting a shot from defenseman Slater Koekkoek past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and setting the table for Toews to complete the 4-3 comeback victory.