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Whitney Young unveils new athletic complex named after Michelle Obama

The $4.3 million facility will serve several of the school’s sports teams and will also be open to the public.

Whitney Young Magnet High School unveiled a new mixed-use athletic complex Aug. 8, 2019.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The boys and girls soccer teams at Whitney Young Magnet High School are among the school’s sports teams that haven’t played many home games the past two years. If they did, they would have been playing on what was essentially a dirt field with patches of grass.

The teams at the Near West Side school have been bouncing from one field to the next, usually driving to another neighborhood for both practices and games.

“It’s been bad, because we have to go somewhere else to play games, and then we can’t really get our students at those games,” senior boys varsity soccer player Esme McCarthy said. “We’d have less than 10 people in the stands.”

That’s part of the reason why officials at Whitney Young on Monday unveiled a new $4.3 million athletic complex named after alum and former first lady Michelle Obama, in what’s thought to be Chicago’s first public facility dedicated for an Obama.

CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade (middle left), Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (middle) and Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner Monday cut the ribbon on the school’s new athletic facility.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

A couple hundred people turned out for a block party and ribbon-cutting ceremony to catch their first look at the state-of-the-art fields, which include artificial-turf baseball/softball and football/soccer fields, a track, fencing, gates, bleacher seating, lighting and scoreboards.

The complex — which is available for use by neighborhood residents — is slated to serve the selective-enrollment school’s soccer, football, softball, baseball, lacrosse and track teams. The “Michelle Obama Athletic Complex,” as it’s called, is situated west of Skinner Park and east of Laflin Street, between Monroe and Adams streets.

“I just think it’s a really good opportunity to get people from our community, not only our school, to come to the games and to be involved in what we do here,” said Rodney Bejabeng, 18, another boys varsity soccer player. “It’s more accessible and just prettier of a field.”

Boys soccer coach Ian McCarthy, whose team was the first to use the field at a Monday afternoon try-out — said he’s happy to be able to practice and play games just across the street from the school.

“Rather than putting a bunch of equipment on a bus or in my car, just walking out here and being able to train will be great,” McCarthy said.

The Michelle Obama Athletic Complex opened for use Monday at Whitney Young Magnet High School.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The school had been in talks with city officials for about six years to come up with the funding for the project before the City Council approved it in November 2017 and construction began last summer.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who helped secure the funds, said “what they’re getting today is what they deserve. This school deserves a nice facility for their young people.”

Burnett also noted Obama’s focus on healthy living as a good precursor to the complex being named after her. While Obama didn’t play sports at Whitney Young, she championed her “Let’s Move!” national fitness campaign during the family’s two terms in the White House, in an effort to fight childhood obesity.

She said said in a video message played at Monday’s event that the new fields are for “people of every age to stay healthy and have some fun.”

In a video message, Michelle Obama Monday addresses the crowd gathered for the unveiling of her former high school’s new athletic facilities.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

“To have my name on this incredible athletic complex is such and honor, and I just want to say thank you,” the former first lady said.

CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade called the new fields a “premiere sports facility,” and said she hopes students using the fields “realize that not so long ago [Obama] was here at Whitney Young and that they, too, can achieve all their wildest dreams.”