By Nic Maksud, Dominic Scianna and Michael Wojtychiw
As the Chicago Public League (CPL) enters the midway point of its football season in 2023, Mickey Pruitt, a former city gridiron star, juggles not only football duties but a full slate of CPL competitions. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Pruitt’s tenure as senior director of Chicago Public School’s (CPS) sports administration.
His career path and CPS story is one for the archives. Pruitt began as a student-athlete at Mahalia Jackson, Brainard Park and Avalon Park playing baseball, basketball and football on Chicago’s Southside before graduating to Robeson High School. At Robeson, he became a noted football star for the Raiders and had several college offers before signing on to receive a full scholarship to the University of Colorado.
He was a part of head coach Bill McCartney’s first recruiting class at Colorado. As a redshirt freshman in 1984, Pruitt’s strong play made him a mainstay in McCartney’s secondary and at defensive back for the Buffaloes.. He would go on to start for the rest of his time at Colorado and put up some impressive numbers.
Pruitt finished his college career as the teams all-time leader in tackles for defensive backs with 340, and third in Big Eight Conference history for defensive backs having logged 41 career starts.
The ultimate honor was bestowed upon Pruitt in 2021 as he was named to the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It was a great feeling and meant a lot to me to be recognized by the University of Colorado Athletics Hall of Fame and their football program,” Pruitt said. “I flew in my family, Coach Curry and his wife, and Coach McCartney were there too. It was a very special day for me and I got a chance to see some of my former teammates there as well.”
Pruitt’s career exploits didn’t stop after college. He had a productive NFL career with the Chicago Bears (1988-1990) and his pro highlights culminated with the Dallas Cowboys as a member of their Super Bowl championship team during the 1991-1992 season, playing alongside Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
And he didn’t hesitate to answer when asked to reminisce about some of his most memorable moments during his playing days more than three decades ago.
“Running out of the tunnel as a member of the Chicago Bears, my college experience in Boulder bringing success back to the football program, and winning a Super Bowl ring – those were all dreams that came true for me,” Pruitt remembers.
Once his playing career and coaching tenure on the Colorado and University of Hawaii coaching staffs were over, Pruitt had a brief stint in the Bears administration as a player development assistant – before CPS came calling in 1998..
“While I was back in Chicago with the Bears, I saw Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, at a function and he told me he wanted me to work for him in the sports office,” Pruitt noted. “Plus, I had my ex-Robeson coach Roy Curry and his wife vouch for me and that’s how I got the job at CPS..”
In his current position, Pruitt finds the work very rewarding and it gives him great satisfaction.
“It was a big transformation from what I had done in the past and my years being a part of CPS sports,” Pruitt admitted. “I remembered that back when I was playing they (CPS) didn’t have the resources they have today. The money from CPS wasn’t as great in supporting the schools’ athletics programs. Each school had to pinch pennies to make the best of what they had.”
And although there have been major improvements in recent years, Pruitt still believes that more progress is on the horizon.
“I’ve been at CPS for a long time and have seen many CEO’s and Mayors in my years here. So things are so much better now and that’s what drives me to be here. It’s all about understanding what we are doing here to help the student-athletes at CPS grammar schools and high schools. That is what’s most important,” Pruitt acknowledged. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, so all CPS students can have the opportunity to participate in sports and experience their ‘WOW factor moments.”
Pruitt embodies the same element of success that he has experienced in his role as CPS sports administrator by imparting his wisdom to those that he meets and helps inspire each and every day.
“When you grow up in an environmental system, you see things and you want to make it better. Things are getting better, the student-athletes are getting more resources and sports opportunities, and the coaches and administration are getting better,” Pruitt acknowledged. “I always say that I wake up every day determined, and I go to bed every night satisfied (with the work we are doing with CPS).”