Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: It was a final show of Pride in the regionals

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Queen of Peace players celebrate a surprise regional title – its first since 2008.



The final athletic event for soon-to-be-closed Queen of Peace High School took place on Tuesday as the softball team dropped a 11-1 decision to powerhouse Nazareth Academy at the Nazareth Class 3A Sectional in LaGrange Park.

Yes, there were the usual tears and miserable feelings that come with the end of an era like this.

But one thing can’t be taken away from these players.


The Pride faced De La Salle in the Illinois High School Association regional finals at what turned out to be the last sporting event hosted at the Burbank school.

All indications were that the crying and miserable feelings for the Pride was going to take place, oh, somewhere between 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. after it lost to the Meteors.

The Pride entered the game with a 9-20 record and was the fifth seed in the sectional. It had already lost to fourth-seeded De La Salle three times. On April 22, the Meteors beat the Pride, 11-4 and 8-7 in a doubleheader in Chicago. On May 12, De La Salle won 16-6 in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference tournament.

So there was that…



The Pride players also had to play in front of a third coach this season.

Kelly Small was relieved of her duties in early May.

“She’s a good kid, but I had to make some changes,” Pride Athletic Director George Shimko said but wouldn’t give specifics.

Assistant coach Stephanie Ruvalcaba took over the job but had a family event and that caused JV coach Andy Schindel to take over the team on Saturday.

So there was that…

There was also thought of this being their last game hanging over the players’ heads.

But Peace came up with a stunning 10-3 victory over the Meteors and instead of tears and misery, there was an unexpected regional trophy and celebration.

It was the program’s sixth regional title and first since 2008.

And the Pride’s last.

“What a way to go out,” Shimko said.

“This was very memorable and everyone is going to love it,” said Amber Anderson, a senior who transferred to the school after her first school, Mt. Assisi, closed after her freshman year. “The last game here couldn’t have gone any better.’’

The Pride took a 7-0 lead and, despite a few anxious moments at the end of the game, got out of a few jams and won the title.

“This was actually amazing,” Schindel said. “The girls were ready to play softball. We had a really good practice (Friday) and progressively, we continued to get better. I couldn’t be happier with the way they came out and played and the way they decided to take over.”

Losing three games to the Meteors was ancient history when the players stepped on their home field for the last time.

“We didn’t think about the other games at all – we knew we couldn’t come out with any negativity,” Anderson said. “We came out here knowing we could do it.’’

Other members on the 13-member roster this season were Alex Demma, Ashley Lynch, Morgan Fitzgerald, Nicole Rybolt, Genae Grabowski, Jovannna Martinuccci, Autumn Rizzo, Meagan Hecker, Kelly Tomaskovic, Kelly Walinski, Emilia Flores and Ashley Kevin.

“They stepped up to the place literally,” Schindel said. “They had some fun today. They had a lot of fun and I’m very proud of them. I wasn’t necessarily nervous – anxious is a better word. I was prepared and they were prepared and came out and got the win today.

“It’s definitely an experience I will never forget. ’’



Violent brawl at Oak Lawn High School leads to arrest

  • Written by Staff and wire reports

Two female students engaged in a violent brawl Monday morning at Oak Lawn Community High School, with one of the students stabbing and injuring the other with a pair of scissors.

The students who suffered lacerations to her arms, neck, and forehead was identified as Destinee Garza. She reportedly was treated at a hospital and released.

The girl with the scissors was not identified, but she was arrested by Oak Lawn police later in the day. She had fled the school after the fight broke up.

Video of the hallway brawl, recorded by numerous students on their cellphones, was widely distributed on social media.

Garza’s mother, Barbara Garza, told ABC-TV Eyewitness News that the other girl was “out to kill my child.”

That girl showed no remorse,” Barbara Garza said.

The melee, which broke out about 11 a.m. between classes, lasted about 35 seconds, according to reports. Video of the incident show numerous punches being thrown by both girls.

Destinee Garza, who is seen in the video of the incident wearing a black T-shirt and shorts, told ABC-7 that she was attacked by the other student.

“I felt something, but…it didn’t feel like a punch,” she said in the TV interview. “She just kept stabbing me, I guess. I didn’t know she had the scissors in her hand at all.”

Oak Lawn police did not have any further comment after the incident because the two girls are juveniles. But police did say that the girl with the scissors will be petitioned to juvenile court. She could be charged with aggravated battery.

In a statement to ABC-TV, a school district spokesperson said: “We have very high expectations, both academically and behaviorally for our students at Oak Lawn Community High School. It is part of our school’s mission to provide a safe and secure learning environment for our students, which is why we are so disappointed by the actions of these individuals. We will utilize appropriate school procedures to ensure each student’s due process rights are provided, and we will then determine shat school consequences will be issued. These consequences may include external suspension and referral to the Board of Education for expulsion.”

Queen of Peace graduates say memories will sustain them

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


queen of peace grads photo 5-25


Photo by Dermot Connolly

Friends from Queen of Peace class of 2017 gather for a photo following their graduation ceremony on May 20.



Calling graduation ceremonies “bittersweet” may be overused, but it was a fitting description repeated often after the last Queen of Peace High School graduating class ever received their diplomas on Saturday at the Burbank school.

The Catholic school for girls, at 7659 S. Linder Ave. since the Sinsinawa Dominican order of nuns founded it in 1963, will close its doors when the school year ends tomorrow, Friday, May 26, due to financial hardship. So graduation was especially meaningful for the 80 young women in the Class of 2017. Many graduates admitted shedding tears at the ceremony, but the mood was celebratory in at the reception afterward in the cafeteria, as the graduates with diplomas in hand posed for photos with family and friends.

The senior class chose Principal Catherine Klod as their graduation speaker. Salutatorians Natalie Jurek and Katie Cerven, of Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, and Patricia Fox, who was co-Woman of the Year with Natalie, also spoke before valedictorian Kelly Fitzgerald, of Chicago Ridge.

Calling them “a hard act to follow,” Fitzgerald said being named valedictorian “the greatest honor I’ve ever received.”

“I want to do all of you justice (with this speech), especially since we are the last graduating class from Queen of Peace High School, and I am the last valedictorian to speak on this stage.

“In my mind, writing this speech meant saying goodbye, and I wanted to put that off for as long as I could. I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready. But that is what life's all about, isn’t it? Our whole lives can change in one single moment. As exciting as that thought may be, it’s also kind of terrifying. Everything we know is about to change.”

Both she and Cerven are among the Queen of Peace students experiencing a school closing for the second time, having come from Mount Assisi when that school closed three years ago, following their freshman year.

“Mount Assisi closing was one of the hardest things I’ve had to face, but it was also one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because here I am, standing before you today. When faced with a major change, we often feel as if though our world is ending. In some ways it is. Graduating from high school is an end, yes, but it’s also a new beginning. This chapter of our lives is over, but not the whole book. We’re just getting started,” said Fitzgerald.

“We've seen the best of times together and the worst of times...we've made memories that will last a lifetime in these very halls,” added Fitzgerald. “We've also endured the loss of friends and family members. We've seen our friends and classmates struggle with issues that no 17- or 18-year-old should face. We’ve been forced to grow up in a lot of ways. These moments are not what define us, though. Our ability to overcome these tragedies are what define us.

“This is not just a school, and we are no average class,” she continued. “On Jan. 24, 2017, we received the news that our beloved school was closing. There’s a common saying that goes, 'You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone,' which is true. Every day I got to school and I went through the motions, never taking the time to appreciate all that I had. I knew we would be graduating this year, but when I found out the news I was so upset because we were supposed to leave the school, the school wasn’t supposed to leave us. But it’s not. Regardless of what happens to the building, your legacy remains the same. You were here. You walked these halls. You spent four years of your life changing and learning and making mistakes and growing. We all grew up here. None of us are the same as we were four years ago. The thought of not having this place to come back to breaks my heart, but as so many have said, Queen of Peace is not a building. It’s you. It’s the values that have been instilled in you. It’s your teachers and the faculty and staff. It’s the smiling faces. It’s the memories you’ve made. All of us sitting in this room are Queen of Peace. Home is not a building. We are your home, and we will be here to come back to no matter what.”

She advised her classmates to think for themselves.

“You should absolutely value other people’s opinions, but this is your life…how other people see you is nothing in comparison to how you see yourself. I’m sorry that’s really cheesy, but it’s true. I am valedictorian of this class, which has been the greatest honor of my life, but I don’t want to be a doctor or lawyer or thousands of dollars in debt. I’m not going to Harvard or Yale. I’m going to Moraine Valley Community College to study theater,” she revealed.

“I know there are good times ahead. I know that there will be tough times, too. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. Thanks to Queen of Peace, I trust that we all have the ability to go forward and create our own path to follow…I started high school shy and anxious; but now, I’m ready for whatever life throws my way. And for the times that I can’t handle what life throws at me, I have a community of sisters to fall back on.

“Don’t waste a single moment, and no matter what people tell you, you can change the world. Your ideas and beliefs matter. Your voice deserves to be heard, and when the world doesn’t listen, then shout. Ask any of the teachers, they know how loud we can be.”

She ended with a quote from St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

 “The ceremony was sad. I am going to miss this school,” said Cerven afterward.

Katie Spencer, of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, agreed that the closing was bittersweet.

“But it’s kind of a relief, that we finished everything,” she said with a smile. She is looking forward to studying civil engineering and Spanish at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the fall.

“She got a great education here. Some of these teachers are unbelievable,” said her father, Bryan Spencer. “It is a shame that it is closing. If they just had 15 more students it might have stayed open.”

 “It’s a very good school. We are very sad to see it close,” said parent Bridget Carey, of Burbank, who was in the Pride Shop with her daughter, Mikayla, and her classmate, Isslee Lee, from Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood.

The girls will be at different schools now. Mikayla is among some 148 Queen of Peace students moving to St. Laurence High School next door, which is welcoming Queen of Peace students before becoming fully co-ed in the coming years. Lee is going to Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights.

“I was in tears listening to (Fitzgerald). I tilted my head back to stop the tears and my hat fell off,” said graduate Alejandra Zavala, of Brighton Park. “But that is how life is,” she said, looking forward to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale this fall.

Plans for performing arts center unveiled

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

olchs art rendering 5-25-17

This artist rendering shows an aerial view of what the Oak Lawn Community High Performing Arts Center will look like. The 25,000-square-foot facility will replace the north tennis courts and will be located near 95th and Austin Avenue, just north of the football field and track.


Construction will begin over the Memorial Day weekend for a state-of-the-art performing arts center on the campus of Oak Lawn Community High School.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place on Wednesday night for the center, which will be located where tennis courts are presently located at the northwest corner of the campus near 95th Street and Austin Avenue.

“Oak Lawn Community High School has wonderful amenities, but the one thing it doesn’t have is a theater,” said Dr. Michael Riordan, District 229 superintendent, during a sparsely-attended community meeting Monday night at the school. “We are now going to make this a reality.”

Riordan said that the students deserve a performing arts center, pointing to the fact that Oak Lawn Community High School has won 11 Illinois High School Association Drama state championships, one speech state title, and numerous band and choir accomplishments.

Robert Loehr, president of the District 229 Board of Education, said the project should take just over a year to complete.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure this is done with as little inconvenience as possible for the neighborhood,” Loehr said.

Mary Lou Harker, who lives near the high school and has been active in various organizations and has served as a community activist, said that she is in agreement that the students deserve a performing arts center. But she still had some concerns.

“I’m for it, I’m just saying that I think our little neighborhood has taken a beating,” Harker said, believing the project could create congestion and an increase in noise.

Riordan responded that there always could be some unforeseen occurrences. However, he assured residents that trucks from the Henry Bros. construction company in Oak Lawn will not drive down side streets while the project is going on.

The superintendent added that if residents had any concerns, they can call him at school or send an email.

Plans for a performing arts center for Richards High School, 10601 S. Central Ave., Oak Lawn, is also going to take place.

The PAC will be multifunctional, including a seating capacity of 630, and a Black Box Theater that will allow for rehearsals and a performance theater. An orchestra pit will be at the front of the stage and dressing rooms and a scene shop will be available for performers. The center will be about 25,000 feet.

“Before the students had to use the bathrooms to dress,” said Marcus Wargin, the stage manager for the theater department.

Riordan said the these features will help alleviate some of the gymnasium congestion and function as a venue for the fall musical, spring competitive plays, band and choir concerts, honors nights, academic letter nights, class meetings, and various parent presentations.

The center will be built at the northwest end of the campus and replace the tennis courts. The new structure will be attached to the main building. The tennis program will get eight brand new tennis courts at the north end of campus.

Riordan said a retention pond will be built near the football field to prevent flooding. The area where construction is going to take place will also be fenced in, according to Riordan. Joseph McCurdy, the assistant principal at Oak Lawn High, said that along with the new location for the additional tennis courts, space will be provided for the shotput and discus throwing.

One resident wondered if the Oak Lawn Park District Theater Program could utilize the facility when it was available. They also asked if other organizations could use the center.

“Our thinking is Oak Lawn (High School) kids come first,” Riordan said. “Whenever we are not using it, we would be open to having other groups to use it. We would like to see it used all day and night.”

Riordan said that first phase of construction will include demolition of the north end tennis courts, the installation of a fire lane, and the installation of a water storage area.

“We have to start these projects because we have to have the tennis courts ready for the tennis season,” Riordan said.

Riordan added that the north driveway will be closed most of the summer when there are fewer students at school. The south lot will be accessible off Austin Avenue. The tennis courts should be completed by Aug. 28, Riordan added.

Also attending the meeting were Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen and trustees Alex Olejniczak (2nd) and Bud Stalker (5th). Olejniczak was in agreement that the performing arts center will be a great benefit for Oak Lawn Community High School students.

“You should all be commended for making this happen,” Olejniczak said to the high school officials. “”This is going to be a huge diamond that will be used by Oak Lawn students for years to come.”

Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge will continue to share fire chief

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge have shared a fire chief since 2014, and by mutual agreement between the neighboring villages, Chief George Sheets will continue wearing two hats for at least four more years.

The Oak Lawn Village Board passed the new intergovernmental agreement to continue the arrangement last week without much comment, and the Chicago Ridge Village Board followed suit at its meeting on Tuesday.

“I don’t see any reason to change the agreement. It has been working out well for everyone,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar before the board approved it unanimously.

Oak Lawn, being the larger community, covers two-thirds of Sheets’ salary, in addition to benefits, and Chicago Ridge is responsible for one-third. The exact salary agreement was not available this week, but Tokar said it costs the village about $50,000 annually. Sheets, who lives in Oak Lawn, said the agreement calls for the Chicago Ridge portion of the salary to increase by 5 percent each year.

The relationship between management and members of the firefighters union in Oak Lawn has been difficult at times in recent years, primarily due to staffing and other issues that have led to lawsuits. But everyone in Chicago Ridge seems to agree that having Sheets on board has worked out very well.

Prior to the vote on Tuesday, Chicago Ridge Fire Lt. Chris Schmelzer, president of the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Union Local 3098, sent Tokar a glowing recommendation letter regarding Sheets’ value to the department, and asked him to share it with the trustees.

Schmelzer cited several accomplishments that have been achieved under Sheets’ leadership in Chicago Ridge, including the introduction of a part-time firefighter program in which part-time and full-time staff work together. This has also allowed for the opening of the Lombard Avenue fire station. That station initially opened part-time, but was expanded to full-time this year, providing ambulance service to the main residential section of the village.

Schmelzer also acknowledged in the letter that union members did not initially welcome Sheets.

“To say he wasn’t welcomed with open arms would be an understatement of the grandest kind,” said the union president. “I don’t have a problem admitting when I made a mistake, and this was one of them,” he added.

“As an officer of the department I can say that he gives the managerial staff the latitude to perform their duties without undue interference. Micromanagement does not seem to be in his vocabulary,” Schmelzer said. “He has dealt with adversity better than anyone,” said Schmelzer, adding that Sheets’ style of leadership has resulted in all grievances being settled “in house” without involving committees or the Village Board.

In his letter to the mayor, Schmelzer also said Sheets’ management style, and realignment of the chain of command, has improved the department mindset.

“In my 21 years with this department, morale has never been higher. We have gone from a stagnant, disgruntled group of employees that a lot of other departments looked down upon, to a proud, active team that is a model of success,” added Schmelzer.

“I'm having a fantastic time with the shared arrangement. Today, I realized that I've been in the profession for 36 years with 21 of those years as a career fire chief,” said Sheets on Tuesday.

Last year, there was talk that he might leave the Chicago Ridge role after seeing projects through to completion, including the part-time program and the opening of the Lombard Avenue station.

“At this time, I have no intentions of retirement. I enjoy what I’m doing and I am having fun doing it,” said Sheets, describing the shared arrangement as “fantastic.”

He splits his days between the two villages, and their close proximity allows him to travel between his offices quickly.

“What started out as an experiment in regionalism has proven to be extremely successful. Of course, I would not be as successful if not for the trust and confidence of Mayor Tokar, and the assistance of President Schmelzer and the buy-in from the membership.

Chris is certainly a master at negotiating, but equally as important, he is an exceptional leader in labor/management relations,” said Sheets.