Top 10 sports stories of the year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




It was an exciting and productive year in area sports in 2014.

Take Trinity Christian College for instance. The Trolls’ volleyball team won a national championship. In most years, that could be good enough to be the top sports story of the year.

Not this year.

The year was so strong, that a national championship had to take a back seat to two other stories.

The top 10 list of sports stories in the Reporter and Regional feature Olympians, NFL draftees, state champions, huge events coming into our area and even a guy who had a couple of holes-in-one in less than a week.

So before new sports memories are made in 2015, here are the top sports stories of 2014:

$11.       Silver Coyne

Sandburg graduate and Palos Heights native Kendall Coyne earned a spot on the Olympic women’s hockey team, competed in Sochi, Russia in February and came home with a silver medal.

In the first five games, Coyne racked up three goals and six assist to get to the gold medal game.

Once she came home, she and her medal toured several area schools and she made countless speeches to students and civic groups.

2. Feeling the draft

Former Sandburg and University of Michigan standout Michael Schofield was a third-round pick – and 95th pick overall – in the 2014 NFL Draft on May 9.

He received a call from Broncos’ General Manager John Elway and a text from  quarterback Payton Manning that night. Through 15 games, he has yet to see action for the Broncos.

$13.       Trinity Christian wins national championship

Trinity Christian College’s volleyball team claimed the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship in early December.

The Trolls beat Colorado Christian University 23-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-15 to win the tournament. Rachel Verhage had 18 kills, 11 digs and four blocks in the triumph.

$14.       Hosting a Final Four

                St. Xavier’s football team made it to the NAIA national semifinals for the fifth time in school history but unlike the first four times, the Cougars played this game at home.

                The result, however, was not to their liking. After grabbing a 17-10 lead after the first quarter, the Cougars gave up 31 straight and lost a wild one, 62-37 to Southern Oregon on Dec. 6 Southern Oregon went on to win the national championship with a 55-31 victory over Marian (Ind.) on Dec. 20.

$15.       Four great coaches retire

                In the spring, four veteran coaches announced their retirements and they enjoyed highly successful careers.

Denise Bromberek, who was Marist’s softball coach in the first 12 years of the program and won a state title in 2012, John Chappetto, who won a state title in 2008 as the head boys basketball boss, Janet Meyers, who won 256 games at Oak Lawn’s girls basketball coach, and Brother Rice boys volleyball coach Paul Ickes, the first coach in the state to win 500 matches, all called it a career.

$16.       ESPN2 comes to town

Moraine Valley Community College’s new gym hosted a huge high school basketball game on Dec. 19 and St. Rita knocked off nationally-ranked Simeon, 51-46. The game was broadcast all over the world on ESPN2.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said the game drew 2,600 fans to the Palos Hills campus and there was a guest appearance by Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who was watching recruit Charles Matthews of St. Rita.

$17.       A Screeching halt

Mt. Assisi High School closed its doors and in late May, the Screeching Eagles softball team played the last athletic event in school history.

The team made it to the regional championship before bowing out to Chicago Christian, 11-7, May 24 in Palos Heights. Terri Dearth’s grand slam pulled the Eagles to within one run at one point but the Knights rallied to put an end to the Eagles athletic program.

$18.       Coaching merry-go-round at EP
Evergreen Park football coach Dan Hartman took a job at Hinsdale Central and school officials hired Phillips coach Troy McAllister. But on June 8, McAllister was let go because of a lack of teaching credentials and Ray Mankowski took over.

Evergreen Park qualified for the playoffs under Mankowski. Hartman opened his first week with a bang as his Red Devils ousted Bolingbrook, a preseason No. 1 team in both Chicago daily newspapers. As for McAllister? He returned to Phillips as an assistant but was soon promoted back to his old job and his team became the second Chicago Public League school in Illinois High School Association history to make it to a state championship game.

$19.       Orland athletes win state titles

                Providence Catholic’s baseball team win the Class 4A state championship in the heat of June and its football team won the Class 7A state title in the cold of November.

                Some Orland Park standouts helped the New Lenox private school bring home the top trophies including Ben Salvador in baseball and Jake Rost and Richie Warfield in football.

$110.   Aces wild

Palos Heights resident Bob Murphy recorded to holes-in-one in a six-day span at two different courses in June.

He had an ace at the Bolingbrook Golf Club on a 152-yard, 13th hole on June 17, six days after he aced the 109-yard seventh hole at the Zigfield Troy Gold Club in Woodridge. It brought up his career hole-in-one total to four.

Robinson rhubarb, Part 2: New allegations surface against JRW team

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


By Jeff Vorva

and Bob Rakow

Staff Reporters

In mid-December, the Evergreen Park Athletic Association’s allegations that the Jackie Robinson West baseball team was using illegal players from out of its boundaries were met with relative indifference by Little League officials.

But it caused some people to do some digging and more allegations are coming out about the team that took Chicago and the nation by storm in the summer.

The website recently reported that the JRW boundaries within the city were expanded without the blessing of some league presidents in District 4. That allowed JRW to pluck prime players off their rosters for the 2014 campaign. JRW made it to the nationals and it allowed them to win the United States championship.

DNAinfo reported that Little League rule say redistricting should “not overlap or encroach another chartered Little League’s boundaries.’’

Little League officials said the presidents of the affected charter signed off on it but that’s being disputed.

DNAinfo cited a Rosemoor Little League official claiming that the new map was sent in without the permission of the presidents who represent Roseland, Rosemoor and South Side leagues.

“I can tell you 200 percent that we didn’t sign off on that map,” Rosemoor Vice President Ricardo Coleman told he website.

Chris Janes, the spokesman for the EPAA which helped light this firestorm, said these new charges against the Jackie Robinson team are even more damning than the EPAA’s allegations of using players from out of districts such as Homewood and South Holland.

“These latest allegations -- which I really had nothing to do with – of usurping other league’s boundaries…that’s out of this world,” Janes said. “It’s scary that they could do that this easily. Four of the kids that were on this year’s championship team were using the addresses of  the boundaries that were of South Side Little League Roseland and Rosemoor. They extended that boundary so they can get those four kids.

“There is no Little League district on the planet that will say ‘we have too many kids, why don’t you take a big portion of my boundaries?’ No way. There is no rationalization for it. Jackie Robinson West has 530 kids participating. Why did they need a bigger boundary? They wanted those four kids.’’

It’s not unlike politicians drawing up new boundaries to help them and their political parties to prosper in a coming election.

“What it called? Gerrymandering?’’  Janes said with a laugh.

According to DNAinfo, Little League officials are looking into the map situation for 2015 but are likely not going to do anything about 2014.

Janes, the vice president of the EPAA, said he does not feel bad for sparking these investigations.

“There’s no justification for them (JRW) to do this,” he said. “I don’t regret doing it at all.”

The EPAA accused JRW of cheating by violating residency rules when it put together the team that competed in the 2014 Little League World Series and won the U.S. title.

Jackie Robinson West’s success was the feel-good story of the summer as a team from Chicago’s South Side came together and rolled through the sectional and state playoffs before winning the U.S. title. They lost the title game to a team from Seoul, Korea.

The team enjoyed significant recognition when players and coaches returned to Chicago from Williamsport, Pa., including a downtown pep rally and appearances at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.

Janes said the optimistic story about an urban youth baseball team advancing to the Little League Word Series despite numerous obstacles was the primary reason no one else wanted to expose the suspected cheating.

The EPAA insists that the team was not made up exclusively of boys from Chicago’s South Side. Rather, they were chosen travel teams that hail from nearby suburbs, Janes said.

Jackie Robinson West officials deny the accusations.

Janes said that EPAA and officials from other neighboring leagues have long suspected that JRW “cherry picked” the best players from the region but the practice was not uncovered until the team’s 2014 championship run.

Janes, the father of three boys who play Evergreen Park Little League, said he’s hopeful that EPAA’s decision to blow the whistle on Jackie Robinson West baseball will force Little League International to take a closer look at similar accusations in the future.

EPAA’s call for an investigation into JRW’s alleged rules violations essentially fell on deaf ears.

A spokesman for Little League International, Brian McClintock, which organizes the Little League World Series, said in an emailed statement the organization is “confident that the documentation provided to the organization from Jackie Robinson West Little League meets the residency regulations for the 2014 Little League Baseball tournament season" and the issue is considered "closed at this time,” according to reports.

The accusations became public when DNAinfo reported that an Internet search found that a congresswoman, a suburban mayor, an elite traveling baseball league and Sports Illustrated posted details about the players' suburban roots.

Specifically, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly took to Twitter to cheer on Jackie Robinson West players who live and attend school in suburban towns within her district, DNAinfo said.

Additionally, South Holland village officials congratulated the two as “alumni” in a village newsletter, and Sports Illustrated reported in its feature “Faces in the Crowd” that one player attended a school in suburban Homewood.

Lynwood Mayor Mayor Gene Williams also was quoted as in a newspaper about plans to celebrate our own Jackie Robinson West player.

But, according to a map obtained by, the Jackie Robinson West boundaries include sections of the Morgan Park, Washington Heights, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and New City neighborhoods of Chicago — but do not include any suburbs.

Residence must be established and supported with three forms of documentation, the rules say, which include items like a driver's license, voter registration and copies of utility bills.


IHSA football proposal sacked

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




We won’t be saying goodbye to Catholic League football.

We won’t be saying “see ya later’’ to the Southwest Suburban.

Nor will we be saying “so long’’ to the South Suburban.

The East Suburban Catholic and Metro Suburban are safe, too.

And it could stay that way for a while.

The Illinois High School Association on Tuesday announced that the general membership rejected Proposal 10 by a 395-212 count.

 The proposal would have eliminated conference play and would have implemented a district system for the regular season based on enrollment and geography. If it passed, it would have been the most dramatic change to the high school football landscape in history and established conferences would have been axed including the Catholic League, which is 100 years strong.

So for the next couple of years, the football in the state is status quo.

The issues that surrounded the reason for the proposal, however, remain. Scheduling nightmares and constant changes among conferences and league are still abundant. Schools creatively scheduling easy non-conference opponents in order to rack up victories to qualify for the postseason also has posed problems.

Tim O’Halloran, who runs the website covering IHSA football and recruiting and is also a football expert on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, wasn’t in favor of the proposal but thinks changes are needed.

“The coaches I talked to who were in favor of it are disappointed because they thought this was a viable solution,” he said. “But when they put this proposal out there and showed what it would look like, I think it scared the bejesus out of a lot of people.

“You saw where Joliet schools were in the same district as the St. Louis area. You had Mt. Carmel playing a bunch of Chicago Public League schools that are located near them. There was a lot of weird stuff out there that may have spooked some schools off. But the scheduling and conferences are still an issue.’’

It’s possible a modified and changed proposal could be up for votes in future years. One thing O’Halloran doesn’t want to see is the playoff structure used by the state to the east of Illinois. Indiana allows all of its football teams into the postseason.

“I don’t even want to go there,” O’Halloran said. “It would alleviate some scheduling issues but we would become Indiana and in my book that would not be a good thing. Then you are just making a complete mockery of your playoff system. I know everyone is eligible for the postseason in basketball and baseball and all of the other sports, but football is different.

“It’s totally different and it should be handled that way.”

Some coaches, including St. Laurence’s Harold Blackmon, were hoping it wouldn’t pass.

“The Catholic League has been a staple of high school football for a very long time,” he said before the vote, which took place in December. “To destroy that is very unfair.”

It’s one of the few proposals to make the ballot to get rejected. Three of the six proposals on the IHSA ballot were not passed this year. The last time a proposal failed to pass was in 2008-09.

From 1999-200 through 2013-14, 133 out of 135 proposals were passed.

A summary of this year’s other proposals:

Proposal 1 (passed 370-239): Allows the Board of Directors to approve international programs that do not appear on the list of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), and thereby confer eligibility to students in those programs

§  Proposal 5 (passed 375-234): Removes the mid-summer "dead week" provision that was approved last year.

§  Proposal 15 (passed 489-96): Moves the date of the first contest of the girls tennis season four days earlier, to Thursday of Week 7.

§  Proposal 17 (rejected 313-291): Would have removed the season limitation currently in place for Scholastic Bowl.

§  Proposal 18 (rejected 305-299): Would have increased the contest limitation for Scholastic Bowl from 18 dates to 30 dates.

A total of 613 of 810 member schools (75.7 percent) participated in the amendment balloting, a significant increase from last year's 57.3 percent. A new email voting procedure is credited with turning out the vote, yielding the second-highest percentage since 1997.


Firing line -- Brandon Marshall in Palos Heights hours after Bears fire coach and GM

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was in Palos Heights on Monday, hours before finding out coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired.

On Monday morning, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were the headliners  fired in Lake Forest.

On Monday afternoon, controversial Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was fired up in Palos Heights.

Marshall hosted his ESPN radio show at Trio Restaurant and Bar and before he even talked about the carnage at Halas Hall, he was busy challenging WMVP announcer to a boxing match and calling him a “clown.’’

Then he got serious and said that this year’s coaching staff featured “some of the best coaches I’ve ever been around” and that going to Halas Hall Monday morning was like “Going to the hospital to see someone who was dead. It was like a funeral. It was sad…really sad.’’

A couple of hundred people – many wearing Marshall jerseys – crammed into the bar to hear the outspoken words of wisdom from the wideout. Not too many of them were somber about the departures.

“This is a phenomenal day,’’   said Orland Park’s Ed Griffin. “It was a disappointing season for diehard fans. We’re ready for next year.’’

Griffin said he would have loved it if former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh would have taken Trestman’s place but Harbaugh is heading to the University of Michigan. Griffin said he will settle for Mike Shanahan. A pal at his table, Palos Heights’ Mike Krol said he would like to see former Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren as the new GM with Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles taking over as head coach.

Palos Park’s Rick Griffin, Ed’s brother, said he wants Mike Ditka back as the head coach. He said he was serious. But he sounded like a “Saturday Night Live’’ Da Bears character when he gave his reasoning.

“If’s Ditka versus God, [the score is] God 3, Ditka 478,’’ he joked.  “But this is a great day and a fresh start for the team.’’

Trestman was sacked after two seasons. This year, the team finished 5-11 this year and finished the season with five straight losses. The more galling losses of the season included a 51-23 setback to New England, a 55-13 defeat at the hands of Green Bay and a 41-28 loss to Dallas.

Trestman, whose background is specializing in offense, watched a team that had weapons Marshall, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery score 17 or fewer points seven times including no touchdowns in Sunday’s 13-9 loss to Minnesota in a battle for last place in the NFC North.

Off the field, the Bears had their share of troubles as well including offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer – who was also whacked on Monday -- ‘fessing up to being an anonymous source ripping Cutler to the NFL Network.

Marshall also had his share of controversy off the field, including challenging a Detroit fan to a fight in the ring for money in November. He also called Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola a “dirty player and he’s a worse human being.’’

On the field, Marshall caught 61 passes for 721 yards and eight touchdowns but missed the final three games with rib and lung injuries.

Like most fans, Marshall is wondering what the future with hold for the so-called Monsters of the Midway.

“Some of these coaches are amazing coaches and they might not get jobs again,” Marshall said. “The NFL is ‘what have you done for me lately?’ There are a lot of changes coming and that’s what sucks for me. This is my fourth time going through this. Anyone can get fired – myself included. I could be traded. The new regime could come in and ‘you know what? We need to rebuild this thing and we have value in Brandon.’ Players go, too.

“We’re in the best sports market in the world. Ownership is awesome. Get it right. Get it right.’’




Show Time at Moraine

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Tom Bunch



The gym was rocking and fans were hollering, which made the scene resemble ones found at many other high school basketball games.

What made it different was that cameras were rolling, too.

But these weren’t just Mom-and-Dad-are-videotaping-it recording devices, but the kind that can present an event to a nationwide audience. And they were set up at Moraine Valley College Friday night.

The Palos Hills school played host to a hoops contest between St. Rita and Simeon that was broadcast nationally by ESPN2. And as one Mustangs fan wrote on a poster: It was "Show Time at Moraine Valley."

The game was big enough to entice University of Kentucky coach John Calipari to attend. Calipari, in town with the No. 1-ranked Wildcats for last Saturday’s inaugural CBS Sports Classic at the United Center, was getting a firsthand look at St. Rita’s Charles Matthews, a Kentucky recruit.

And Matthews didn’t disappoint either his future coach or the Mustangs backers in the crowd as he helped his team defeat the Wolverines 51-46. Matthews finished with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds.

While the game at Moraine’s new Health and Fitness Center began at 5:30 p.m., preparations for it started well before that.

“It’s been a six-week process,” Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said during a Friday interview. “We had to make sure we got the game [and] we had to prove to them that we can handle it with the staff. [There was] a crew of around 40 people [to] set up the cameras, the microphones, cabling and other intricate stuff.

“The main challenge for the school at this point is to make sure the facility is clean, staffed and that there is enough change for those who are buying tickets."

Pre-broadcast work got underway Thursday night and continued in earnest on Friday morning.

 “I’ve been working here since 10 a.m.,” Moraine Valley student worker Richard Gregg Jr. said on Friday afternoon. “It’s a big game. I’m an athlete myself so it’s exciting that ESPN is here.”

Moraine officials said the game was a boon to the school, which got a chance to show off its sleek athletic facility that opened in March.

 “Our [men’s basketball] games usually attract between 150 and 250 people, but this game should have at least 2,000 people watching as well as a national audience,” Finn said hours before tip-off.

Neither he nor anyone else at Moraine went away disappointed.