Having its own campus in Portage Park benefits Rickover Naval Academy after 15 years inside another high school
by BRIAN NADIG
In its third year in the Portage Park community, the Rickover Naval Academy is experiencing a renewed interest in its sports programs now that it has its own campus after being located inside Senn High School for nearly 15 years.
As a result school spirit has never been stronger, and parents and the general community are showing their support, according to school administrators.
“It’s a community now. People come and attend our games,” Rickover principal Michael Biela said. “We had 150 spectators at a wrestling match. It was crazy.” He added that it likely was the first wrestling meet for most of those fans.
Rickover is somewhat unusual in that it has female wrestling team members in almost every weight category in this coed sport, assistant principal Jennifer Narbert said.
In 2005 Rickover opened inside Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., but moved in 2019 to the former Luther North High School campus, 5700 W. Berteau Ave. Chicago Public Schools spent about $20 million in improvements to the facilities, which include a reconstructed outdoor running track.
About 70 percent of the cadets are involved in a competitive sport or activity, such as drill team, Biela said. All the major sports except football and several club sports such as sailing are offered, he said.
At the academy sports are viewed as another tool to help instill leadership, discipline and teamwork in participants.
Biela recalled at a game how a player made a mistake and was taken aside by teammates who calmly explained to her what she did wrong and what she should do next time in that situation. “They don’t tear each other down,” he said.
When a game or practice is over, players will often stay and root for another Rickover team in a different sport, Biela said. “They support each other across teams.”
The academy has about 475 students, with an ideal maximum enrollment of 750, although the school could accommodate around 1,000, Narbert said. Eighth graders can apply from around the city but many live in the surrounding communities, she said.
Applicants must attend an informational session and complete a questionnaire and two free response questions. Results from the CPS high school entrance exam also are considered.
On the questions, the school is looking at how a prospective cadet would react in certain situations, Narbert said.
Despite being a military academy, only a small percentage pursue a military career, as the vast majority go on to college. A senior typically qualifies for multiple college scholarship offers, often totaling $150,000 from several schools, Narbert said.