By Marty Farmer
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.
Answer Book 2019
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