If you are a fan of Chicago’s professional sports teams like I am, with the notable exceptions of the Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League and Sky of the Women’s National Basketball Association — each of whom is considered a strong championship contender — there isn’t a lot to be optimistic about these days.
The Cubs are completely useless, the White Sox keep stubbing their toes in an otherwise winnable American League Central Division, the Bears’ new management has a major headache with star linebacker Roquan Smith and the Blackhawks are starting a long overdue rebuilding. The Bulls are OK, but not yet a serious title contender.
But I’m glad August is here, because that means high school sports are right around the corner and It’ll be my sixth season covering sports for the Wednesday Journal.
Practices for fall sports began Aug. 8 at Oak Park and River Forest, Fenwick, and Trinity high schools. Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish previews and other features as the first competitions start on Aug. 22.
Here’s a look at the state of the athletic programs we’ll be covering.
The Fenwick athletic program has been successful over the years, but the 2021-22 season may go down as the best ever for the Friars, who won four state trophies — a first-ever championships in boys cross-country (Class 2A) and football (Class 5A) as well as a third-place finish for girls tennis in Class 1A and a fourth-place finish for girls soccer in Class 2A.
Under the direction of first-year Athletic Director Nicole Ebsen, OPRF athletics had plenty of highlights in 2021-22.
The Huskies’ field hockey team placed second in the state, and coach Kristen Wirtz was named Coach of the Year. Other notable achievements for OPRF were boys volleyball reaching the state quarterfinals, boys’ soccer advancing to the Class 3A supersectional, Josephine Welin winning the girls cross-country individual title in Class 3A, along with numerous state qualifiers in boys cross-country, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls swimming and diving, boys and girls track and field, boys and girls wrestling, badminton and Special Olympics.
Ebsen also introduced to the school state sendoff recognition parades. On the way to state competition, qualifiers would walk through the hallways accompanied by the Marching Huskies’ drum corps, cheerleaders and mascot while being cheered on by their classmates and teachers.
“I love our school spirit,” Ebsen said. “This year we want to continue to develop positive ways to support our Huskies on and off campus at events.”
Trinity had its share of athletic success in 2021-22. The Blazers won regional titles in volleyball and girls basketball and narrowly missed out on a third regional title as the softball team fell to Fenwick in an extra-inning regional final.
The Blazers also advanced multiple qualifiers in both cross country and track and field and was a regional host for four sports (basketball, golf, softball, and volleyball).
OPRF-Fenwick Gridiron Showdown
With competition beginning in earnest this week for fall sports, many in the community are circling Aug. 27 on their calendars. That’s when OPRF and Fenwick meet on the football field for the first time since 1989.
Both Ebsen and Fenwick Athletic Director Scott Thies are thrilled to make the matchup finally happen thanks to the schedules allowing for the opportunity.
“It was just the right place at the right time,” said Ebsen. “We both were looking to make a change to our non-conference schedules and we thought we would give this a try. People are very excited about this game, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback.”
“It’s something we’ve discussed many times over the years, but it just never happened,” said Thies. “This year, both schools were open to the idea, and both needed a Week 1 game. Our school community is really looking forward to the game, and ultimately it’s good for both programs and school communities.”
The game takes place at SeatGeek Stadium, 7000 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview. All tickets are digital and cost $15 for students (who must bring their IDs) and $20 for adults. There will be no tickets sold at the schools or at SeatGeek the day of the game. Parking is available on game day for $10 at the stadium.
Gates open at 8:30 a.m. and kickoff is set for 9:30 a.m. For tickets, go to OPRF’s ticket address: bit.ly/GoFanOPRFHS.