Addison: Lane Tech, Gordon Tech and the Battle for Addison Street

Addison IconBy Mike Chamernik and Kyle Rada
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, Nov. 26, 2012

Take a drive on Addison Avenue near the Chicago River, and you’ll see two high schools that couldn’t appear any more different.

One is Lane Tech, a public school consisting of a grandiose brick building overlooking sprawling green lawns, with a newly-renovated concrete-arched football stadium attached. It’s reminiscent of a college campus, and after school days, the students spill out onto the campus grounds wearing Lane green and gold.

The other is Gordon Tech, a Catholic school with a fairly modern school building on a modestly- sized plot of land. When these students file out of their school sporting “GT” emblazoned white polos and wait for a bus near Addison and California, their overall numbers are dwarfed by the Lane kids walking by.

Both schools have football programs, but while Lane is in the top-ranked 8A class, due to their enrollment of over 4,000, Gordon, with only about 500 students, is in the 4A class. B

ut, the schools do have a few things in common: 1.) they share Lane Stadium and 2.) both Lane and Gordon’s football programs haven’t been great as of late – Lane is 39-34 since 2006, while Gordon is 18-46 in the same timeframe. By no means, though, have the teams always struggled.

As recently as the 1980s, the Gordon Tech Rams had a much larger enrollment and was a top football program in Chicago, reaching the playoffs six times in the 80s. And Lane? The Indians made the playoffs from 1980-82 and from 1985-89. Due to the geographic proximity and success in football, Gordon and Lane were rivals during the decade.

“Big, big rivalries back in the day,” said Kevin Krebs, a quarterback at Lane from 1984 to 1987. “That was probably the height of the whole Public League-Catholic League rivalry, not just Lane Tech-Gordon Tech but the Southside Catholic Schools.”

Lane and Gordon squared off for a season-opening contest almost every season from 1980 to 1987, and they met in the playoffs three times during the decade in 1980, 1985 and 1989. Let it be known that these were battles. The games were always defensive showcases, and both sides pumped themselves up to beat their territorial rival.

“In my four years there, we were not going to lose to them,” said Ron DeLisi, a linebacker at the Gordon Tech from 1981 to 1985. “We’re not going to start a season out with a loss to Lane.”

It was known as “The Battle of Addison Avenue.” The players for both teams largely came from the same area, the Lakeview and NorthCenter neighborhoods near the school. With kids from the opposing schools growing up near each other, the rivalry was heated between the players.

“It was present everyday,” Krebs said, who used to walk across the Addison bridge that separated the two schools. “That was the path I took to get from my house to Lane. So I went past Gordon Tech every single day. There wasn’t a moment where you don’t think about that rivalry.”

The rivalry began in 1980, where the teams met twice. Gordon took both the opener (33-0) and the class 6A semifinal game (15-8). Gordon went on to win the state title that year under coach Tom Winiecki, the school’s second Chicago Catholic League championship and only state title. Gordon rolled for the next four years against Lane, posting victories by the scores of 27-6, 7-0, 18-0, and 16-0.

DeLisi remembers the 1984 game quite fondly. It was during his senior season, where he was named to the Chicago Tribune all-state team and appeared in the East-West Shrine all-star game down state. DeLisi, who was the only returning starter on defense that season, led his Rams to a 16-0 shutout.

The captain was motivated by something that happened prior to the season: after three of his teammates clashed with Winiecki, they split the program and jumped ship to Lane. Those three ex-Rams talked smack to DeLisi all summer.

“Myself and the defensive staff,” DeLisi said, “made it a point that we were not going to let the three kids that went to Gordon, didn’t make it and went to Lane, beat us. We added a little more vinegar into it that we were going to shut them out, and that’s what we did.”

The Rams went 8-3 in 1984, narrowly missing the state playoffs. In 1985, the Rams and Indians met in the playoffs yet again, with Gordon winning 19-13 in overtime. This game is remembered for the final scoring play: the Rams won on a Danny Phee, game-ending two-yard TD despite having 12 men on the field. The officials missed the infraction, and the game was not available for appeal according to the IHSA rulebook.

Lane’s season was over, while Gordon went on to make the semifinals. Gordon again cruised in 1986 against Lane, winning 21-6. This put their winning streak at eight games over the Indians. The contest in 1987 was a little different, though. With the Chicago teachers’ strike looming,  Krebs recognized the importance of their season opener against Gordon.With potentially no season, there would be no chances for colleges to scout Chicago players.

“That Gordon Tech game was potentially our only shot to really showcase our talents,” Krebs said.

And that’s exactly what he did. Krebs threw for 179 yards and ran in a touchdown in a Lane 27-20 victory.

“We really came to play that day,” he said, “and I had one of the greatest athletic days of my life.”

Krebs went on to make the 1987 Chicago Tribune all-state team. Gordon and Lane met again in the opening round of the 6A playoffs in 1989 (matchups were determined by proximity), where Lane took the game 21-14. Two rounds later, Lane lost in the quarterfinals. The first round Lane-Gordon playoff game would be the final football game between the schools. The rivalry was effectively over.

While the Lane-Gordon rivalry had good-natured moments – DeLisi recalls Gordon’s chant of “Wash ‘em in the river, hang ‘em on the line, we can beat Lane anytime” – the matchups also represented a larger issue. The Rams-Indians games showed just how powerful Catholic League schools were.

The Chicago Catholic League had, and still has, numerous powerhouse football programs. Not only did Gordon Tech belong to the league, but so did Mount Carmel, St. Rita, St. Lawrence, De La Salle, Brother Rice and Loyola. These teams regularly went deep into the state playoffs.

“Those were some really great games when [Catholic League teams] played each other,” said Jerry Shnay, a Chicago Tribune high school sports writer in the 1980s who also covered multiple Lane-Gordon games. “They were like Junior Varsity college games at times.”

The discrepancy between the Catholic and public school teams was rather large. Catholic programs dominated Chicago’s Prep Bowl, an annual contest between top Catholic and public league teams, taking 17 of 20 games from 1970 to 1989. It was seen in the Gordon-Lane matchups as well, with the Rams outscoring the Indians 156 to 33 in their eight victories from 1980 to 1986.

“There was the underlying animosity by a number of public league schools and coaches against catholic league,” Shnay said. “The public league schools had to get their athletes from their districts, from the area that they lived. The Catholic League schools were accused of recruiting from all over the city and the suburbs.”

The Catholic schools had a substantial advantage in that regard. They hand-picked the best players in the area since they weren’t kept to certain boundaries like the public schools were. Because of this, the Catholic schools then served as pipelines to the top football programs at the college level. Their football programs were simply more sophisticated than those of the public schools. This created a bit of a David-Goliath situation for the Lane Tech-Gordon Tech matchups.

“We were the school with all the kids but we didn’t have the resources that they did,” Krebs said. “We didn’t have the coaches, and our guys never grew up playing. We played football in the street, in the parking lots and pickup games. We didn’t play organized youth football.”

For Gordon Tech, though, their days of football dominance were over when the 1990s came around. Enrollment dipped, and Gordon, an all-boys school until 2002, dropped down to class 5A by the mid-90s. The annual season opener with Lane ceased. Gordon’s enrollment continued to plummet, from 2,500 in the 1980s, to 800 in 1999, to the current 500.

Because of that, it appears that rivalry will not be renewed anytime soon.

“It would be nice,” Shnay said, “but I don’t think, in reality, you’re going to get the level of competition in a public league football program against a Catholic League program.”

Whether the rivalry days are gone or not, the matchups are viewed fondly by those who played in them.

“It was something special back in the 80s,” said DeLisi, who was named to the Catholic League hall of fame and played college football at NIU.“Definitely a unique situation with two big schools like that. Over 7,000 kids within a two block radius and all the kids know each other from the different neighborhoods.” “

Those games were so fun for the entire area,” said Krebs, who went on to play quarterback at Northwestern. “They just generated this passion and emotion that we didn’t get when we played another school. There was something to that competition and that spirit and that emotion that is unforgettable.”

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