Half marathon organizers want to be back in black

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Like a long-distance runner returning to a course after a long layoff, the first meeting of the 2015 First Midwest Bank Half Marathon organizing committee sputtered and wheezed at first.
The meeting room at the Palos Heights Recreation Center was about half empty.
Co-organizer Jeff Prestinario announced that the race lost money in 2014, despite the addition of a 10K race that was designed to put it in the black.
He acknowledged that just 1,100 runners competed in the half marathon last year, about half of the event’s peak participation—2,100 runners—several years ago. The drop was mostly chalked up to an extremely harsh winter that hampered runners’ training efforts, as well as a proliferation of new races in the Chicago area.
He announced that the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens has been dropped from the roster of charities that benefit from the event, due to lack of funds to go around—leaving the American Cancer Society and the South West Special Recreation Association as this year’s designated charity beneficiaries.
He noted that a new half marathon in Frankfort, eight days before the First Midwest Half Marathon, may possibly cut into participation in Palos Heights.
Prestinario also complained about what he said was a lack of downtown news media interest in the race.
“I’m tired of looking at the news and seeing all this crap about killings and this and that,” he told committee members. “They need to start putting good things on the news…for example, our event, I don’t know if it’s ever been on TV. It was maybe mentioned one time or whatever.”
He even admitted that for the second year in a row, he and co-founder Mel Diab, owner of the Running For Kicks store in Palos Heights, had toyed with idea of letting the race die a quiet death.
But as the meeting hit its stride, good news came forward to overtake the bad regarding this year’s half marathon, set for Sunday, May 3 on a course that starts and ends at Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, running west along and through the scenic forest preserves of the Palos area.
Prestinario announced that the event has received a $5,000 grant from the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau, a needed shot in the arm for an event that last year struggled financially. He credited communications executive Tom Barcelona, who serves as race sponsorship co-coordinator, for obtaining the grant.
Prestinario also hailed the news that 922 runners have already registered for this year’s half marathon, the successful result of an aggressive, discount-driven push for runners last month. He beamed when discussing the numbers, calling them an “amazing” start.
He also announced that the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce will again host a community and business exposition at Moraine Valley Church, a popular event designed to encourage runners and their families and friends—who typically come from throughout the Chicago area and even beyond--and to discover and enjoy the shopping, dining and other pleasures of the Palos area.
In addition to the half marathon, the event will again include a 10K race and a Walk, Run or Roll race for people with disabilities. Registration details and more information on the event may be obtained at
Despite the bumps in the road, Prestinario predicted that this year’s event—the eighth annual—will in the end gel and be successful.
“It’s just absolutely amazing that this is our eighth year, he said, noting that he and Diab had worked on getting the race up and running two years before that. “To me, it’s one of the exciting things that I do in my life, although my life’s not that exciting to begin with,” he said, drawing laughs from the dozen or so committee members in attendance. “But I do enjoy this. It’s a positive event, a good thing for the community, but it’s also a pleasure meeting and working with so many good people.
“All things considered, we should all be very proud because we put on a great race, year after year. Most of the people who have worked for the race have stayed on with the race, and we have heard great feedback from the runners, volunteers and others.”

Chicago Ridge apartment fire displaces 15 people

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Fire-3The first major calamity to hit the area in 2015 did not have any deaths or even injuries.


But it did produce devistation and hardship mixed in with some heartwarming moments courtesy of first responders on the scene.


About 16 hours after four apartment units were completely destroyed and several others severely damaged Monday night following a late-night fire in Chicago Ridge, an observer stood in the cold and suveyed the damage.


He wasn't just any observer. He said he was the father and grandfather of some of the people displaced from the fire. He marvelled at the "compassion" and "professionalim" of the Chicago Ridge Fire Department during the ordeal, which occured in snowy and freezing weather conditions.


"I saw a young boy running barefoot out of the building," he said. "And I saw a fireman take off his boots and placed the boy in them. I saw another fire fighter pick up and hug another child.


"My daughter lost everything in that fire but what are possession when you still have your daughter and grandkids still alive?''


Firefighters from several communities responded at 10:36 p.m. and required about an hour to extinguish the fire at the 18-unit complex in the 9800 block of Sayre Avenue, Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets said.


“There was heavy fire blowing out the back,” Sheets said.


He said an electrical malfunction in a second-story bedroom likely is the cause of the fire, which spread to the third floor and the attic, Sheets said.


The blaze displaced 15 people, but no one was injured, he said.


More than 70 firefighters from 13 departments ultimately were called to battle the blaze, a task made more difficult because of the severe weather conditions, Sheets said.


Some tenants returned Tuesday to gather personal belongings. Some put them in garbage bags.


While some residents had places to stay, others relied on the Red Cross for temporary shelter and clothing, Sheets said.





Mayors protest 'inflammatory' t-shirt sale at Richards, but D218 officials say it was small incident

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Two area mayors co-wrote a letter of protest when they found out "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts at Richards High School.


But the sale of the controversial t-shirts was never sanctioned at the Oak Lawn school, and the individual who recently attempted to hawk the controversial shirt in the school cafeteria during finals week was immediately escorted out of the building, District 218 officials said.


The unidentified individual, who is reportedly a Moraine Valley Community College student, might have sold two or three shirts before security removed him from the Oak Lawn school, said John Byrne, superintendent of

Community High School District 218.


Byrne’s explanation of the incident came after he and Richards principal John Hallberg received a letter from Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar protesting the sale of the shirt.


The slogan on the black t-shirt was inspired by the last words of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold.


Both Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and Chicago Bulls player Derrick Rose have worn the t-shirt during pregame warmups, prompting members of high school basketball teams to do the same.


In many instances, however, school administrators or tournament officials have prevented teams from wearing the shirts.


District 218 officials have prevented district teams from wearing the shirt because of its inflammatory nature, Byrne said.


Bury and Tokar agreed that the shirt casts an anti-police message that could potentially put officers in danger and conveyed that message in a letter to Byrne and Hallberg.


“It has been brought to our attention that Richards High School has approved the sale of “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts on its campus.  As you may know, the slogan has become the rally cry of violent anti-police protests nationwide, including the outright assassination of two police officers in New York,” the mayors wrote.


“We are writing to express our outrage at this decision and feel that the sale of anti-police/ pro-violence t-shirts should not be condoned on the campus of any area school.  Further, we feel the sale of these inflammatory t-shirts on Richards High School campus creates a climate that potentially can place our officers and communities in danger, and this is something we cannot be quiet about,” the letter said.


Byrne said a call from either mayor would have clarified the matter and obviated the need for a letter.


“I wish they would have just called me,” Byrne said.


He added that the school’s art department is working with students to create an alternate shirt that promotes unity. Byrne has not seen the final design for the shirt, he said. “We want this to be the kids' idea.”


Rumors circulated last week that some of the individuals involved in the melee at Chicago Ridge Mall were wearing the t-shirt.


The fracas was ignited by a fight in the mall food court and got out of hand when some mall patrons thought they heard gunshots fired. In fact, pots banged together by a food court restaurant worker attempting to disperse the crowd were mistaken for gunshots, police said.


Tokar described the t-shirt as “inflammatory.”


“Let’s not fuel the fire,” Bury added


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: ‘Loser,’ ‘crybaby’ and ‘puke’ are unfair insults leveled at EPAA vice president

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chris Janes has received more than his share of angry criticism since he and the Evergreen Park Athletic Association alleged that the Jackie Robinson West Little League team cheated by using players from outside its district.



Jeffs Col Impressions

Some anonymous Twitter tweeter called Evergreen Park’s Chris Janes a “scumbag.”

That’s one of the nicer things that’s been said about him in recent weeks. He’s also been referred online  as a “sucky coach’’ a “tool” a “hater”, a “crybaby” a “loser”  a “puke”  and another word for a sex toy. One critic said “I feel sorry for his mother for birthing this rat.’’

Oh, and one person wrote Janes is on his way to becoming “the most hated man in America.”


Janes is a vice president and spokesman for the Evergreen Park Athletic Association and in mid-December his group provided documentation to the Little League organization that the beloved Jackie Robinson West team out of Chicago was using illegal players from out of the team’s boundaries.

Little League officials dismissed EP’s claims by saying the issue is “closed at this time” but now there are others digging into these allegations and now there are reports that league presidents within the district were unaware that JRW helped re-district the Chicago area to expand and allow them to pluck some star players from their leagues.

In some circles, EPAA officials are being portrayed as the bad guys and since Janes is the face of the organization on this matter, he also gets the bad guy treatment – big time. And since JRW is an all African-American team, his allegations have caused online arguments that show that there are still a few cavemen and cavewomen out there.

I had a chance last week to talk to him on the crunchy outfield grass at Norris Field – home of the EPAA – on an 18-degree day after shooting his photo. Jane said he knew what he was getting himself into, but said that he had no idea the magnitude of the negativity his group’s whistleblowing caused.

“There are so many different pieces to this that I probably underestimated how big of a deal it is,” he said. “I really thought people would be bigger than to bring the whole race thing into play. And it’s both sides of the fence. No side is more or less guilty than the other. I just wish people would stay on point and realize what this really about.’’

He said he hasn’t seen all the nastiness shoveled his way, but early in the process his inbox was getting toxic.

“I got a lot of e-mails when this first came out,” he said. “They told me I should be ashamed of myself. They said I was an idiot. They said I should resign. They said I wasn’t a good role model for kids. I haven’t seen too much of [online and social media criticism] and I’m glad because people can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name and the power of the keyboard.’’

Janes said the organization has heard about possible JRW cheating for years but after the team won the national championship and became America’s darlings, information spilled out that some of the players were from suburbs such as Homewood and South Holland.

After Janes and his group researched articles and rules, he volunteered to be the EPAA’s lone spokesman on the allegations and things blew up when the website wrote a huge story on his allegations and published it Dec. 16.

He was criticized for the timing of the story breaking.

“We took our time in gathering as many facts as we could,’’ Janes said. “We realized what the backlash could be and the most important, we wanted to make sure we weren’t wrong. That would be worse than anything. That's why we stood behind this. Regardless of what anybody might say or what the ultimate decision is going to be, we feel we’re right and we will stand behind it all day.

“We feel that somebody cheated and we have enough evidence to prove that.”

He said that for the Little League “to gloss over this is frustrating” but there is a glimmer of hope if some other organizations and league presidents begin to speak up.

I don’t think he should be taking as much heat as he has. People around the country who analyze this with an open mind realize that EPAA might have a point and it should be looked into.

As one of many parents whose kids have been recipients of beatdowns because of alleged cheating, I applaud the guy. He and his organization may not be viewed as heroes for this but I admire the way they have stepped up and gone about this.

When my son was playing in the seventh-grade AAU basketball circuit, there was a team that we had a hunch was using high school players. They would kick our teeth in and trash talk us to death. Oh, boy – you are beating up on kids three or four years younger than you. Tough guys.

 One day, two or three coaches saw one of the team’s “seventh graders” driving to the tournament.

The coaches brought it to the attention to the AAU official on site and his reaction was “That doesn’t mean anything, I drove a truck when I was 8.’’

The kid should have been thrown out of the tournament or cited for underage driving.

I was more angry with the AAU clown’s reaction than I was the alleged cheating and I was pretty fired up about that, too.

I know that if that same team was on TV, newspapers and meeting President Obama and became America’s heroes, I would have probably thrown up.

As an aside, when our group played in eighth grade, the same team was missing those players and a couple of the “seventh graders” were listed as juniors on high school rosters.

Even though people say Janes is advocating that JRW should be stripped of its trophy, he said that’s not the case.

“At the end of the day, I could care less if they lose a trophy or not – that doesn’t matter,’’ he said. “What matters is that someone is held accountable. These adults did this. This is wrong and it can’t go on. That’s all I want to see.

“They can keep the trophy –the kids earned that on the field.’’



Saturday night's all right at mall despite social media threats

  • Written by Bob Rakow

It was not a normal day at Chicago Ridge Mall on Saturday but there was no melee either.


Police from Chicago Ridge and several surrounding communities joined mall security to create a significant law enforcement presence in response to social media posts that called for a flash mob at the mall.


“They had a great presence,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.


The increased security came one week after a serious fight broke out in the mall’s food court and rumors quickly spread that shots had been fired.


Indeed, there was no gunfire and police said the brawl was not the result of a flash mob. Police from several jurisdictions descended on the shopping center and the mall was closed a few hours early.


The incident was serious enough that mall officials want to implement a youth escort policy.


The policy would be similar to one North Riverside Mall adopted in 2013.

Under that policy, after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, anyone under 17 years old is required to be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult, age 21 or over.

Chicago Ridge Mall officials have not yet ironed out the details of their proposed policy, but the goal is to eliminate unsupervised teens from wandering the shopping center, Chicago Ridge Police Chief Robert Pyznarski said.

Police on Saturday were stationed at all mall entrances as well as the parking lot, keeping an eye out for anyone who planned to respond to a social media post that called for stores to be robbed.


Tokar said a high-level of security would continue in the coming weeks.


“I don’t think you can do it last Saturday and forget it,” the mayor said.


While law enforcement made its presence felt at the mall, those who support police took a stand on Friday, tying blue ribbons to every light pole from Harlem Avenue to Pulaski Road on 95th Street.


Residents in Chicago Ridge and Worth also took part in the initiative last week.


“It was very important to me,” said Oak Lawn resident Jennifer Childs, who headed up the initiative.


Childs said only a handful of supporters responded when she first pitched the idea to some local Facebook groups. But more than 40 people turned out on Friday to help the cause.


“I was amazed,” Childs said. “It was a warm feeling. People brought their kids out. Couples came out.”


Each volunteer was given 16 ribbons, which were made from blue, plastics table clothes, and assigned a one block to place them on street poles. The four-mile stretch was completed within an hour, Childs said.


Childs said she promoted the “Tie One On” effort to support Oak Lawn police and let people know that residents support law enforcement.


“It’s important to me,” she said, adding that the incident at the mall demonstrated the lack of respect many people have for police.


“It’s just wrong,” she said. “We need to have someone to have our backs when something is wrong. We know the police department has our backs.”


Childs also dismissed criticism from some that politicians such as Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustees Tim Desmond and Terry Vorderer politicized the effort by getting involved.


“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said, adding that Bury donated 50 table clothes to the cause.