Loyola game provides Phillips a special moment in a difficult year

The Wildcats showed up hoping to win, of course, but COVID-19 has taught all of us not to take what used to be everyday events for granted.

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Loyola’s Braden Mullen (54) takes down Phillips’ Tyler Turner (17).

Loyola’s Braden Mullen (54) takes down Phillips’ Tyler Turner (17).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Top-ranked Loyola dominated Phillips on Friday in Wilmette. The 30-0 score tells that tale.

The Wildcats showed up hoping to win, of course, but COVID-19 has taught all of us not to take what used to be everyday events for granted.

High school sports, at their core, are about providing special moments for kids to remember for the rest of their lives. They’re about getting a chance to play with your friends, in front of your family, and to represent your community.

Chicago Public Schools high school students have missed out on so many of those moments since COVID-19 hit, countless things all of us were able to experience during our senior years.

That’s why the game Friday, despite the score, was so important for Phillips coach Troy McAllister and his kids. They picked up a moment to remember: a day they went and got hammered by the best football team in the state, with an opposing student section chanting at them and their parents watching from the stands.

‘‘I was fired up [when Coach told us he had scheduled the game] because we have a Public League schedule, and everybody knows CPS teams aren’t the best,’’ Wildcats senior Vontrell Chairse said. ‘‘As a team, we wanted a tough task. And I feel like we came out and put our hearts on the field. There’s just little things we need to clean up, and then we will be better.’’

Chairse is a Toledo recruit. Just a few weeks ago, it looked as though his senior season would be made up of a handful of blowout games against Public League teams, possibly without any fans in the stands.

‘‘We would do this 100 times out of 100, to have this opportunity to come here and give the kids this experience,’’ McAllister said. ‘‘We get to send our seniors off with a non-CPS game where they get a true high school experience of playing a top team in the state. And for our young guys, they get to see how important hitting the weight room is and how it makes you a better team.’’

The challenges Phillips overcame to become the first Public League school to win a state title in 2015 are well-documented. COVID-19 only has added to the list.

The Wildcats haven’t had access to their weight room since the pandemic began. Some schools, including Loyola, have been practicing and hitting the weight room for more than a year, preparing for this season.

‘‘It’s pretty clear they’ve been in the weight room, and we haven’t had access to one,’’ Chairse said. ‘‘They did their job; hats off to them. We got to play the best team in the state, and you can’t ask for more than that. It was a great opportunity.’’

Phillips has high expectations for junior quarterback Tyler Turner. He was 7-for-21 for 104 yards with one interception and was sacked five times. Junior Avante Savage caught four passes for 84 yards.

‘‘That was awesome,’’ Turner said. ‘‘I took some hits, for sure, but it was fun. A great competition and a great learning experience.’’

Turner’s father, Nate, was a star at Nebraska and played for the Bills in the NFL. He was there to watch his son.

‘‘He got beat up pretty good,’’ Nate Turner said. ‘‘A couple of those Loyola guys look like they should be in the NFL. They were coming, and we didn’t have an answer for them. Tyler was ducking and dodging.

‘‘But the future is bright. It was awesome for the kids to be out here and play the No. 1 team in the state and have this moment. They will learn from it and move forward.’’

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