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Big Ten playing Friday night football: Area coaches say scouting and visits could be reduced

  • Written by Frank Gogola

PAGE 2 BLACKMON WITH FOTBALL STORY

Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence coach Harold Blackmon, who played Big Ten football at Northwestern, said when he was in college he loved playing Saturday morning games.  

Richards football coach Tony Sheehan heads home after coaching Friday night games with several hours to rest. He’ll flip on college football, normally a Pac-12 or Mountain West game, before a brief sleep and a return to school for Saturday morning film review.

College football on Friday nights isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s been a topic of discussion around the Midwest since the Big Ten announced it’ll play Friday night games beginning next season. Area coaches see the decision by the Big Ten, which played its conference championship game on Saturday in Indianapolis, negatively impacting recruiting and having a neutral effect on attendance.

“As a player, I loved playing on Saturday mornings in college,” said St. Laurence football coach Harold Blackmon, who played at Northwestern. “I wouldn’t trade that for the world. This seems a little awkward to have to play on a Friday night as a college student.”

High school players will feel the biggest impact, Sheehan and Blackmon believe. The number of opportunities decreases for a Big Ten coach to scout a high school game or a player to make a visit to a Saturday college game. It’s one less potential contact for players looking to secure an offer.

Blackmon said has no issue with the Big Ten going after TV exposure and money. But, as a traditionalist, he’d like to see Fridays reserved for high school football. It’s a sentiment shared by Sheehan.

“I understand they’re trying to get more people to watch,” Sheehan said. “But at the same time, Friday night is supposed to be high school. You know, ‘Friday Night Lights’ … I just liked that Friday night is high school football and is revered for that.”

Big Ten teams will play six Friday night games per year over the next six seasons as part of a new television agreement. The games will be confined to September and October. The Big Ten previously only played Friday games on Labor Day weekend.

In Illinois, the Illini will host Nebraska on Sept. 29. Northwestern will travel to Maryland on Oct. 13 and will host Michigan State on Oct. 27.

There were 65 Friday night college games across the country during the 2016 season, according to a Big Ten news release. A schedule search showed all 10 conferences had teams playing on a Friday at least once.

“It’s just a trend,” Blackmon said. “And I think it’s this oversaturation of football on the collegiate and pro level.”

Sheehan and Blackmon don’t expect the Big Ten playing on Friday affecting attendance at their schools or others in the area. Northwestern is one hour away while Illinois is a two-hour drive. Neither team is a perennial contender.

“This won’t destroy high school football on Fridays,” Blackmon said. “Most of your fans are students who don’t play football. They’re not as interested in Big Ten football as you’d like to think.”

Added Sheehan: “With phones and tablets, they can watch part of the game or get updates (while at a high school game) if they’re that interested.”

Even if a handful of fans remain home, Steve Smithers, first-year Marist athletic director, doesn’t see football gate receipts being severely lessened.

That $5 ticket, $2 hot dog and $1 coffee add up to support football and non-revenue sports. But, Smithers said gate receipts haven’t so far been as big a budgetary issue at Marist (enrollment: 1,655) as compared to the smaller Rock Island Alleman Catholic (enrollment: 448), where he worked from 2005 to 2016.

“There are probably enough fans to go around,” Smithers said. “So, I’m sure after the dust settles we’ll all be OK.”

 

Focus on area sports -- XC, wrestling, football and bowling

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

One All-American honor down and one to go.

Sandburg junior Dylan Jacobs finished in 19th place – good for a spot on the All-American team – in the Nike Cross Nationals Saturday at the Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland Oregon, covering the muddy, hilly course in 16 minutes.

Jacobs was third among Illinois runners behind Lyons Township’s Danny Kilrea (13th place) and Grayslake Central’s Jack Aho (17th).

The Eagles runner will try to make it two-for-two on Saturday when he runs in the Foot Locker National Championship at Balboa Park in San Diego.

(subhead) Zaccone shines at Anderson Invite

With his fourth-place finish in the state at 106 pounds as a freshman, Stagg’s Domenic Zaccone figured to be one of the area most promising underclassmen this season.

He is on a hot streak and racked up three pins at 113 en route to the title and Outstanding Wrestler honors at Stagg’s Dave Anderson Invitational on Saturday in Palos Hills.

Stagg finished second in the tournament to Crown Point, Indiana and had a second champion in Noah Price at 132. Chargers coach Brian Jackson also had Josh Gentry (138) and Peter Radev (160) take second.

Bowling them over

Sandburg’s boys bowling team won the Oak Forest Invitational Saturday with a 6,242 at Oak Forest Bowl. Sophomore lefty Cameron Crowe, a SouthWest Suburban Conference, regional and sectional champ as a freshman, won the individual title with a 1,512 in six games.

Chicago Christian took second place in the 18-team IC Catholic Invitational at the Brunswick Zone in Glendale Heights. Junior Matt McCarthy finished 12th with a 594 three-game series while senior Colin Schaafsma took 16th with a 578.

Knocking them over

For the second year in a row, Indiana University’s Dan Feeney, an offensive lineman from Sandburg, was knocking defensive opponents all over the field and was named first-team All-Big Ten.

The senior is the fourth OL in school history to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons.

CBS Sports projects the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Feeney as the 24th best prospect in the 2017 draft and the second-best offensive lineman.

Top 40

Former Stagg runner Declan McDonnell finished 39th out of 6,174 runners at the California International Marathon Sunday in Sacramento.

He ran the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 11 seconds.

McDonnell is a Palos Park native who is a volunteer assistant track and cross country coach at the University of Minnesota.

Subway Classic matchups set

Marist and Mother McAuley’s girls basketball teams are back at the 27th Chicagoland Girls Prep Classic, sponsored by Subway, Jan. 14 and 16 at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.

Marist takes on Stevenson at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 16 and Mother McAuley follows that with a 5 p.m. game against Wheaton North. 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Boers loses the jerk act in riveting retirement announcement

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Terry Boers took time out of his busy schedule of calling people “asswipes” and “steaming piles of crap” to break down and cry.

The longtime voice on WSCR, a sports talk radio station in Chicago, announced his retirement on Nov. 29 in a 15-minute segment that found him choking up and having a hard time finishing his thoughts.

It was captivating and riveting radio.

Boers, an Orland Park resident, has honed his trade over the years of being a jerk announcer very well the past quarter century. He and his partner, Dan Bernstein, have perfected the art of antagonizing people and pushing their buttons.

And they have been pretty successful at it. They have their fans and they have their haters. They poke fun at people and sometimes are a little cruel in their bile and cross the line. I never cared for the cruel way they poked fun at Ron Santo, someone I personally knew.

Boers has been in lousy health in 2016 and, while he said he was mulling retirement before multiple surgeries for an undisclosed illness, he definitely showed his human side when he made his emotional announcement. He dropped the jerk act to talk from the heart.

Reaction to his retirement was mostly supportive on social media but there are some who crowed and are glad he is leaving. Karma was mentioned more than once.  

When you constantly insult the public the way he has done, you open the door for that.

But let’s remember this. The jerk act was just that…an act.

Away from the microphone, he is a husband, father and grandfather. He has lived in the south suburbs for years including a three-year stint in Orland Park, a longer time in Mokena and is back in Orland Park. So he is one of us.

I knew Bernstein when we covered the Bears back in the Dave Wannstedt era and he seemed to be a good guy – different than his current on-air persona. His smarter-than-everyone shtick rubs people the wrong way, but you have to admit he’s pretty intelligent and when he is not performing the jerk act is pretty thoughtful.  

Taking unpopular stances, tearing down sports icons and belittling callers is just a part of their show. Their goal is to entertain and inform and if you get these two guys hooked up with an expert in a sport, you learned things. I prefer to hear them talk college football with someone like Gary DiNardo than calling a caller a “cretin’’

It’s hard for people to separate the real men from the jerk act.

Bernstein is willing to share some of his family life and funny stories about being a husband and father more than Boers. For the most part, Boers kept that stuff off the air and only showed a human side in small doses.

During his retirement announcement, it spilled over like a bursting dam.

The Boers and Bernstein show is known for comedy and even his tearful goodbye had an accidental slice of it when a couple of times, the ringer of his cellphone (a yell from singer James Brown) went off in the background.

Boers will be on the air -- when he is healthy enough -- until early January, when the station turns 25.

After that, who knows? It’s likely the last we will hear from him.

I didn’t always like what he said or did.

But while he was on the air, I listened.

And so did countless others.

Seconds count for area teams

  • Written by Phil Arvia and Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2  STAGG 1 12 1 

 

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Josh Strama of Stagg drives against Willowbrook on Friday in a loss. The Chargers finished second in the 20th John McBride Tournament after beating Nazareth on Saturday.

 

When presented with the notion that Stagg’s basketball team is a particularly experienced group given it has three three-year varsity starters, Tom Kazanecki demurred.

“Well, I only started the last game of my sophomore year,” the 6-foot-7 center said, “so I guess …”

But there was no guessing who the most valuable Charger was, at least as far as coach John Daniels was concerned, after Stagg went 3-1 last week to take second in the five-team 20th annual John McBride Thanksgiving Classic. Stagg was among several area teams to finish second in tournament play during the first week of the boys hoops season.

“Tommy, to me, was the MVP of the tournament,” Daniels said. “Now, Willowbrook won it, so (Warriors center Ethan Schuemer) deserved to get the award — but he killed everybody else. Tommy held him to four points and was our most consistent player all week.”

Kazanecki, an all-tournament pick along with fellow senior John Contant, had 10 points and two rebounds in a 57-53 win Saturday over Nazareth Academy. The Chargers (3-1) bounced back from 53-49 Friday loss to Willowbrook that they led by four with less the three minutes to play.

For the tourney, Kazanecki averaged 12.5 points and six rebounds per game. Saturday, he scored eight of his points in the second half, while Contant (19 points) was saddled with foul trouble, and drew a key charge in the final 30 seconds.

“That was big,” Daniels said.

Especially after he implored his seniors — Jaswon Finley and Darek Liput to join three-year starters Kazanecki, Contant and Josh Strama (15 points) in the first five — to step up in the wake of Friday’s loss.

“We made mistakes, we didn’t take care of the basketball, we had too many defensive breakdowns,” Daniels said. “We should have been successful in that situation because of our experience.”

Against Nazareth (1-3), the Chargers jumped to an early nine-point lead. But the Roadrunners pulled ahead at the half on a three-pointer by Thomas Sandt (14 points), one of eight treys they hit on the day.

Nazareth led by five on back-to-back threes early in the third quarter from freshman Tagen Pearson — the one player with whom his father, first-year coach and Nazareth legend Sean Pearson, need not become better acquainted.

“I learned a lot about the guys this week,” Sean Pearson said. “I learned what they need to work on.”

Pearson used 12 players. Ryan Felbinger (10 points) joined Sandt in double figures.

“To be able to go 12 deep in a tournament is a good thing,” he said. “We won’t always do that, but we’re going to play up-tempo, so we’ll use a lot of players.

“They’re still getting used to me. But they listen, and I love their effort.”

Kazanecki loved the Chargers’ effort after he and Contant each hit a pair of free throws to give them the lead for good early in the fourth quarter.

“This was definitely a hard-fought, fun game,” he said. “We definitely could have played a lot harder (Friday). That shouldn’t happen. We have to step up more as leaders.’’

Spartan-Ram Classic

Sandburg (3-1) finished second in the eight-team tournament after dropping a 53-37 contest Friday at Reavis. Ed Mila and Jake Pygon were named to the All-Tournament team.

Oak Lawn finished fifth but earlier in the tournament, Rashad Johnson broke the school record with 52 points and hit 12 3-pointers in an 83-61 victory over the Islamic Foundation School.

Greg Lehmann set the previous scoring record with 43 points during the 1979-80 season and Johnson broke his own 3-point record of eight, which he hit during the 2014-15 campaign.

Joliet West Tournament

Brother Rice finished runnerup in the eight-team tournament, dropping a 62-49 decision in Saturday’s championship to the hosts.

Mike Shepski and Josh Niego made the all-tournament team for the Crusaders.

Lisle Thanksgiving Tournament

Evergreen Park placed second in the five-team tournament. After beating Lisle and Westmont, the Mustangs dell to Timothy Christian on Friday before recovering for a 65-41 win over Yorkville Christian on Saturday.

Mike Drynan, a 6-foot-10 senior, had 13 points in the Yorkville tilt.

 

 

Marist hoop teams make great first impressions

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 3 Julia 12 1

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Julia Ruzevich, here canning a second-quarter 3-pointer, hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the first quarter to give Marist the momentum in a win over Plainfield East.

 

There could be a hard road to get to the state tournament for Marist’s boys and girls basketball team in February and March.

But for now, it’s all about the hardware.

Both teams claimed Thanksgiving tournament titles on Friday as the boys won the eight-team District 218 Tipoff Classic at Eisenhower with a 66-47 victory over Richards in the late afternoon and about 90 minutes later, the girls won a 68-60 war over Plainfield East to claim its own six-team tournament hosted at the Mt. Greenwood school.

It’s the fourth time in five years the boys won the D218 tourney and girls coach Mary Pat Connolly said she thought it was the eighth time the RedHawks hosted their own tournament and the eighth time they won it.

In a few weeks, the Illinois High School Association is expected to announce its postseason assignments. In recent years, the boys team has been thrown in 4A sectionals with Chicago powerhouses such as Simeon, Curie and Bogan.

The girls, on the other hand, have been thrown in the sectionals with powerhouse Homewood-Flossmoor, which is stacked again.

But for now, the two Marist squads have a little time to enjoy their early season success. The girls season is in its third week and the boys in its second this week and they joined the Queen of Peace girls team as the only three undefeated squads from the area.

The boys mowed through their four opponents by an average of 28 points per game. In the title game against Richards, junior guard Morgan Taylor, who is also the quarterback on the football team, broke out with a 24-point performance. Maurice Commander had 12 points and Justin Brown added 11 including a couple of dunks early in the game to get the RedHawks going.

“We knew Richards was a good team and they came looking for a win,” Commander said. “But everyone on our team played their game.’’

Taylor said he is not sure if his future will be in football or basketball, but he is enjoying the early portion of the season so far.

“You don’t have 250-pound linemen coming at you,” he said.

But the RedHawks did have a pretty strong opponents coming after them in the form of Richards forward Jaylin Catledge, who is usually good for dropping 20 points on opponents, was hounded and double teamed and finished with 13 points for the Bulldogs (3-1).

“He’s difficult to defend but we did a good job,” Marist coach Gene Nolan said. “He can change a game.’’

The girls team trailed most of the first quarter to Plainfield East, but Julia Ruzevich (22 points) popped in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knot the game at 20-20 and the RedHawks (5-0) grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed.

Marist had several double-digit leads but Plainfield mounted several comeback attempts.

“This was the first year for them in this tournament and we were glad to have them,” Connelly said. “They have five seniors and they pushed us. They matched up with us well.’’

Claire Austin added 17 points for Marist. Austin, Ruzevich and Shepard's Cassidy McCarthy were named to the All-Tourament team.

Before the eight-point win, the RedHawks beat their first four opponents by an average of 35 points per game.

Thrillers for Shepard

Shepard’s boys team took third place in the District 218 tournament with a 64-63 victory over Chicago Christian. Joe Newhall connected on a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds left to lead the Astros.

Earlier in the tournament, the Astros (3-1) picked up a 58-56 win over Eisenhower when Tamer Ashkar laid in the game-winning basket at the buzzer.