Payton’s transformation: A sports school

By: Hadli Joyce, Staff Writer

The Payton-Jones Golf Team after winning the city championships.

Walter Payton College Prep: The CPS high school named after the NFL alum and Chicago legend. Even though the school is named after such a prominent football player, Payton isn’t commonly known for its sports and is often overlooked by students looking to pursue athletics. Senior Oliver Bruce ‘22, a member of the boys varsity soccer team, says that Payton athletics do not receive as much respect as other schools-applicants will look to the likes of Lane, Whitney, or Ignatius when applying for high schools-but have we begun to see a change in the athletic powerhouse scene?

Payton has taken over the Fall Sports scene. Boys 16” softball, boys soccer, Payton football, boys golf, and boys cross country all won championships. Girls sailing placed eighth at nationals, while the girls tennis team won second in the city with Maya Jha ‘23 placing fourth in the state for girls singles. Alongside all of these wins, girls cross country placed second in the city with Jos Dziedzic ‘23 setting a Payton record in the girls three mile. Not to mention outstanding seasons from girls swim, girls volleyball, and girls golf, Payton has had a strong season.

Walking through the atrium, plaques and awards line the hallways, even so, most of them are from years ago. A sudden revival of Payton championships could be attributed to returning to a school with almost complete normalcy following two years of disruptions. Fall sports have had a challenging past two years with seasons being postponed and tournaments canceled.

Starting back in 2019, many successful Payton sports teams could not compete in state tournaments due to the eleven-day teacher strike. Conflicts with IHSA prohibited student athletes from participating while school was not in session. This forced an abrupt end to multiple potential championship teams and an upsetting end to many seniors’ athletic pursuits. Already disappointed from an incomplete end to their prior season, spring sports were just about to kick off in 2021 when COVID spread rapidly throughout the world, resulting in an outcome that no one could have predicted. Spring sports were canceled and any hope of returning to school in person quickly went away. Navigating a school year online drew attention away from athletics. As the pandemic continued on, many 2020 fall sports were forced to be pushed to spring of 2021. With fall and spring sports seasons both happening in the spring, seasons had to be shortened and tournaments had to be sacrificed. With all these setbacks, our athletes can finally take advantage of their full seasons this year, adding fuel to fire to do as best as possible.

It is true that Payton has been through a lot over the past few years, but many other CPS schools have gone through similar difficulties. Girls tennis member Maya Jha ‘23 says one reason Payton has stood out this year athletically is because “every team has made it a priority to form close bonds.” She also notes that “teammates were always supportive of one another.” When teams are stronger off the field, they tend to play better on the field. It’s no surprise that these recent successes accompany a season of strong bonds and team relationships.

Even with strong team bonds, has there been a shift in mentality around competing against schools that are usually known for being the best? Oliver Bruce ‘22 says “Yes, there is a shift in mentality.” He also insists that this mentality shift not only gives Payton teams extra motivation, but it serves as a “psychological advantage to being the underdog, especially when you know your team has the capability to win.” The underdog mentality helped the boys soccer team to its first city championship, a regional championship, and its first sectional championship. Although it may seem like a disadvantage, Payton teams have used this assumption of athletic inferiority to catalyze success.

If there is anything we can take away from this past sports season, it’s that Payton is here to compete and will not shy away from other talented schools. As long as entrance scores are what they are, the school will forever be associated with being a “smart” school, but student athletes may start to see Payton differently when applying to high school. After all, Walter Payton was known for his achievements on and off the field, and if he can succeed in both, so can Payton College Prep.

Photo courtesy of the Payton-Jones Golf Team

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