News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

The Gale From Yale

Swan Song

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

I'll be cheering for Yale this weekend. Although my loyalty to Mother Harvard is usually unwavering, neighborhood loyalties are stronger than college ties, and one of my oldest friends is starting in Yale's backfield.

Tyrell Hennings is a muscular 205-pound fullback, but when I first met him, he weighed in at a scrawny 130. We went out for freshman football together at Chicago's South Shore High School, and Tyrell played second-string quarterback. We played four years of ball together, and he was never to play second fiddle again.

Tyrell started for three seasons, was named All-City three times, back-of-the-week for the entire area after one two-touchdown performance, and captained the South Shore Tars his senior year. After a year at a New Jersey prep school to raise his SAT's, he went to Yale, where he now starts in the same backfield with Dick Jauron and has scored six TD's.

We grew up in what the sociologists call an "interstitial, which is a fancy term for a neighborhood that is falling apart. Our neighborhood had been lower middle-class white, but black people were moving in and the streets were increasingly torn by violence. Our sophomore year, team morale was shattered before one crucial game because several members of the team received death threats from the notorious Blackstone Rangers. "We don't care about Washington High," captain Craig Howard said in the tense locker room. "We just don't want the Stones opening up on its with shotguns when we line up on the field."

You played football in our neighborhood to prove you were a man, and you played rough. No fancy suburban passing, no wild flea-flicker plays, just a hard-nosed ass-kicking running game between the tackles. Football was always pushed as a way out of our neighborhood. If you hit hard and came to practice every day, you could go to college and not have to work in the steel mills.

Tyrell always worked the hardest. In addition to faithfully fulfilling the five-month annual practice regimen, he lifted weights in the off-season, ate wheat germ, and jogged several miles a day.

Since he had good speed, the extra weight and training made him a full-fledged star, and something of a local folk hero. Kids drinking wine on the corner would nod approvingly as he ambled by as if to say: "There's a dude doing what we should be doing."

Tyrell set his rights on Yale after he read about Calvin Hill. Because Gale Sayers was also his hero, senior year he began dubbing himself "The Gale from Yale." But the Ivy League required good SAT scores and, in our non-academic high school. Tyrell had not been prepared for college. He got good grades, but his boards were low. His mother, a strong-willed black woman, called me after he got his scores back, worried about his chances for college. I told her not to worry, but things did not look good.

But then a wealthy Yale alumnus, Bob Anderson '11, promised to finance Tyrell's stay at the Feddie School in New Jersey. He went, became All-State, raised his SAT's 300 points, and was admitted to Yale after a year. Now, together with Dick Jauron and Rudy Green, he really is the Gale from Yale.

The other guys from the neighborhood didn't make it. They either got married, started drinking or went into the service. The more successful are in the building trades unions. Tyrell wants to be either a doctor or a lawyer and return to our community. He has made it. If courage is defined as "grace under pressure," Tyrell Heanings always had a special grace.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags