Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: With a horse in the race, this high school season was special

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions



Photo by Jeff Vorva 

T.J. Vorva holds up the fourth-place trophy that Sandburg's volleyball team won on June 6.


The 2014-15 high school sports season officially ended in our area on Saturday, with Marist’s softball team bringing back a state championship trophy back to the Chicago school.

Also, a handful of Orland Park kids who play for Providence brought a first-place trophy in baseball to New Lenox.

For me, it was one of the most emotional seasons I ever encountered. At times, I was at the top of the world. Other times I felt like I was in a sewer in Hell.

The first sporting event I ever covered as a professional reporter was in November, 1977 and it was a boys basketball game between Lemont and Bolingbrook. I was a senior in high school.

Since then, I’ve been to thousands of high school, college and professional events as a reporter. I’ve covered kids and their kids and possibly their kids’ kids. I’ve always maintained a reporter’s detachment. I never rooted for anything but a good story.

This year – and the last couple of weeks – has been surreal.

My son, T.J. was a key cog on Sandburg’s boys volleyball team. Now I am at these games as a parent, not as a reporter.

After decades of covering others kids in a multitude of sports, it was a little shock to my system to see T.J. and my daughter, Lauren, the first time they donned high school basketball or volleyball uniforms for their first game.

I don’t care if your kid is a star or a benchwarmer, the accomplishment of making even a freshman team is still rare and not to be taken lightly. There are thousands of kids who go to some of our area’s bigger schools and a tiny percentage who make it on a high school team.

It’s even rarer to be on a state power.

I’m not going to take you on a trip through Sandburg’s volleyball season but after an 8-4 start, the Eagles looked like a good, but not great team. Then they piled up a 28-match winning streak that took us frazzled parents to the state’s final four.

As a writer and photographer, I’ve always enjoyed covering state tournaments.

The drama.

The triumphs.

The disappointments.

It’s all good stuff. Emotions run high and even for a detached writer, I get pumped up.

I still get goosebumps when I shoot photos of a state football championship celebration when all these big macho guys are screaming and hollering and jumping up and down like little school girls.

And now, there is my kid on the floor for a state tournament game.

The sportswriter in me doesn’t allow me to yell and scream too much during these game. I try to stay cool.

But inside, I am dying after every error and ready to have my head explode after every kill or block. My wife, Maggie said the stress was getting to her so much, she joked about it feeling like having a heart attack, especially in the last four or five matches.

Friends and family came to Hoffman Estates to watch the action – some of whom may have not been to a volleyball match in a while – if ever. We hoped hard that he would play well in front of them.

This postseason was the weirdest and most pressure-filled because we had a horse in the race.

During sectional play, the fellas beat Eisenhower in a wild first match at the Shepard Sectional and then breathed a sigh of relief as I broke out the camera to cover another fun battle between Marist and Brother Rice.

“Now I’ve gone from (deleted) father back to unbiased reporter,” I told a couple of my peers. “The pressure is off.”

The volleyball season ended with a fourth-place finish on June 6 and I figured that would be the end of that. It’s over.

But three days later, the Marist softball team won a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Downers Grove South at the Benedictine University Class 4A Supersectional and I was caught in the middle of the mob-scene celebration.

More goose bumps.

Yeah, the players went nuts and that was to be expected.

But after the wild celebration and posing for photos was over, I watched the Marist parents as they excitedly talked about the game and their travel plans for the state tournament. For them, all was right in the world.  

I knew how they felt.

So after what has turned out to be an unusual sports season for me, I am never going to be able to cover a high school postseason event without a little smile.

Oak Lawn-based Park Lawn among protesters at Rauner’s speech

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Dermot Connolly

Park Lawn clients and officials protest Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed cut before he gave a speech in Oak Forest on June 15. 




Union members and other protesters, including Oak Lawn special needs provider Park Lawn, who waited in driving rain for him to arrive at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest on Monday before he spoke to the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce.


Park Lawn, an organization that has been serving people with developmental disabilities for 60 years, was there to protest Rauner’s budget cuts that are expected hit social services hard.

“We wanted to show him that we matter,” said Kelly Ewing, a case manager in charge of enrichment programs at the facility, located at 5040 W. 111th St. in Oak Lawn.

Dozens of Park Lawn clients were present picketing.

“Social services are underfunded anyway. There hasn’t been any increased funding at Park Lawn for more than seven years,” said Ewing. “It is reflective of who is valued in society and who is not.”

She couldn’t say whether funding cuts would result in Park Lawn programs being cut.

Ewing said that the agency already depends heavily on fundraising, and that will have to increase to make up for any more cuts. 

“The state is already slow to pay. It is a bad situation that is not getting any better,” she said.

From a worker standpoint, hundreds of union employees were on hand to give the governor a piece of their mine.

“We’re just here to let him know we don’t like what he is trying to do to the unions,” said Brian Hickey, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399.

Hickey was referring to Rauner’s efforts to revamp workers compensation laws, among other things. Electricians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, pipefitter, sprinkler fitters and others were also there.

“The union provided me with a living, a very good living, for 40 years, and the powers-that-be want to take that away. There is a movement to destroy all these unions,” said Ken Purse, a retired pipefitter from Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood.

Rauner proposed eliminating the requirement that employees pay union dues.

While outside of the building was hostile, inside, chamber members gave Rauner a warm welcome. He spoke at length about his turnaround plan.

Rauner didn’t dwell on the protesters in his speech but said: “Change isn’t easy. If you’re not upsetting somebody, you’re not making changes.”

Keloryn Putnam, executive director of the Orland Park Chamber of Commerce, described Rauner’s speech as “pretty impressive.”

“I wasn’t surprised by what I heard him say, because I am familiar with the turnaround plan. But I was surprised by all the protesters.

“As citizens, we have to make sure that our voices are heard. They certainly heard the group outside,” she said, referring to the chanting of protesters  that could be heard while Rauner was speaking inside the banquet hall.

“If residents became more informed about tort reform, I think they would become more involved. The turnout at elections is apathetic, and we get what we get.”



Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn official preach caution after deadly virus found in local mosquitoes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton

(Photo by Jeff Vorva)


Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton lost 60 pounds the hard way.

And he nearly lost his life.

So when there is even a hint that the West Nile virus can be found in his village, he takes it seriously.

Sexton, who has battled and survived the West Nile virus, and Oak Lawn officials said the Illinois Department of Public Health reported last week that mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus were found in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park in May—one in each village.

Sexton said it serves as a reminder to residents to take precautions.

Sexton, who survived a serious bout with West Nile virus in 2012, said his village had been at the forefront of the battle against West Nile virus since 2002.

“I take a serious, hard look at (reports of positive tests). But we were leading the way on this, even before I got sick,” said Sexton. “We’ve always taken a very aggressive approach (to mosquito abatement), since 2002. We’re going to continue on this same path.’’

Sexton contracted the virus in 2012 right around the time another mayor, Lombard’s Bill Mueller, died of West Nile virus. The story was huge in the Chicago area.

“I certainly wasn’t looking for the PR that Evergreen Park received,’’ Sexton said. “But in a strange way it was good if it helped others by shedding light on the seriousness of the situation. I spent 45 days in Christ Hospital, including two in intensive care.

“I lost 60 pounds, but I wouldn’t recommend that diet to anyone,” he added wryly.

A single mosquito with West Nile doesn’t sound like big news, but Sexton has some warnings.

 “I am not sure how seriously people take it, but we all must be diligent in covering up and applying repellant when mosquitoes are active,” he said.  

Sexton encouraged residents to be diligent about checking their property for standing water, and disperse it.

“The village will abate it,” said Sexton, explaining that anyone needing help to get rid of water can get assistance from the village.

The IDPH statement said employees collected a positive mosquito batch on May 21 in Oak Lawn, and another one on May 26, in Evergreen Park.  These were the first positive batches in northern Illinois this year, according to a statement. No human cases were involved, and none have been reported so far this year.

Last year, 50 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case.  IDPH reported 44 human cases in 2014, including four deaths. 
Douglas Wright, general manager of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, explained that finding by the IDPH of one or two mosquitoes that tested positive will not require any additional action to be taken beyond what is being done already.

“We have treated catch basins in Evergreen Park (and Oak Lawn) with larvicidal briquettes, slow-acting over 45 days. We are constantly clearing standing water (where mosquitoes lay eggs) and checking traps. We are monitoring, and if we see repetitive tests coming back positive, we will take further action,” he said.

Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen also stressed people should take this seriously. “West Nile is a serious virus and residents should take precautions,” he said, noting that there is information about prevention provided on the village website (under Latest News) at and on Channel 4.

“We proactively treat the storm sewers with larvicide. This time of year we will get more aggressive in enforcing village ordinances, such as keeping grass cut,” he said.

In addition to tall grass, the village manager added that outdoor wood piles are also not permitted, because they often retain water and attract mosquitoes.

He encouraged residents to be aware of any stagnant water, in pools and gutters or elsewhere, and contact the village if they need help getting rid of it.

Surveillance for West Nile virus in Illinois includes laboratory tests on mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as testing sick horses and humans with West Nile virus-like symptoms.  People who observe a sick or dying crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing.
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird.  Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches.  Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks.  However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms.  In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur. 

Chicago Ridge gets its insurance controversy in order and hires interim lawyer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Burt Odelson has been named temporary attorney in Chicago Ridge and got busy right away finishing up the paperwork on a controversial health insurance issue

(Photo by Dermot Connolly) 


Completing a process that began in April, the Chicago Ridge Village Board passed an amended ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting that will end the controversial policy of providing lifetime, taxpayer-funded insurance for retired part-time trustees and their surviving spouses.

The board also approved the temporary appointment of  Burt Odelson and his Odelson & Sterk law firm to represent the village, replacing George Witous, who announced his immediate retirement at the June 2 meeting, after 51 years as village attorney.

Odelsson was put to work right away putting the finishing touches on the insurance policy issue, which has been a sore spot for some concerned residents for months.

Letters explaining the change in the insurance policy were scheduled to be mailed Wednesday  to the retirees affected by the policy change. As of July 1, if they decide to keep the village-provided insurance, retirees will have to pay 40 percent of the health insurance premium, and 100 percent of dental, vision and life insurance.

The widow of one retired trustee also currently receives insurance provided by the village, and she will have to pay 100 percent of health, life, vision and dental premiums if she decides to keep the policies.

Mayor Charles Tokar had appointed Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese to work with Odelson to draw up the ordinances needed to resolve the contentious issue, which drew hundreds of angry residents to several board meetings. The issue had died down somewhat in recent weeks, as progress was made, and there was no public comment from the appriximately 50 people in attendance on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day. We worked hard to fix it, and nobody is going to try something like this again, It's only fair,” said Coglianese, who was elected in April and campaigned against the insurance perk.

Due to changes the board had already approved in May, the lifetime insurance will no longer be available to any part-time trustee or village clerk elected from now on.

Coglianese and Durkin are among the five current board members who, by making the changes, ruled themselves ineligible for the lifetime insurance because they will not have completed two full four-year terms by the next election in 2017, as required. The others are newly elected Trustee William McFarland, and Trustee Amanda Cardin, elected two years ago with Durkin. Village Clerk George Schleyer is also no longer eligible, and said after the meeting that he was not interested in the lifetime insurance anyway.

Only veteran trustees Bruce Quintos and Jack Lind meet those qualifications, and it wouldn’t be free for them either if they choose to take it.

Odelson was already sitting in the village attorney’s seat Tuesday, although Witous’ name had not been removed since the last meeting when he announced his immediate retirement. Mayor Tokar cited Odelson’s “good work” done with Durkin and Coglianese on the insurance issue as a reason for giving the temporary appointment to his law firm.

“We are going to do our due diligence to see what other firms are out there,” said Tokar. “We were rather surprised that George Witous made his retirement effective immediately after the last meeting (two weeks ago),” he said. “We knew he was planning to retire, but we thought it would be in a few weeks or a month,” the mayor explained. “We needed representation because we have some pressing issues and we couldn’t just put them on hold.”

EP trustee chided by judge after disorderly conduct charge but will stay on board

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



His neighbors are looking forward to a peaceful summer after Evergreen Park Trustee Dan McKeown was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to five months of court supervision last Thursday for repeatedly honking his car horn in front of their houses in the 9300 block of South Sacramento Avenue.

While a judge referred to McKeown as a “bully,” it appears that his status on the EP board is still secure.

Mayor James Sexton would not comment on the sentence, and said it would not jeopardize McKeown’s position on the Village Board. “It appears to be a neighbor problem and I believe they are working to rectify it,” he said.

But a judge was not so kind.

“In this court’s opinion, we see you as a bully,” Fifth District Presiding Judge Raymond Jagielski told McKeown before handing down the sentence for the misdemeanor charge. He also charged him court costs, which amounted to $99.  Jagielski had found him guilty of the misdemeanor charge in a bench trial on May 19 after hearing six hours of testimony from neighbors in the case that dates back to his arrest last July.

Jagielski said that McKeown could have received as 30 days in jail, but because this was his first offense, and his prior good work in the community, court supervision was appropriate. Now midway through his first term as trustee, McKeown is the comptroller of Keyser Industries in the village where he has lived for more than 35 years.

Two of his neighbors who brought the complaint, Keith and Barbara Krummick, were in court for the sentencing. Barbara Krummick said she was satisfied that the court supervision was for a “significant amount of time.”

Another neighbor, Margaret Michalak, who testified against him at trial, and called his behavior “outrageous,” said she wished it was a little longer.

“I’m glad he got convicted, because that is the only way he will learn a lesson,” she said.

The Krummicks live a few doors away from McKeown while Michalak lives across the street.

Both families said their troubles with him began after they complained about petty harassment from McKeown’s son, who also lives on the block and was a village police officer at the time.

Barbara Krummick said she had to install security cameras to record evidence of McKeown pestering them, adding that more neighbors were willing to testify, but were told they were not needed.  Asserting that the case involved more than car-honking, she said she appreciated the judge taking the case seriously.

During his trial, McKeown denied honking to antagonize the neighbors. He maintained that he was signaling his grandchildren, who live on the block, or the horn just sounded when he used his remote control to unlock the vehicle. But the neighbors asserted it was obviously done just to harass them.

“As I’ve said before, do we really see criminals here? In today’s world, these are minor offenses. But is this the type of behavior you want to be known for?”  Jagielski asked McKeown.

After finding McKeown guilty, Jagielski asked McKeown and his neighbors to attend a mediation session led by Sexton, which was held May 28. The judge said the most important issue is to find a way to put an end to the animosity between neighbors.

While Keith Krummick said he believed “baby steps were made” at the mediation session, Michalak said she did not appreciate Sexton saying the “tit-for-tat” actions between the two sides should end, implying the neighbors shared responsibility for the problem.

“We never retaliated against him,” she said.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. Turning a negative into a positive (is the goal),” said McKeown’s attorney, Craig Miller, who said Sexton stressed the need to be a good example to the children and grandchildren. Just before the sentencing, he said the case  “involved a lot of good people, and it just got out of hand.”

McKeown let Miller do most of the talking at the sentencing. “I would like to concur with my attorney. I want to move ahead and get past this. It has only been a week (since the mediation) and I’ve done what I was asked.”

He declined comment as he left the courtroom.

Jagielski said the only requirement he is asking of McKeown while under court supervision until Nov. 5 is to “act like a gentleman” at all times. He said that was the same rule he had to live by during four years at Wabash College, an all-male school in Crawfordsville, Ind.

“You have an opportunity to take this and use it as a positive, and I hope you do,” said Jagielski, explaining that if he follows the rules, McKeown’s record could eventually be expunged.