Longtime Kelly football coach dies at 93
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com January 31, 2014 6:10PM
Francis Prendergast | Supplied photo
Updated: February 1, 2014 5:44PM
Many athletes who played football at Kelly High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side over four decades can thank Francis Prendergast for their knowledge and love of the game.
Mr. Prendergast, who coached, taught and served as athletic director at Kelly, was the school’s varsity football coach from 1950 until 1983, according to his son and a school official.
Mr. Prendergast, 93, died Wednesday.
His entire career was spent at Kelly, 4136 S. California Ave., said one of his four children, Tom Prendergast.
“He was the AD later, but he was best known as the football coach,” Tom, 61, said Friday. “His old players still kept in touch with him.”
He was known as “Coach” by his players, and “Penny” by his family, said Tom, the chairman and CEO of the MTA, New York’s version of the CTA.
His father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, Tom said.
Tom never played football for his father because the family lived in the Logan Square community on the North Side and Tom attended Lane Tech. But he was near his father on the gridiron when Kelly played its games.
“I was the ball boy when I was 10 or 12, and then I was in charge of filming the games. That was before videotape. We had the film developed downtown the next day after the game, and the players would all come over and watch the film. He was a great father to us, but I’d say that from when summer training began until the city title game in November, his real family then was his football team,” Tom said.
His father “won more games than he lost” in his years at the school in the Brighton Park community, Tom said, but Mr. Prendergast’s teams never had the chance to play for the city title.
“They lost to Harlan in the semifinals one year,” Tom said.
During his coaching career, Kelly had some of the largest enrollments among city schools before Bogan and others were built on the Southwest Side. With such a large student enrollment, Mr. Prendergast was always able to find some big bodies for his football teams.
“I remember that his team in ’59 had an offensive line that was bigger than Notre Dame’s,” Tom said.
A number of Kelly players went on to play football in the Big Ten, he said.
Mr. Prendergast was born in 1920 in a small town in western Illinois. The family moved to Chicago during the Great Depression and the city was his home thereafter.
“As a father, he was great. He was actively interested in what we did. He never pushed us into athletics. We were all very close to him. He imparted on me and his players the importance of playing as a team,” Tom said.
Mr. Prendergast had “a simple mantra,” his son said. “It was, ‘Do you lead, do you follow, or do you get the heck out of the way?’ ... Well, he might have used another word instead of ‘heck.’ ”
Mr. Prendergast served in World War II with the Army Air Corps as a drill instructor. Tom laughed noting that his father’s ultimate career choice had something in common with what he did while serving his country.
As a young man, Mr. Prendergast “was a very good basketball player and gymnast in high school,” his son said.
He never played football in school, “but he was a student of football, a Bears fan and a Northwestern fan,” Tom said.
Mr. Prendergast was married to the late Julia (nee Sokolowski) for 40 years. They had four children: Patrick, Kathleen Hall, Thomas and the late Michael.
Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Muzyka & Son Funeral Home, 5776 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago. A funeral service will begin there at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, with interment at St. Adalbert Cemetery, 6800 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles.
Flowers and condolences may be sent to the family in care of the funeral home.