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Smalling and Niego are our football and volleyball Players of the Year

  • Written by Anthony Nasella

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

REPORTER-REGIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Ricky Smalling/Brother Rice

Brother Rice senior wide receiver Ricky Smalling has proven his ability as a marquee athlete throughout his career for the Crusaders.

But Smalling also made strides in the classroom during his senior year which demonstrated his emergence as a student athlete whose leadership and impact on the gridiron led to his selection as the 2016 Reporter/Regional Football Player of the Year.

“We’re all proud of Ricky not just because of the player he has become but more importantly his improvements in the classroom,” Brother Rice head coach Brian Badke said. “He’s grown so much over these past four years.”

On the field, the Illinois-bound Smalling caught 80 passes for 1,336 yards and scored 18 touchdowns while helping Brother Rice to a state playoff berth and a 9-3 record.

From Week 1, Smalling was off and running. In the Crusaders’ first game at the Kickoff Classic at Soldier Field against Marist, he caught touchdown passes for 56 and 39 yards in Brother Rice’s 31-7 romp over the RedHawks.

Smalling racked up 186 yards and hauled in three touchdown passes in the Crusaders’ 42-7 rout of defending Class 6A State Champion Montini in week 4. His 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns helped Brother Rice to a thrilling 49-42 win over Mt. Carmel in week 6.

“Big-time players step up in big-time games, and Ricky stepped up whenever we needed a big play” Badke said. “The statistics speak for themselves. He had a tremendous career here at Brother Rice and a great senior year.

“He made a name for himself that people will never forget here at 99th and Pulaski. He was part of a group of seniors who went 35-8 in four years. I think his future is bright down at Champaign and beyond.”

The 6-2, 195-pound Smalling, who has a 4.4 40-yard dash time, improved on his junior numbers of 1,165 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He humbly deferred to the talents of quarterback Dino Borrelli, who also had a monster senior year with 3,377 yards passing with 40 touchdowns.

“I had a great year thanks to Dino throwing me the ball so effectively,” Smalling said. “Everybody contributed. I wouldn’t have had the year I had without those guys. I just kept focused on my plan of excelling in football and my studies, and everything has turned out well.

“I thank Coach Badke for pushing me to become the player that I am.”

 

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

REPORTER-REGIONAL VOLLEYBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Charley Niego/Mother McAuley

For as much as Mother McAuley junior Charley Niego was a physical presence for the Mighty Macs this season – leading them to an Illinois High School Association Class 4A state volleyball championship and a No. 1 national ranking by prepvolleyball.com  – one facet of her game was especially evident to head Coach Jen DeJarld.

“As much as Charley works so hard to be a better physical player for us, one of the biggest improvements in her game from her sophomore year is her mental toughness,” DeJarld said. “As a sophomore, she wasn’t required to do as much for us. She embraced the pressure this season.”

The noteworthy statistics that Niego finished with in the midst of that pressure – 498 kills, 473 digs, 69 blocks and 25 aces which figured big in the team’s staggering 40-1 record – made her the selection for the 2016 Regional/Reporter volleyball Player of the Year. It’s the second year the newspaper honored a volleyball player. McAuley’s Kayla Caffey was the first winner in 2015.

Niego delivered 12 kills and 17 digs in a three-set win over Geneva in the Class 4A Hinsdale South Supersectional that saw the Mighty Macs having to rebound from deficits in each set victory to secure the trip to the state finals. She delivered 17 kills a few days earlier in a sectional championship win over Marist.

At Redbird Arena, Niego racked up 14 kills in the two-set semifinal win over Niles West. In the 25-19, 19-25, 25-19 championship victory over Minooka, McAuley once again rallied from deficits to prevail. Niego shined with 14 kills and 15 digs in the title match to help the team with the 15th state title in school history.

“Charley is very multi-faceted in all the things she does for us,” DeJarld said. “The competiveness she brings every day to the practice carries over to the match. You really only need just one person to lead that, and she does that for us.

“Great players play great under high pressure, and Charley is that player. She raised her game to the next level – a championship level.”

Niego, who verbally committed to Notre Dame her sophomore year, simply wanted to make the biggest impact that she could.

“I made sure I was especially prepared for every game,” Niego said. “I definitely wanted to contribute more this year than last year and learn to move on from my mistakes. This season was so satisfying.”

 

 

 

 

Local heart patients receive gift of life for holiday season

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

 

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Palos Hills resident Kathryn Brzezinski (second from left) gathers with her care team during a holiday celebration sponsored by Advocate Christ Medical Center. Brzezinski received a ventricular assist device (VAD) and is in a waiting list for a new heart.

 

The holiday season is a little brighter for patients who were honored last Thursday during a holiday celebration after receiving a heart or lung transplant or a ventricular assist device (VAD) at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

More than 200 people gathered at the Hilton Oak Lawn for the celebration sponsored by Advocate Christ Medical Center. The event offers the patients, their families, heart surgeons, cardiologists, nurses and other staff to rejoice and celebrate the miracles of modern medicine that provides a second chance for a full life. While many of the attendees have received new hearts and in some cases, hearts and lungs, a great number of the guests were VAD patients, meaning they are on a waiting list for a new heart. In some instances, they are not eligible for a heart transplant due to their condition and are being kept alive by a VAD.

Dr. Antone Tatooles, director of the Mechanical Assist Device program at the Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center, explained that the ventricular assist device is actually doing the work of the heart, electronically.

“When the heart is unable to pump the blood through the heart due to various reasons, the VAD is implanted surgically into the heart,” said Tatooles. “It is connected by wires to an exterior computer, which operates on batteries. The patient must wear it 24/7 until they are able to receive a new heart. Without the VAD, many of the guests here today would not be alive.”

He added that the device is for very advanced heart disease. “It is actually an artificial heart. We want our patients to be able to live a normal life, return to work, enjoy their families, etc. They can do all that as long as the pump is kept charged.”

Also present was Dr. Deepak Mital, director of the Kidney Transplant Program at the hospital, who stated that six heart and kidney transplant cases at Advocate Christ Medical Center performed since 2013 have a survival rate of 100 percent.

“That is better than the national average,” he said.

Waiting for a heart is Palos Hills resident Kathryn Brzezinski, 59. She received a VAD on Aug. 26. She refers to it as “a bridge to a transplant.”

“I am on a waiting list for a new heart as I am in compliance with the criteria for eligibility because of my weight and blood type,” she said.

Although she has suffered from congestive heart failure most of her life, she also had gallbladder problems this past summer and approached her doctor about removing her gallbladder. He refused, saying her heart was much too weak and immediately admitted her to the hospital. That was on Aug. 15. She was told that her heart was too enlarged for any heart surgery and 11 days later, she received a VAD, a pacemaker and defibrillator. Two weeks later, they were able to remove her gallbladder.

She is feeling much better and is hoping to return to her job soon, where she has worked for 38 years.

“I will be elated to get a new heart and I am excited to be here celebrating life tonight with these other patients,” she said.

Oak Lawn resident Robert Hirtz, 49, has had a VAD for three years and two months. He recited the amount of time precisely.

His heart problems started in 1998 when he had a bad case of pneumonia, which unknown to him, resulted in his heart becoming enlarged.

“People don’t know that pneumonia can cause enlargement of the heart. I certainly didn’t know and I didn’t treat it seriously. I was young, I kept working, I kept smoking and I was overweight,” he said.

He said all of that was the beginning of his long, slow, downhill journey to the condition he is in now, wearing a VAD, unemployed, on disability and waiting for a new heart.

“A lot of people don’t know that heart failure is the number one killer in America. People need to be aware. It is, in many cases, preventable. It doesn’t have to happen. It can be a matter of lifestyle. Eating fast food, lack of exercise, being overweight can all contribute to heart failure.”

Hirtz said that in 2013, before he received a VAD, his condition had deteriorated so badly he couldn’t complete a sentence due to shortness of breath. He was was so weak, he couldn’t walk.

“When my doctor suggested I get a VAD, I was scared,” said Hirtz. “The thought of it was overwhelming. That was in October of 2013. Then my doctor told me that without a VAD, I wouldn’t make it through December. I agreed to the procedure and here I am, three years later, happy to be at this celebration.”

It turns out that Hirtz is an inspiration to heart patients who have been told that they need a VAD.

“The hospital often calls me to come and talk to potential recipients who are as scared as I was,” said Hirtz. “I come and tell the patients they need to submit to the treatment. I tell them to look at me, I am up walking around, living my life, and that they can, too.

“I am grateful to Advocate Christ Hospital. They saved my life and I am happy to help coach people who need a VAD. I didn’t have anyone to tell me about living with a VAD, so I want to help. I come whenever they call me,” added Hirtz.

Closing the event was Ken Lukhard, CEO and president of Advocate Christ Medical Center. Addressing the attendees as “Walking Miracles” he wished them the best holiday season ever and urged them to absorb it and soak it up.

“Life on this planet is so fleeting for all of us. Let us savor every moment,” Lukhard said.

 

Providing food, supplies and cards to 'Mrs. Jacky's Soldiers' overseas

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Mia Villanueva (from left), Cary Napoles and Jacky Connelly sort through cards being sent in care packages to “Mrs. Jacky’s Soldiers” serving overseas.


While some of us are inclined to forget that U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines are still in harm’s way around the world, Jacky Connelly always remembers them, especially around the holidays.

The Oak Lawn woman and a committed group of volunteers have been packing care packages for area service members since 2003 from her base at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.

“I’ve been doing this for 13.5 years,” said Connelly, who has been an early education teacher at the Oak View Center for more than 20 years. “I started doing it in March 2003, when one of my students’ only parent was sent to Iraq in the first wave,” she explained. “I was doing it by myself at first, but it grew and I enlisted some volunteers.”

Her “right-hand person” these days is Dawn Jurewicz. The all-ages group now meets at least two Fridays per month, usually from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

“We’re not an official non-profit. We’re just a little band of volunteers. All of our soldiers’ names come by word of mouth. They are either from Oak Lawn or the surrounding area, or have connections to the area. Sometimes, when soldiers come home, we send boxes to the person who replaced them,” she said on Friday, as the group got to work.

Holiday boxes filled with decorations, cards, reading material and other items, had already been packed and mailed in November, to arrive in time for Christmas. So on Friday, volunteers were sorting and packing candy collected since Halloween. The Oak Lawn Ice Arena helped out with its Treats for Troops program, in which trick-or-treaters collected candy on Halloween for the men and women in uniform.

Some in the group got busy sorting through the donated Halloween candy, setting aside items unsuitable for mailing. Others then packed and labeled the boxes in preparation for mailing. All the mailing costs are picked up by the group, so Connelly said donated postage stamps are always gratefully accepted.

“We have 500 boxes of candy. It is not even all here,” she said, looking over at a table filled with candy that volunteers were sorting. While hard candy and some chocolate can be sent, Connelly said chocolate wrapped only in foil wouldn’t survive the trip, or the hot weather. “Twizzlers are very popular, and there are so many flavors,” she said. Boxes of non-perishable food are typically lined with magazines and comics sections of newspapers to provide entertainment, as well as protection from dust.

“I do it for the troops. I’ve got relatives in the military so I know how important it is for them to know that people at home are thinking of them,” said Ellie Tripan, who has been volunteering alongside Connelly for 12 years now.

Peg Bauer, who uses a wheelchair, also has been volunteering for several years, despite her own health problems

“We collect candy and supplies in my condo building now. Everyone has been so generous,” Bauer said. “It is great to get out and help people.”

Sara Sabadosa, 24, started volunteering with Jacky when she was in fifth grade at Kolmar School. She is now working on her doctorate in physical therapy, “and I am still here,” she said with a smile.

“This is our first day,” said Cary Napoles, who was there with her niece, Mia Villanueva, who heard about “Mrs. Jacky’s Soldiers” when looking for a way to get service hours for school.

Connelly said the group now sends several boxes per month to 11 soldiers, mainly stationed in Afghanistan or Kuwait, on ships.

“A few are going back to Iraq again, too,” she noted.

She knows the importance of care packages because her mother, Milly, used to send them to her father, Al Fillwalk, when he was in Europe during World War II. In honor of her parents, she puts “Kilroy was here” stickers on every box, replicating the drawings common in World War II, and adds a Freda the frog sticker that has become her symbol.

”There is a little bit of me and my parents on every box,” Connelly said.

Care package donations may be dropped off at the Oak View center. In addition to packaged snacks, cereal, dry soups, tea, coffee and gum, leftover packets of condiments like ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce from restaurants are also popular with the troops. Toothbrushes and travel-sized containers of toothpaste, deodorant and other hygiene products are also accepted, along with books, magazines, puzzles, playing cards, DVDS, CDs and batteries (other than lithium).

“They tell us they need things to occupy their minds in the downtime,” said Connelly, who treasures the thank you notes and photos she receives.

“What we could really use now is postage stamps, of all denominations,” said Connelly. “It costs $18.75 to mail each box, and right now we have enough for one more month.” All donations may be dropped off at the front desk of the Oak View Center between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

New volunteers are always welcome, too. Velma Kellup, of Oak Lawn, has been volunteering for three years, since coming to the Oak View Center for an AARP program.

“It is just a nice way to give back and meet people,” she said.

Palos Hills Board wants to relieve traffic congestion near Stagg High School

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills officials are hoping an ordinance update will curb the traffic concerns at Stagg High School.

Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) told council members during the committee of the whole meeting last Thursday he is recommending the city fine tune its ordinance pertaining to the parking and stopping of vehicles on Roberts Road from 111th to 114th streets.

Brachman said he recently met with Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley in hopes of creating a solution to the gridlock that occurs in the morning and afternoon around the high school, 8015 W. 111th St. The alderman said many drivers are not entering the school’s parking lot to drop off students but instead stopping along Roberts Road from 111th Street to 114th Street to let students out. The high school’s policy is for drivers to enter the school parking lot to drop off or pick up students.

“It’s causing some problems,” Brachman said of drivers not abiding by the drop-off and pick-up guidelines.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerard Bennett said those who use Roberts Road as a pick-up or drop-off point then typically make a U-turn, which congests the intersection.

“The problem is on the west side of Roberts right past the light people are stopping, parking and letting their kids off and then making U-turns,” Bennett said. “The school is asking us to regulate that so there is no stopping, parking because there is a designated area for parents to pull in and drop off their kids. When cars pull to the curb they start backing traffic up into the intersection along Roberts Road and it becomes a mess.”

The city has a few ordinances on the books related to that portion of Roberts Road but “they are very disjointed and segmented,’” Weakley said.

“There are some contradictions within the various ordinances,” Weakley said after the meeting. “There’s just a mishmash of ordinances that need to be consolidated into one.”

That consolidation, which is expected to go before the council for approval on Dec. 15, will result in the ordinance being “real simple,” Bennett said.

“No parking or stopping on the entire west side of Roberts Road,” he said when asked the basics of the ordinance.

Tidying up the ordinance should result in the city reaching “its ultimate goal,” Weakley said.

“Everyone is in a hurry and the residents or parents don’t like getting tied up in the designated drop-off line,” Weakley said. “They drop their kids off on the west side of the road and then swing a U-turn and maybe there are some kids being dropped off on the east side of the roadway that are running across the street and the general concern is that someone is going to get hurt or worse. We don’t want that to happen.

“The new (consolidated) ordinance is going to govern the idea of stopping, standing, parking and passenger pick-up and drop-off on Roberts Road.”

Bennett said once the ordinance goes into effect violators could receive a ticket of $80.

In other news, the Dunkin’ Donuts planned at the corner of 111th Street and Roberts Road will not open until the spring of 2017 at the earliest, Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th Ward) said after the meeting. Nowak said a little more than a month ago that she hoped the coffee and baked-goods shop could open by the end of 2016 but that is no longer the case.

Nowak had better news to report on Bertucci’s restaurant, which closed without warning around a year ago. The Italian eatery, 10331 S. Roberts Road, is slated to reopen on Dec. 11, she said.

Richards student honored for volunteer work

  • Written by Michelle Zalesny

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Photo by Michelle Zalesny

Nick Aggelopoulos, a senior at Richards High School, is receiving the Cook County Sheriff’s Youth Service Medal of Honor.

 


Nick Aggelopoulos is not someone who sits on the sidelines. And this volunteer has been recognized for his efforts.

Aggelopoulos, 18, a senior at Richards High School, will receive a Cook County Sheriff’s Youth Service Medal of Honor today (Thursday, Dec. 1) for his volunteering services within the community.

He has dedicated more than 100 hours of his time last year volunteering at various organizations, including refereeing for District 218’s Special Olympics basketball team, coaching for the Palos Stars football team, and volunteering as a summer camp leader for students K-5 at his church youth group, as well as working at the Village of Oak Lawn’s annual Fall on the Green Festival this year.

When not volunteering, you can find him participating in drama club and crew, acting in this year’s fall play, attending a speech tournament, or at his afterschool job at a local grocery store.

Volunteering came naturally to Aggelopoulos from a young age, ever since he started participating in vacation bible school at his church youth group in kindergarten. For him, volunteering was always the next step.

“I always liked to give. Growing up I didn’t get a job until sophomore year so I just kind of gave and gave and gave because I liked the feeling. When I refereed for the basketball team, I thought it was a great feeling to see everyone’s faces and how positive the situation was. I was glad to be a part of it. There was a certain comradery to it. I haven’t stopped since fifth grade.”

But it was his mom that really pushed him to become active within the community.

“My mom has been with me the entire process of me volunteering, and of course she’s been to the games, to the bible schools; she has been with me for all of it and she’s pushed me to do a lot of these things,” he admits.

His unwavering determination to give back to the community has not ceased, not even when he suffered injuries participating in high school sports like football, which he had to inevitably give up.

“I was doing really well in football, but sometimes life gets in the way and you can’t always be promised tomorrow. So you just got to make the best out of each day. Volunteering is a great thing for me because it makes me really happy and it makes me feel fulfilled with each day I do it.”

Even his teachers have acknowledged how volunteering continues to mold and shape him as a person.

“He is a tremendously caring, thoughtful, and humorous young man that is full of energy and always willing to help others,” said Mike Badger, Richard’s High School English teacher and drama director. “It is my hope that Nick realizes for himself what the rest of us have come to see: that, even though he may still be developing as a person, he already is a wonderful young man and we cannot wait to see what great things he accomplishes.”

When asked why he volunteers, Aggelopoulos couldn’t help but smile and laugh. “I feel good while doing it. I know I’m doing something good. Not only am I doing something good for myself, but for others. When I can look back on that, it’s good memories and good times.”

The Youth Service Medal of Honor recognizes high school students that have volunteered a minimum of 100 hours of service to their communities during the previous year. Students who meet the criteria are honored at a ceremony and presented with the award by Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart.

With the award adding recognition to Aggelopoulos achievements, he still plans to continue volunteering.

“It’s a great achievement and I feel like I’ve worked very hard at the stuff I’ve volunteered in. And I do greatly appreciate the recognition, but I want to keep going and I want to see how much more I can do. I don’t really think there’s a limit to volunteering. I think that why it’s volunteering, because you can just keep going,” he said.

After graduation, Aggelopoulos plans to attend college. “I want to major in criminal justice and become a police officer so I can help the community.”

Social work and joining the Peace Corps after college also beckons on the horizon.

By Michelle Zalesny

Nick Aggelopoulos is not someone who sits on the sideline. And this volunteer has been recognized for his efforts.

Aggelopoulos, 18, a senior at Richards High School, will receive a Cook County Sheriff’s Youth Service Medal of Honor today (Thursday, Dec. 1) for his volunteering services within the community.

He has dedicated more than 100 hours of his time last year volunteering at various organizations, including refereeing for District 218’s Special Olympics basketball team, coaching for the Palos Stars football team, and volunteering as a summer camp leader for students K-5 at his church youth group, as well as working at the Village of Oak Lawn’s annual Fall on the Green Festival this year.

When not volunteering, you can find him participating in drama club and crew, acting in this year’s fall play, attending a speech tournament, or at his afterschool job at a local grocery store.

Volunteering came naturally to Aggelopoulos from a young age, ever since he started participating in vacation bible school at his church youth group in kindergarten. For him, volunteering was always the next step.

“I always liked to give. Growing up I didn’t get a job until sophomore year so I just kind of gave and gave and gave because I liked the feeling. When I refereed for the basketball team, I thought it was a great feeling to see everyone’s faces and how positive the situation was. I was glad to be a part of it. There was a certain comradery to it. I haven’t stopped since fifth grade.”

But it was his mom that really pushed him to become active within the community.

“My mom has been with me the entire process of me volunteering, and of course she’s been to the games, to the bible schools; she has been with me for all of it and she’s pushed me to do a lot of these things,” he admits.

His unwavering determination to give back to the community has not ceased, not even when he suffered injuries participating in high school sports like football, which he had to inevitably give up.

“I was doing really well in football, but sometimes life gets in the way and you can’t always be promised tomorrow. So you just got to make the best out of each day. Volunteering is a great thing for me because it makes me really happy and it makes me feel fulfilled with each day I do it.”

Even his teachers have acknowledged how volunteering continues to mold and shape him as a person.

“He is a tremendously caring, thoughtful, and humorous young man that is full of energy and always willing to help others,” said Mike Badger, Richard’s High School English teacher and drama director. “It is my hope that Nick realizes for himself what the rest of us have come to see: that, even though he may still be developing as a person, he already is a wonderful young man and we cannot wait to see what great things he accomplishes.”

When asked why he volunteers, Aggelopoulos couldn’t help but smile and laugh. “I feel good while doing it. I know I’m doing something good. Not only am I doing something good for myself, but for others. When I can look back on that, it’s good memories and good times.”

The Youth Service Medal of Honor recognizes high school students that have volunteered a minimum of 100 hours of service to their communities during the previous year. Students who meet the criteria are honored at a ceremony and presented with the award by Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart.

With the award adding recognition to Aggelopoulos achievements, he still plans to continue volunteering.

“It’s a great achievement and I feel like I’ve worked very hard at the stuff I’ve volunteered in. And I do greatly appreciate the recognition, but I want to keep going and I want to see how much more I can do. I don’t really think there’s a limit to volunteering. I think that why it’s volunteering, because you can just keep going,” he said.

After graduation, Aggelopoulos plans to attend college. “I want to major in criminal justice and become a police officer so I can help the community.”

Social work and joining the Peace Corps after college also beckons on the horizon.