NORTH CENTER — The football field at Chicago’s biggest high school will be renamed after a 1912 graduate who broke barriers in collegiate and professional football.
Lane Tech College Prep will host a ceremony to dedicate its football field at its stadium to Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard during homecoming in the fall, Chicago Public Schools officials said Wednesday. An exact time and date will be announced closer to the event.
Pollard was raised in Rogers Park and played baseball, track and field and football at Lane Tech. After graduating, he became the first Black football player to play at Brown University at the Rose Bowl, according to CPS. He then became one of the first Black professional football players — signing his first contract in 1919, the year Jackie Robinson was born — as well as the first Black quarterback and the first Black coach in professional football.
Pollard was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Lane alumni have suggested the honor for Pollard as far back as the early 1990s, but the effort picked up steam after members of the alumni association shared posts about Pollard on social media in 2019, said Michele Weiner, president of the Lane Tech Alumni Association.
“We are thrilled to finally acknowledge this pioneer in sports, education, and racial equity,” Edwina Thompson, Lane Tech’s principal, said in a statement. “While this moment is long overdue, we are confident that the legacy of Fritz Pollard will continue to inspire generations to strive for greatness.”
In addition to being a triple threat athlete, Pollard was the founder of the Chicago Black Hawks and Harlem Brown Bombers football teams. He also published The New York Independent News, one of the first black-owned tabloids, founded and operated a talent agency, a music production company, and public relations, tax consultancy and investment firms.
The Lane Tech Alumni Association worked with the school and district leaders approve the name change and arrange for the renaming ceremony to take place during the football season, CPS officials said.
“As we emerge from this pandemic and our society’s collective reckoning with ongoing race, equity and access issues, we can’t think of a better way for the Lane Tech community to come together and celebrate a man who first played for the myrtle and gold and went on to break ground at Brown University and in multiple more fields and sectors across America,” Weiner said in a statement. “Sharing his story with the community has been a labor of love and source of school pride.”
“We are so grateful to all those who brought to our attention the fortitude and many accomplishments of Fritz Pollard,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We are excited to honor and celebrate this outstanding alum, athlete, coach and businessman.”
The renaming comes amid ongoing efforts to honor the Pollard family, Rogers Park’s first Black residents.
John Pollard was the son of free Black Virginians who sent their son to Kansas to avoid the risk of kidnapping and enslavement.
John Pollard joined the Union Army at 15, fighting in an all-Black regiment in the Civil War. After the war, he trained as a barber and opened his own barbershop in Mexico, Missouri, according to the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society. It was there that he met his future wife, Catherine Amanda Pollard.
The couple moved into the home at 1928 W. Lunt Ave. and raised eight children, many of whom had distinguished and pioneering careers. Fritz Pollard’s siblings include Naomi Pollard, the first Black woman to graduate from Northwestern University, and Luther Pollard, one of the first Black directors and producers of silent films.
Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society along with the current owners of the Pollard home in Rogers Park recently asked the Park District to rename Paschen Park, 1932 W. Lunt Ave., to Pollard Family Park.
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