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Rich Township to consolidate athletics after vote to close Rich East, board member says

The 4-3 vote to close Rich East, which opened its doors in 1952, took place on Oct. 15 — two days before the CTU strike began.

Football in Rich Township has fallen on hard times as East, Central, and South had a combined record of 7-20 this season.| Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media

After Rich East High School closes at the end of the 2019-20 school year, the school’s students will be a part of Rich Township High School District 227’s plan to consolidate the schools’ athletic programs.

The Rich Township High School school board voted to close the Park Forest high school and plans to consolidate students into the district’s remaining high schools — Rich Central in Olympia Fields and Rich South in Richton Park.

The 4-3 vote to close Rich East, which opened its doors in 1952, took place on Oct. 15 — two days before the Chicago Teachers Union strike began.

District board member Andrea D. Bonds, who confirmed the athletic program consolidation, said of the district’s three high schools, Rich East — the district’s oldest high school — would have been most costly for the district to renovate.

“Being on the board, we have to do what’s best for our kids,” Bonds said. “We understand how people in the community identify with the school. Being sensitive to that is how we move forward.”

The Daily Southtown reported that enrollment in District 227 has dropped by about 30% over the past decade, which continues to have an adverse effect in the Southland.

Football in Rich Township has fallen on hard times as East, Central and South had a combined record of 7-20 this season, amid declining enrollment, population loss, divestment and a lack of interest in football, among other issues.

South (1-8) had a particularly tough season, getting outscored 276-0 through their first seven games. The Stars forfeited their Sept. 27 game against Kankakee after a fight that broke out against Bloom the week before.

School officials at Rich South and Rich Central didn’t answer the Sun-Times’ request for comment.

When a school closes, teachers, parents, and coaches look to find an exit strategy.

At the end of the school year, Cornell Middlebrook will lose both his jobs as Rich East’s football and track coach.

The Rockets (3-6) had 25 seniors on the roster last season— only five players with varsity experience suited up for the team this year.

“I had a senior who never played football before starting this season,” Middlebrook said. “That’s what we were left with.”

Middlebrook, who has been at the school since 2012, said he has no idea what he’s going to do once the school year ends.

“It’s hard news to take right now,” Middlebrook said. “A lot of people are prideful about their neighborhood school. They graduated and still live here [Park Forest].”

Rich East quarterback Jeremy Lee’s entire family went to the school—and his father and uncle played football for the Rockets.

He sees the consolidation as being tough for everyone at the school. He says he has seen teachers crying at the school since the announcement, which he found out about on Facebook.

“Combining the sports will put more people on the street,” Lee said. “We’ll probably go up to [Class] 8A and play tougher teams.

“After I graduate, there’s no school for me to come back to.”

Several people who are stakeholders in Rich Township said “intentional divestment” and families opting to send their children to private schools forced the school board’s hand.

Bonds believes the district must make sure that every student has a chance to play sports in a fair way.

“We had freshmen playing varsity,” Bonds said. “Earlier this year, that student was in eighth grade. Now, they’re playing against 18-year-olds. ... They were getting beat up.”