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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Puny early numbers don't scare half marathon bosses

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

 

I am calling this the race to the race.

Organizers of the ninth Southwest Half Marathon and 10K event announced Friday that because of a late switch in sponsorship from First Midwest Bank to CNB Bank and Palos Community Hospital and some software/website changes and issues, only 375 people have registered for the event.

That sounds like a pretty puny number to me.

Last year at this time, race committee members were smiling and all but turning cartwheels on their tables when they announced that 922 athletes signed up.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer in all of this but it sounds like this year’s event could struggle to hit four figures. Co-race director Jeff Prestinario said it has drawn as low as 900 to as high as 2,100 over the years. Last year, more than 1,700 athletes participated.

I am thinking that people who register early are those who plan their running seasons well in advance and the Palos event may have lost out on the 500 or so who may have made alternate plans for the May 1 running of the two races.

Prestinario, however, is not worried. He said he did his worrying a few months ago when it appeared there would be no sponsor.

“But somehow, someway, we are doing it again,” he announced at Friday’s first committee meeting for the races at the Palos Heights Rec Center.

After the meeting, he said he understood why the numbers were down and expected them to rise.

“It’s still early,” he said. “It still January. We had a delay in getting the information out. I’m not really worried. We’re somewhat behind but we think we will do better moving forward.’’

Jennifer Taylor of the Chicago Special Events Management team, which runs huge races all across the country, said that these low figures were still higher than those in January, 2014. By February, the registration figures swelled to more than 700.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about,’’ Taylor said.

Here is hoping they are right.

To me, it looks there will be a hard race ahead just to hit four figures.

To register, the new website is southwesthalfmarathon.com.

 Staying busy in retirement

Former St. Laurence football and baseball coach and Stagg athletic director Bob Fabrizio is now on the half marathon committee.

He retired from Stagg after the 2013-14 season -- if you could call it retirement.

“I have some volunteer things that I do that I find very, very rewarding,” he said. “I play golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Jeff (Prestinario) and he asked me to join this committee and help out with the volunteers.

“I taught a class at Trinity Christian College last spring. I worked at Shepard High School for the first six weeks as an athletic director when their athletic director (Curry Gallagher) had a medical problem. There is no shortage of things to do, believe me.’’

The Orland Park resident said he had never been to the half marathon before.

“I’m a rookie,” he said. “I heard it’s a lot of work but I have time and I have energy and that’s what it’s all about. It’s nice to see people from the community come together and it’s a great thing for the city and south suburbs.’’

 Learned something new

I’ve covered this bad boy three times and never knew that the turnaround point of the half marathon was actually located in Lemont.

Insert your own Palos Park joke, here.

Holiday highlights -- Brother Rice closes 2015 with Luther North title

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Anthony Nasella

PAGE 1 BROTHER RICE SHEPSKI

File photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice's Mike Shepski was the MVP at the Luther North Tournament.

The 2015 portion of the 2015-16 boys basketball season ended in odd fashion for many teams in the state.

Weather-related issues, power outages and some close games in holiday tournaments made the final week of 2015 exciting and area teams were a part of the fun. What will 2016 bring? If the end of 2015 is any indication, it won’t be boring. Here are highlights from the area – and around the state – from holiday tournaments:

We are the champions: Brother Rice won the 16-team Luther North Tournament with a 49-37 victory over Maine East on Dec. 30.

Mike Shepski was the tournament MVP but John Ryan and Josh Niego did the heavy lifting in the title game as both had 14 points. The Crusaders also beat Steinmetz, Robeson and Jones en route to the title game.

Marist won its own tournament Dec. 23 but went 1-2 in the 16-team Centralia Tournament. Oddly, the tournament did not host a seventh-place game so Marist and Alton finished in the seventh-eighth slots. None of the RedHawks made the All-Tournament team but Chamar Hawkins led the tournament in 3-point shooting with 60 percent.

It’s Déjà vu all over again: When Chicago Christian dropped its first game of the Romeoville Holiday Tournament to Lemont on Dec. 26, the Knights were able to rebound in its final three games – defeating Lincoln-Way East, Oak Forest and the Argo to capture the consolation championship.

Ironically, Chicago Christian (12-2) followed the same pattern at the Richards Thanksgiving tournament after dropping its opening game against Marist and then winning the next three in the consolation bracket.

Head coach Kevin Pittman is remaining hopeful that his Knights will be able to break that cycle in the critical win-or-go-home IHSA postseason in a few months.

 “We just don’t seem to fare well in that first game,” Pittman said. “We didn’t have our usual routine before the Lemont game and were pretty lifeless on both sides of the ball – so I’m looking forward to getting the kids back into a normal routine.”

Glass half full: Despite Richards going 1-3 at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament, coach Jevon Mamon is optimistic that the quality of teams that his Bulldogs competed against will work in their favor in the state tournament.

Richards opened the tournament with a win over Hope Academy but dropped a 31-point loss to Stevenson and a 29-point setback against Rockford Auburn before finishing the tournament with a 16-point defeat to DePaul College Prep.

A bright spot for the Bulldogs (7-7) was the play of Jaylan Catledge, who named to the all-tournament team after averaging 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the four game and registering three consecutive double-double performances. He poured in game-high 29 points against Stevenson.

“The quality of competition we played against is going to help us in conference and in the state tournament down the road, without question,” Mamon said. “We would have liked to have had more success, but those games definitely opened our eyes to what we need to work on and become better.”

We forgot our uniforms: Memphis’s Raleigh-Egypt competed in the Centralia Tournament but the players left their uniforms at home. They had to play in Centralia JV uniforms.

Close shaves: St. Laurence’s trip to the York Tournament featured four nailbiters but only one victory.

The Vikings dropped the opener, 53-52 to Downers Grove South, nipped Elk Grove 55-54, lost to Sandburg 54-51 and finished with a 58-54 loss to St. Ignatius.

Burn the film: Neither coach is probably going to want to watch the video from the first half of the Sandburg-St. Patrick game in the consolation semifinals of the York Tournament on Dec. 30.

Sandburg led 11-4 at halftime after shooting 4 for 17 from the floor while the Shamrocks shot 1 for 21. St. Pat recovered in the second half and pulled off the 34-31 win.

Stagg-ered: Stagg went into the York Tournament with plenty of steam after beating Joliet West and Joliet Central. The Chargers opened the York tourney with a win over Waubonsie but then had their seven-game win streak snapped when they dropped games to Naperville North and Lake Forest before recovering for a 59-47 win over Providence.

Meanwhile in Pontiac, where the tournament was delayed a couple of times because of power outages, one of the teams Stagg beat, Joliet West, made it to the final four after stunning Benet, 59-53, on Dec. 30.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: With my Hall of Fame vote ending soon, here are my choices in 2016

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Columnsig924

I will not turn this into a whine-fest but time on my lifetime Hall of Fame vote is running out.

A few months ago, the powers that be in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided that lifetime members who have not covered baseball in 10 years will no longer vote for the Hall of Fame.

It was an honor and privilege that I enjoyed having since 2008.

At first I was hacked off.

Once during the baseball winter meetings, a baseball executive, referring to another executive, said “He can kiss my red rosy ass!”

That was off the record.

Anyway, since I still have a couple of votes left, I was tempted to return this year’s ballot with a red-marker-scrawled message that featured many of those words – including red and rosy.

I thought of writing in votes for people like my son and daughter. I thought of wasting my votes on dudes who have no shot of even making the ballot next year.

But I care too much about sanctity of the vote to do something like that.

My biggest problem with this bonehead decision is that in the next four or five-plus years, a mountain of players from the years that I covered the sport will be eligible. But I won’t have a say in it.

Oh well. It’s out of my hands. I enjoyed it while I had it and still have a couple of ballots to go before they slam the door in my face.

This year, I voted for the same gang who have whiffed but picked up significant votes in recent years – Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and Larry Walker. Since we can vote up to 10, I added newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman to the list.

In previous years, I only voted once for a guy who had no shot – a waste vote, if you will. I voted for Mark Grace simply because I felt he deserved votes and maybe deserved a shot at making a ballot the following year. He isn’t Hall of Fame material, but having the most hits in one decade should count for at least a vote.

This year, since my voting tenure is closing fast, I am relaxing my self-mandated rule of not voting for someone I haven’t selected in the past. I’ve heard more and more compelling evidence for Alan Trammell over the years and this year, I finally put the checkmark in his box.

Next year I will take a closer look at Tim Raines and see if I want to change my mind on him, too.

Eye-opening movie 

I saw the film “Concussion” during the holidays and I didn’t know it would be a mystery. Throughout the film I wondered who stole actor Albert Brooks’ hair.

But on a serious note, the movie graphically opened a lot of eyes on how bad these football collisions can hurt people in the long run. Even high school hits may pay off some bad dividends in later years.

I don’t have any answers to how this is all going to play out. I felt horrible about what happens to football players on the way to the car, but once I got into the car, I couldn’t wait to turn on the Notre Dame-Ohio State game to find out the score.

At times, as a trash-talking joke, I would yell at the TV when a player from a team I don’t like has the ball “Make him cough up some blood!”

After watching “Concussion” I may put that joke on the shelf.

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: A real 'W' of a moment

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

Sometimes the best ideas are stolen ideas.

Years ago, I was working as a sportswriter at a local daily paper, someone had the bright idea to end the year by having each one of us write about a certain special moment or behind-the-scenes occurrence from that year.

It could be funny, touching or sentimental.

When I covered the Cubs, I did everything from Todd Wellemeyer’s belching ability to racing home after a Cubs workout to watch my son play in an All-Star game.

I loved writing those stories and when I became editor of the Reporter, it took me my second year to get my rear in gear and write one for 2014 and shared a tale about columnist Don C. White professing his love for his grandson during a December photo shoot after Don. C. spent way too much time the hospital mending from open-heart surgery.

So I am taking that stolen idea from years gone by (does anyone even remember Todd Wellemeyer anymore?) and bringing it back to the sports pages.

If took me all of a half a moment to come up with my favorite moment of 2015.

On Oct. 8, St. Laurence senior football player Alex Martinez had just been told his Chicago firefighter father, Rich, died suddenly at age 48. Alex tweeted to the world “My heart is broken in a million pieces.”

He was scheduled to be the starting quarterback the next night at Aurora Christian.

I planned on shooting photos at two other games and writing about one of them. So I called an audible and made a quick change of plans and shot a quarter of the Richards-Eisenhower game in Blue Island and headed to far west Aurora to see if he would play and how the team was holding up through this tragedy.

Well, the route from Blue Island to Aurora on a Friday night is filled with traffic and it took a while to get there.

I missed the pregame moment of silence that the Aurora school did for Martinez and his family.

When I got there late in the first quarter, he was indeed playing and playing pretty well.

Martinez threw for 202 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score as the Vikings won 63-24 for their fifth win in a row.

Then came the magic moment.

After the game, coach Harold Blackmon gathered the boys near the south end zone gave a speech and had Martinez stand up.

A couple of his pals presented him with this big box and Alex opened it up.

Inside was a team-autographed ‘W’ banner which was made popular by the Cubs, who happened to be playing St. Louis in the playoffs that night.

Martinez had a huge smile as he unfurled the huge ‘W.’

It was a moment you don’t see on a football field. It was a great moment of pure joy, camaraderie and offered some temporary relief during a dreadful 24-hour period.

“That was great for them to do that,” Martinez said.

Blackmon said the banner was one of the players’ ideas.

“Our kids really embrace family,” the coach said. “We all grieve with Alex. In the pregame speech we said for a few hours we wanted to get him to normalcy and doing something that’s fun. Alex’s dad loves the Cubs so they decided to give him a banner. We take care of our own.’’

They took care of their own and provided one of the best moments of 2015.

JEFF VORVA'S EXTRA POINT: Cubs, NU hoops hope to end futility streak in 2016

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

The race is on.

Well, it’s actually been on for many years but now it appears that either a finish line or a mirage is in sight.

I’ve been posing this question for years and it has three answers.

What will happen first?

$1a)      The Cubs winning a World Series.

$1b)      Northwestern’s men’s basketball team making the NCAA Tournament.

$1c)       Neither. The world will end before the Cubs win the top prize and NU makes it to the Big Dance.

In 2016, it looks like both teams are put into a position where it could happen sooner than later.

I don’t want to overhype this or get people’s hopes up, but there are some good signs.

The Cubs gave their fans a huge Christmas present when they signed that washed-up bum outfielder Jason Hayward to a huge contract.

What? He’s not washed up?

He’s not a bum?

Well, that’s what St. Louis Cardinal fans are saying, heh, heh, heh.

On paper, the Cubs look like they just about have it all. Good hitting. Good pitching. A manager that is adored by players and most fans – although he was a washed out bum after that weekend the Cubs were clobbered by the lowly Phillies in late July according to some fans who called in to the sports yak radio stations.

But World Series titles are not won on paper. First, teams must go through a 162-game grind and the playoffs are a month of unpredictability in which the best team doesn’t always win. Just ask Lou Piniella after he guided Seattle to a 116-win season in 2001 and couldn’t bring the big prize home.

It’s going to be a long climb for the Cubs but it should end up being a fun season for the fans.

The smart money is that Northwestern would have the better chance. It’s easier to make it to the NCAA Tournament than it is to win a World Series, even though the Wildcats never made it.

Ever.

At least the Cub won a World Series, albeit more than a century ago.

NU’s streak of failure to qualify is astounding considering they had pretty good coaches such as Rich Falk, Bill Foster, the late Ricky Byrdsong, Kevin O’Neill, Bill Carmody and now Chris Collins, who is in his third year.

Year after year, the Wildcats generally have pretty decent non-conference seasons only to get torn up in the Big Ten Conference.

Carmody had four straight seasons of 17-14, 20-14, 20-14 and 19-14 overall but couldn’t put up a winning record in the Big Ten and that meant four trips to the NIT.

This year, the Wildcats have played a soft non-conference schedule and were 10-1 after beating DePaul in overtime Saturday.

I don’t think this is a great NU team, but the key is having a good Big Ten record. And some Big Ten teams are not setting the world on fire.

I see two winnable games against Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State.

I see winnable games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Rugters.

That’s nine wins there.

I see two likely losses against Maryland and one likely loss against Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan.

That’s six losses there.

They have two games with up-and-down Ohio State and one against Indiana and if they pick off one or two of those games, they are in great position for a plus .500 season in the Big Ten, which should put them in the NCAA Tournament.

But, keep in mind a lot of people have predicted this success after promising non-conference seasons only to have those dreams dashed over and over.

So who wins the end-of-the-futility race?

Let’s hope we all live long enough to see a winner.