Night of Champions, gone but not forgotten

Annual sports awards event honored area's best teams, athletes and coaches

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Marty Farmer

Sports Editor

Since I'm on vacation this week, I'll use the time to relax and recharge. There is typically a third "R" involved as well during my brief and welcome getaways: reflection.

In that thoughtful spirit, to paraphrase a line from sports officials, "Upon further review, I'd like to write about Night of Champions."

From 2015 through 2018, Wednesday Journal (in conjunction with its sister publication, Riverside-Brookfield Landmark), hosted a sports awards party called Night of Champions, honoring each year's elite high school teams, athletes and coaches from OPRF, Fenwick, Trinity, Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township and Nazareth Academy.

That changed this year when I was notified by management that the decision was made to discontinue the annual summer event for a variety of reasons. While I respected the ruling, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed.

With the immense help of Wednesday Journal contributing reporter Melvin Tate, staff photographer Alexa Rogals. and staff graphic designer Jacquinete Baldwin, I am proud to say that our sports section has won numerous awards from the Illinois Press Association. More importantly, the generally positive feedback from readers only reinforces the job we're doing as a department.

Considering our resources (or lack thereof), the standard we have established is all the more satisfying. We are not the New York Yankees of community sports journalism; we are Brad Pitt's Oakland A's in the movie Moneyball. And like Pitt's character, Billy Beane, said in that critically acclaimed movie, "We are the runt of the litter — adapt or die."

Wednesday Journal sports is a perpetual work in progress.

For all the high quality sports coverage we produce, I was proudest of hosting Night of Champions with my inimitable co-host Doris Davenport.

Davenport, who hosts an Oak Park-centric radio show Sunday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. on WPNA 1490 AM, stole the show at N of C when she had a dance off with OPRF softball supporter Bill Leark in 2018. The two battled on stage to the pulsating sounds of Ciara's "1, 2 step." The audience at Dominican University's  Lund Auditorium went nuts in appreciation!

Celebrating the accomplishments of remarkable teams like OPRF wrestling and softball and Fenwick water polo and girls hockey, highlighting premier athletes such as the Huskies' Chardonnay Harris, Natalie Ungaretti and Jake Rundell and the Friars' Ellie Kaiser and Liam Hutchinson, and finally sharing the inspirational stories of OPRF alum Samantha Linde and current Huskie Alec Cabacungan brought sports off the pages to our community. The teams, athletes and coaches our readers heard about became three-dimensional, animated with all of their signature heart, drive and vision at Night of Champions.

That made our sports department unique and touched the lives of our award recipients and their families and friends as much as they touched our own.

And the parties were fun! We had live music, catered food, raffle items from every Chicago professional sports team and memorable guest speakers including Oak Park's own Olympic speedskater, Emery Lehman, as well as former Major League Baseball player Mike Huff.

Out attendance increased annually as well, with the first event held in 2015 at Wednesday Journal with about 50 guests. Just three years later, our final Night of Champions at Dominican University in River Forest increased to 500 guests.

Could we have done some things better? Sure. In hindsight, we didn't promote Night of Champions perhaps as well as we could have and securing sponsorships was, at times, difficult.

Perhaps a new iteration of Night of Champions may occur down the road. I have my doubts about a comeback, but if Brett Favre can do it, so can we.

In the meantime, Night of Champions will go down in local sports lore like the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points or Julius "Dr. J" Erving dazzled ABA crowds with his dunks.

Like those seminal moments in pro basketball history, archives are scarce for Night of Champions. Word of mouth is the best recorded footage. That gives the event mystique.

Ultimately, Night of Champions will be remembered as a winner by the only measures that truly count.

Just ask the people who were there those unforgettable four nights.

Email: Twitter: @OakParkSports

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

1 Comment - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: July 24th, 2019 1:54 PM

WHAT?!! SO DISAPPOINTED to hear that Night of Champions has been discontinued due to "management's" decision, especially since seen externally it seemed like a very successful, and much needed, event for our local community. There are so many other areas of this publication where performance has "opportunity for improvement", imo. The sports section, with Marty and Melvin and a couple of others doing the work of a staff 3 times their size, is NOT one of them. In fact, it's frankly the only section that I consistently visit since it reminds me of so much that is good about our community.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad