Top 10 sports stories of the year unveiled rare treasures

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 perfect

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nicole Nonnemacher of St. Xavier is just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game and strike out every batter she faced.


This year was pretty rare when it came to area sports.

Like most years, it had its share of highs and lows. But for some reason, 2015 featured a fair share of accomplishments that you hardly ever see. Some you may never see again.

To quote legendary coach Bob Hallberg, who made the top 10 list for being the first coach in history to lead a men’s and women’s college basketball program to No. 1 in the nation: “There are very few people in this world that can say they did something that nobody else has done. If you climb Mt. Everest, you are not the only guy who did it. More than one guy have walked on the moon.’’

So, here are the top 10 area sports stories for 2015:

$11.       A perfect afterNonn for SXU pitcher

St. Xavier University junior pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher became just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game while striking out all 15 batters that she faced.

She beat Trinity International University, 9-0 on April 14 in Chicago, striking out 15 and threw 57 pitches – 50 for strikes. TIU hitters made contact just five times and all were foul balls in the 73-minute doubleheader opening game. Thirteen of the 15 strikeouts were swinging and two were called.

The Bloomington native joined Central Baptist Arkansas pitcher Emily Guess, who did it twice in two games in 2011, once in a 27-0 win over Hillside Free Will Baptist (Oklahoma) and once in a 13-0 win over Crowley’s Ridge (Arkansas) four days later.

$12.       Moraine player drafted into the NBA

For the first time in the history of Moraine Valley Community College, a former Cyclones basketball player was drafted by an NBA team.

Richaun Holmes, who played at the Palos Hills school in 2011-12, was drafted in the second round and 37th pick by Philadelphia on June 25.  The 6-foot-9 Holmes moved from Moraine to Bowling Green. Before coming to Moraine, he was a good, but unheralded player at Lockport High School.

“Moraine gave me a running start to hone my skills,” he said. “Nobody (on the Division I level) was knocking at my door).’’

$13.       First in state, fourth in nation

Sandburg’s boys cross country team won its first Class 3A boys cross country state championship in November and one month later, finished fourth in the nation in the Nike Cross Nationals event in Oregon.

For the Eagles, the state win was “surreal” according to senior Sean Torpy, who finished third in the state individual to lead his team. The national finish, however, was not as high as the Eagles wanted as they were ranked No. 1 in the nation by multiple national websites for most of the year.

 “It was a heck of an effort,” Torpy told MileSplit USA after the race. “We were wishing we could finish higher.’’

$14.       Marist’s whirlwind state softball championship

The Illinois High School Association Class 4A state softball championship title game between Marist and Lincoln-Way East was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on June 13.

But an ominous weather forecast for the East Peoria area forced officials to start the game in the morning. By 5:30, players, coaches and fans were in the Marist cafeteria in the middle of a celebration of that morning’s 1-0 victory over East eating cake and celebrating.

One player echoed Torpy’s sentiment on winning the state title.

“The entire experience has been surreal,” said Orland Park’s Brooke Wilson, who was also on the 2012 state title team and became the first female athlete in the school’s history to win two state championships.

$15.       Gold Coyne

Last year, Palos Heights native and Sandburg graduate Kendall Coyne helping the United States hockey team to a Silver Medal in the Olympics was the No. 1 story. This year, she makes it to the top 10 again by helping the U.S. beat Canada, 7-5, to claim the Women’s World Championship in Sweden on April 4.

She had a goal and assist in the Gold Medal game.

She has won three gold medals and a silver medal in world and Olympic competition.

$16.       SXU Women reach No. 1

St. Xavier’s woman’s basketball team picked up the No. 1 ranking in the nation among NAIA Division II schools for the first time in the program’s history on Dec. 8.

Coach Bob Hallberg became the first coach in history to lead a men’s and a woman’s team to No. 1 in the nation. He also coached Chicago State’s men to No. 1 in the nation when it was an NAIA school in 1983.

$17.       Vander Laan’s the man

Former Chicago Christian football star Jason Vander Laan is leaving Division II Ferris State with an armload of records and awards.

The senior quarterback most impressive feat in his final year is that he set the record for most career  rushing yards by a college quarterback. 

Vander Laan finished his career with an NCAA record for any division with 5,953 rushing yards and if the only player in NCAA history to run at throw for at least 1,000 yards in all four years of play.

$18.       Big football scores                              

En route to finishing second in the state in Class 8A, Marist’s football team, which had four losses heading into the playoffs, knocked off Barrington, 59-56, in the quarterfinals in Chicago. The game set an IHSA record for most points in a Class 8A playoff game. Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky accounted for 633 yards and eight touchdowns.

One week later, 16th-seeded St Xavier University nearly knocked off No. 1 Morningside in the first round of the NAIA playoffs and suffered a 75-69 loss in four overtimes. It was the highest scoring playoff game in NAIA history and the second highest score in any NAIA game ever played.

9. Half-Marathon hi-jinx

For the first time in the eight years of the running of the area’s half-marathon and 10K race in Palos Heights a bandit entered the 10K race and won it. The man claimed to be from Cicero and his name was Juan Munoz but he didn’t officially enter the race or pay the fee to run in the May 3rd race.

Race co-director Mel Diab said bandits usually show up in bigger events.

Meanwhile on the women’s side, the half marathon was won by Kailey Green, whose family wasn’t there to see it because they were in downstate Washington moving into their new house after their old house was destroyed by tornado on Nov. 17, 2013.

10. A fixed broken record

Brianna Markusic became Oak Lawn High School’s all-time girls basketball scorer on Jan. 29, but leading up to it, she wasn’t sure whose record she would try to break.

Kathy Krzak owned the record from 1995-99 with 1,235 points. But LaTondra Brooks was deemed the scoring leader by OL officials with 1,448 points, which caused some protest from Krzak’s family because 1,132 of those points came with Oak Lawn from 2011-14 and 316 came as a member of a Missouri varsity team when she was a freshman.

Oak Lawn officials reversed their decision and Krzak, who is married and goes by the last name of Levin, was back to No. 1 and was in the Oak Lawn gym to watch Markusic break her record.

It was a stormy year on so many fronts

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Southwest suburban residents weathered through a series of storms that blew through 2015. But while the year featured plenty of chaos and friction, there were some highlights that showed the better side of the human spirit

The year was dominated by the impasse in Springfield that has not resulted in a budget. And as we enter 2016, there are no discussions or a sense of urgency to end this stalemate.

  1. The budget (or lack of)

This is the number one story of the year because the grudge match between the new Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) has so many ramifications. The new governor essentially wants reform but will not discuss higher taxes or other proposals unless until unions lessen their grip on the workforce.

Critics state that he wants to diminish the powers of unions to bring down salaries. Madigan continues his constant phrase during the fall that Rauner is “too extreme.” So, that’s where the budget talks stand entering a new year.

  1. Mayors strike back

While the budget impasse entered a fourth month, the Southwest Conference of Mayors said they had enough. During a meeting in October at the Lemont Village Hall, the mayors voted in unison against Rauner’s proposal to provide low-interest loans to municipalities for the motor fuel tax, 911 funds and video gaming revenue. Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said these funds have nothing to do with the budget and should be provided to municipalities in the state.

The vote seemed to create a chain reaction in which a variety of organizations spoke out about the governor’s proposal. Bennett said it was like going to the bank to take out money and then informed that you had to pay a fee to do it. The mayors also rejected Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s call for a hotel tax. Both Rauner and Preckwinkle quickly took those proposals off the table.

  1. End of The Plaza

       While it became official in June, the end of The Plaza was a bittersweet episode for southwest suburban and Chicago residents who grew up with the iconic mall. The Evergreen Plaza, as it was once known, was erected in 1952 with great success and later in the 1960s became the first indoor mall. While the structure had become outdated, Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who made the first dent in the demolition proceedings with a sledgehammer on the old Montgomery Ward’s building, said it was a sad day before a large crowd who came to watch. The Plaza will make way for the Marketplace, which will have notable retail shops and a variety of businesses to replace The Plaza at 95th and Western.

  1. Methodist churches unite

   Much like The Plaza, membership had been dwindling at Worth United Methodist Church, 7100 W. 111th St. A decision was made in in May to unite the congregations of Worth United Methodist and Palos United Methodist Church, 12101 S. Harlem Ave., Palos Heights. The new congregation is at the Palos Heights church.

  1. Medicinal marijuana in Worth

After a year of meeting to alleviate fears and misconceptions residents had, the Worth Village Board approved a medicinal dispensary to officially open sometime in January. While there was originally some anger over the idea, a large crowd attended a town hall meeting in September. Residents asked a variety of questions but most of the comments were favorable. Worth Mayor Mary Werner said the paperwork has been approved and the renovation of the facility at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. is currently taking place.

The marijuana is designed to alleviate pain from patients who have a variety of ailments. Illinois law has 39 conditions and diseases that already qualify for medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s signature. Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis already qualifies.

  1. Survives earthquake

Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani, 34, somehow managed to survive a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the mountains of the Himalayas. The earthquake caused massive damage and fatalities when it hit and appeared to be little hope that Ascolani would be found alive. Ascolani, a graduate of Stagg High School, had been living in Barcelona and teaching English when he went on the hiking trip to the HImalayas with 26 other people. Helicopters managed to find Ascolani and others five days later after receiving faint messages from cellphones.

  1. Firehouse reopens

The Chicago Ridge Village Board and the fire department settled some differences after a tense period and agreed to add part-time firefighters to the staff. The positive negotiations resulted in a critical step for Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who wanted to reopen the firehouse at 107th and Lombard. A ribbon-cutting took place on March 21.

  1. Hospital expands

While this was expected, expansion plans for Advocate Christ Medical Center, 4440 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, and related support facilities were approved by the Illinois Health Facilities Service Board last January. The $85 million expansion will provide a boost in adult and pediatric emergency stations from 42 to 70.

  1. Gift of life

In one of many positive stories this year, Bobby Sianis, 15, a student at Stagg High School, was attending his grandmother’s wake when his father, George Sianis, suddenly fell to the ground. Bobby kept his cool and coached his mother to tilt George’s head back and to blow air into his lungs. George survived his ordeal due to Bobby’s actions. Bobby later received the Citizens Hero Award from the Roberts Park Fire Department.

10) Ride of devotion

Marist teacher Owen Glennon took a cross country trek on his bike from upper state New York to the high school this past summer to raise money for Marist. Glennon was honored at Marist when he rode up to the school at 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago. Glennon said he did it because he loves the school and wanted to give something back.

Holiday season makes way for primary election

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



Now that the holiday season is nearly wrapped up, the election season is about to kick into high gear, with the March 15 primary election approaching fast.

Early voting begins Feb. 4 and will continue through March 14.

Of course, the presidential election is garnering the most attention now. But by the time Illinoisans go to the polls, the large field of candidates, especially on the Republican side, will likely be winnowed down following the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, and Super Tuesday on March 1, when 12 states go to the polls.

But many voters are inclined to forget that other races will also be decided on March 15. Dec. 21 was the deadline for candidates to submit their election petitions to be placed on ballots, and while some are being challenged and may be removed, we at least have a tentative list of who is running for the various offices

The only statewide Illinois race this year is for state comptroller, to complete the term of Judy Baar Topinka. After she died of a stroke last December, one month after being elected to her second term in office, Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Leslie Geissler Munger to fill the position until the election.

Munger, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary to retain the seat, will likely face off in the Nov. 8 general election against Susana Mendoza, currently the Chicago city clerk, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The two local congressional races might be interesting.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), who was first elected in 1993, is running for his 12th term in Congress. He will have three challengers in the primary, if they all survive the objections filed against their candidacy. They include O. Patrick Brutus, Howard Brookins Jr. and Harold Bailey. Brookins is the current 21st Ward alderman in Chicago.

Two objections are pending against Rush and one against Bailey. Hearings on them will be scheduled in January.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face either August (O’Neill) Deuser or Jimmy Lee Tillman II, who are running against each other in the Republican primary.

In the 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Dan Lipinski is seeking his sixth term in office. He is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The only candidate running in the Republican primary is Arthur J. Jones, a Lyons resident with a history of involvement in white supremacy organizations. He has run for the 3rd District seat before, including against Lipinski in 2012, as well as several other offices.

Some of the local Democratic state senators and representatives are running unopposed in the primary, and will be unopposed again in November because no Republicans have thrown their hats in the ring.

These include incumbent state Sen. Jacqueline “Jacqui” Collins (D-16th), whose Chicago-based district extends into Oak Lawn. Also, incumbent state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) of Evergreen Park is running unopposed in the primary, and no Republicans have entered the race. The same can be said for state Reps. Robert “Bob” Rita (D-28th) and Andre Thapedi (D-32nd), whose district includes Hickory Hills.

In the 19th Senate District, which includes part of Orland Park and numerous other southwestern suburbs, incumbent Democrat Michael E. Hastings is seeking a second term. He is being challenged in the primary by McStephen “Max” Solomon, an attorney from Hazel Crest. Objections have been filed against both of them, but as of now, the winner will have no Republican opposition.

Prior to his election, Hastings, an Army veteran, served as vice president of High School District 230.

State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), whose district includes Oak Lawn, is being challenged in the primary by Michael Crawford, of Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood.

Likewise, state Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th) is being challenged in the primary by Justin Q. Slaughter. But no Republican candidates have filed for either race.

On the other hand, state Rep. Frances Hurley (D-35th), faces no opposition in the primary, but in November, she will go up against Victor Horne, who is the only candidate running in the Republican primary.

Man charged in robbery of Evergreen Park bank

  • Written by Dermot Connolly




A man suspected of robbing the First National Bank of Evergreen Park on Dec. 11 was caught after dropping his cellphone and papers with his name on them as he fled the bank at 3960 W. 95th St.

Kenneth A. Holeman, 53, who was on probation for a 2009 bank robbery in Oak Brook already, was arrested without incident by Chicago Police on Dec. 14 near 69th Street and Marshfield Avenue in Chicago, where he was working on a car.

Holeman walked up to a teller window at the Evergreen Park bank about 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, and ordered the teller to “give me all the f---money,” according to a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The FBI said another teller and the bank’s armed security guard were behind the counter and overheard what Holeman said. The security guard told the tellers to comply with his demand.

According to the complaint, Holeman escaped after putting approximately $1,820 in a bag. But he left behind a ski mask and several sheets of paper he had used to cover his face, including a forfeiture notice from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office that included his name and address in the 8100 block of South Honore Avenue in Chicago.

The bank security guard then jumped over the counter and chased him, warning him to stop or he would shoot. Following him outside, the security guard fired one shot into the air, which startled Holeman, causing him to drop his cellphone, according to the FBI.

He continued chasing the robber across Pulaski Road to the Jewel-Osco parking lot at 9424 S. Pulaski, where he told investigators that Holeman got into a silver Pontiac Grand Prix and drove away. The guard fired at the back tires as he fled north on Pulaski.

An off-duty Evergreen Park police officer then reportedly observed Holeman’s car speeding through a red light at the intersection of 87th Street and Pulaski Road, almost causing an accident. The car’s license plate was radioed in for reckless driving.

Prior to Holeman’s arrest, Chicago police officers found the 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix parked with two flat tires in an alley in the 1100 block of West 87th Street in the city. Two relatives told investigators Holeman had the car towed there on Dec. 12 and told his relatives that the car was stolen.

According to the FBI, Holeman is also a suspect in three other Chicago bank robberies this year, including Oct. 23 at the Chase Bank branch at 11721 S. Halsted St.; Sept. 29 at the Chase branch at 8340 S. Kedzie Ave.; and Sept. 14 at the Byline Bank branch at 4050 S. Archer Ave.

They also believe he tried unsuccessfully to rob a Bank of America branch at 5601 S. Kedzie Ave. on Oct. 21.

No charges have been filed in those robberies.

Holeman was being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago this week, and is due to appear in court for a status hearing onon Jan 13.


Hearing set for on-duty phone sex allegation

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

An Oak Lawn firefighter who is being investigated for possibly engaging in on-duty phone sex is going to be called to testify at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 7 at a firehouse in the village.

Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen said on Tuesday that Fire Chief George Sheets undertook the investigation after a financial review by an outside firm called in by the Oak Lawn Firefighters Union “substantiated reports that there was a misuse of large sums of money” by an individual over the past year.

Deetjen said the money in question came from union dues.

The investigation came to light at a Dec. 17 hearing in Bridgeview Courthouse on a petition for an emergency restraining order that firefighter Robert Lanz had filed. Lanz, a former head of the firefighters union, is being investigated for possible on-duty phone sex, officials revealed in court.

The village manager said Lanz, whom he did not refer to by name, filed the petition for the emergency restraining order, which a judge rejected on Dec. 17, after Sheets asked him to produce his credit card and cellphone records in order to get to the bottom of the discrepancies.

Sheets had originally planned to interrogate Lanz on Dec. 18 but Lanz’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, argued at the hearing that Lanz was given less than two weeks to schedule the interview date, and his union representation would not have been available.

According to published reports, the village manager said in a sworn statement referenced at the Dec. 17 hearing that many of the unsubstantiated charges “were for services provided by two businesses” that he later learned “provide phone sex services."

In court on Dec. 17, Walsh argued that Lanz was given less than two weeks to schedule the interview date and that his union representation wouldn't be available by the deadline.

Walsh also argued that there was no precedent to compel Lanz to turn over the credit card and phone records, dating back to 2012. He said doing so would violate his right to privacy under the Illinois Constitution.

Deetjen said Lanz will be able to have union representation and legal counsel attorney at the Jan. 7 hearing, to be held at Fire Station 2, 6451 W. 93rd Place. He said the village will have the work records to show when he was supposed to be on duty, and they can be cross-checked against the dates of the calls in question.

“He will be placed under oath and the chief (Sheets) can complete his investigation,” said Deetjen.

“Only after the investigation is complete, will we determine whether appropriate action should be taken,” said Deetjen.

“At this point, it is an investigation. Whether any of this conduct took place while he was supposed to be on duty, that is our focus,” said Deetjen, who said he would not comment further until after the hearing.