Night of Champions celebrates the accomplishments of top high school teams, athletes and coaches from OPRF and Fenwick high schools on June 20.

Unofficially, the annual sports awards party marks the end of the high school sports year in terms of coverage. Officially, it marks the day before a long-awaited trip to Florida for my vacation.

While Night of Champions captures the top achievers of the year, several other interesting stories emerged to spice up our local sports narrative.

Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable:

Oak Parker plays for Blackhawks

March 29, 2018 will be a day Scott Foster never forgets. After finishing a typical work day as an accountant at Golub Capital, the 36-year-old Oak Park resident spent his evening making an improbable NHL debut as emergency goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

Foster had seven saves for a 1.000 save percentage in 14 minutes of action against the Winnipeg Jets and their third-ranked NHL offense. The Blackhawks won 6-2.

“A few hours ago I was sitting at my computer typing on the 10-key, and now I’m standing in front of you guys, just finished 14 and a half minutes of NHL hockey,” Foster told the media after the game. “From my perspective, this is a dream regardless. This is something that no one can ever take away from me; it’s something I can go home and tell my kids.”

Malnati, Steward leave Fenwick

After five years as the Fenwick boys head basketball coach, Rick Malnati informed the school he is resigning from the position. He told the varsity players of his decision on April 18.

“Five years ago, [assistant coach] Staunton Peck and I got a chance to come to Fenwick to coach basketball,” Malnati said in a press release issued by Fenwick. “I originally told Athletic Director Scott Thies that I would commit to three years and then Staunton would take over. I was having so much fun, I stayed five! I’m very thankful to the Fenwick community, the faculty, and my players and parents for their support.”

Malnati guided the Friars to a 122-33 record, highlighted by a 38-game winning streak and three straight Chicago Catholic League championships. In 2016-17, Fenwick produced the best season in program history with a 30-5 record and a Class 3A runner-up finish. In the 3A final, Morgan Park edged the Friars 69-67 in overtime.

About a month after Malnati’s announcement, Fenwick basketball standouts D.J. Steward (Class of 2020 and a nationally-ranked player) and Damari Nixon decided to transfer out of Fenwick. 

Ledbetter let go

OPRF baseball players and their parents were notified on the evening of March 22 of a head coaching change from Chris Ledbetter to Joe Parenti via email from Principal Nathaniel Rouse and Athletic Director John Stelzer.

Parenti served as the team’s interim head coach this spring. The Huskies played very well during the regular season but was upset by Maine West for the second straight time in the Class 4A playoffs.

Ledbetter, an OPRF alumnus, was successful as the program’s head coach. In 17 seasons, he coached the Huskies to a 443-170-2 overall record and five state final appearances, highlighted by a 4A state championship in 2012. His dismissal as the head baseball coach drew a mixed reaction from OPRF baseball parents. Ledbetter remains a physical education teacher at OPRF.

OPRF is conducting its search to hire a permanent head baseball coach per the school district’s hiring process.

Friars retire numbers

The numbers of three former basketball players — Erin Lawless, Tricia Liston, and Devereaux Peters — were retired in a pregame ceremony before Fenwick’s game against Stevenson on Jan. 13.      

Lawless, who wore No. 34, earned first-team All-State honors in both her junior and senior seasons, as well as being named a McDonald’s All-American player in 2003.

Liston, a River Forest native who wore No. 32, averaged 28.8 points per game in 2009-10. She scored 30 or more points in 12 games, including a career-high 43-point effort against St. Joseph (Missouri). She was voted Ms. Basketball by the Chicago Tribune, and received Player of the Year honors from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Champaign News-Gazette. In her final high school game, Liston scored 40 points as the Friars defeated Whitney Young to finish third in Class 4A with a 32-4 record. Fenwick went 128-16 during Liston’s career.

Peters, an Oak Parker, donned No. 14. During her four-year career as a Friar, her teams went 135-11, winning the AA state title her senior year with a 36-2 record. She was a McDonald’s All-American and the 2007 Sun-Times Player of the Year.

“Oh my gosh, so many great memories,” said Fenwick coach Dave Power of Lawless, Liston and Peters. “I can’t even begin … I got emotional watching the video presentation. It was awesome.”

Miracle against Maine South

Trailing 14-11 against Maine South in the bottom of the seventh inning in a sectional semifinal, the OPRF softball team won the game of the year. With the bases loaded and two outs. Junior outfielder Mary Jones calmly belted a walk-off grand slam to give the Huskies a thrilling 15-14 victory.

“The kids never gave up. Mary just jacked the first pitch 250 feet. It was a no-doubter,” OPRF coach Mel Kolbusz said. “It’s a great confidence booster.”

Although they lost the next game to York, the Huskies had another outstanding campaign. OPRF (26-6), which was vying for a third straight state title, hit a school-record 62 home runs during the regular season.

NFL signees

Fenwick alumni (and cousins) Robert Spillane and Ryan Smith, along with OPRF grad Simmie Cobbs, signed NFL contracts as free agents.

Spillane, a linebacker and graduate of Western Michigan, signed with the Tennessee Titans. Smith, a tight end and graduate of Miami (Ohio), signed with the Green Bay Packers.Cobbs, who played wide receiver at Indiana, signed with the Washington Redskins. 

Active Shumpert

February was an unforgettable month for Sacramento Kings guard and Oak Park native Iman Shumpert. The 6-foot-5 guard was acquired by the Kings from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal that also included the Utah Jazz on Feb. 8.

A few weeks later, Shumpert purchased a home in River Forest for his parents, Odis and L’Tanya. Built in 1941, the French Normandy-style home contains five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms and stretches more than 4,400 square feet, according to a listing on Zillow.

Additionally, Teyana & Iman, a reality show about Shumpert and his wife Teyana Taylor, premiered on VH1 Feb. 19. Taylor is an R&B and hip hop recording artist, actress, dancer and model. They have a young daughter, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr.

Wednesday Journal will welcome Shumpert to its fourth Wednesday Journal Conversations event on July 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Dominican University. Tickets are available now at or Attendees at the fourth annual Night of Champions sports awards on June 20 will receive a special discount on tickets.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...