Lane honors heroic alum Fritz Pollard by naming football field in his memory


Jason Coulombe

Ald. Matt Martin reading the City of Chicago’s proclamation to name Oct. 1 Fritz Pollard Day.

By Saskia McDonogh Mooney, Editor-In-Chief

Alumni, parents, students, and staff all gathered in Lane Stadium Saturday, Oct. 1 to dedicate the field and honor alum Fredrick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard the first Black quarterback to play and coach in the NFL. 

A 1912 graduate of Lane, Pollard went on to play football briefly at Northwestern, Harvard and Dartmouth, before receiving a scholarship from the Rockerfeller family to attend Brown in 1915, according to the Fritz Pollard Alliance. That year, he led his team to victory at the Rose Bowl and became the first African American to play in this game, as well as the second to be named an All-American college football player. 

He went on to join the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, and became a coach for the same team in 1921. In 1954, he became the first Black man to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. However it was not until 2005 he became a part of the NFL Hall of Fame. 

“[He was] energetic, always positive, just the kind of guy that everyone would really want to know and meet,” Dr. Stephen Townes told The Champion about Pollard, his grandfather.

This man, and his incredible feats, is what the Alumni Association, Athletic Department and CPS Office of Sports Administration aimed to honor by naming the field in his memory. Representatives from these organizations were present on the field during the ceremony, in addition to Dr. Townes, Pollard Committee members, and the alderman of the 47th ward, Matt Martin. 

There were also numerous athletes from the baseball, football and track teams on the field whose names were called out by the announcer, Steve McEwen. Pollard was a member of all of these teams, and the purpose of acknowledging these current athletes was to showcase the legacy of champions. The BIPOC committee was present and acknowledged as well. 

Lane Tech Football alumni also stood on the sidelines and caught up with each other, fondly remembering their time at Lane and appreciating the reason for their return. 

“I’m very, very, glad that they’re dedicating this to Mr. Pollard,” said Eric Morgan, former football player and graduate of the class of 1983. “I never knew anything about him while I was at school. This is quite an honor, and I’m glad to be here to participate in it.”

After recognizing the players, Alderman Martin read a City of Chicago proclamation, officially making Oct. 1 Fritz Pollard Day in Chicago. Then, Cook County Commissioner and Lane alum Donna Miller read a county proclamation that served to name the field. 

Louis Carr, Lane alum and Pollard Committee member, gave a final speech. 

“It is with humility, gratitude and our collective embrace that we dedicate this field to Fritz Pollard, ‘Man of Firsts,’ who helped establish Lane as the ‘School of Champions’ and gave us all something to aspire to,” Carr said when closing out his speech before the unveiling of the plaques on the north end of the field. 

Four bronze plaques commemorate his achievements throughout four stages of his life — high school, college football, professional football and his career after football in business and social justice.

 “We hope that people will read them and be inspired to follow in his footsteps,” said Michelle Weiner, executive director of the Lane Tech Alumni Association. 

The plaques were written by NPR radio host, editor, journalist and Lane alum Robin Washington. He said he aimed to capture the essence of Pollard and his remarkable achievements. 

“The plaques will make sure they know who he was. We’re not going to let them forget it,” Washington said. 

With the unveiling and subsequent conclusion of the ceremony, many people went to read the plaques or mingle with each other before the start of the football game. While it all took a bit under an hour, the importance and impact was still felt. 

“It took two years, several months, and even more days, but the Pollard Family is very excited,” Weiner said after recounting the delays caused by COVID and leadership changes within CPS. “One of the descendants leaned over to me and said ‘This is way better than the NFL induction,’ I think because it’s authentic, and because it’s intergenerational and because it’s so hopeful for so many students who are here.” 

Inspiration, perseverance, and honor were the themes of the day and now, with the naming of the field, past, present, and future students can better understand the rich history of the school, and the valor of its alumni, according to Dr. Townes. 

“It’s not only inspirational for them [current students], it’s inspirational for me. I’m still being inspired by him,” Dr. Townes said.