Saying ND isn't a Chicago school gets my Irish up

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Did you go to Notre Dame?”
I’ve heard that question many times over the years, usually when I’m wearing my ND garb or talking Irish football. And I own a lot of ND apparel and talk lots of Irish football.
The answer, of course, is: “No, I certainly did not go to Notre Dame.” That’s laughable. I did my time at the local community college after a stellar run at Brother Rice High School.
I am, however, a huge Notre Dame fan. A member of the subway alum, as it’s known.
We weren’t Notre Dame students, but for one reason or the other grew up rooting for the Irish. It’s tough for some people to understand, but I thought I’d try to explain my allegiance to the university.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago and attending St. Thomas More School, Notre Dame is all I knew. We related to Notre Dame on a variety of levels—Irish, Catholic and it was close by.
A friend from my grammar school days recently posted on Facebook that guys like me drank the ND Kool-Aid. He’s a Michigan fan, so I will forgive his senseless observation.
Another friend, a Marquette University alum, has argued with me for years that Notre Dame sports are overplayed in the Chicago media. He’s even done research that shows there are more Marquette alums in the Chicagoland area than there are Notre Dame alums.
It’s not a Chicago school, he maintains, so why in the world does the football team get regular newspaper and television coverage in Chicago? I’ve argued with him unsuccessfully that Notre Dame is (though not geographically speaking) a Chicago school.
The Chicago area is loaded with Notre Dame fans who are passionate about the football team and, to a lesser extent, the basketball program. Many of them are fans for the same reason I am. Never attended the school, but have a huge rooting interest.
And, Notre Dame benefits from a dearth of other major football programs in the area. OK, there’s Northwestern, but for years students would storm the field if the Wildcats won a single game.
Northern Illinois University football fans are bound the make a case for the Huskies, but the team is not in a major conference. The University of Illinois will field a decent team now and then, but Illini fans never have struck me as passionate.
We live in Big 10 country, but for years the conference was comprised of the Big 2 (Michigan, Ohio State) and the Little 8. New additions to the conferenced have changed that a bit, but who in Chicago is rooting for Penn State or Nebraska?
My wife, Annette, often groans about “more football” when I flip through the television channels on a Saturday afternoon looking for a good game. But after attending her first Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, she was talking about going again.
What led to that conversion?
The game day experience, of course.
My wife, on her feet, screaming, “Go Irish.” Never thought I’d see the day. She’s always been a passive fan because I like the team, but this was different.
“It’s a special place,” a friend and ND fanatic related, when I mentioned Annette’s “odd” behavior.
Indeed it is.
Annette and I arrived well ahead of game time and heard the band play on the steps of the School of Architecture. We walked to stadium, took our seats and waited for the moment when the team took the field. Seeing the players with the golden helmets emerge from the tunnel will never cease to excite me.
Mix in the various cheers, songs the band plays, the 1812 Overture before the start of the fourth quarter and singing of the alma mater immediately after the game and you’ve got yourself an afternoon.
And who can forget the safety announcement—the clever play on words delivered by Mike Collins, the voice of Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the third quarter?
Traditions are by no means exclusive to Notre Dame. They can be found all over the college football landscape and they define the game.
I’m no Michigan fan, but I dig the traditions. The extra seat reserved in honor of legendary athletic directorFritz Crisler, the “Hail to the Victors” fight song (sorry, ND fans, I like it) and No. 1 jersey, worn by only 12 players in the history of the program.
I think the Ohio State marching band forming script Ohio is very cool. It goes back to 1936, and the highlight is when a sousaphone player dots the I.
There’s plenty more traditions in the game, too many to mention here. But they’re what draw folks to college game. Good season or bad, they provide a connection to the team that fans grew to love as students or simply as fans, like me.
As the last line of the alma mater goes, “Love Thee Notre Dame.”


D218 boss rips ACT process

  • Written by Kelly White

What is the purpose of taking the ACT?

That was a question – and many others -- posed by the CHSD 218 school board president, Marco Corsi, at Monday night’s school board meeting. He is at the point where he wondered aloud if students at Shepard, Richards and Eisenhower High should even take the test at all.

“Is there a penalty if our district decides to no longer have our students take the ACT?” he said.

The ACT scores, based on a scale from 1 to 36, are used my most colleges to determine admittance. Students are allowed to take the test over to try to get a higher score, but Corsi questions the process in which test takers only see a score and not what they got right or wrong on the test.

 “With the standardized testing demonstrated in the ACT, both students and teachers are unaware of the questions that were answered wrong,” Corsi said. “This is a senseless formula without any feedback.”

According to the 10-year ACT Profile history at District 218, there has been a decrease in student performance in test scores. The class of 2012 had the lowest ACT scores in the district with a composite score of 18.1. Scores have not plummeted that low since 2004 with a total composite score of 18.4. In 2013, test scores picked up again with an 18.7 average. The class of 2006 and 2010 mark the district’s highest composite score at 19.1.

Corsi criticized the process in which the ACT counts the number of questions on each test that the student answered correctly. It does not deduct any points for incorrect answers and there is no penalty for guessing.  The student’s raw scores are converted to scale scores.  The composite score and each test score, English, mathematics, reading and science, range from 1 to 36. The composite score is the average of the student’s four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

The test should be broken down, by each section, informing both the teacher and student which questions were answered correctly and incorrectly, Corsi said.

“We also need to examine which types of students are answering certain questions wrong,” he said. “Are there a large number of non-English speaking students struggling with a certain question or are there honors students struggling with a certain question? How can we prepare our teachers to work more on certain areas of a subject to better prepare for the test? With this system in place right now, we will never know. All we receive is a data profile with each subject and the composite score totaling a simple number for each school year.”

In 2013, District 218 received average scores of 18.2 in English, 19.2 in mathematics, 18.2 in reading and an 18.9 in science. This year’s students are scheduled to take the ACT in the spring; however, Corsi questions the motive of the test.

“If we cannot distinguish what a student is having difficulties with, what is the purpose of the test?” he asked.

Corsi would like more informative feedback for the district and students regarding personal test scores and if that cannot be provided, he is left pondering the over the ACT in general.

The ACT, originally an abbreviation of American College Testing, college readiness assessment is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, Inc. Students taking the ACT receive a number of different scores in their student report referred to as subject test scores in English, mathematics, reading and science.

Corsi has questions and he wants answers – including answers on the test.

“Let’s say if a large number of students got question number six wrong, we need to determine if there is something wrong with the question itself and then if there is not, we need to break it down even further than that,” Corsi said, “Our teachers are unable to help students better prepare for the ACT because the test does not provide results stating which questions students answered right or wrong.”

Anglers away -- Fishing could be banned for two years on Palos Hills' Pleasure Lake

  • Written by Michael Gilbert


Anglers won’t be able to cast their lines into Pleasure Lake in 2015 and possibly even beyond as Palos Hills officials look to build back the fish population decimated by last year’s harsh winter.

City officials voted unanimously last Thursday to place an immediate and indefinite ban on fishing at Pleasure Lake and also approve the purchase of two aerators to break down sludge and improve the oxygenation in the 8.1-acre lake located at 10801 S. Roberts Road.

At the end of September, Palos Hills spent approximately $1,300 from its park development fund to have the Richmond Il.-based Keystone Hatcheries restock the lake with more than 1,500 blue gills, 325 largemouth bass and 300 catfish. The immediate ban will allow for at least one full spawning cycle to help replenish the lake after what Alderman Joe Marrotta called “a total kill” from the record-setting cold winter.

“The winter just froze us solid,” Marrotta said. “Everything was lost.”

The fact the lake is no more than six feet at its deepest point also didn’t help when the temperature dipped below freezing, according to the Palos Hills Resource and Recreation Commissioner Mary Jo Vincent.

“The lake is not that deep,” Vincent said. “We’re not talking about a situation where the fish could go under to hibernate.”

Without any fish in the lake, Palos Hills was forced to cancel its annual all-ages fishing derby, which usually takes place in late September, Marrotta said. When the city will allow fishing again at the lake remains unknown, he said.

“We don’t want to put a date on that,” Marrotta said. “[Keystone Hatcheries] asked us to wait at least two years. Our attorney asked us not to put a set date on it. Fishing won’t be allowed for the foreseeable future.” 

Violators of the ban face a fine of $250, Marrotta said. That is same amount people were previously fined for taking fish from the catch-and-release lake.

The aerators to be installed will be underwater bubble diffusers and not resemble a fountain, Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley said. The aerators, which could cost approximately $12,000, are expected to be installed later this year in case they are needed to combat another difficult winter, officials said.

“[The aerators] will increase available oxygen in the water and that is not only healthy for fish but also for the lake in that it creates the oxygen it needs for the digestion process to break down the sludge that has been building in the lake for the last 30 years,” Weakley said. “It’s a way of bringing the lake back to a healthy condition.”

The installation of the aerator will be completed in-house by the public works department, Marrotta said.

(bullet) In other news, city officials voted unanimously to renew its contract with Pace Suburban Bus Service for the Dial-A-Ride service, which provides curb-to-curb bus service for those 60 or older or with a disability to medical appointments, shopping and other activities.

Rides within Palos Township are $2 one-way or $2.50 one-way outside of the township. There are two wheelchair-accessible buses that serve Palos Township, Vincent said.

The bus runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Those interested in using the bus may call 708-430-3822 to make reservations between 8 a.m. to noon the prior day.

Grant money from Pace and the Oak Park-based AgeOptions help cover the difference between rider fare and the cost of the bus service, Vincent said.

Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Thankfully we had no tragedies this week

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Viola finally made it!

I never thought I would see this day come. Well, that may be overstating it a bit. But it felt like forever.

Our front page story featuring 92-year-old Viola Strupeck and how she still exercises religiously at Curves in Hickory Hills was finished and actually placed on the front page of the Oct. 9 edition of the Reporter.

I liked the way Kelly White wrote the story. I don’t want to strain my arm from patting myself on the back but I also liked the way the photo turned out. And our designer, Kari Nelson completed the trifecta by cutting Viola out of the photo and placing her body into the body of the story.

And the headline about her still using her Curves still makes me snicker. By the way, for anyone who thinks it was in bad taste, I ran it by her and she laughed and approved it. 

The story, photo and headline were all set to go and on the page on Oct. 3. We were ready to roll.

Unfortunately two days later, the traffic accident in Oak Lawn that killed three people including two nuns forced us to make a decision and rather than stuff Viola’s story inside, we decided to hold it for a week for out Oct. 16 edition.

That happens all the time. You have an idea and it gets completely turned around because bigger news is made. This is the exciting, unpredictable world of the news business.

So on Oct. 10, we put it on the front page again. It looked just as good as it did the week before. We couldn’t wait to run it.

Unfortunately, two days later, the plane crash in Palos Hills claimed the lives of three doctors from Kansas. It was another gut-wrenching tragedy that had one redeeming quality – more people weren’t hurt or killed.

Viola had to wait another week.

So it was with great trepidation on Friday that for the third time, we put Viola back on the front page and closed our eyes and crossed our fingers that nothing major was going to bump her off the page again.

We were especially worried about Sunday. We couldn’t have back-to-back-to-back Sunday tragedies in one of our six communities, could we?

Thankfully, no.

I won’t pretend that these bad-news stories affect us as much as friends and family members of the deceased. I won’t pretend that these horrific incidents affect us as much as first responders who can smell the death and see the mangled bodies.

But they still affect us.

The first question we ask a lot is why? Why doctors? Why nuns? These seemed to be good people who were valuable members of our society having their lives ended in our region. The buzz around our office after the Oak Lawn tragedy questioned how God could allow this.

I’m not getting into a religious debate, here, but something like this was able to shake some faiths. And then to come back with three doctors dying on our soil – two of whom were married – also shook some people up.

Ironically, shortly before all of these sad stories a woman sent us a nice card about how much she loves the good-news stories we run in our paper. She was sick of all the bad-news stories and “diabolic behavior” that appear elsewhere. I was thinking about her letter when we first placed Viola on our front page.

So after all this time, it was nice to make the top story of the week of our newspaper a nice one.


Chicago Ridge finds buyer for abandoned truck terminal but testing must be done before development

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A developer with experience building the biggest commercial properties in Chicago Ridge is ready to take on his next challenge in the village.

Ken Tucker of Structured Development, located in Chicago, is the point person for the potential development of the abandoned Yellow Freight trucking terminal.

Tucker was instrumental in the development of both Chicago Ridge Mall and Chicago Ridge Commons, Mayor Chuck Tokar said.

“He’s got the Ridge experience,” Tokar said.

But specific plans for and area on Harlem Avenue village officials have called an “eyesore’’ have not been made public and there needs to be testing for contamination done before moving forward with any plans.

Yellow Freight abandoned its truck terminal about five years ago. Since that time, redeveloping the Harlem Avenue terminal and some adjacent property has been the village’s top priority.

To that end, the village recently partnered with Structured Development to create the Ridge Creek Joint Venture Partnership.

The village purchased the property from Yellow Roadway Corp. for $14 million. The purchase contract is contingent on the condition of the property, Tokar said.

The village board also approved an ordinance that designates the Yellow Freight property and the adjacent land as a tax increment financing district. The TIF district is bordered by Harlem Avenue, the Tri-State Tollway and Southwest Highway.

But bringing a developer into the mix is an important step, Tokar said.

“The village is no longer the one holding the contract of purchase,” he said.

Structured Development will spend the next several months performing due diligence on the property, including taking soil samples and conducting detailed market studies.

Testing Services Corp. of Carol Stream is performing soil borings and will prepare an environmental report within the next several weeks, Tokar said.

While the 75-acre trucking terminal is mostly covered with concrete or asphalt, a garbage dump once existed adjacent to Stony Creek, so the possibility for contamination exists.

Additionally, Tokar recently learned that some of the land south of 103rd Street was used as a dumping ground for debris that accumulated after the 1967 tornado.

But the mayor is encouraged by Tucker’s belief that the terminal and adjacent land can be developed.

Marketing studies will help determine the businesses best suited for the development, but Tokar believes that the steady stream of traffic on the tollway—estimated at 270,000 cars daily—is the key selling point.

“You just don’t know what is going to be appealing to the market,” Tokar said.

But he envisions big things for the parcel.

A mixed-use development that would feature family entertainment options, such as Dave & Buster’s; a multi-level, heated golf driving range similar to Top Golf in Wood Dale or an indoor skydiving facility similar to iFly in Naperville and Rosemont all are under consideration.

The development also could feature shops, restaurants and condominiums or townhomes, Tokar said. Hotels, a conference center or an venue for entertainment also are under consideration, he said.

The shuttered Aldi, located at Harlem Avenue and Southwest Highway, and the long-closed Nikobee’s restaurant at the northeast corner of 103rd and Harlem, are included in the district. Additionally, Burger King, the Blue Star Motel, the Glendora House reception hall and a storage facility, all located north of 103rd Street, would be razed to make room for new development.

The TIF district enables the village to float bonds that would finance construction of a mixed-use development at the Yellow site and throughout the district. In a TIF district, real estate tax revenues yielded by properties that increase in value are used to fund improvements within the district, or as an incentive to the developer.