Monday, January 7, 2013

The 2012-13 Illinois high school... season began this past weekend (at least for me) in Oak Park as the Friars of Fenwick hosted the Shamrocks of St. Patrick. (The visiting team won, 62-54; you can read all about it here.)

St. Patrick had a balanced attack, with seniors Elijah Watson, Royale Ewing (awesome name), and Keith Langston each contributing 18, 16 and 14 points, respectively. As for the Friars, 6'8" junior Daniel Dwyer (a 6'8" Irish kid?) led with 21 points and eight rebounds.

But it was freshman Michael Smith, above, who impressed me the most. Listed on the program as 5'10" (which makes me at least 5'11"), Smith showed enormous poise for a freshman and had no trouble driving to the basket. While I would admit that I'm not the most sophisticated basketball fan ever, I always admire someone who isn't afraid to take it to the hoop in traffic. (And, yes, that picture of Smith was actually taken earlier in the season in the game against Providence; I was hoping the green uniform would fool you.)

I selected Saturday night's game carefully; after all, I was taking my nephew and my younger son (poor guys). Since St. Patrick is the oldest Catholic school in Chicago, and my dad was an all-conference guard at Fenwick in 1937 (honest), I thought the contest would be a perfect way to get the season underway.

We had a little time before the 7:00 tip-off so we dropped in to Russell's Barbecue in Elmwood Park for a quick bite. I had a half a slab of ribs, of course, while my nephew from Boston had an Italian beef sandwich with giardiniera (the kid's gone native!) and my son the Philly steak. We all agreed it was outstanding.

Then it was on to Fenwick, and Lawless Gymnasium. But a funny thing happened when we drove up to the entrance on Washington Boulevard. We banged and banged on the door but no one opened. It looked dark inside and my nephew finally asked me, "Are you sure there's a game here tonight?"

Just as we were about to leave, defeated, we noticed a crowd filing into a different entrance to the school, on East Avenue. We joined them and walked under some arch to a different gymnasium where the evening's game would be played.

I was more than a little disappointed. After all, this was where my late father played on a floor that was, according to family lore, painted black to match the school's colors, black and white. "Black and white? Not very imaginative," my nephew remarked.

I also tried to explain that in my father's day, a tip-off at center court followed every basket. (The game has evolved a little since then.) This information was met with blank stares.

I found out later why the new gym was built:

During the Fenwick 2000 initiative, the school built the “new” gym for what reason?
d.    the addition of girls doubled the number of sports programs and necessitated a second facility – Restrooms, locker rooms, and other concerns had to be either retrofitted or built to meet the new demand, which continues in the current campaign.

Also, according to my research staff Wikipedia, that arch I mentioned was inspired by the one at Northwestern University. (A Protestant school? My father would be turning over in his grave!)

Once inside, we walked briskly past the chapel (my nephew and son pleaded with me to "pay a little visit" but we didn't have time) and into the new gym. Actually, my guests, who, unlike me, didn't have the advantages of a Catholic education, were a little taken back by the priest in all-white garb and the sheer number of crucifixes on the walls. "Look at the size of that one," my nephew exclaimed at one point.

The new gym wasn't as impressive as the Lawless one (much smaller, I thought) but it would have to do.

The game itself was unremarkable. Although the Friars came within one point at the half on a nifty three-pointer by Luke Lattner from what seemed like practically half court, the outcome was never really in doubt. St. Patrick was the more talented team, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they went deep in the playoffs.

As for Lattner, he's one of six grandchildren of the legendary Johnny Lattner, above, enrolled at Fenwick. Luke, who doesn't play football, is the brother of John (number 5). I couldn't help thinking how cool it must be for the young man to play basketball on a court under a huge banner with the name of his grandfather, the 1953 Heisman Trophy winner (from Notre Dame, no less).

All in all, it was a good evening and an auspicious beginning to the new season. At one point during the game my son turned to me and asked "Dad, is this blog worthy?" Yes, John; yes it is.

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