If you've lived in Chicago for at least a couple of years, you've become accustomed to the harsh, cold winters that would make any Canadian tremble with fear. And it's not just the snow and freezing rain that require us to dress with multiple layers for a minimum of six months, but the Hawk wind that whisks in from the north, west and off the lake that has us grinning ear-to-ear in anticipation for the first forty-degree day.
That rodent known as Punxsutawney Phil told us on February 2 that there would be an early spring this year, but as recently as last week, there was no sign of hope for such a promise of warmth that we've longed for after suffering through the darkness of Old Man Winter. That was until I headed over to Navy Pier this past Friday to pick up my packet for the 2013 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle.
This was to be my third year running in the unofficial kickoff to the Chicago running season. For the past two months, I bundled up in sweat pants, my DePaul University hooded sweatshirt, wool socks, and Blackhawks ski cap to head out for a Saturday-morning jaunt in preparation for the annual 8K run.
I love going to the horse track. I am from Kentucky, so I suppose that is understandable. I was born in Lexington, which is reputedly the "Horse Capital of the World." One of my first jobs was at a horse track there, when I was old enough to serve hot dogs but too young to bet.
You won't see me betting at the $50 window, but I have won intermittently, always just enough to keep me coming back. I've made $300 on a $2 bet. I've seen friends cash a ticket for $1,000 (requiring tax paperwork and the friendly advice to either leave the track or keep your winnings a secret). I've seen winners dance with joy and heard losers shout "Go make some glue, motherfucker" at a losing horse (referring to the once common practice of using animal tissue to make adhesives). I met the lead singer of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus, at Churchill Downs in Louisville. And, yes, I've been to the Kentucky Derby (and saw a friend stagger off a bleacher, spraying the elegantly dressed ladies around us with his Bloody Mary.)
Besides the erratic financial rewards horse racing can provide, I like the people-watching. Nothing brings people together like winning easy money and cheap beer. You'll see just about every possible shape and hue of humanity at a horse track. So, after living in Chicago for a year, I realized I hadn't been to a horse race here. I went to the Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. Hawthorne is one of four horse tracks in the Chicagoland area. Two of those tracks, Maywood and Balmoral, feature harness-racing, and the other regular saddle-racing track, Arlington Park, doesn't have live racing this time of year.
The video game industry has grown exponentially over the last decade, enough to now top the film industry by billions of dollars. Much like the film industry, an indie video game scene has emerged, complete with its own annual festival. Chicago has its own indie video game darling, Erin Robinson, whose newest game, Puzzle Bots, won at PAX 10 (the Penny Arcade Expo).
Robinson enjoys designing video games with a retro "old-timey feel because nothing ever happens suddenly; it's very safe game play." ("And the bigger the pixels the more indie your game is," she jokes.) Robinson also writes and creates artwork for video games — she recently did the artwork for Blackwell Unbound — draws comics, and even makes Portal-inspired earrings.
I first met Robinson at Columbia College's 3G Summit, a four-day event aimed at getting more women involved in the video game industry. Robinson's team of high school girls won the 3G Indie Expo Challenge with 3 Flags Escape, a scary carnival adventure/shooter game featuring "frenemies" and acid-puking bears. Robinson is confident 3 Flags Escape would be a popular game if it was ever developed.
Two women stand along the sideboards in a medium-size gym, watching their daughters skate in circles. Suddenly, a girl hits the floor. Hard. Quickly, she picks herself back up and sprints to catch up with the rest of the pack. As their girls skate laps, the women chat, their words barely audible over the yelling, laughter, and the click 'n' screech sounds of wheels abruptly stopping. "We need a sticker that says 'Derby Mom,'" says one mom in a punky knitting shirt. "Better than 'soccer mom,'" says the other mom with a wink. "I don't fit soccer mom criteria."
Riots Over Chicago
Move over, volleyball. Scoot aside, lacrosse. Meet the Chicago Riots, a new junior roller derby league for teen girls ages 12 to 17. Since its inception in the fall of 2009, the league now roughly numbers 20 skaters, many of whom wear ripped tights and fishnets to their weekly practice. Black eye makeup and streaked hair complete the look. Sure, it's a little overdressed for two hours of hard skating, but it's also absolutely adorable.
Chicago Riot co-founder Fistful O'Hare (middle) and fellow skater Terra Limboff (left) discusses strategy. (Photo by Mike Martens)
While sports stars are being made all over the globe as the 2010 World Cup kicks off, there is another soccer organization that has established itself here in Chicago with heroes of its own. America SCORES, a not-for-profit organization that works closely with at-risk youth on Chicago's West Side, uses the sport as one of its three focal points in enriching lives of its fledgling athletes. With the goal of keeping kids healthy, educated and safe, SCORES focuses on enriching the minds, bodies and souls of children throughout the city. The organization uses an innovative combination of soccer, poetry and community service to keep school children in grades three through eight active both personally and within their communities.
By combining exercise through soccer, self expression through poetry, and self enrichment though community service learning, America SCORES strives to instill its three core values in their students -- teamwork, leadership and commitment. According to Heather Walles, the deputy director of America SCORES Chicago, the program uses the three disciplines to round out a complimentary curriculum that supplements the students education. Soccer, she tells me, is the "carrot" that draws students interest in the program. In addition to keeping the children active, soccer serves as the means in which children are enticed to learn creative writing and get more involved in their communities.
Jenn Gibbons is a very difficult person to say "no" to. I learned this lesson firsthand one night a few months ago when a mutual friend introduced us. The first problem with saying no to Gibbons is this: she likes to talk. A frenetic energy bubbles beneath her skin and it erupts in rapid-fire bursts of exclamations from her constantly smiling mouth.
Aside from the comically obvious tactic of not being able to get "no" — or any word, for that matter — in edgewise with the constantly chatting and charming Gibbons, the words she produces so prodigiously are energizing and interesting unto themselves. In the course of a 10 minute exchange (wherein I did the listening and Jenn, well, she did the talking) I learned that she'd just returned from running a marathon in California, that she had to coach rowing practice in the morning, and that I had to come down and witness the amazing women she's coaching. Before I can get that magic two-letter word out (let alone a believable excuse) Gibbons is off discussing her other passion in life: kicking the crap out of cancer, one rower at a time.
And that's the second problem with telling Jenn Gibbons "no" or "nyet" or "nein": the tale she has to tell is so compelling and important to her that you can't help but listen and nod "yes."
Jenn Gibbons is a zealot for the obscure world of rowing and more importantly, she's a rowing coach for a very unique group of women. Gibbons coaches breast cancer survivors three times a week, indoors and outdoors, rain or shine, winter, spring, summer, fall. Jenn Gibbons is teaching, encouraging and coaxing these women into rebuilding their lives.
Yes, it's the fan who makes all of those televised moments possible and meaningful. It's you who plops your holiday derriere into the easy chair and says, "Bring it on." But where's your reward? Where's your acknowledgement of a job well done? Where's your trophy for sitting there and enduring hour and hour of instant replay, telestrators and inane commentary?
At ESPN Zone, that's where. Tomorrow, on New Year's Day, beginning at 10 p.m., ESPN Zone will host its ninth annual Chicago "Ultimate Coach Potato" competition, pitting the best of the best (locally) in, well, sitting and watching sports. For a long time. A very long time.
If you're like me, you've had your Christmas shopping finished months ago...in your head. You know what you what to get the folks on your list, you just haven't, well, gotten around to actually getting out there and purchasing it, which I believe is a key component in the whole gift-giving process.
So for us last-minute people who also happen to be sports fans, consider a new book by local author Anbritt Stengele that offers an insider's guide to Chicago sports with the traveling fan in mind.
"Sports Traveler Chicago" is a pretty comprehensive guide to everything Chicago sports. Stengele, owner of the sports travel business Sports Traveler (hence the name), has used the knowledge gleaned from more than a decade in the business to include such key info as how to get to the various sports venues by bus or car (and where to park is you do drive), how to get tickets, stadium overviews (with seating diagrams), where to stay, where to eat outside the ballpark, where to eat inside the ballpark and, most importantly, where to drink once the game is over.
The slim, backpocket appropriate book (co-written with sports writer Lydia Rypcinski), covers not only the Big Five (Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls and Hawks), but the Fire, the Wolves, Chicagoland Speedway, the Chicago Marathon, as well as area minor league and women's sports teams (Windy City Thunderbolts in Crestwood, anyone?).
To help you blend in with the regulars, it offers a cursory-but-informative overview of Chicago sports history (so you don't response to a discussion of Nellie Fox with comments like, "Who's she?"). And if you DON'T want to blend in with the regulars, it includes a listing of visting team-friendly bars around town.
We all know it's been a rough year in Chicago sports. Both the Cubs and the White Sox were non-factors despite the fact that their respective divisions were both winnable. The Bulls took one step forward (acquiring Derrick Rose) and two (three? four?) steps back (acquiring Vinny Del Negro). The Bears...ugh, the Bears. We got treated like a redheaded stepchild in the Olympic bidding. And even though the Blackhawks give us a glimmer of hope, it's yet to be proven that they can get over the playoff hump.
But did we really need a national newspaper telling us that, well, we sorta suck? Gee, thanks, USA Today and in particular Mike Lopresti. You could have run a million Tiger Woods columns, but nooooo... Why you chose to turn your populist approach to the news toward our fair city is anybody guess, but we'll take the hit. Sure, things look bleak now, but wait'll next...I mean things will be better in 2010. The Sox have one of the best starting rotations around and the Cubs...well, they're going to have great new restrooms. The Bears and Bulls will have new head coaches (ahem) and the Hawks can only get better.
So save your pity, USA Today. We got your infographic right here.
Growing up on the potholed streets of Chicago my local seafearing experience was limited to Gordon Lightfoot educating me about the Edmund Fitzgerald through song and the occasional showing of "Moby Dick" on Family Classics with Frazier Thomas (look it up). So maybe the upcoming Chicago Maritime Festival is meant for people like me.
At the upcoming annual event, slated for this Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., at the Chicago History Museum (Clark Street and North Avenue), members of the Chicago Maritime Society (and admit it, you didn't know we had a maritime society, did you?) will attempt to education landlubbers such as us about the city's rich maritime history through demonstrations, songs and historical artifacts. Look for life raft demonstrations, songs and model boat-building for kids, maritime art and knot tying demonstrations. A separate evening concert (7 to 10:30 p.m.) will feature maritime singers from both sides of the Atlantic. Also expected to be on hand is Bill Pickney, Chicagoan and the first African-American to sail solo around the world.
Tickets are $10 for the daytime activities (10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and $20 for the evening concert. An all-day ticket is $25 and kids 12 and under get in free to the daytime activities.
It's a relatively safe way to get the entire Great Lakes seafearing experience and the only pirates you'll have to contend with will probably be of the Lincoln Park variety.
Covered in Mud, Beer and Blood, the Pony Shop tends to Chicagoland's Cyclocross Grass Roots
The bastard cycling discipline of cyclocross is a strange subculture of sport. A hybrid of road and mountain biking, with cross-country running tossed in and stirred well, cyclocross is a mutant and is equally fun, humiliating and painful. Short races of a mile or so, usually held in a municipal park, cyclocross racers must ride at full-tilt through mud, grass and short pavement sections, occasionally dismounting to hop over barriers or run up a steep pitch.
The races are short, an hour for those at the top of the sport, less for mere mortals, and the competition is fierce. At the start of a race, cyclists fighting for position through the first winding chicanes push each other out of the way, bump shoulders and, more often than not, come crashing down with those caught behind piling atop. Usually, everyone comes out bruised but back on the bike, teeth bared and clenched as they struggle through lap after agonizing lap.
For northern Europeans, the popularity of cyclocross is similar to how football is here in the States: their Super Bowl, the World Championships, draws tens of thousands to spectate, eat hot, steaming frites, and drink tall steins of beer. Cyclocross there is a religion - a Sunday cult that waits 'til everyone is out of church before starting with the sinning.
In America, though, the sport is underground, legitimized by increasing popularity, but still retains a certain scurrilous ethos. The cost of entry into racing is low - a modified mountain or commuter bike will suffice for racing in the lower categories. Cyclocross is spectator friendly - and it encourages spectator participation. Races everywhere have that corner, where spectators mingle with racers, usually imbibed if their own race for the day is done, and where all scream encouragements at and high-five passing teammates, friends and complete strangers.
Sure, a few of you are dreading the thought of spending the Thanksgiving holiday with relatives, what with the sibling rivalry and the parental guilt-trips and that childhood angst rearing its ugly head again. Not even a decent football game on the tube can whitewash over that one. But just be thankful. It could be worse. You could be spending Thanksgiving with "Da Coach". The members of the (underrated) Sports Action Team did just that with some pretty funny results. Mike Ditka enjoying his holiday meal his the bathroom is priceless.
When it comes to the gaming community, it's been mostly a man's (fantasy) world.
From the early days of the breakout cult phenomenon "Dungeons and Dragons" of the '70s to the testosterone-drippingly-titled video game "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2" of today, gaming for the most part has been a old boys network, from the participants to most of the main characters in the games themselves. While male characters got to do the whole slash-and-burn thing as wizards, warriors, mercenaries, etc., female characters were relegated to damsel-in-distress mode.
But despite the overabundance of XY chromosomes huddled around the 12-sided dice, women managed to find their way into this exclusive world, although it was not without difficulty. One female enthusiast recalls attending the first meeting of a role-playing club in high school, greeted by a sea of puzzled male adolescent eyes as she entered the room and being informed that "The honor society meets down the hall." She was the only female member for the entire first year.
Flash forward to today when, according to one survey, more than 26 percent of all gamers are female. And not all of them are trying to get in a quick round of "Final Fantasy" between classes either. With "World of Warcraft", for instance, the average age of female players is 32.
No, we didn't expect the Bears to beat the Colts last Sunday night either. But if they're going to build on that, there are three things they must do to beat the Carolina Panthers this Sunday.
Even if they don't win the game, the Bears are still scoring touchdowns at the bank.
Arguing over who gets the last drumstick is one thing. But a Cubs-White Sox World Series could drive one family nuts.
REALLY old school White Sox fans will mourn the death of former manager Don Gutteridge.
Current White Sox star Carlos Quentin hopes to be healthy by the playoffs. Question is: will he be playing or watching?
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes, the Blackhawks' Teen Titans (OK, they're not really teens but it's not far off) get some more (inter)national publicity.
From Kansas City to Chicago on a bike: Are gas prices THAT high?
The marathon gold-medalist from this year's Olympics, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania has joined the field (pdf) of runners for the 2008 Chicago marathon. Hopefully, we'll have better weather this year.
The Sky take on the New York Liberty in their next-to-last game of their WNBA regular season.
Chicago teams finished third, fourth and fifth in the 2008 North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association Gay Softball World Series.
You're in Lisle. You're riding your bike. You have a hankering to see a play. What are you going to do?
It's not a stretch to say that Nike probably owes their corporate life to Michael Jordan. True, the Oregon-based company was around long before Jordan was JORDAN. But they didn't become the No. 1 selling brand of athletic shoe in the world thanks to the silhouette of Steve Prefontaine or Bo Jackson on the side of their footwear.
And while there have been other athletic shoes named after famous ballplayers, did anyone really buy Converse All-Stars because Chuck Taylor endorsed them? Heck, wearing a pair of Joe Lapchick's was considered a good excuse for a beat down in my neighborhood. He might have been a great player in his day, but as a shoe pitchman he lacked the cachet of the kid from North Carolina.
Even though MJ left the court for good in 2003, his departure hasn't affected the popularity of the shoes, which continue to be produced and sold in as many variations as possible. How enduring in the Cult of Air Jordan? Consider that a movie is currently being filmed, not about Jordan the Man, but Jordan the Shoe.
It’s Earth Day! But you knew that, right? I mean you’ve already loaded your old newspapers in your electric car and driven them to the recycling plant while sipping on an organic smoothie in a reusable beverage container, correct?
Me, I’m not so “green” (despite my last name). True, I ride the bus rather than drive (mostly because gas is through the freaking roof). And I download music rather than buy wasteful CDs (too lazy to go to the store). And I keep the lights in my apartment off as much as possible (again, ‘cause I’m cheap). But when it comes to conscious acts of conservation, I’m kinda lax. Fire up the charcoal grill and throw a couple of steaks on that baby!
But that doesn’t stop me from suggesting to others how they can help our environment. Do as I say, not as I do: that’s how I roll. So with that in mind, and seeing how this is supposed to be a sports-related column, I offer the following Earth Day suggestions to some of our local sports entities who, many times, can be accused of being less than friendly to the environment because they’re always stinking up the joint (ba-DUM-bum…Thank you, I’ll be here all the week…).
You want it to mean something more. You want it to be some sort of signal that things are changing, that there is hope, that we have reached a turning point and people will see that things can be different.
You know it probably won’t change things, cynic that you are. That it will take something other than a basketball game, even an NCAA title game, to stem the tide of violence and murder. Still, you kinda hope.
When former Crane star Sherron Collins met former Simeon star Derrick Rose on the court in the NCAA finals Monday night, it was possibly the only bright spot for the Chicago Public Schools in quite some time, a bright spot that they sorely needed. Suffice to say, it’s been a rough year.