Playing by the new rules

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Playing by the new rules

SUBHEAD: NFSH tightens some football regulations for 2015


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            Playing by the rules just got a little more involved.

            In an ongoing effort to reduce injury risks in prep football, the National Federation of State High School Associations expanded the provisions of unnecessary roughness to include contact with a defenseless player. The revision in Rule 9-4-3g was one of six changes recommended by the NFHS’ Football Rules Committee at its January meeting in Indianapolis and subsequently approved by the organization’s Board of Directors.

            The new rules go into effect nationwide for the 2015 season.

            The revised defenseless-player edict now states that “no player or non-player shall make any contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.” According to Bob Colgate, director of sports and sports medicine at the NFHS and editor of the NFHS football rules, an example would be when a defensive player who was not in the vicinity of the ball is “blindsided” by a blocker on the offensive team.

Another safety-based change involves spearing, which will now defined as “an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of his helmet.”

            “The committee spent considerable time discussing and clarifying expectations related to contact involving any player that is deemed excessive or unnecessary -- including spearing -- that may occur during play,” Brad Garrett, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, said in a statement. “Minimizing risks to players involved in these situations must remain at the forefront of the game.”

            Local coaches who were asked for their opinion didn’t disagree with the sentiment. Former Oak Lawn coach Sean Lucas, who’ll take over at Argo in the fall for the retired Jim Innis, welcomes the rule changes -- assuming they are properly applied. He said the “defenseless player” designation, in particular, will need to be whistled both ways.

            You see defenders get called for the spearing penalty every season, but rarely do you see a running back get called who is essentially doing the same thing,” Lucas said. “Officials will need to understand the spirit of the rules and consistently apply them to game play on Friday nights. They also need to be able to accurately describe to coaches any gray areas that come up in the application of rules.”

            According to Shepard coach Dominic Passolano, however, different gray areas may exist from official to official.

“The thing that concerns me is how inconsistent many of these crews are when they call our games,” Passolano said. “We are hurting for refs and it’s tough to find very capable guys who want to fill the need of being competent refs. From game to game you get a wide variety of skill levels and, to be honest, overall knowledge of the rules of the game.

“So when we have these rule changes come up and some of these rules are based on the interpretations of the crews working your game, you get worried there will be inconsistencies from game to game.”

Colgate said the NFHS credits the implementation of the first spearing rule in 1971 with playing a dramatic role in injury reduction and expects the new rules to have similarly positive effects. But as Lucas, Passolano and Brother Rice boss Brian Badke all insisted, coaches must do their part as well.

“Coaches need to continue teaching the best practices of tackling and build consistent fundamentals for players to execute on Friday nights,” Lucas said.

“As is the case with any rules, coaches will adapt,” Passolano said. “We will adapt in how we are going to teach the game and make it work and safe for our kids.”

Badke agrees with his coaching brethren, saying “the game is changing to make it safer, and as coaches we need to accept the changes and be sure our kids understand the rule changes and stress the importance at practice on a daily basis.” Badke added, however, that for the good of the sport itself it is incumbent upon coaches to make their priorities clear to everyone.

“As coaches, we need to always be promoting our sport by stressing to the parents and student-athletes that safety is our No. 1 priority during the season and offseason training,” he said. “I am concerned about the game and what the future holds for high school football.

“Less kids are playing grammar school football, which has hurt high school numbers already. There are a lot more options for these kids to play other sports, which is taking away from football.” 

Among the other changes being enacted are ones dealing with free-kick formations, enforcement of dead-ball fouls and incidental face-mask penalties. In the case of the latter, a first down will no longer be awarded on such an infraction.

A complete listing all the rules changes, as well as those affecting prep soccer, is available at< Click on “Activities & Sports at the top of the homepage and select either “football” or “soccer.”

NOTE: The Illinois High School Association also contributed to this report.




Knights stay the course by chomping Gators

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Knights stay the course by chomping Gators


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


Chicago Christian fans can rest easy that the Knights aren’t basketball’s version of the S.S. Minnow.

When that vessel blew off course back in the 1960s, it never found its way back to civilization, at least not until a made-for-TV movie was produced a decade later. As for Christian, it has emerged from a vortex of inconsistency to chart a steady path toward a conference title.

Nothing is yet guaranteed, but if Friday night’s 46-37 conquest of Guerin Prep was an accurate barometer it’s only a matter of time. The Knights’ third consecutive victory and their fifth in the last seven outings kept them in a first-place tie with longtime rivals Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian in the Metro Suburban Conference East.

Chicago Christian (12-12, 8-2) hosts the Trojans on Friday. Before that it squared off with Elmwood Park in a Tuesday matchup coach Kevin Pittman said absolutely could not be overlooked.

“We’re almost belaboring the point to death -- nothing is going to matter [on Friday] if we don’t get ones in between,” he said. “We’re doing our best to focus on the next game, not the one that’s two or three games away.”

That strategy has been followed in the Knights’ first two contests since downing Illiana to create the aforementioned deadlock at the top. That didn’t mean, though, Pittman was always comfortable with what transpired versus the Gators.

“Guerin is just pesty -- they don’t seem to go away,” he said. “They were never really close enough [for the outcome] to be in doubt, but I was just never able to relax until the time ran out.”

The two teams were tied once in the opening half and Christian trailed 17-16 with 3:35 left in the second quarter before freshman Jack Ellison’s 3-pointer put the hosts in front to stay. Ahead by four at intermission, the Knights began the third period with four quick baskets, two of which were set up by steals from Daylon Washington and Jay Spencer.

Washington (field goal, two free throws) supplied the points in both instances and Trevor Wolterink hit a shot off a nifty pass from Marcus Parker to hand Christian a 31-21 advantage. Wolterink finished as the Knights’ scoring leader with 16 points and also grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds.

Spencer and Washington both tossed in eight, Ellison had six and Bradford Fitzpatrick earned praise for his defense. According to Pittman, the latter “guarded everybody on the floor at some point and did a good job.” Guerin wound up with a field-goal percentage of just 34.

“We took away a little of our gambling on defense -- we want everybody to have to shoot over us or go through us,” Pittman said. “The number of turnovers [caused] has gone down but so have the points we’ve given up. I like that tradeoff.”

Christian’s own accuracy rate languished too but helping to compensate for that was a 31-25 edge on the glass, six more made free throws and only five turnovers.

“All in all, I’m glad we’re not putting pictures [of our performance] in the scorebook, but a win’s a win,” Pittman said. “We need to play in games like that to be prepared [for the playoffs] and know what things to clean up.

“It’s been a while since we played this late in the season with the games meaning something. I’m glad the guys get to go through this.”

Pittman said his guys “fought hard to get back to .500,” and one reason for that is the Knights’ schedule. Starting with the season-opening District 218 Tournament at Thanksgiving, Christian has featured a significant number of bigger schools on its slate.

“We kind of set our schedule up that way on purpose,” Pittman said. “Playing an easier schedule gives you false hope and expectations.”

The Knights’ last league championship was in 2010-11 when they were a member of the Suburban Christian Conference. Back then, however, neither Timothy Christian nor Illiana Christian was part of the mix.

“This kind of reminds me of the old [Private School League] days,” Pittman said. “You beat a team once and it’s hard to beat them again.”

Of course, Pittman hopes his club bucks that trend seeing as how it already owns one win against the Trojans.

Chicago Christian     46

Guerin Prep   37

Chicago Christian Scoring: Wolterink 16, Spencer 8, Washington 8, Ellison 6, Fitzpatrick 5, Parker 3. Rebounds: Wolterink 12. Assists: Fitzpatrick 3, Parker 3.


Bulldogs are fourth-right

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Bulldogs are fourth-right

SUBHEAD: Final-period surge rebuffs Astros


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            To paraphrase a football term, Shepard found itself fourth-and-gone Friday night.

            That’s because host Richards was fourth-right. In particular, a brief span during which the Bulldogs revved up their defense and used that as a lead-extending trigger proved critical.

            The Astros were within 46-42 with under three minutes remaining in the South Suburban Conference Red game after Kenny Gorski hit a putback, but turnovers on back-to-back possessions enabled Richards to move in front by double digits. From there it closed the deal on a 59-44 victory at D-Wade Court that kept it mathematically alive for another divisional crown.

            The Bulldogs (12-11, 5-5) became Shepard fans this past Tuesday when the Astros met Eisenhower. The Cardinals are two games ahead of Richards, which is seeking a 10th straight SSC Red title.

            “There’s still a lot of little things we need to clean up, but I think the guys are really focusing in more,” said Richards coach Jevon Mamon, whose squad achieved its first three-game win streak of the season.

            “We got pretty good contributions off the bench [here] and it was a good team win. If guys stick to their roles, I think we can be pretty dangerous and can play with anybody.”

            Three Bulldogs -- Chris Bender (16 points, including four 3s), Jaylen Catledge (16 on 6-of-9 shooting) and Ameen Hussein (12) -- scored in double figures and Lucas White finished with nine points. Catledge augmented his offense with 10 boards, four steals and three assists, the rebounding total being one more than was hauled in by Carlos Draper.

            Richards’ 28-15 edge on the glass was cited as the contest’s most critical statistic by both Mamon and Astros boss Tony Chiuccariello. However, the Bulldogs also benefited from a late Shepard miscue that Bender caused and then turned into a dunk at the other end.

            Catledge sank a couple charity tosses after an ensuing turnover and the sophomore converted a three-point play that was sandwiched between a pair of Astros misses.

            “In the flick of a switch those things happened, unfortunately,” Chiuccariello said. “They scored fast and furiously in the last 3:38 -- they had 13 points and we had two. If the game had been 3:38 shorter, we’d have looked more competitive.

            “I thought we played them much tougher than we did the first time [at Thanksgiving. They had control of the game, but we battled. [But] when we tried press and trap [in the late going] they were faster and more athletic.”

            Kyle Longfield paced the Astros (5-17, 0-10) with 12 points while Zack Haxel and Kenjrick Watson both added nine. Shepard connected on only 35 percent of its shots, compared to the ‘Dogs’ 44 percent mark.

            “Shepard did a great job of competing,” Mamon said. “They didn’t stop playing [hard] and they’ve been solid defensively. They don’t gamble much and they’re pretty well disciplined.”

            Mamon had warned his guys to expect a stiffer challenge than they received previously when the Astros succumbed by 24 points.

            “It was a conference game, a district game, and the game in November was three months ago so these were different teams,” he said. “I feel like it got a little sloppy at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but we were able to clean it up, sustain and put it away.”

            Richards visited Reavis this past Tuesday and hosts cross-town neighbor Oak Lawn on Friday. In addition to trying to play spoiler for the Bulldogs against Eisenhower, a busy Shepard week featured it playing a nonconference makeup game with Universal on Monday and meeting Reavis on Friday.

            Although the season has not unfolded in the manner Chiuccariello would have liked, he said he’s “proud of the kids. I think there’s improvement from the beginning of the season to now. If you look at the record, you might not see it, but we’re a lot more competitive.”

            “It’s been one of those years,” said Chiuccariello, who pointed to the buzzer-beating 3-ball Richards nailed to conclude the first half as an example of how things have gone for his team. “It’s frustrating because you can feel it’s gotten better – a lot of our games have been close.

            “Our kids have played hard and hopefully we’ll find a way to get a conference win. It’ll be nice to break through.”

            Richards         59

            Shepard          44

            Richards Scoring: Bender 16, Catledge 16, Hussein 12, White 9, Draper 4. Rebounds: Catledge 10, Draper 9. Assists: Catledge 3. Steals: Catledge 4.

            Shepard Scoring: Longfield 12, Haxel 9, Watson 9, Gorski 6, Humphrey 6, Newhall 2. Rebounds: Humphrey 5. Assists: Gorski 4.




OT not OK for Spartans

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: OT not OK for Spartans

SUBHEAD: Late flurry in fourth quarter goes for naught


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            Oak Lawn learned last Tuesday that momentum can only take a team so far.

What the Spartans needed was for it to carry over an additional four minutes. By hitting visiting Argo with a late flurry in the fourth quarter, Oak Lawn expunged all of a 12-point deficit in the span of just 3 ½ minutes.

But with all the energy seemingly pointing in their direction, the Spartans couldn’t take advantage in overtime. They definitely came close -- when Josh Prince tallied with 8.1 seconds remaining in the extra session, Oak Lawn was up by a point – but the Argonauts managed to have the final say.

First, they got two additional seconds put back on the clock, an act Spartans coach Jason Rhodes didn’t quite comprehend. Then Argo avoided what Rhodes believed should have been a double-dribble call, rebounded its own missed shot and drew a foul with .3 seconds left. Two free throws later Oak Lawn was on the wrong end of a 58-57 final in the South Suburban Conference Red matchup.

“It was frustrating,” Rhodes said of the outcome. “That was tough, especially after [losing] the Reavis game [by three points] on [the previous] Friday. But we should have gathered in the rebound.”

Actually, there were several things Rhodes would have preferred being different. He didn’t like the ill-advised 3-pointer the Spartans (9-14, 3-8) took while holding a two-point lead in OT and he especially regretted a huge differential in fouls -- Oak Lawn was assessed 14 of them in the second half while Argo did not get charged with any.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rhodes said. “Were we fouling? Yes, but were they a perfect defensive team?

“It seems like every questionable call went against us -- at home. I’m at a loss to explain it.”

In the early going everything came up roses for the Spartans, who jumped out to a 17-9 edge in the opening period. As Rhodes explained, it “was just a half-court game and we were executing well.”

The scenario changed, though, once the Argonauts began employing a 2-2-1 zone defense. With standout Marcus Fry fueling its offense with 11 points, Argo outscored Oak Lawn 21-8 in the second stanza to seize control.

The lead was six after three quarters and got extended to 12 midway through the final stanza before the Spartans made a push. Three-pointers by Jimmy Wiltzius and Rashad Johnson on consecutive possessions quickly sliced the margin in half, then Joe Cosenza’s steal set up another bucket.

The Argonauts were clinging to a three-point advantage in the last 30 seconds with two fouls to give before they would send Oak Lawn to the free-throw line. But after Rhodes asked for a timeout at the six-second mark to set up an out-of-bounds play, Johnson delivered from beyond the arc to create the need for overtime.

Johnson, who established a single-game school record for 3s the week before by hitting eight versus Fenton, nailed six more here to finish with a team-best 18 points. Prince added 16 points and six boards while Wiltzius had 13 points, passed out six assists and did not commit any turnovers.

Cosenza tied Wiltzius for the assist lead and Dean Khater collected seven rebounds to top the Spartans in that category.

“Our guys just fight,” Rhodes said. “That’s the great thing about coaching this group. They’ve really turned the corner in how they play together and trust in each other. They’re doing a great job of moving the ball and sharing the ball.”

Oak Lawn shot 11 points worse than Argo from the field (39 percent to 50) but had a dozen more attempts, due in part to 17 assists and only seven miscues, seven fewer than the Argonauts. The real difference was found at the charity stripe -- while Argo missed half of its chances, it took 28 free throws compared to nine for the Spartans.

            Eisenhower 93

            Oak Lawn 73

Pitted against the SSC Red-leading Cardinals on Friday, the Spartans couldn’t afford to let their latest disappointment linger. And in Rhodes’ opinion his players didn’t.

            “We were able to refocus pretty quickly and get on to [preparing for] Eisenhower right away,” he said.

            Of course, to the casual onlooker it might not have appeared that way as the Cardinals jetted out to a massive 40-14 lead in the first period behind nine 3-point buckets, four of which came on their first five possessions. Eisenhower threw up 58 shots from beyond the arc on the evening and canned 16 of them.

            While Rhodes admitted that the Cards’ offensive prowess was mostly responsible for his team’s early predicament, he also felt Oak Lawn hadn’t done itself any favors when it had the ball.

            “I thought we had a good game plan going in, but we missed some easy ones,” Rhodes said. “You have to make the layups and finish at the rim.

            “What we wanted to do was break their press and try to play keep-away, but we played right into their hands. We can’t beat them at their game. They’re a longer, more athletic team, which makes it tough when they’re crashing five guys.”

            The last part of Rhodes’ statement referred to Eisenhower’s willingness to send everyone to the glass in an attempt to grab rebounds. While the Cardinals’ 37 percent shooting paled next to the Spartans’ 50 percent success rate, the former launched 35 more shots thanks to 30 offensive rebounds. Eisenhower scored 35 second-chance points.

            Prince did his part to keep Oak Lawn competitive by totaling 30 points and eight rebounds. Khater checked in with 16 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, Johnson netted 10 points and Cosenza distributed 10 assists.

            The Spartans, who were charged with two-dozen turnovers -- a number Rhodes thought adequate given the game’s up-tempo nature -- actually outpointed the Cardinals in each of the last three quarters but never by more than three points.

            Oak Lawn squares off with cross-town neighbor Richards on Friday.

            Argo   58

            Oak Lawn      57

            Oak Lawn Scoring: Johnson 18, Prince 16, Wiltzius 13, Alshaikh 3, Nelson 3, Cosenza 2, Khater 2. Rebounds: Khater 7, Prince 6. Assists: Cosenza 6, Wiltzius 6.

            Eisenhower    93

            Oak Lawn      73

            Oak Lawn Scoring: Prince 30, Khater 16, Johnson 10, Alshaikh 7, Smith 4, Wiltzius 4, Richardson 2. Rebounds: Khater 15, Prince 8. Assists: Cosenza 10, Khater 5.



Skin of their teeth

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Skin of their teeth

SUBHEAD: Hussein FG lifts Bulldogs past Mustangs


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            Richards players acknowledged to coach Jevon Mamon how much stress they’ve been putting the first-year leader under of late.

            “Friday night the kids said they had to stop giving me a heart attack,” Mamon said with a chuckle. “It was a scary week, [but] we were joking about it.”

            The main reason the Bulldogs were able to enjoy a bit of levity was because both nail-biters in which they engaged last week tilted their way by the end. Friday’s 40-39 win over Evergreen Park, realized when Ameen Hussein beat the final buzzer with a running one-hander, was the big one as it allowed Richards to retain thoughts of a successful South Suburban Conference Red title defense.

            Richards also edged Hubbard 54-51 in a nonconference matchup on Tuesday.

            “We need to finish out strong,” said Mamon, whose club trails SSC Red leader Eisenhower by two games. The District 218 sister schools will meet on the last Friday of the regular season.

            “Guys took a mindset that we took enough losses [and] we’re not going to lose anymore. [But] we know we didn’t play our best game [versus the Mustangs], so we have to keep working. We can’t afford to not put forth our best effort for 32 minutes on the floor.”

            Lack of effort wasn’t the Bulldogs’ problem; lack of shooting success was, at least for portions of the contest. Evergreen (6-18, 1-8) parked itself in a 2-3 zone defense and Richards (11-11, 4-5) ended the evening with a shooting percentage that languished below 40.

            In an attempt to ease some of his team’s frustration, Mamon chose to stall during the second half, but that strategy backfired. Not only did the Mustangs refuse to budge, they also forced a turnover that led to points for them.

            “We were fine with a low-scoring game,” Evergreen coach Pat Flannigan said. “We have trouble scoring, so I had no problem with that.”

            The only two Mustangs able to make much offensive headway were Isaac Matthews and Jordan Brown, who combined to net all but five of Evergreen’s points. Matthews complemented his 24-point outburst with eight rebounds and three assists while Brown made three steals and blocked three shots.

            The Mustangs were slightly superior to Richards shooting-wise, but their 43 percent success rate got buried beneath 18 turnovers and a sub-par 55 percent display at the foul line. The majority of Evergreen’s nine missed free throws came in the fourth quarter.

            Bounces didn’t go the Mustangs’ way at other times either. They missed one layup after stealing the ball and watched the Bulldogs bank in 3-pointer during the game and retain possession in another instance after a pass bounced off a Richards player’s head and right into the hands of another Bulldog.

            “We didn’t have any luck at all,” Flannigan said. “We had some tough shots hit against us.

            “I just felt bad for our seniors. Those guys haven’t beaten Richards. We can’t pin this [loss] on one person -- through the course of the game I can point to six or seven possessions [with improper execution] by six or seven different guys.”

Both squads held an advantage during the final frame, but neither ever led by more than seven at any juncture. Mamon felt Richards did a better job of not settling for outside shots later on, but such was not always the case.

“We had the lead, but [at times] we were playing like we were down,” he said. “We were rushing things. I pulled Hussein aside one time and said, ‘We should be looking at you to settle us down.’ He made a great play at the end of the game and showed how much character he has.

“[Flannigan’s] kids played hard and were scrappy, like we knew they would. I’m grateful we were able to come out with the victory.”

Impressing Mamon as much as the outcome itself was the manner in which his players handled the rough patches.

“When we hit adversity, guys weren’t pointing fingers or balming each other,” he said. “We stayed the course with it. We hadn’t won two straight since Christmas, so maybe that is what we need [to get on a roll].”

            Richards 54

            Hubbard 51

The Greyhounds’ Deonta McReynolds was nearly a one-man wrecking crew last Tuesday, but the Bulldogs survived his 29-point eruption to bag a win. Jaylen Catledge tallied 14 points and Chris Bender, who had supplied Richards with 25 points and five rebounds the week before versus Brother Rice, finished with 12 markers.

Mamon credited Lucas White with slowing up McReynolds somewhat after halftime.

“He was face-guarding him and making it difficult for [McReynolds] to catch the ball,” Mamon said.

Richards’ only outing this week is Friday’s date with its other district rival, Shepard.

            Putnam County 64

            Evergreen Park 47

Flannigan described Friday’s game as “a heartbreaker” and said “our hearts stayed broken on Saturday.”

Appearing at the Panthers’ one-day shootout in Granville, the Mustangs lost the opening tip, immediately fell behind when the hosts sank a layup and never were in front. Evergreen managed just 14 points in the first 16 minutes as Matthews struggled through his worst performance of the year en route to a season-low four points.

“When he struggles, we struggle,” Flannigan said. “We came out flat and they took the wind out of our sails. We fought a little bit in the second half, but our execution was still poor.

“We didn’t have the heart or the energy and [the Panthers] were not bad. They had a couple guys you can see have played a lot of basketball.”

Tyler Sorbellini’s 10 points represented the Mustangs’ top individual production. Putnam County outshot Evergreen 54 percent to 31, and the latter also committed 15 miscues.

The Mustangs square off with Reavis in an SSC Red game on Friday.

Richards         40

Evergreen Park         39

Richards Scoring: Hussein 14.

Evergreen Park Scoring: Matthews 24, Brown 10, Pritchett 2, Sorbellini 2, Smyth 1. Rebounds: Matthews 8. Assists: Matthews 3. Steals: Brown 3, Moran 3. Blocks: Brown 3, Pritchett 3.


Richards         54

Hubbard        51

Richards Scoring: Catledge 14, Bender 12.


Putnam County         64

Evergreen Park         47

Evergreen Park Scoring: Sorbellini 10.