CHICAGO — Kenwood Academy’s baseball season may not have ended how they wanted it to, but that didn’t stop them from having a historic year, thanks in part to the contributions of a trio of brothers.
Kevin Jr., K’Vion and Kevari Thunderbird were among the headliners of a deep, talented — and albeit, young — Kenwood Bronco’s squad that went 28-5 in route to a Chicago Public League baseball championship.
Unfortunately for Kenwood though, their season came to an end in a similar manner to the way it did a year prior; a loss in their IHSA Regional Final.
“I’m gonna be honest, because I’m always honest,” said Kenwood Head Coach Romey Bracey after their 5-2 defeat against Reavis High School Saturday. “That City championship took a piece out of us because we did something for the history of the program.”
Kenwood Academy, established in 1966, won their first ever Chicago Public League Title last Monday, a 2-0 victory over Walter Payton College Prep at Guaranteed Rate Field in which Kevari hurled a gem: 6 IP, 0 ER, 6 hits allowed, and 12 Ks.
Bracey later reiterated after the game that the Broncos’ goal was to do what has never been done before in the history of Illinois.
Become the first minority team ever to win an IHSA State Title.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m not extremely happy about today, but our main, no. 1 goal is to become the first minority team to ever win a state championship,” Bracey said. “It’s never happened before in the history of Illinois. We did what we were supposed to do for our school. Now, we’re trying to do something for our community and for our state.”
Aside from trying to become the first minority state champion in Illinois history, a state champion — in general — from the Chicago-area is a rarity in its own right.
Since the first state title game played in 1940, there have only been nine Chicago-based state champions in baseball, the last being Mount Carmel in 2013, and before them, Marist in 1978.
Now, the Kenwood baseball program and the Thunderbirds look toward the future, while remembering the accomplishments of the past.
Named after the trio’s father — who also played with head coach Bracey growing up — Kevin Jr. was Kenwood’s starting first baseman and is headed for Rust College in the NAIA to continue his education and baseball career.
He finished the year slashing .288/.438/.384 with 1 HR and 17 RBI.
One of two high school seniors in the Thunderbird family, Kevin Jr. is known as the father figure of the group, and for being wise beyond his years. Coincidentally, Kevin Jr. also joined the Kenwood baseball program the same season Bracey was brought in to steer the ship.
From day one, Kevin Jr. said winning a Chicago Public League championship was a part of Bracey’s vision for Kenwood, but it was only an added cherry on top that three brothers from the same family helped catapult the program to new heights.
“I came in here four years ago with Coach Romey [Bracey] and that was a main goal, to win a City championship,” Kevin Jr. said. “But it wasn’t a goal to have three brothers on the same team and to win a City championship.”
According to Kevin Jr., the key to that success was the standard of excellence set by Bracey — and every day since he was a freshman — it never changed. The only thing that did, was their opportunities to prove doubters wrong, and then follow through on their newly-anointed status as a top dog in the Chicago Public League.
“This team winning was to show that last year wasn’t a fluke,” Kevin Jr. said. “Many people didn’t have us winning 20-plus games last year, and a lot of people had us winning City [this year], so we had to go out there and prove it could be done.”
It’s hard to miss K’Vion.
The tallest of the three brothers and the other high school senior among the three, K’Vion pitched and functioned as a high leverage power bat for Bracey to plug and play when needed.
While K’Vion packed plenty of punch in the batter’s box and out on the mound, his first love is football, which led to him deciding to take his talents to Tempe, Arizona to attend Arizona State University next year, where he has a scholarship awaiting him to play linebacker for the Sun Devils.
K’Vion said the toughness and excitement around the game brings out the best in him, and it’s that love for the gridiron that has helped him unlock the same energy he showed out on the baseball field.
“In football, everything is competitive, non-stop,” K’Vion said. “So I bring all that energy on the baseball field. Whether it’s in the dugout, on the field or off the field, I just bring out the energy all the time.”
According to his head coach, that energy follows him everywhere he goes.
“[K’Vion]’s one of the backbones of this team. He was a big part of this team with just his aura,” Bracey said. “He has that young man aura about him.”
Kevari and Kevin Jr. describe him as being the professional of the group, or more simply put, the guy you can always count on to come through.
“I don’t worry too much about K’Vion because he knows how to carry himself,” Kevin Jr. said.
Kevari, Kenwood’s left-handed ace on the mound, will return for his senior season under Bracey, looking to capture that illusive state title before heading to Eastern Kentucky University to further his career as a pitcher.
Kevari led Kenwood in games started (8), strikeouts (57) and finished second in ERA (2.39) behind teammate Khamaree Thomas (2.07).
He’s the most outgoing and carries the most energy among the Thunderbirds, which according to his brothers, is plain to see.
“Kevari’s the youngest, so you know he plays a lot,” Kevin Jr. said with a smile.
Despite his energetic demeanor, Kevari also harbors an ultra-competitive nature. He’s someone who is often unafraid to shoulder a lion-share of responsibility.
“It’s definitely Kevari,” Kevin Jr. said when asked which of the three brothers is the most competitive. “He talks the most trash out of all of us. You obviously see what he does out on the field … but man, he’s just a great competitor.”
That competitive spirit in Kevari is best encapsulated by the highs of Kenwood’s City Championship, and the lows of coming up short in the IHSA playoffs.
“I couldn’t sleep that night. I wouldn’t say I was nervous,” Kevari said, reflecting on the City championship game. “I was just anxious to play at a big league field, play with my teammates that I grew up with and especially my brothers.”
The rest was just joy, as Kevari put it. He shined on the big stage by holding Walter Payton College Prep scoreless, the Broncos took home the City title, and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson offered them congratulations on their historic feat.
Five days later, joy became pain as Kenwood fell to Reavis with Kevari on the mound.
He pitched well, but struggled with control at times. Kevari threw 4.2 innings and gave up only three hits, but when paired with seven walks, those three hits turned out to be costly. Two of the three hits were for extra bases that also scored two runs a piece.
After the game, Kevari struggled for words, and as he is known for, felt the need to take the lion-share of responsibility, even though the game of baseball is far from an individualistic sport.
“We can’t just solely rely on his efforts. It makes him think that he has to be too perfect,” Bracey said after the game Saturday. “We’ve got to have more support for him as a team with our hitting, it’s not just him [out there].”
What’s Next For Kenwood?
Kevin Jr. was the only senior who was an everyday starter for Kenwood this year. On top of having Kevari return to pitch for Bracey’s Broncos, Kenwood returns two starters who have D1 college scholarships locked in among seven players who had 50 or more at-bats and hit over .300 on the season.
Junior Khamaree Thomas, the team’s starting center fielder and another plus-arm on the pitching staff, led the team in batting average (.423) while also pacing the team in ERA (2.07), and is set to play baseball at Michigan State.
Fellow junior, right fielder Savion Flowers, hit .409 while leading the team in HRs (4) and finishing second in RBIs (39). He intends to join Kevari at Eastern Kentucky once the two graduate.
Also returning is sophomore third baseman and pitcher Jimmy Downs, who hit .380 with 3 HRs and a team-high 40 RBIs, along with starting second baseman Phillip Thigpen and shortstop Damaurion Butler, who both finished the year with a .372 batting average.
Other players returning that crossed the .300 BA/50 AB threshold was junior left fielder Destin Edwards and sophomore super utility player Jonathon Patterson.
“I think next year will be a completely different story because they will have been there before,” Bracey said. “I think that the reason we lost last year was due to experience and then that helped us move forward this year. I think this year will hold the same type of weight for next year … I’m really excited for the room, I think we’ll make a run next year for sure.”