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'The best basketball on the South Side'

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE-1-junior-jordans-crop

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pep squad member Casey O’Connell and Eagles basketball player Jimmy O’Keefe will take part in Saturday’s Special Olympics Basketball Day at Mother McAuley.

OK, Todd Mallo is running the event, so he’s going to hand out a high heaping of hype.

That’s understandable.

When asked what a possible crowd of 2,000 people will see when the sixth annual Special Olympics Basketball Day at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mother McAuley High School, the Oak Lawn special recreation supervisor  was not bashful about boasting.

“You’re going to see the best basketball on the South Side,’’ Mallo said. “These players will come and play their hearts out. We hope to have a full, packed house. These kids are just amazing athletes and this is a big deal for them. It’s the biggest game of the year for them. They love to play it.

“It’s a big, great atmosphere. The crowd is into every basket.’’

Neutral observers who have been a past games say there is plenty of fun, thrills and “goosebump moments” when the Special Olympic players mix it up on the court. So Mallo might not be far off in his praise.

The event started with 30 athletes in a game at St. Linus then grew enough to have it played at Brother Rice and now Mother McAuley.  There are 60 athletes expected to take part on Saturday.

Oak Lawn’s Junior Jordans and Eagles will compete and Special Olympic athletes from Oak Lawn,  Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park,  Orland Park, Burbank and other communities will be hooping it up.

The doors open at 1 p.m. with opening ceremonies taking place at 1:30 p.m. There will be a halftime performance by the Oak Lawn Pep Squad. Admission is free but donations will be accepted at the door. The school is located at 3737 West 99th Street in Chicago.

Some of the players will be making their debuts in the game while others are old hands at it.

“A lot of players have played in all of the games,” Mallo said. “They have been playing in it for years when they were younger and love it so much.’’

Mallo, a 13-year veteran of the park district who is an Evergreen Park native and Orland Park resident, is usually busy running the show and doesn’t get to take in the whole game. But when he has a spare minute or two he said he enjoys observing.

“I’m just in awe of these guys,” he said. “It’s always a great game.’’

For more information, contact Mallo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 708-857-2200.

 

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pep squad member Casey O’Connell and Eagles basketball player Jimmy O’Keefe will take part in Saturday’s Special Olympics Basketball Day at Mother McAuley.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Half marathon flying high with more than 900 early birds

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Jeffs Col Impressions

Jeff Prestinario probably wanted to turn a couple of cartwheels and execute a backflip or two but he’s not as spry as he used to be.

The co-founder of the annual half marathon that runs mainly through Palos Heights and features runners from all over the area, was trying to keep a happy face last Friday when the race’s committee members got together for their first meeting at the Recreation Center in Palos Heights.

But there was a lot to be glum about.

Before the meeting, he admitted that for the second year in a row, there existed a possibility that the race would be shut down.

During the meeting, he told the committee heads that last year’s race lost money and drew less than 1,500 runners despite hosting two races – the half marathon and a 10K race – for the first time. At its peak, Prestinario said, the half marathon on its own drew 2,100. In 2014, he said the half marathon portion drew about 1,100 runners, which was the lowest in the history of the event.

Oh, and to make life a little tougher for Prestinario and co-founder Mel Diab, the town of Frankfort decided to get into the half marathon game. 

The first half-marathon in that community will take place April 25 and run through the historic downtown area and Old Plank Trail – eight days before the eighth running of the First Midwest Bank event in Palos in May 3.

That news was bound to take away a chunk of runners from Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena from the Palos event. It was also going to threaten to grab away runners from Orland Park and Tinley Park as well.

On paper, things were not looking all that great.

But he had 922 reasons to brighten his day.

Jennifer Griffin, a member of the Chicago Special Events Management group that runs the half marathon on race day, gave the committee the report that 922 people had already signed up for the 2015 races – many taking advantage of an online early bird sign-up special.

It was met with applause and a few hoots.

“I was excited to hear that!” an obviously excited Prestinario after the meeting. “When I heard that number, I was extremely excited. Last year, we had less than 1,500 for both races. Now we’re at [922]? And it’s January? That’s amazing.’’

And 23 of the early entrants are from Frankfort.

There are also runners who signed up from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and New Jersey.

A few months ago, Diab, who was in Florida running in a race and not at Friday’s meeting, and Prestinario mulled shutting down the race because of the setbacks. But all is well, now.

“There’s always that question mark but when you get everyone on board, things can work out and things fall into place,” Prestinario said. “Everybody is excited about the race. Good things are happening and we need more good things. There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and we need more good things.’’

Interestingly, people like Prestinario and Diab are goodwill ambassadors for running and the previous success of the half marathon in Palos has had other communities – including Frankfort – trying to take runners away for their own races.

While I would suggest something outlandish and goofy as having people run in Santa suits in the spring or even their birthday suits to drum up interest as a novelty, that’s not going to happen. Prestinario said he is hoping that the open roads on the course and thousands of fans who come out and cheer the runners will make athletes want to come back to the Palos race.

“More and more races are popping up all the time,” Prestinario said. “You have to do something to promote and market the race. We will have to work a little harder to bring the runners to our race. I think we’re going to be all right. We’re back to shooting for 2,000 again.’’

 

 

Sexton wants to be on winning end of Plaza deal

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton doesn’t like to lose—not even when he plays board games with his grandchildren, he joked recently.

“I don’t like to lose,” Sexton said. “I typically win.”

That’s the approach the mayor is taking as he aggressively negotiates some sort of development deal for the Plaza.

“I’m right in the middle of the game. I’m right in the midst of things,” he said.

The game clock is ticking in the Plaza negotiations, as the village’s memorandum of understanding regarding a redevelopment plan with UP Development, a real estate firm based in Nashville, expires at the end of January.

Under the terms of the memo, the village said it would consider providing UP with around $10 million in funds raised through a new bonding district on the property, provide a sale-tax reimbursement to the firm and issue other incentives, Crain’s reported.

If the memo expires, the village could agree to another one with UP Development or putting the project out to bid again, Sexton said.

The mayor said he’s involved almost daily in efforts to get a deal for the shuttered mall accomplished before the memo of understanding expires on Jan. 31.

“It’s a daily fight,” Sexton said. “I’ve been working on it. I’m still very confident that something will happen.”

He added that all of the players involved must understand that nothing gets accomplished without a partnership with the village.

The battle to breath new life into the iconic shopping center at 95th Street and Western Avenue has been a prolonged one.

As recently as November, Sexton hinted that plans for a lifestyle center at the site of the Plaza were “inching closer” to reality. He brought it up at the State of the Village Address at the village’s Community Center.

But news hit the mayor and the village hard as Crains Chicago business reported a few days later that a potential deal with the Tampa-based DeBartelo group collapsed and the foreclosure process has restarted.

That news didn’t deter Sexton, who insisted a deal is still in the works.

“The story is not factual. You can’t believe everything you read,” Sexton told the Reporter in November.

He also chided Crain’s for not speaking to him before publishing the story.

“They didn’t really want to hear the truth so they wrote what they wanted,” he said. “It’s not dead. That’s from me,” Sexton said at the time.

The Plaza closed the doors on the interior mall in May 2013 after 60 of years of business in the community. It fell into foreclosure in 2011.

 

Warm someone’s day during this cold spell with donations to shelters

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The young girl’s words were prophetic; I just wasn’t paying much attention at the time.

 

The time was nearly 20 years ago when my wife, Annette, and I were taking a look at what would become our first house.

 

As we toured the basement, one of the owner’s two young daughters told me, “This is where we spend most of our time because it’s coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter.”

 

It was a telling remark, but, as I said, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Instead, I was wrapped up in the overall appearance of the Oak Lawn home: brick, three bedrooms, two bath, full basement with a ton of potential, nice backyard, two–car garage.

 

And, most importantly, it was in our price range. Six thousand dollars was all that stood between the initial asking and offering prices. We met in the middle and closed the deal around this time of year. We rented to the owner until spring so she could finish student teaching and we could honor our apartment lease.

 

We’ve done a lot of work to the house over the years, and I can’t imagine moving, but as I write this column from my home—in the midst of the year’s first cold snap—I sure am cold.

 

It’s nothing new. Happens any time the temperatures sink into the single digits. The reason is simple: the house is poorly insulated. I know this because when our bathrooms were remodeled, I got a first-hand look at what passed for “insulation” in the late 1940s, the era when my home was built.

 

Newspaper. Lots and lots of newspaper. Today, every new home is protected from the cold with thick layers of fiberglass insulation. It’s tough to imagine that builders once stuffed newspaper between the studs.

 

Over the years, we’ve installed a new boiler (we have hot water heat) and replaced the doors and windows, but the house remains less than toasty. I can still hear my father mumble, “It’s chilly in here” during time he lived with us.

 

The ultimate solution, I suppose, is to have insulation blown into the walls, but that seems expensive. And once the winter’s frigid weather passes, we sort of forget the fact that you could hang meat in our home.

 

It’s like anything else that’s not a life-threatening problem. You make the best of it. We plug in a space heater, add a blanket to the bed, keep out of the coldest parts of the house and try to be grateful for what we have.

 

That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past few days as I curse my drafty old house, to borrow a line from Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.’’

 

Cold or not, I do have a home to live in, two cars parked at the curb, a fridge full of food and a closet full of clothes. I go to work every day and even enjoy what I do for a living. No one in my immediate family suffers from serious illness. That’s plenty to help me realize that a cold house in not the end of the world.

 

After all, some folks live in unheated homes, dependent on space heaters, loads of blankets and winter clothing to get them through the night. Others don’t have a home and must live in their cars or make their way on the streets, risking frostbite or worse when the brutal Chicago winter kicks in.

 

PADS and other homeless shelters in our area do their best to help. Together We Cope, an excellent social service agency in Tinley Park, also serves in endless ways, including a foot pantry, financial assistance, clothing, back-to-school assistance and the adopt-a-child holiday program.

 

But what more could you and I be doing? Now’s the real time to ask. The fashionable time for these stories to appear is during the holidays, as various agencies, churches and community organizations strive to help the needy with meals, Christmas presents and other necessities.

 

But the need didn’t go away the day you took down your Christmas tree. People are still without work, struggling to make ends meet, in danger of losing their homes and so on.

 

It’s not that hard to lend a hand. There are plenty of food pantries in our area, including one run by the Evergreen Park, which provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to more than 160 families in the community. Call the pantry at 708-422-8776 for information of how to help.

In neighboring Oak Lawn, Pilgrim Faith Church runs a food pantry that serves Oak Lawn, Hometown, Worth, Burbank, Chicago Ridge and Alsip. Check out all the details about the pantry at www.pilgrimfaith.org.

 

South Suburban PADS is always in need of volunteers and donations. Plenty of information can be found at www.sspads.org.

 

There are plenty of other food pantries, social service agencies as well as churches and community organizations that pitch in to help the needy. Catholic Charities and Red Cross come to mind. Pick one. Find a way to help. Make it a 2015 goal. You’ll be glad that you did.

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.