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Phillips Academy senior Dewayne Collins — athlete and scholar — wins DuSable award

Leading your high school to its most successful football season in its 110-year history might be considered an achievement.

And maybe even more so when that school is beleaguered Wendell Phillips Academy, and your football team’s 2014 run is only the second time in history a Chicago public school made it to the state championship.

But Phillips senior Dewayne Collins adds to those honors achievements in track and field and an academic journey that took the Wildcats quarterback and captain from mediocre grades to the honor roll. He will be honored as a “Rising Star” by the DuSable Museum of African American History this weekend.

“When my principal called me down to his office to tell me, I thought I was in trouble, until I read the award letter,” said Collins, 19. He and his younger brother, Fabian, who will attend Phillips this fall, were raised by a single mother in crime-challenged Englewood.

“He’s a phenomenal kid. There’s just no other words to describe him,” said his mother, LaTonya Thomas, 39, who works as a sales associate at a big-box store and is a year from finishing her bachelor’s degree at Chicago State University.

“When you want your children to not become a statistic, you sacrifice and do everything you can, like sending him to football camps, which aren’t cheap, and buying all those shoes and uniforms. There have been times when I had to take him off the football team because of his grades, and he’s had to earn his way back on,” she said. “But the outcome is the young man you see before you.”

Dewayne will receive the coveted award, which honors amazing CPS students already making their mark, on Saturday at the 20th Annual “Night of 100 Stars” gala at the South Shore Cultural Center. DuSable’s don’t-miss event among the city’s black elite annually recognizes Chicagoans or people with Chicago connections who have made outstanding contributions through careers and civic engagement.

This year’s other honorees include Walter Massey, president of the Art Institute of Chicago; Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners; Dr. Ian Smith, author, TV and radio show host; and Salli Richardson Whitfield, actress, producer and director.

DuSable credited Dewayne with “bringing the pride back” to Phillips, in Bronzeville, the city’s first predominantly black high school. It boasts a who’s who of famous alumni including Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Marla Gibbs, Dinah Washington, George E. Johnson Sr., Gwendolyn Brooks and Alonzo Parham.

The Wildcats, the first Public League team since the 1982 Robeson High team to advance to the championship, ended their historic season with a second-place finish. Collins earned “Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year,” first team “All-State,” and first team “All-City” and also was a member of Phillips’ Class 2A 800-meter relay championship team, running anchor leg for the state title.

“His story is amazing,” said Phillips Principal Matthew Sullivan, who last October took the helm of the CPS turnaround school now run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

“This school was the second-worst high school in the state when AUSL took over in 2010. Coach McAllister had 12 players show up to his first football practice,” Sullivan said. “To have our team become the second in 32 years to make the state championship represents the growth we’ve made, and Dewayne’s own academic growth truly encompasses what we’re all about and trying to do here.”

Dewayne, who maintains a 3.0 GPA while taking honors and advanced placement courses, admits academics weren’t a priority for him during his freshman and sophomore years. Now he’s heading to University of Northern Iowa on a full ride scholarship, to major in exercise science, and he credits his mother.

“She always kept me motivated. When I thought I couldn’t do stuff, she told me I could. A lot of times I wanted to quit playing because I couldn’t handle the pressure, but she wouldn’t let me,” he said. “Back then, she’d be happy with what I was doing on the field, but become unhappy when she saw what I was doing off the field. I just decided one day I wanted to make her happy all the time.”