Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: No longer cursing area's big running event

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Before I started working for Editor Jack Murray at the Regional, my only thoughts about the annual half marathon in Palos Heights were dark.

I didn’t call it the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon.

It was known to me as the #$%-ing marathon because three years in a row, it screwed up my Sundays. I didn’t even know it was a half-marathon but I cursed the halfwits who would help made my life miserable by closing down streets I needed to use to get my kid to a basketball tournament in the north suburbs. Half marathons three, four and five will always be remembered for having long trips made even longer.

So I get the job in this company in the late summer of 2012 and sometime around December, Murray tells me he wants me to start covering committee meetings for the marathon.

Ok, fine, when do the meetings start?

He said the first Friday in January.


But the half-marathon isn’t until May! What in the heck could they be talking about in January?


I have a pretty extensive background in sports. Not to brag, but I have had the luck and honor of being in the White Sox locker room in Houston almost 10 years ago when they won the World Series and my clothes were drenched with champagne. I have covered the NBA Finals during the Bulls runs. I’ve covered several Indy 500 races and the historic inaugural Brickyard 500.

Not many can say this, but I shook Kerry Wood’s hand minutes after he struck out 20 Houston batters in 1998, I shook Sammy Sosa’s hand minutes after he hit his  500th home run when he was with the Cubs and shook his hand after he hit No. 600 with the Texas Rangers against the Cubs. I shook Greg Maddux’s hand after he won his 300th game.

But of all the cool events I’ve been blessed to cover and all the background stuff I’ve seen, I have usually only seen the finished product and not much of the hard work that goes behind it.

They say you never want to see how the sausage is made, but I learned a lot about the minutia of running a huge event by covering the half-marathon committee meetings.

The two guys running the show – Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab – did plenty of legwork before the first January. But once the committee people all gathered for their first meeting in a meeting room at the Palos Heights Rec Center and saw the first agenda, I realized that we were at the stage where this was the clay and there were five months to mold it into something special.

Even though they had run a handful of half marathons before, so much planning and work had to be done.

The cops and firemen from various municipalities and the county had to be all on the same page.

The Palos Heights Public Works department was in charge of getting permits and in charge of the logistics and setting up and cleaning up.  Loyola University brought in the medical people for a tent that gets used quite a bit after people run 13 miles.

There are hundreds of volunteers needed and someone has to recruit them and have a game plan as to what they will do and when they will do it. Someone had to invite mascots from various schools in the area to have them run in a pre-race mascot race to entertain the kids.

Don’t forget the parking! You can’t have thousands of people show up for a race and not have a parking plan.

We’re not even close to being done, here. There are people behind the scenes working on hotel arrangements, public relations, putting out a race program, security, charities, vendors, refreshment tables, gear checks, goody bag stuffers and running the city’s business expo the day before the big race.

Last, but certainly not least, someone has to be in charge of the beer tent.

To put an added wrinkle on the 2013 race, there was the bombing at the Boston Marathon less than a month before Palos Heights event and there were the duties of adding extra security for the race.

I’m not going to lie, these monthly meetings could get dull. But as the months went by, you could see the mold take shape until April and there were still a few areas of concern that made me think “how in the heck are they going to pull this bad boy off?”

But they did.

When the 2013 race was over and the cleanup started and masterminds Diab and Prestinario looked like they just had all of the energy ripped right out of their bodies, I realized that I had followed this story from its infant stages until the end. I had never had the pleasure of covering something like that before.

By 2014, I was editor of the Reporter and Tim Hadac took over the monthly grind and I showed up for a few meetings for column material. It’s the same with this year.  It’s not quite the same, but I get to see bits and pieces of the process.

The race itself is fun to cover as there are thousands of runners and thousands of great stories out there.

I have a great appreciation for the half-marathon. It’s no longer the #$%-ing marathon to me.

So for those of you who will have your Sunday screwed up because some of the street will be closed, you have a right to blow off some steam.

But keep in mind that a lot of good people doing a lot of hard work have been busy making this a special event for the thousands who participate or watch.


OL trustees not interested in allowing video gaming to new owners if Big Pappa’s sellsto new owners if Big Pappa’s sells

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Health problems are causing a popular Oak Lawn restaurateur to sell her business, but Oak Lawn trustees showed no love for a prospective buyer’s request for a liquor license that would allow him to move ahead with his purchase.

Sandra DiGangi is known for her food and her volunteerism. Since 2010, she has been preparing thousands of free Christmas dinners for the needy at her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. Last year, the village board approved her request for a liquor license that allowed her to add five video poker machines in a side room.

However, in recent months, illness has prevented her from working, and DiGangi is trying to sell the business.

“I’ve been in and out of hospital,” she said, most recently with a burst appendix, and has been depending on her son to run the restaurant.

She found a prospective buyer, Anthony Donato, but trustees were not impressed with his plan to open “Anna’s Gaming and Gyros,” in the storefront. Donato, 31, said he owns other similar businesses elsewhere in Illinois, and would essentially keep the same menu.

 A request to approve a Class “FV” liquor license, allowing beer and wine in a restaurant—the same license DiGangi already has—was on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting. But when Mayor Sandra Bury mentioned it, none of the six trustees provided the “second” needed to bring it up for a vote, so it effectively died.  However, Bury did allow Mike Walsh, the attorney for DiGangi, to speak about the issue.

Walsh, a former Oak Lawn trustee himself, praised DiGangi for getting involved in the community and providing the holiday meals. He asserted that she improved the value of the business with the liquor license and video gaming, and “there have been no police calls” since they were added.

He said that denying the liquor license for essentially the same type of business will hurt the village, and leave a storefront empty, while Donato will just open up his business in Alsip or another neighboring community.

“No one is being protected but someone (DiGangi) is going to be hurt,” the attorney said.

Trustee Carol Quinlan (5th) told Walsh that she had an issue with the proposed new name. She said she had voted to give DiGangi the license last year, but objected to “Gaming and Gyros,” because it appeared the focus was on gaming rather than food.

“That is not Oak Lawn,” she said, explaining why she would be against if even if it had been brought up for a vote. Trustee Michael Carberry (6th) also said he felt it was “not the right fit for Oak Lawn.”

Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) told Walsh he had voted against giving Big Pappa’s the license last year.

“I was against it and I am going to stay constant,” he said, asserting that there is already enough video gaming in Oak Lawn. Mayor Bury agreed, saying that according to the latest statistics released in March, more than $9 million has already been wagered in the 30 gambling venues in the village.

 “I have no moral objection to gambling.  Adults should be able to do it if they want,” said Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) after the meeting.  

But he said he did not want to turn Oak Lawn into Las Vegas, with  video poker machines everywhere.

“Plus, the intention of the video gaming was to help existing businesses,” rather than bringing in new ones.  He also questioned Walsh’s claim that the liquor license improved the value of the business. “It is just a license. It is not a business improvement,” he said.

“I definitely support Sandy (DiGangi). She has dedicated herself to this community,” said Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), “But a lot of good points were brought up (for not approving Donato’s license application).”

While Donato said he couldn’t understand why the license denial, DiGangi did not seem discouraged.

“This deal right here is probably going to crash, but there are other options,” she said.

Dogged by the canine flu

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

The gates are locked at the Happy Bark Park and EP officials hope to open them up again next week but it will depend on the status of the dangers posed by the canine flu.


By Claudia Parker

and Tim Hadac

Reporter News

         You won’t hear any happy barks at Evergreen Park's Happy Bark Park because for now as it remains closed.     

            The park, which had been locked up for most of April, is one of several services or businesses that have been affected by a national outbreak of canine flu that is hitting close to home. Earlier in the week, the flu reportedly killed a dog in McHenry County so dog owners in the Chicago area are not out of the woods, yet.   

            Evergreen Park was one of the first to shut down its dog park, a facility that was opened July 31 at 91st Street and California Avenue.

“LaPar Animal Hospital’s veterinarian, Dr. Matt Bauer, advised us to close the dog park as a precaution,” Mayor Jim Sexton said after Monday’s board meeting. “According to our knowledge, none of our local pets have been affected by the dog flu.”

            Village Clerk Cathy Aparo said an e-mail from Bauer suggested keeping the park closed for another week until the dog flu passes.

            Bauer said Tuesday that if he sees minimized cases of the flu for 10-14 days, he will recommend the park be reopened.

            “The surge is dwindling,” Bauer said.

In a move that officials hope will keep stray animals away from the park, the village will tighten entrance security when the park opens again.

Those who register for the park will receive a fob card, which works similar to a hotel swipe card. When waved in front of the reader, it will provide entry. Aparo said that each fob card ID number is registered to the owner and their pet. The pet license is $5 and the fob card is $20, Aparo said.  

Aparo is a doting dog owner herself. She said she wants everyone to feel safe bringing their dog into the park when it reopens. “There’s a large enough space where the dogs can move around comfortably,” said Aparo. “There are sections for small, medium and large dogs but they aren’t isolated to those areas. Big dogs can move into the small dog space and vice versa.” 

Aparo cautions owners not to bring their dog into the park if they aren’t social, to avoid doggy quarreling. “We encourage owners not to bring their pet’s toys in. Other dogs will see them and want to play with them too. Dogs are like kids, they’ll fight over things.”  

Subhead – Bo knows safety

In Oak Lawn Bailey’s Crossing Dog Park is still open for business but last Thursday afternoon, just one customer, Bo, a Cocker Spaniel/Bichon mix, was romping around.

His owner, Oak Lawn’s Joanne Niemiec, said that if another dog came to the park, she would remove Bo from the facility because of the flu epidemic. She also discouraged her pooch from drinking out of a bowl that other dogs have used at the park.

Bauer said that he recommends the same precautions.

Meanwhile, the flu’s ripple effects are causing damage as it sweeps through the area.

            “This is normally my busiest season, and I usually groom at least 40 dogs a week with a waiting list of about two weeks,” said Pam Barnett, owner of Pack Leader Academy, an all-breed dog grooming and training business in Palos Heights. “But last week? Just 13 dogs. Person after person called and cancelled appointments.”

            Dog owners are cancelling or at least postponing such visits based on the advice of veterinarians.

            “Due to the high risk of canine influenza virus spreading from dog to dog, pet owners should not allow their dogs to either socialize with other dogs or participate in any group dog training activities,” the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) said in a recent statement. “Pet owners are advised to not board their dogs at kennels and to avoid doggie day care, dog parks, and grooming facilities at this time.”

Symptoms include persistent, hacking cough, lethargic behavior, a poor appetite, nasal discharge, trouble breathing, or a fever. Testing for canine influenza is available, and best results are obtained from samples taken very early in the onset of the illness.

SUBHEAD – Fido looks healthy but…

Part of the dilemma, however, is that dogs that appear healthy can carry the virus and spread it to other dogs—and even cats—days and even weeks before they show flu symptoms.

            “You see, it’s everywhere,” Barnett said.  “It’s not just a dog park or a dog day care or a grooming establishment. A dog could become infected just walking outside to go to the bathroom.

“Everybody loves dogs, everybody pets dogs, people are getting dogs, picking up dogs on the street and bringing them home,” she added. “People can’t help themselves, but that adds to the problem.”

About three weeks ago, Barnett said she was not seeing any flu-related effects on her business “because the flu cases seemed to be clustered well north of here.”

She said most of her customers “take unbelievable good care of their dogs, better than they take care of themselves, even—and a few of them wanted a guarantee that their dog would not get sick by coming here, but how could I guarantee that? Granted, I’ve handled dogs professionally for 34 years and I run a very clean shop. I don’t accept dogs I don’t know, and I take every precaution—hey, my own dogs are here—but no one can absolutely guarantee anything in a situation like this.”

SUBHEAD – ‘Yes, I’m worried’

Other owners of dog-related businesses have expressed similar concerns.

            “We haven’t had a huge amount of cancellations yet, but it’s still very early, and yes, I’m worried,” said an Orland Park groomer who wished to remain anonymous because she was concerned that adverse publicity could cause panic and make the collapse of her three-year-old business “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

While influenza in dogs is nothing new, the current outbreak is caused by a strain previously unseen in the U.S. It is common in Korea and other parts of Asia, and some believe it was accidentally imported into the U.S. in January, when a group of dogs that were being bred in South Korea as livestock for human consumption were rescued and brought to America.

            Since January, literally thousands of dogs in the Midwest—especially Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio—have taken ill. There is a flu vaccine for dogs, but it offers limited protection since it is not matched to the strain newly circulating in the Midwest.

While many more cases are anticipated, the silver lining in the cloud is that the mortality rate appears low, and just a handful of dogs have died this far. “But if one of those dogs is yours, well, you get the idea,” Barnett added.



--Reporter editor Jeff Vorva contributed to this report


This SXU pitcher did WHAT?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Pitcher Perfect

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nicole Nonnemacher had one of the greatest individual accomplishments in NAIA history as she threw a perfect game and struck out all 15 batters in a 9-0 five-inning win over Trinity International University on April 14.



At 3 p.m. on April 14, St. Xavier pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher walked onto the mound at her school and began throwing warmup pitches before a battle against Trinity International University.

An hour and 13 minutes later, she made history.

The junior pitcher, who was named NAIA Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore, not only threw a perfect game against TIU, she struck out all 15 batters she faced in the five-inning, 9-0 victory.

She threw just 57 pitches and 50 were for strikes. Trinity made contact just five times -- all foul balls.

Nonnemacher, a native of Bloomington, is just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game and strike out all 15 batters in a five-inning game. Emily Guess of Central Baptist Arkansas fanned 15 in a 27-0 victory over Hillside Free Will Baptist (Okla.) on April 18, 2011. Guess also fanned 15 in a five-inning game against Crowley’s Ridge (Ark.) in a 13-0 win four days later.

It was Nonnemacher’s second career perfect game for the Cougars. Mathematics, however,  prevented her from breaking her own school record for strikeouts as she fanned 18 neighboring Trinity Christian College batters On March 17 in a one-hit performance during a 5-0 victory.

For the full story, see sports.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Van Poppel lasts a long time despite not living up to huge hype

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions

Parents of youth league baseball players, what if I proposed this scenario to you?

If I told you that your kid would pitch in 11 seasons in the major leagues and make millions, you would likely tell me “Great!” and maybe turn a cartwheel or two.

If I told you, he might not be a superstar and might bounce around the league a little, including a couple of years with the Cubs, you might not want to turn that cartwheel, but you would have to admit it’s a pretty sweet scenario.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

For a dude named Todd Van Poppel, it wasn’t all that special.

A few weeks ago, my daughter was playing volleyball at this massive national qualifying tournament at McCormack Place and there were thousands of players, coaches and parents milling about. While I was chatting with another parent, a long distance away in this sea of humanity, there was former major league pitcher Todd Van Poppel purchasing some tournament shirts.

I wanted to chase him down and say hello to him, but he was too far away.

He played with the Cubs when I covered the team in 2000 and 2001 and he may or may not have remembered me.  Arguably, those were the two best seasons of his career as the setup man and racked up ERAs of 3.75 and 2.52 in his pair of years on the North Side.

By the time he reached the Cubs he was 29. He wasn’t the friendliest guy in the locker room but I was able to have a few decent conversations with him. By that time, he was beaten over the head over and over by fans and media about what a failure he was.

See, when he was in high school, he was supposed to be the next great thing.

He was going to be another Nolan Ryan.

He was a “can’t-miss” prospect.

In happier times, he was 11-3 with a 0.97 ERA and 170 strikeouts as a senior in Arlington, Texas. The world was his oyster.  

The Atlanta Braves were so geeked about him, they were all set to draft him in the first round. But legend has it that Van Poppel told the Braves no and they looked in another direction. They picked up an infielder named Larry Wayne Jones, Jr.

His nickname is “Chipper.’’

Chipper went on to have a pretty good career.

Van Poppel?

He signed with Oakland, made his debut at age 19 and became one of the top 10 “Can’t miss prospects that missed” according to one website. A Facebook wiseguy who writes “Ricos Funny Quotes” said “My retirement plan is just a shoebox filled with Todd Van Poppel rookie cards.’’

When Van Poppel signed with the A’s in 1990, the team selected four pitchers with their first 36 picks and people started calling them the “Four Aces.”

Despite people thinking he was a bust, Van Poppel was the ace of the Four Aces. The others were Don Peters, Dave Zancanaro and Kirk Dressendorfer. Dressendorfer lasted a month in the majors and the other two never made it.

It’s so dangerous to play the Potential Game. So many athletes in all sports have been the victims of too much hype before they even perform at the highest level. When they don’t live up to that hype, people resent them.

Look, I don’t remember Van Poppel telling the world he was going to be the next great thing. He wasn’t bragging that he would be a Hall of Fame pitcher. He was just a great high school pitcher whose career was seemingly mapped out by others. And it didn’t work out like they thought it would.

Here’s what I like about Van Poppel – he didn’t flame out at a young age and go home. He took all of the demotions to the minor leagues and from being a big-name starter to a near anonymous reliever and still put the work in and did what it took to spend more than a decade in the majors.  

That’s not a glorious accomplishment, but it’s a pretty difficult one.

At 6-foot-5, he can hold his head high, literally and figuratively.

He was in Chicago to watch his daughter, Halee, play for the 16 Mizuno Ray team out of Texas, which finished 14th in the 16-year-old open division. His daughter is getting a lot of positive press and will likely get a lot more before she graduates from high school in 2017.

If she gets a little too much love from the media and her head starts filling with thoughts about her greatness, her old man should be able to give some good perspective on that topic.