Former all-girls school makes history with boys basketball championship

With just four minutes left on the clock, Seton Academy's boys varsity basketball team was down 13 points against St. Ignatius College Prep.

But the team fought back, tying it up as the clock wound down.

In the next five minutes in overtime, the team won 68 to 57.

"That was my most memorable moment," says Seton guard Tony Nixon, 17, of the Dec. 12 game. "Our team really came together. To be down so much and then to come back."

It's an improbable spot for a school that just five years ago was open only to girls. Now, Seton officials are hoping the team's basketball success will help them recruit more male students, completing the school's transformation to a co-ed facility.

The directive to change the all-girl Elizabeth Seton High School to a co-ed Seton Academy came from the Chicago Archdiocese.

Seton suffered from falling enrollment, and the transition to a co-ed student body was designed to help, Guzman says.

When the school began admitting boys in 2003, just 60 enrolled as freshmen. Seton lacked a formal boys sports program and the proper equipment to go along with it.

"We had no forethought of building up a team," Guzman says. "We didn’t even have the equipment for a team."

That changed with the arrival of Ken Stevenson, a Whitney M. Young Magnet High School coach who eventually became Seton's athletic director.

A few of the boys that Stevenson had coached previously followed him to Seton, where he began putting together a team.

"The school was not used to having males around," Stevenson says. "We were like strangers in the building."

Stevenson started a freshman team with a group of boys who didn't have much experience with the game.

But over the next few years, the team improved. It began attracting better players like point guard D.J. Cooper, 18, who transferred to Seton this year from all-boys Hales Franciscan High School.

"He is a great talent," Stevenson says.

Cooper and Nixon also made history for the school by being the first boys to receive full scholarships to major basketball programs.

Nixon will attend Northern Illinois University, while Cooper will head to Ohio University.

The team has snared the Chicago Catholic League Championship and is contending for a state title.

"It’s a big achievement," says Anthony McKenna, director of admissions.  "It’s a feather in our cap.”

Senior class president Elexys Isidore, 18, says Seton kids don't generally talk about the historic nature of the boys basketball team.

"It's just like a normal day of high school," Isidore says. "It's not historic to us."

The school is simply excited to have a sports team that's doing well, she says.

She adds the win could help the school attract more students since boys follow athletics. But the name recognition of a winning sports team will likely bolster enrollment of girls too.

"It will attract both boys and girls," Isidore says. "It gets our name out there. Seton needs to have more students and there should be a balance between boys and girls."

The basketball team's high profile, along with other recruiting efforts, have enrolled 160 boys at Seton. The school is now 40 percent male.

Meanwhile, the basketball team faces its toughest challenge yet. It must win the next five games -- two regionals, two sectionals and one super sectional -- to snag a state title.

"I never thought we'd get this far," Stevenson says.