Menu

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Boxing interest has waned but OLOR show lives on

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

 

Gather around my rocking chair, boys and girls, and Uncle Jeff will tell you a story about an era a long, long time ago when the sport of boxing was huge.

Casual fans knew the names of the top boxers at the time. Ali. Frazier. Foreman. Leonard. Duran. Hearnes. Norton. Hagler. Tyson. Spinks. Another Spinks.

Even the next level – the Quarrys and the Wepners of the world had some name recognition.

People thirsted to find out who was going to win matches. And, boys and girls, before the invention of Pay Per View, people would go to movie theaters to watch closed-circuit broadcasts of big fights.  I once saw a closed-circuit Tyson fight at what used to be known as the Rosemont Horizon and it drew a huge crowd.

Now? Well, I can name Floyd Mayweather and and Manny Pacquiao. They are fighting in a huge bout coming up May 2 in a match that can do more than $300 million in Pay Per View sales for a match that is about three or four years too late. So boxing is not completely dead.

I think Roy Jones, Jr. is still fighting even though he is closer to becoming a senior.

The heavyweight division has some big Russian guys, I think. But I would have to Google that and get back to you on that.

After that? I can’t help ya. I just don’t know many of the elite current fighters any more.

Ultimate fighting and even professional wrestling has helped the short attention span generation turn away from the sweet science.

But there is a pocket in our area where every year you can find boxing a boxing card taking place.

The Our Lady of the Ridge boxing show is in its 53rd year gets rolling at 7 p.m. at 10820 S. Oxford in Chicago Ridge. The doors open at 6 p.m.

Kids from kindergarten through sixth grade from the area will put on the gloves and head gear and box.

For those who feel a little weird about seeing little kids fight, ring announcer Don Pratl said that it’s not a violent event.

“Yes, we’ve had some kids get sick in the ring and we may have had a few bloody noses, but that’s it,” he said. “There is a difference between boxing and fighting and for the last couple of months, we’ve been teaching these kids how to box. We work on sticking and moving and we match the kids up as evenly as we can.

“There have been times when we’ve had to tell some kids they can’t participate because they are too big or too small.’’

Pratl said he was a Golden Gloves boxer growing up and has been a ring announcer for this event for decades.  

He said that no matter how much other sports have gained in popularity and how much boxing has declined, boxing purists like himself will continue to embrace it.

“Boxing can never be replaced,” he said. “The MMA or Ultimate fighting – that’s what happens in the streets, not the ring. Those are entertainment events. Boxing is a sport.’’

Pratl remembers the days when the OLOR event would have beer and smoking in the gym. Those days are gone, but there is still an old-fashioned atmosphere surrounding the event.

“Fathers, sons, cousins and neighbors all come back to talk about the good old days,” Pratl said.

This also serves as a fundraiser for the school and its athletic department.

(SUBHEAD --) Remembering the ‘big guy’

The death of Minnie Minoso this weekend (see editorial page) overshadowed the death of another local legend, coach Gordie Gillespie. Gillespie had success just about everywhere he went including Joliet Catholic, Lewis University and the University of St. Francis. He coached football, basketball and baseball and is in a whole bunch of Halls of Fame.

Eerily, I saw a big painting in homage to Gillespie on late Saturday afternoon at Lewis and I wondered where the coach was and how he was doing. That night, he died.

Gillespie knew so many people and didn’t always remember names so I (and probably a million other dudes) became known as the “big guy’’ whenever he would see me. He once spoke at a coaching class I took and his booming voice needed no microphone. He was funny, entertaining and wise.

My friend, also known as “big guy’’ to Gillespie, attended St. Francis many moons ago and would remember seeing Gillespie standing on top of a desk and enthusiastically bellow to students in whatever class it was he was teaching.

People have millions of funny Gillespie stories and quotes but my favorite quote was one he said on a practice field when he was dressing down a player. He hollered: “If you don’t get this play right, I’m going to trade you for a dog and then shoot the dog!”

Maybe PETA members won’t appreciate that line, but it still makes me laugh.

Rest in peace, big guy.

This apology is no way to (cruci)fix the situation

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Fourteen years ago, Terrell Owens, a star wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, caught a touchdown pass in a game against the Dallas Cowboys and celebrated by running from the end zone to the 50-yard line where he posed on the giant Cowboy star.

Seconds later, Cowboys player George Teague leveled Owens, knocking him off the team logo.

Owens later explained that he planned the touchdown celebration days before the game. He was running out of the unique celebrations but “I wasn’t doing it to taunt anyone by it, I was just coming here to pay my respect,” Owens said.

I don’t believe Terrell, but I’ll always remember the game.

Just like I remember the outcry on social media when Justin Beber inadvertently stood on the Blackhawks Indian head logo while posing with the Stanley Cup in the Hawks locker room.

The Blackhawks, like most NHL teams, have an unwritten rule that no one is permitted to step on the logo in the dressing room. Players have been known to scold people for accidentally or purposely stepping or standing on it.

Heck, I recently saw a Montreal Canadians player chastise his mother for standing on the team logo during an NHL Network special about the Canadians’ mom’s weekend.

These traditions may seem silly. After all, it’s only the Cowboys blue star painted at the center of the football field or the Blackhawks’ Indian head logo emblazoned on the locker room carpet.

Then again, there’s a lot of tradition behind those logos. They recall team history, great players and special moments. They embody an organization—players, fans, memories, traditions.

These symbols and the respect they deserve aren’t limited to sports. Apparently, no one taught that lesson to the members of the Woodstock girls’ basketball team.

Recently, the team won the regional title after defeating rival Woodstock North at Landers Pavilion at Marian Central Catholic High School.

 

Following the win, the girls affixed a Barbie doll—the team’s symbol for girl power—to a crucifix in the gym. The photo, which made the rounds on social media, shows the team smiling and pointing at the crucifix.

 

It was a poor decision, not well thought out by any means. And the idea of a Barbie doll as symbol for girl power also seems odd, but that’s a topic for another column.

 

The point is, the team hung a doll on one of the most important symbols of the Catholic faith and proceeded to celebrate their win. You would think at least one of the 13 girls in the photo would have the good sense to think the move was disrespectful.

 

You would think a coach, parent, moderator; anyone connected to the team would stop the girls. You would be wrong.

 

Woodstock High School Activities and Athletic Director Glen Wilson issued an apology after the image surfaced on social media, saying the team is “sincerely regretful.”

 

“Our intent was certainly not to insult, nor denigrate, Marian Central and its family.”

 

The apology should have stopped right there.

 

But no...

 

The school added another sentence that changed the whole dynamic.

 

“We apologize the act could solicit a perception of disrespect to faith, one’s school or the community they represent.”

 

It’s always interesting to read carefully worded apologies issued by individuals or organizations after they make a serious misstep.

 

For example, Woodstock apologies for an act that “could solicit a perception of disrespect to faith…”

 

Those are weasel words. They are disingenuous and unnecessary. Worse yet, the wording places the onus on the persons who were offended. It’s like saying, “I’m sorry if you were offended.”

 

Please understand, there was no perception of disrespect to the faith. The team disrespected the Catholic faith inside a Catholic school. Plain and simple.

 

The apology also said, “The team’s symbol of ‘girl power’ was used in an inappropriate manner.”

 

Forget the team’s symbol for a moment. It’s only a doll. Lots of teams use some sort of object around which to rally. Several years ago, Notre Dame football players used a big piece of chain to symbolize team unity. Whatever works.

 

The focus needs to be on the girls. This is a varsity team comprised of juniors and seniors, girls who are old enough to know better.

 

Marian Central and Woodstock high schools have decided to let the athletic departments handle the issue. How they do that, I do not know. But this is a teaching moment that extends well beyond the religion. Here’s hoping both schools take advantage of it.

 

State of Gorill-inois

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett doesn’t have much good to say about state government.

 

“The gorilla in the room is the state of Illinois,” Bennett said last week during remarks at the Hills Chamber of Commerce meeting.

 

He started out his speech with a lot of information about the good things going on about his town during the past year and apoligized for ending it on what he called a "downer" for adressing the state mess and how it will affect Palos Hills and local goverments throughout the state in general.

 

Bennett and others area mayors have been highly critical of a proposal by Gov. Bruce Rauner that calls for a 50 percent cutback in towns’ share of state income tax revenue.

 

The six communities in the Reporter’s coverage area would lose approximately $6.6 million under the proposal.

 

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury summarized the dilemma towns face if the plan came to fruition.

 

“You either lay off or raise taxes,” Bury told the Reporter last week.

 

But Bennett pointed out last Thursday that the state has been a thorn in municipalities’ sides long before Rauner took office earlier this year.

 

“It’s in the news now because the governor made it his first volley,” Bennett said.

 

In reality, the state, under the leadership of Governors Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich also foisted upon towns numerous unfunded mandates that made balancing local budgets difficult, Bennett said.

 

For years, towns have faced a pension crisis that Bennett lays at the feet of state legislators, who approved pension enhancements while limiting municipalities’ ability to fund them.

 

“We could not keep up,” Bennett said, adding that property tax cap legislation made the job even tougher.

 

But the pension crisis isn’t the only thing that’s pitted Rauner against local leaders in tug of war that well may determine the state’s financial future.

 

“There’s just a minutia of things that added up. We’ve had to fight other administrations in the past. The state (is facing) a huge, huge dilemma,” said Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors.

 

Still, local leaders have managed to keep their spending plans in the black—as required by law—and made whatever cuts necessary to do so, officials said.

 

Despite the struggle, Bennett said, the state would rather take money from towns than raise additional revenue or make budget cuts. The results could be staggering.

 

“There’s not going to be local government anymore,” Bennett added.

 

Local governments are no stranger to trimming the budget.

 

During the recent economic slowdown, Palos Hills was forced to make difficult cuts, including a 17 percent reduction in staff and cuts in capital projects.

 

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley, who also addressed chamber members, said recent investments in his town’s public works budget represent “the cost of government, the cost of doing business.”

 

Palos Hills, meanwhile, recently replaced all of its police vehicles, upgrading the fleet to SUVs.

 

But public safety budgets, which are a big portion of a town’s spending plan, will certainly be affected if Rauner’s proposed cuts go through, mayors agree.

 

Bennett offered one other idea to solve the dilemma. “Maybe we should go to Springfield and give (legislators) the keys to city hall,” he said.

 

BREAKING NEWS: 'Regrettable' EP coach who blew whistle on Jackie Robinson West arrested after scuffle

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

 

PAGE-1-JANES

The Evergreen Park Athletic Association official who blew the whistle on the Jackie Robinson West Little League for cheating by violating residency rules was charged early Tuesday morning with disorderly conduct and assault after chasing a woman down a residential street and threatening her husband, police said.

Chris Janes, 39, of the 9100 block of Albany Avenue, was standing near his car when the woman arrived home at approximately 1:09 a.m., police said. The woman spotted him and he began to chase her, police said.

Janes, who is the vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association, admitted Tuesday afternoon that he was “inebriated” when the incident occurred.

"I was overserved and had a tough time getting home,” Janes said. “Nothing happened.”

He added that he mistook the house he was at for his own. “I went to the wrong house,” he said.

“I was inebriated and if that’s the case I need to go over there and apologize,” he added. “It’s regrettable.”

The woman entered her house, and Janes began to shout vulgarities and demanded that her husband come outside, according to police.

Neither the woman nor her husband knew Janes, who also was charged with resisting and obstructing a peace officer, public intoxication and using vulgar and threatening language toward police and paramedics.

Paramedics were on the scene because Janes got a minor cut in the scuffle, police said.

Janes told police that he was walking home but did not recall where had been. He denied that he was driving, police said.

Janes is scheduled to appear in Bridgeview court on April 13.

The arrest is just the latest chapter in Janes’ saga, which began last year he alleged to Little League authorities that JRW had recruited players outside their boundaries in order to a field a team well-prepared to compete in Little League World Series competition.

The allegations initially were ignored, but upon further review Little League International decided to strip JRW of its U.S. championship much to the dismay of the team’s supporters and civic leaders, including Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Michael Pfleger among others.

Janes was branded a racist and required police protection at his home after receiving death threats and other intimidating phone calls in the days after JRW was stripped of its title. Others accused him of sour grapes because JRW defeated the Evergreen Park team 43-2 in four innings.

Janes did not return to work for several days after the incident as his employer decided his presence might present a safety threat.

“It just got really convenient to point the finger this way,” Janes said a few weeks ago. “It’s deflection.”

He added that Little League International’s decision to strip JRW of its title was not the result of his initial compliant.

In fact, Little League officials initially ruled they were confident that JRW had met residency requirements and considered the issue closed. But in early February, officials met in Chicago with presidents from JRW’s sister leagues.

 

 

 

 

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: This isn't the way we want to remember Ernie Banks

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

I look at Ernie Banks a little bit in the same way I look at Jimmy Buffett.

These are two guys who have an image that’s hard to shake.

Buffett is the fun-lovin’ entertainer who is smiling and joking and singing songs about drinking and being in warm places. He is living the life a lot of us want to live. He is one big good-time guy.

Life is a great big party 24/7 for JB, right?

Few people are around him when he is out of the spotlight. We don’t get to see him when he is hung over, sweating out a fever or getting mad at the world because his Internet is acting up. We’re not around him to see human sorrow when he finds out the death of a loved one. The guy has been divorced and separated and we weren’t around to see him argue with either of his wives. And he has kids. We never got to see him have the pleasure of dealing with teenagers.

Nope, we just get so see the guy crooning about hanging around the beach and taking boat rides with some babes and rum drinks in tow. What a life.

That brings us to Ernie.

Banks is the popular Cubs legend who died Jan. 23. Most of us remember him smiling with an unbridled joy for life and baseball. He made the optimistic and enthusiastic line “Let’s play two today” famous.  He had rhymes for how the Cubs would do in a certain year.

Everything was great with Ernie. That was his image and that’s how we want to remember him.

You got the feeling that if someone ran over his foot with a car, he would yell “Hey, Mister, is your tire OK?’’

When he died, he was splashed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Everyone interviewed had nothing but good words to say about Ernie.

I purposefully didn’t write about Ernie after he died. Even though I covered the Cubs for 10 years, my dealings with the man were not all that fun. I tried interviewing him about Sammy Sosa once and, while he was nice, his mind wandered and he would get distracted a little too easily and I could tell things weren’t in top working order upstairs and I felt bad.

Once when the media gathered for a press conference with him, a media relations person had to talk to him like talking to a 5-year-old about how we were going to ask him questions and that he should pay attention to the questions and answer them.

It was sad.

I’m happy to report, though, that he pulled it off with flying colors and he was great that day.

I didn’t want to reveal those stories after he died because I wanted people to remember the smiling guy who was a friend to all and never had a bad day in his life. I was preserving the myth.  That’s something I don’t like doing, but in this case I thought it was right to just keep my stories to myself.

But now his family is coming out and punching holes in his myth.

Look, we all know the guy was a real human being with real problems like the rest of us. He wasn’t a cartoon.

But now his family is fighting over money, property and somehow his dead body is lost somewhere. It’s becoming a tragic joke and now we’re going to have a different view of Mr. Cub.

It’s been brought out that he’s been married four times and I’m not sure I even knew that. It’s being brought out that he filed for divorce from his fourth wife because of mental cruelty.

To quote another baseball line “Say it ain’t so!’’

There is a part of my brain that doesn’t want to register all of this. I can’t picture Ernie involved in a domestic situation so ugly that it came to that. I don’t want to think of Ernie screaming and cursing at his wife. I certainly don’t want to think of one of Ernie’s wives doing something so cruel that it would reduce him to tears or depression.

I don’t know where the truth lies, but either way it’s an ugly truth.

This story is wretched and it’s going to get worse and we will find out that Ernie was not always the happy-go-lucky smiling ambassador for baseball and that that there was reality behind the legend.

Maybe a little too much reality.

In one way, it hurts to think of the bad things that have gone on in Ernie Banks’ life.

In another way, the fact that he could put all that behind him in public and stay the same man of joy he was to us all is pretty special.

Let’s write about two: Remembering Wendell Kim

One guy who was as despised as Banks was beloved was is Wendell Kim, who was the team’s third-base coach in 2003-04. He died Feb. 15 of Alzheimer’s disease at age 64. Kim haters might have a cruel field day with jokes about that one.

He was known to some as “Wavin’ Wendell’’  for aggressively sending runners  home and when some of them were thrown out, it caused Cubs fans to turn purple and pull the hair out of their head.

I liked the guy. You can have that silver-haired guy in the beer commercials dubbed “the most interesting man in the world’’ but for my money, it’s Wendell Kim.

When I covered the Cubs for the Daily Southtown, we had a chance to talk about the fine art of coaching third base not long after I had to do it once for my son’s Orland Youth Association game.

To hear him talk about all the variables of who is running and where the ball is and trying to make an educated decision in seconds, this was not a dummy, even though that’s what many fans thought of him when Cubs were thrown out at the plate.

“Certain things you can’t control,” he said during a one-on-one interview with me in 2004 that appeared in the Southtown. “If a runner makes a wide turn and I’ve already sent him from second base — it’s too late. If he makes a sharp turn, he makes it by two steps. It’s not all up to me. I can just send him because I know the speed of the guy. But if he makes a wide turn, that’s tough. You’re losing two or three steps. That could cost you the game.’’

Once after a mistake against the White Sox for all of Chicago to see, he was asked about the pressures of being a third base coach and he brought up an incident that happened when he was in his 20s and a group of thugs thought he ratted them out to the cops.

“I’ve already had a .38 (caliber gun) to my head,’’ he said. “That’s worse than anything I’ve ever known. This is still a game.’’

I did a Q and A story with him and he was the most entertaining subject I interviewed in that format.

I found out he was a magician who was in great demand from players all over the league. He was genuinely disappointed after 9/11 when security put a crimp in his magic shows.

“I don't do it much anymore because when (Sept. 11) came up and when they were looking through my bags, they took my knives away’’ he said. “It's a hassle. When they go through a deck of cards, they can screw it up because some cards are already fixed.’’

He said the “Rocky” movies were his favorite because he identified with a lead underdog character.


 “I've always had to prove myself,” he said. “Even in fighting. They always picked on me when I was in the minor leagues but once I broke somebody's knee or hit them in the throat...everybody knows that I really don't want to fight but I will if I have to. They picked on me because I was small. I'm still small.’’

And when I asked him if he was sensitive when getting heckled about his height, he said: “When they heckle me with that, I just turn away. It's not worth fighting about because guys will pull out guns now. In the older days you didn't have that. You might have a pocketknife or a knife but now they have guns.’’

With all the violence in his life, I truly expected Kim would die in some “Sons of Anarchy” or “Boardwalk Empire” style.

 
Hopefully his death was not too traumatic and that he can finally rest in peace, although there may be a few folks in the afterlife that better watch their tongues around him.’’