Regional’s ‘Miracles’ story takes first at NINA Awards

  The Regional News ran away with one award at the Northern Illinois Newspaper Awards dinner last Thursday at the University Suite at the Holmes Student Center in DeKalb.

  Former Regional News reporter Jeff Vorva won first place in the Best Sports Story, Nondaily category for a feature titled “Miracles can happen.”
  The story was about former Sandburg High School athlete Lukas Verzbicas’s return to competitive running just a few months after he suffered life-threatening injuries after a bike accident in Colorado and doctors told him he might never walk again.
  The judges said: “Writer Jeff Vorva captures the essence of an ultimate human interest story — from elite high school runner to life-threatening accident to reincarnation. Pertinent quotes from others sources, research and details all enhance this.”
  Vorva was named editor of the Reporter in August.
  “Lukas had the horrific and tough job of creating the story,” Vorva said. “I had the easy job of writing about it.”
  Earlier in the year, the story took second place in the B Division of the Illinois Press Association contest.
  Regional and Reporter Sports editor Ken Karrson also brought home hardware in the IPA for second place in Division B headline writing for “Kamp fire doesn’t warm Knights” for a story about Chicago Christian basketball player’s 33 points in a losing effort against Aurora Central Catholic.
  Former Reporter Editor Jason Maholy took third place in the same category with his news headline “Oak Lawn gives bigger teeth to dog ordinance.” The judges said it was “very clever.”
  Maholy also won an honorable mention for Division B Spot News Photo for his image of “Random Hearts in the Snow.”
  The judges said: “Not sure this is exactly spot news but the judges had to look at it more than once, which makes a compelling photo.”
  Vorva was also a finalist for the Chicago Headline Club’s Peter Lisagor Award for a news feature on Palos Park shooting victim Brian Reed’s decision to live after suffering horrific injuries that have left him paralyzed.

Illinois Attorney General looks into denied FOIA requests in OL

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  The Illinois Attorney General will review an Oak Lawn trustee’s partially denied request for email communications between the village manager and attorney.
  The attorney general’s Public Access Bureau on Oct. 21 asked the village to provide unredacted copies of the emails requested by Trustee Carol Quinlan.
  “We have determined that further review is warranted,” the attorney general said in a letter to the village.
  The Public Access Bureau grants most of the appeals it receives, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said. It can decide to uphold the village’s partial denial or direct it to turn over the complete records sought by Quinlan.
  Quinlan and Trustee Robert Streit both have criticized Village Manager Larry Deetjen and Mayor Sandra Bury for not making the information available to trustees, especially because the communications are stored on village computer servers, they said.
  The Illinois Municipal Code states that the mayor has the right to inspect all records, but does not mention trustees.
  Deetjen has said that many of his emails between village legal staff and others are confidential as they regard “highly sensitive matters.”
  “Our legal counsel in concert with our village clerk’s office, police and fire departments, the building department and the finance department respond professionally to every FOIA request but do so in a manner that protects the village to the fullest extent provided by the law but also by design they answer to be responsive and transparent. Those who wish to obtain unlimited data for reasons that are not objective and in the village’s best interests certainly should understand this balancing act,” Deetjen said.
  Quinlan on Aug. 19 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails between Deetjen and village attorneys between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. The village partially denied her request, and provided Quinlan with a portion of the emails she requested.
  Quinlan initially requested all emails between Deetjen and the village attorney between Nov. 1, 2012, and June 1, 2013. The village denied the request claiming “that it was too burdensome because of the amount of emails that would have to be produced and reviewed by attorneys,” Quinlan wrote.
  The village told Quinlan that her request included 2,831 emails during the seven-month period plus attachments. The village asked her to narrow the date range of her request.
  Quinlan disagreed with the village’s contention. “There is nothing burdensome about producing emails,” she wrote.
  “(The village) is refusing to turn over all records, most recently stating that certain records are exempt from disclosure under attorney-client privilege,” Quinlan wrote in her request for review. “I believe that the (village) clerk has violated the Freedom of Information Act by not turning over these records.”
  Quinlan believes village’s trustees have a right to review village records without submitting FOIA requests, but not everyone shares that view.
  The village board on Oct. 8 voted against a measure proposed by Quinlan and Streit that would grant trustees unrestricted access to emails and other records.
  Trustee Terry Vorderer said that opening email records to trustees is a potential security risk. He also questioned whether requests for records are politically motivated.
  Quinlan said security should not be a concern.
  “I’m not sharing this information,” said Quinlan, who offered to review the records at village hall.
  “Something is fishy,” Quinlan said. “It bothers me that I am denied access to records. “(Village Clerk) Jane Quinlan can see it, our attorney can see it, the mayor can see it and I can’t?”
  The debate over who has the right to inspect village records began in May when former Mayor Dave Heilmann, after his defeat to Bury, asked for specific email records between Deetjen and the village attorneys because he had received multiple complaints that Deetjen improperly interfered with a million dollar contract an Oak Lawn business had with a prospective tenant, Heilmann said.
  A village employee told Heilmann that Deetjen and O’Grady instructed him not to turn over the records to Heilmann, the former mayor said.
  “I guess they felt they could get away with not following that law because I had lost the election. I did tell the attorney and manager that they were breaking the law and violating our code and made a second request, but that was ignored,” Heilmann wrote in an opinion piece to The Reporter.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Taking a Paige out of Cal Ripken’s book

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

COLOR - Jeff  In December, 2008, Paige Stulginskis woke up one day feeling lousy.
  Like thousands of students throughout the country, she planned on staying home. She had her mother, Elizabeth, call Conrady Junior High School to tell the attendance office that she would not be coming to school that day.
  “I was crying because I didn’t want to miss school,” Paige said.
  So she took some “DayQuil or something” and started to feel better.
  When her father, Glen, woke up, Paige made a demand.
  “I said, ‘Dad! Take me to school!’ ’’ she said.
  So she went to school even though her mom was not crazy about the idea.
  So why all these years later is this a big deal?
  Stulginskis is now a senior at Stagg High School. She has not missed a day of school — ever.
  Not as a kindergartner or first-grader at Dorn Primary Center. Not as a second-, third-, fourth-grader at Glen Oaks Grade School.
  Not as a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grader at Conrady.
  And not through three-plus years at Stagg.
  Stulginskis has been the student’s equivalent of baseball player Cal Ripken Jr., who played 2,131 straight games. She probably would take that as a compliment except she said last week that she never heard of the guy.
  She is proud of her streak but has not been seeking out attention for it.
  “Unless people ask me about it, people don’t really know about it,” Stulginskis said. “My friends and some of my teachers know. Other than that, nobody knows. It’s been in the newspaper before, but that was a long time ago.”
  Aside from that dreadful December day, she had no other close calls with being absent.
  “It seems like I get sick during Thanksgiving breakFRONT-COLOR-1-col-Page-3-2-col-with-JVCOLStagg’s Paige Stulginskis has never had an occasion to visit the attendance office during her career as a student. Photo by Jeff Vorva. and all of the breaks that we have,” Stulginskis said. “I never got sick during school.”
  Stulginskis has a twin sister, Tori, who has missed some time. A few years ago, North Palos School District public relations guru Jim Hook wrote a press release on the streak and quoted Tori as joking “She stole all my nutrients while we were in the womb.”
  Also in Hook’s mirth-filled release, Elizabeth had her own take on why the streak lasted so long.
  “It’s also probably because I don’t clean the house everyday so she perhaps built up an immunity to germs,” Elizabeth joked.
  Paige admits that she doesn’t like school a lot but doesn’t hate it either and has never been late. She wants to keep the streak alive even beyond her high school days. She is planning on going to Western Illinois University and study crime scene investigation.
  Usually colleges don’t keep attendance so it’s a goal that only she will be aware of.
  “I don’t want to miss any classes,” she said. “But it’s a long way away, so who knows?”

Jack-O pizza?
  My favorite excerpt from a press release this week comes from Papa Murphy’s pizza with a claim that Halloween is the “third busiest pizza night of the year — runner up only to Super Bowl Sunday and New Year’s Eve. Frightening but true, the week of Halloween is the busiest week of the entire year for local pizza chain, Papa Murphy’s!”
  The national chain offers something called a “Jack-O pizza” and during Halloween week, they use 5.3 million pounds of pizza dough made from scratch, 45 tons of red sauce, 86 tons of mozzarella cheese, 18 tons of cheddar & provolone topping cheese, 9.3 million pepperonis and more than half-a-million slices of olives.

A Flick of the tongue
  My second favorite excerpt from a press released this week comes from Hammond, Ind., where on Tuesday they unveiled a special statue:
  “The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority will be joined by Scott Schwartz, the actor who played Flick in the classic Christmas movie ‘A Christmas Story,’ for a press conference and the unveiling of the bronze Flick statue. The statue, developed in agreement with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, will highlight the iconic ‘Triple Dog Dare’ scene in which Flick gets his tongue stuck to a flag pole. Additionally, information on the upcoming ‘A Christmas Story Comes Home’ exhibit will be discussed.’’
  I wouldn’t mind seeing a statue of that lamp that the old man won in a contest.

Numbers game
  Last year, the first Freedom Isn’t Free 5K run and Congressman Dan Lipinski finished 12th.
  On Sunday, he ran in the second Freedom Isn’t Free 5K race and finished 12th.


Shepard student faces felony charge for social media threat

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A Shepard High School student faces a felony charge for using social media to threaten to kill another student, Cook County Sheriff’s Police said.

  Thomas Braasch of Worth was arrested Oct. 24 after posting the threat on Facebook the previous day. He later told police he had planned to kill the student for a year.
  Braasch threatened to kill the 16-year-old student at the school with a gun, police said. He did not have the weapon when he was arrested, officers said.
  Sheriff’s police were contacted Oct. 24 by Shepard administrators after staff at the Palos Heights school saw the threat. Braasch was taken into custody later that day. Court records indicate Braasch also lives in Alsip.
  He was charged with disorderly conduct — transmitting or causing a threat of destruction of a school building or school, or a threat of violence, death, or bodily harm directed against persons at a school, school function or school event, whether or not the school is in session.
  Bond was set at $150,000.

Mr. Fix It radio remote highlights food drive at Stacked

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Tom Demacopoulos is accustomed to front-color-two-col-louLou Manfredini will appear at Stacked in Oak Lawn Saturday morning. Photo courtesy of feeding people.
  The Oak Lawn restaurateur handles big breakfast and lunch crowds seven days a week at Stacked, the eatery he opened nearly two years ago at 5273 W. 95th St.
  But on Saturday morning, Demacopoulos’ restaurant will be the location for a Thanksgiving food drive as well as a remote radio broadcast hosted by WGN’s Mr. Fix It, Lou Manfredini.
  Plans for the food drive have been in the works for some time, as members of the Cobras Hockey Club, of which Demacopoulos’s son is a member, decided to use the restaurant as a base for their charity initiative.
  The food drive will benefit the food pantry at Together We Cope, the Tinley Park-based organization that provides food, housing and other essentials to individuals experiencing a crisis.
  WGN Radio called Demacopoulos later on asking if he’d like to host On the Road With Lou, the bi-monthly remote broadcast hosted Manfredini. The broadcast at Stacked is the last remote for 2013.
  The show will be broadcast from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., but the food drive continues until 2 p.m.
  Demacopoulos said WGN Radio was aware of his restaurant because of recognition in local media and because it was a favorite of John Williams, a former WGN radio host. Williams, who now hosts an afternoon show in Minneapolis, is expected to call into Saturday’s show, Demacopoulos said.
  WGN will set up a large tent for the remote broadcast on 53rd Avenue, which will be shut down near the restaurant during the food drive. The show has promoted the event for a few weeks, and Demacopoulos is expected hundreds of people to stop by.
  In fact, he’s called all his cooks and servers to be on hand hours before the event to prepare. WGN Radio technicians are expected to arrive at 3 a.m. to begin setup, he said.
  The Cobras Hockey Club is a high school team made up of students from Andrew, Tinley Park, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Shepard, Stagg, Richards and Evergreen Park high schools.
  Approximately 40 members of the team’s varsity and junior varsity squads will be on hand to collect non-perishable food, turkeys and monetary donations, which will be loaded onto a truck and taken to Together We Cope.
  “It’s going to be a huge event,” he said. “Anybody is welcome to come by.”
  Demacopoulos said the food drive is way for him and member of the Cobras to give back to the community.
  High school hockey is an expensive sport and players are fortunate to have parents who can afford equipment and other related expenses, Demacopoulos said. Meanwhile, other families worry about giving their children a hot meal, he said.
  “They need to understand the importance of how fortunate they are,” he said. “It’s huge. We are so fortunate. It’s going to give me a great feeling.”
  Demacopoulos, a Hickory Hills resident, operated Stacked at 143rd Street and LaGrange in Orland Park for seven years until development forced him out.
  He said he’s experienced considerable success in Oak Lawn.
  “Oak Lawn has been an amazing transformation for me and my family,” he said.
  For more information on the food drive or to make a donation, visit