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Phoenix Football Rising

By Todd Thomas

North Lawndale College Prep has been a force in Chicago Public League basketball for years, and now the football team is starting to show their potential as they close out a 7-2 season. The Phoenix finished third in the Big Shoulders Conference – narrowly missing out on a State Playoff berth.
After a winless 2016 campaign, that saw them go 0-9 in the tough Illini Conference, the Phoenix were determined to rebound behind second-year head coach Dedrick Dewalt. They found new life after being placed in the Big-Shoulders conference with a more level playing field that didn’t have them competing against the top football teams in the city.
“The drop in competition was beneficial to us. The level of talent in the Big Shoulders was not what it was when we played Simeon, Curie, and Westinghouse, in the Illini Conference,” Dewalt said.
The change in conferences coincided with an influx of new players at key positions. One player was quarterback Rayion Williams, a basketball player with a history of success in youth football, but no experience in high school.
Despite his lack of experience, Williams posed a threat as a runner and passer, and accounted for over 20 touchdowns.
“I missed football and I wanted to get back on the field for at least one year,” Williams said. “I saw my basketball teammates playing and I wanted to have the experience of playing with them on the court and on the field.”
The Phoenix were fortunate to have two capable quarterbacks, and in addition to Williams, junior Marquise Earskines also saw significant playing time. They brought different, but complementary skills to the field.
“Marquise was the better passer – so I could do a lot more with him down the field. But Rayion can run and pass and has the uncanny ability to make something out of nothing. It kept defenses off balance,” Dewalt said.
One of the primary targets on the football field was senior receiver/linebacker David Forrest, who caught several TD passes and also scored on defense and special teams. Forest is also a basketball player, and he too, didn’t initially want to play football.
“I thought about it, but no I hadn’t actually planned to play football. My teammates told me to come out and see what I could do. Once I got out on the practice field it was fun so I just stuck with it,” Forest said.
The Phoenix started out the year with a big 33-0 win over Little Village, and a 30-8 victory vs. Ag Science. Wide receiver/defensive back LeDarius Toliver knew then that this season would be a good one for the Phoenix.
“After the first game I saw how improved our offensive line was, and how smart our quarterbacks were. I knew we were going to have a breakout year,” he said.
Toliver made an impact on Dewalt, who said: “Anything that he puts his hands on he’s going to catch. He’s my most dependable player on the roster. He does things the right way on and off the field.”
Toliver puts it this way: “I’m short so I can’t wait for the ball to meet me. I have to go up and get it. I have to use my athletic ability to out jump the defenders, or get to the ball before they do,” he said.
The Phoenix defense also helped carry the load, and senior defensive end Jaylin Strong, also a newcomer to the football team, was at the forefront.
“He’s the best player on the team, he was dynamic all year – he was unblockable,” Dewalt said. “He needed the state playoffs to showcase his skills – he’s division 1 talent.”
The football players at NLCP also aim to be better students, and the charter school holds them accountable. No F’s are permitted, and although the academic standards do result in some ineligibility over the course of a season, it’s accepted by the players as part of the NLCP experience.
“It helps us because NLCP prepares us for the real world too, Toliver said. “Our work is a little harder, but if you need it the extra support it’s there. It keeps you on the right track – they put academics first.”
The extra support comes from fellow students as well as teachers said quarterback Earskines.
“If we see a teammate struggling in class and I’m good in that class we help each other out. If we see our brother struggling we help him out. It’s not like everybody is on a different page, we’re on the same page trying to have the same success, that’s the family we’ve got,” he said.
Although they were 7-2 and played and exciting style of football, fan support was sparse at most crosstown stadiums including Rockne, Hansen, Gately and Lane. They had one game scheduled at nearby Douglas Park, but it was cancelled. Williams said he would like to see more support from the school to boost interest in the football program.
“We’re sometimes overlooked – if we had the support like that basketball team it would encourage the players, and motivate the students to get behind us. I think they should promote the games more and put out flyers letting people know when we play,”he said.
Looking forward to next season, getting out of the blocks strong shouldn’t be as challenging as far as recruiting enough players, but the expectations will rise.
“Next year our juniors have a hard task,” said assistant coach Rodney Mathews. “They’ve got to go 7-2 or better. They can’t decrease – they have to increase their wins and elevate their game with more consistent weight training. That will help the football and basketball teams.”

AT THE FLICKS By David Schultz, film critic

By David Schultz, film critic

Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour (2017)

The jowly faced prosthetics and the performance that hides an unrecognizable Gary Oldman that surely should make him Oscar bound in one of his best performances of his career. Gary Oldman totally absorbs himself into the role of Winston Churchill who becomes the reluctant choice as the new Prime Minster who finds himself under siege by the Parliament members. While Hitler’s forces get closer to England; having taking over most of Europe, having invaded Poland, Czech, Holland, etc.
Initially not viewed in high regard after his decision in the Gallipoli battle during WWI; Churchill receives a cordial visit from King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) who offers an olive branch of support in his appointment.
Even though the Parliament’s initial choice for Prime Minister, Halifax (Stephen Dillane) felt this wasn’t his time after a scandal gets the current P.M. Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) to resign the post
Just prior to his appointment, Churchill becomes rather abrupt to a newly hired secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) that later takes some coaching from Churchill’s strong willed wife, Clementine (Kristen Scott Thomas) to not be so gruff to the new girl who ultimately becomes his right hand.
From May 9, 1940 to the Operation Dynamo; we observe Winston Churchill as a man of private moments of self-doubt caught up in the inner workings of British government during his first term.
Until he strays away from his true self and feelings that takes him to act out of character to regain his perspective. When he decides for the first time to exit the limo and enter the subway to chat with the commoner on the train about how they view Hitler and the possible war looming to their country.
From this encounter, Churchill regains his focus to confront the Parliament for a fiery speech that emphasis a defiant spirit to fight no matter how outnumbered or the outcome.
The energetic pacing and direction from Joe Wright who creates a fascinating biography war drama that makes “Darkest Hour” shine through Gary Oldman’s captivating performance. This is a movie well constructed by its dialogue than its action that captures the vulnerability of this historic figure that wasn’t particular well liked of thought-of by those that reluctantly chose him to handle the country’s biggest concern during its darkest hour.
PG-13; 125min. A Focus features Release – Presented at selected theaters

Juno Temple in Wonder Wheel (2017)

Behind the backdrop of the 1950’s seashore Coney Island amusement park, a daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple) on the run from his mob husband seeks sanctuary from her long, estranged father, Humpty (Jim Belushi) with a fire starting 10 yr old son, Richie (Jack Gore). Humpty has since remarried to an unhappy ex- actress turned waitress/ wife in despair approaching her 40th birthday, Ginny (Kate Winslet) who make the mistake of cheating on her first husband, a jazz drummer whom she realizes taught her what love is, compared to what her current husband currently show what love isn’t.
While Humpy softens his stanza toward his daughter for marrying too young to a mobster. He allows her to hideout and gets employed at his wife’s diner. Ginny begins to have another affair with an articulate lifeguard, Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake, who is also the film’s narrator). A former WWII navy veteran striving to be a playwright that ignites an” older woman, younger man” relationship. Until its love at first sight, when Ginny introduces Carolina, more intriguing for her past experiences that fascinate him as well as being closer to his type in age.
While the two women are clearly in love with the same men. It’s clear through the Oscar worthy performance of Kate Winset who plays the character with a certain edge that eventually gets the better of her. Clearly, Ginny needs the attention out of desperation for what’s lacking in marriage to Humpty. This leads to a mental misstep that leads to a tragic outcome those effects all in writer-director Woody Allen’s domestic period piece, romantic tragedy.
“Wonder Wheel” is a movie that captures a certain hue in these characters that seems to comes in three shades in most Woody Allen films. While , some of what occurs amidst this love triangle feels like a rehash to several past Allen films that looks more nostalgic than the attitude of the characters that become caught up in familiar infidelity themes.
PG-13; 101min. An Amazon Studios Release – Presented at selected theaters

Allegra Fulton, David Hewlett, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s overall fascination with monsters and the cinema continues to evolves from what could have been expected as another horror movie treatment.
Instead; we are treated with an unexpected romantic fantasy in his latest offering “The Shape of Water”. Sort of a wondrous nostalgic mix of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” meets Steven Spielberg’s “E.T” meets “Cinema Paradiso” that is intended to be an adult fairy tale.
Sally Hawkins delivers an exceptional performance as a lonely mute woman, Elisa with a scarred past represented by her neck markings. Elisa lives in mundane obscurity with an unemployed repressed gay commercial artist, Giles (Richard Jenkins).
Set during the 60’s; They live in an apartment adjacent to an old movie theater palace. While Elisa is employed as a janitorial assistant alongside her chatty co-worker and protector, Zelda (a wonderful Octavia Spencer) who works at a secret government laboratory facility.
Where perfectly creepy and villainous Michael Shannon is easily despicable as federal agent, Richard Strickland who arrives with a nameless, amphibian-like creature (Doug Jones) from the depths of South America inside a murky glass tube tank.
Awaiting further orders from the General, Shannon’s character rather kill the creature than fulfill the scientists desire to learn from the creature that could serve a purpose in the Cold War.
After an incident occurs Elisa and Zelda are assigned to clean up the bloody mess. When Elisa notices and becomes infatuated by the creature who at first, represents symbolically what’s been missing from her life.
A kindred spirit develops into a form of communication between them that is quietly observed from a distance by a scientist, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlberg) whose a double agent working with the Russians who like the Americans would capture the creature to kill it to prevent its knowledge and use on the other country.
But from these stark and tense dramatic moments comes lyrical, magical expressions through the nostalgic songs of the 40’s. The best of the lot, “You’ll Never Know’ giving way to the inner thoughts to Elisa who fills a void in her life through her concern and later sensual feelings for the creature that develops a plan to save the only thing in life to love her back.
This eventually leads to the two species making love under water by flooding the apartment bathroom. Done with style and grace by del Toro supported by an enchanting music score from Alexander Desplat. Nothing as gratuitous as was done years ago in 1980’s awful and laughable cheap, “Humanoids from the Deep”
More visual and technical sound than its script; “The Shape of Water’ is an eloquent banquet that represents del Toro’s best effort. The story is a revisionist’s effort to make something special out of the familiar that is at least, a refreshing departure from the usual movie fare.
R; 123min. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release – Presented at selected theaters

North Lawndale College Prep Phoenix Basketball

By Todd Thomas

North Lawndale College Prep’s basketball season began last week, and the Phoenix were impressive, defeating four teams, including Waukegan to take first place at the Grant Thanksgiving Tournament.

Last year the team went 20-9, and they’d like to match that total, but the task will not be easy after the graduation of several key seniors including, Stephen Ross, Martrell Barnes, and Carlos Hines. However, the Phoenix usually don’t rely on one player to carry the load, and the mantra has always been teamwork and aggressive defense by committee. Head coach Lewis Thorpe thinks this year’s squad has embraced the philosophy.

“They have bought into our system, and they believe in our coaching staff. That alone is going to win games,” Thorpe said.

Several of the team’s key players participated in football this fall and David Forrest, Rayion Williams, Jalen Thorpe, and Marquese Becton were instrumental in helping improve the team’s performance from the previous season when they were winless, to a respectable 7-2 record.

Some questioned the wisdom of risking injury, and sacrificing preparation time for the basketball season by playing football, however, the Phoenix were fortunate to remain relatively unscathed. The athletes also said they learned valuable lessons from their experience on the football field.

“I’m happy I played football. It made me tougher and it increased my sports IQ,” said senior point guard Rayion Williams, who played quarterback on the football team. “Playing quarterback improved my timing and decision making as far as knowing when to make the right passes, and staying poised.”

David Forrest was also busy on the football field, playing linebacker and wide receiver. He admits to being a little fatigued, but said he’s feeling good, and can’t wait for the basketball season to begin.

“My body feels great. I’m a little tired, but being a student/athlete this is the type of thing you’ve got to go through to succeed. It just makes me a stronger person mentally and physically, so I feel good. I’m just ready for the season to begin,” Forrest said.

But coach Thorpe does express some concern that the toll football takes on the body might affect the team’s performance early in the season.

“I expect us to compete, but I’m a little concerned with the early games because we have so many guys who are dinged up from playing football. I don’t think right now they’re in the shape they need to be to compete in the Red-West,” Thorpe said.

One player that did not play football, is Rashaun Hill. The senior guard comes to the Phoenix by way of a transfer from Carver High School. He said he’s ready to contribute, and make up for lost time after sitting out his junior season.

“I’ve been playing basketball almost everyday since I was in fifth grade so it was hard not putting on a basketball uniform for a whole year,” he said. “I’m not nervous, but I’m a little edgy because I sat out my junior year. But when the season starts I think I’m going to be ready, Hill said.

He said that NLCP’s commitment to academic success factored into his decision to transfer, as well as the basketball team’s will to win.

“They put academics in front of athletics, and I also see that the team really wants to succeed. They’re tough and they’re really close, so I just gave it a chance and came over to the Red-West.”

The competition will be stiff in the conference, as it is every year for North Lawndale, and the team is relatively young, although not inexperienced, having played summer league ball together.

Emerging juniors will play a big role, and challenge the seniors for playing time, while the seniors try to make their final season memorable.

Posting a winning record, and making a strong post-season run is the goal, but Williams said he’ll judge the success of the campaign on more than wins and losses.

“If we start as a brotherhood and finish as a brotherhood – that’s an accomplishment and a bond that can never be broken. It’s not just about winning games, it’s about being a family – having each others back and sticking with each other, Williams said.

But the winning legacy forged by players like the late Jonathan Mills, Jermaine Winfield and “Z” Jones is always present on the NLCP campus. They won city and state titles in the past, and senior forward Marquese Becton, who traveled downstate with them when he was a kid, said he wants to have the same experience himself.

“I went downstate with them and rode the team bus, stayed at the hotel, and was in the locker room with them,” Becton said. “I look up to those dudes, they were role models to me, and I want to win city and state just like I watched them win city and state titles.”


The M.W. Celestial Grand Lodge and I.A.T.I.A. Tabernacle Grand Chapter O.E.S. in partnership with Faith Community Baptist Church Back to School Event

“Are y’all ready for school, alright come and get your book bags 5thgraders,” was the call shouted by the DJ for youth to get in line for book bags filled with school supplies for each grade through high school. Invited by Grandmaster Willie Black, North Lawndale Community News (NLCN) came out to cover the event held on Saturday, August 26.

The event was a success with the help of volunteers from the M.W. Celestial Grand Lodge, where M.W. stands for Most Worshipful, the I.A.T.I.A. Tabernacle Grand Chapter of the Order of Eastern Stars, where I.A.T.I.A stands for I Am that I Am (the female counterparts of the Masons), and partnering with Faith Community Baptist church with Deacon Reginald Sanders, and Spirit of Truth with Paster Rev Robert Patterson, along with other church and community volunteers.

The event was well attended by youth and community on the streetway of St. Louis and Flournoy. Grandmaster Black commented, “the community came out to help cleanup and setup for the event. In an area, sometimes populated by drug dealing and gangs, it was peaceful and good to see generations, young  and old together enjoying the outside and each other without the cloud of gangs and drug dealing hovering in their site.

The group has been sponsoring this event for eight years with the help of people like former Ald Chandler and now Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. In addition to the book bags, food was provided which included hot dogs, ice cream, chips, and pop. There was also a clothing giveaway and HIV screening inside Faith Community Baptist Church.

The M.W. Celestial Grand Lodge is located at 616 S. Saint Louis Ave, Faith Community Baptist Church is located at 3456 W. Flournoy St., and Spirit of Truth Baptist Church is located at 3447 W. Harrison St. For more information contact Grandmaster Willie Black at 708-752-5785.


Cinemas Entertainment, set to reopen 10 Screen Theater In Lawndale

After its multi-million-dollar upgrade, the new theater to employ more than 35 from local community

Cinemas Entertainment, a movie theater ownership and management company based in Chicago, is set to open on September 9, its newest venue located in Chicago’s Lawndale community. Located at 3330 W. Roosevelt Road (Roosevelt & Homan), Cinemas Entertainment 10 is a ten-screen theater that will show major studio new release movies and relevant independent films. “We have updated the entire facility which was already in good shape when we moved in,” stated Henry Leong, president and CEO of Cinemas Entertainment. “Most notably, we have installed new, state-of-the-art projectors for each of the ten screens along with new, advanced sound systems.”

The theater was built less than 20 years ago and it sits immediately in the Lawndale Plaza Shopping Center. Cinemas Entertainment has already hired more than two dozen employees from the local community and training is underway. “We are very pleased to restore this facility for the Lawndale community,” stated John Nguyen, general manager of Cinemas Entertainment. “The Ward office, local churches and community groups have been a great help. We are excited to create a viable destination in Lawndale and to do that with Lawndale talent.”

The 10 theater location was formerly called Ice Theaters and owned by Donzell and Lisa Starks, who beat out basketball fame and retired NBA star Magic Johnson in 1997 for city subsidies to build new movie theaters in minority neighborhoods, including the one in Lawndale. After Ice Theaters financial difficulties, closing, and reopening in 2011, the Lawndale movie theater closed again in 2013 until now, under the new ownership of Cinemas Entertainment.