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I’m Back!

Posted by sportsmaven on April 13, 2012

To my loyal and faithful readership, I wanted to fax my two-word response back into the blogosphere, ala Michael Jordan.  But instead, you get this brief post and my sincerest thanks for your patience while I dealt with things away from Sportsmaven.

In the next few weeks, I will be working on some new content, some thoughts, opinions and even a change to the design of this site.

Bear with me and pardon the dust…more to come!

The Chicago Sportsmaven

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Sportsmaven Is Back From Break

Posted by sportsmaven on March 5, 2010

To my loyal readers, the Sportsmaven is back from and extended break refreshed and refocused on bringing more of my exquisite brand of commentary on all sports Chicago.  So strap it on and lets go.  We have a lot going on this weekend in Chicago sports, as the Chicago Bears look to make a huge splash in free agency.  Commentary on the Bears signings, including their first apparent signing this morning of TE Brandon Manumaleuna as well as the visits of free-agents DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor.  Will the Bears get a safety too?  Will it be Antrel Rolle?

The Sportsmaven will also be heading the the United Center this weekend for back to back Bulls and Blackhawks games on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (well actually, Sunday morning!)  Look for Bulls and Blackhawks updates too. 

And finally, spring baseball is here with the Chicago’s finest, the Cubs and Sox squaring off against each other.  Look for new posts on the start of what hopes to be championship baseball in the city of Chicago.

Lots on the plate this weekend.  I look forward to bring it all to you….

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Chicago’s Olympic Hopes Dashed — What’s Next?

Posted by sportsmaven on September 29, 2009

Stunned silence……that’s all that remained in the wonderful, grand, beautiful city of Chicago this morning.  Another first round exit, Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans comparing the swift elimination to the Chicago Cubs post-season performances for the past two seasons.  October 2, 2009 will be a maelstrom in the history of Chicago sports.  Pundits will use it as fodder for endless metaphors to authors penning excruciating, unimaginative fairy tales of how Chicago will always be the “Second City”.  But this time, it wasn’t even second today, at least in the eyes of the voting International Olympic Committee members.

Chicagoans stand stunned after first round elimination....

Chicagoans stand stunned after first round elimination....

The eyes of the world were on four cities today, all bidding for the chance to host the 2016 Olympics.

Chicago.

Madrid.

Rio de Janeiro.

Tokyo.

Heavy hitters were brought out by each city’s bid team.  Heads of states, kings, queens and prime ministers converged on the somewhat sleepy little Danish haven called Copenhagen.  Chicago came out swinging with high profile Chicago natives President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey.  The final presentations were made, the last remaining pleas for votes from the IOC members were conducted, the votes were cast.

Chicago didn’t survive the first round, not even surpassing the dark horse Tokyo bid, long considered the longest of long shots.

The day started unseasonably cold, rainy and gloomy, but a burst of sunshine broke through an hour before the vote began.  Was it a sign that it was going to be Chicago’s day?  It was a sign that reminded me about one of the final scenes of the movie “A Perfect Storm”.  In the movie, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and crew risked everything, including their lives, to make it through a convergence of tropical storms and hurricanes to bring their catch to market and cash in on their swollen stash of fish.  They fought dramatically high sea swells, flooding, voracious winds, their little fishing boat being tossed like a children’s toy.

At the point of their greatest exasperation, they crossed into the eye of the storm and for a moment, the sun appeared and the seas became calm.  For a moment, the expressions on their faces led them to believe that through all their trials and tribulations, they had a chance……only Clooney knew better.  He said the sea would not let them escape.  Once again, the seas, winds, waves picked up with violent fury until one final giant wave sent their boat capsizing to the bottom of the ocean with all hands aboard.  This is the summation of Chicago 2016 — A Candidate City.

The defining scene for that tragic movie is what immediately came to mind upon hearing the results of the first-round vote….the sun went away, the dark ran clouds reappeared and rain began falling.  A steady, miserable, cold rain.  Video from Copenhagen was broadcast mightily across all local news stations as the next round of voting continued.  Down to Rio de Janeiro and Madrid, everyone in Chicago knew where it was going.  Did anybody in Chicago care anymore?

The announcement was finally made and it was triumphant:  Rio De Janeiro will be the 2016 Olympic host nation.

The sun was shining over 100,000 Brazilians who were partying like it was Carnival when the announcement was made.  Chicagoans were forced to retreat to a Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game as the stunned local news stations brought in nearly everyone with any knowledge of failed Olympic bids past speculated on what went wrong for Chicago.

As the rain falls, the futile, wait until next year Cubs gave up 3 runs in the first inning and 4 more a few innings later.  The game is now 8-0 Diamondbacks in the 6th inning of a meaningless season ending series.  The soaked fans at Wrigley Field have yet another event in which to cry in their soggy cup of Old Style beer.  Baseball can’t end soon enough for either side of town.  The Cubs have second place sewed up, why keep playing now?  The Chicago White Sox want to stick it to Detroit and will use Jake Peavy to do it.   It doesn’t matter anymore where they end up in the standings, they know it’s not in first.

What’s next for Chicago?  Chicago is a city that knows how to handle disappointment.  The people of Chicago, especially sports fans, are resilient.  Much more resilient than any sports city in the United States.  The people of Chicago are passionate about their sports, win or lose.  And they are loyal to a fault.  The disappointment of not winning the bid to host the XXXI Games of the Olympiad will pass, just like the disappointments of other Chicago sports teams.  What remains is the heart, soul, passion, and eternal optimism of each individual who lives, breathes, and understands the landscape of Chicago sports.

The lessons of deep seeded appreciation, endless passion and undying loyalty aren’t earned by winning everything that comes our way.  It’s earned by extending our deep seeded pride to those that choose to compete on behalf of our beloved city, by always giving our very best effort, by enduring, by not taking for granted that our destiny is to always come out on top.

Being a Chicagoan is like being Notre Dame’s walk-on football player Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, or the exhausted, injured marathon runner whose father helped him cross the finish line.  It’s like the autistic high school basketball player that scored 20 points in 3 minutes of a basketball game that had little meaning except for those who really understood the significance of the event.  Or it’s like the girl who tries out and makes the freshmen boys football team as the team’s place kicker, facing constant ridicule and teasing from her peers, and yet does it because of her unbridled love of competition.

What’s next for Chicago, you might ask?  What’s next is what’s always next for Chicago.  It will pick itself back up on its feet, brush itself off, and try yet again.  Because that’s how we roll in Chicago…..

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A Beautiful Day At Columbia College Chicago

Posted by sportsmaven on May 17, 2009

Crystal blue skies, not a cloud in sight.  Bright sunny day, so bright that a strong squint of the eyelids posed a constant reminder of sunglasses forgotten.  An unseasonably cool May morning, a Sunday morning.  The sign on the front of the building read UIC Pavillion, but inside, it was Columbia College Chicago all the way.

DSC03397

Today is May 17, 2009 and my step-daughter, Jessica Dreymann was attending her last official function as a Columbia College student, her graduation ceremony.  As of 10pm this evening, Jessi is officially a college graduate.  Actually, it was as of 2pm, but the celebration took us a few ticks  further on the face of the dial.

Jessi began her college career as a freshman at University of Iowa.  Eager to leave home for the first time, Jessi chose a school that was far enough from home to really experience being on her own, but close enough to come home if she really wanted.  Iowa was a learning experience in so many ways.

The first year of college is a dichotomy of life; you are a student, you are no longer under parental rule.  Iowa was a struggle in many ways for Jessi.  Normally an excellent student, with an impressive run at Glenbrook North High School in our hometown of Northbrook, IL, Jessi was really struggling in Iowa City.  In many ways, it was that first year of struggle that ultimately defined Jessi’s growth and development into the outstanding person she is today.  It is where she came of age, experiencing a giant leap in maturity and independence.  It is also the place that led her to today’s events at Columbia College Chicago, and it little did she know it was the most important experience of her life.

Jessi Dreymann graduated college today.  She graduated in 3 years.  She also graduated with honors.  She was able to accomplish every bit of this while working a full-time job.  Words can’t express how proud I am of Jessi’s accomplishments.  I only know one other person that has accomplished the same, and I’m married to her.  Yes, my wife and Jessi’s mom, Barb DeCesare, set the bar for today’s events.  I’m bursting with pride, inspiration, and joy for the accomplishment of both my girls.

Columbia College Chicago is a special place of higher education.  I noticed the minute I walked into the graduation ceremony at the UIC Pavillion.  From the smart, creative choice of excellent music to the guest speakers ability to provide short, but powerful words of wisdom, Columbia College’s dynamic, creative environment was on full display.  Distinguished honored speaker, author Ray Bradbury spoke stirringly about doing what you love and to love what you’re doing.  The spirit of love was the dominant theme of the day.

My highest compliments and regards to President Warrick L. Carter, Provost Steven Kapelke, and the various leaders of Columbia College for providing an environment for dynamic and creative learning, development of outstanding leaders, and most importantly, the mentoring of tomorrow’s change agents.

From create…change to Yes We Can, Columbia College Chicago ushered in two powerful phrases that define the spirit of Chicago, the destiny of higher education, and the intersection of the two into one magical morning.  After reading this post, you might be asking yourself  “What does this have to do with Chicago sports?”  Nothing at all.  It’s my daughter and I’m damn proud of her today, as I am every day and wanted to share that with my loyal and faithful audience.

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In Memory Of My Friend, LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Posted by sportsmaven on October 15, 2008

Sitting in my home office, the mail was piling up on my desk, up to bottom of my monitor screen, as usual.  Catching up on the mail is always a task that loves my procrastination, but tonight, I was determined to get through the growing pile on my desk.  I was shocked and very deeply saddened when I opened my high school alumni mailing to find out that my classmate and good friend, LTC James J. Walton was killed in action in Kandahar City, Afghanistan on June 21, 2008.

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Jim was one of my good friends at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC, a private, all-boys Catholic, military high school.  We met during our freshman year in August of 1982 and we couldn’t be more of opposites.  Jim was as sharp a cadet at St. John’s, easily the most self-confident member of our class and the freshman with the most military bearing and pride.  I was the cadet that struggled with all things military.  Somehow, we managed to become friends.

Jim taught me how to shine my brass, “spit” shine my shoes, and finally, when that didn’t work, taught me the lesson of getting a pair of patent leather “inspection” shoes that I would keep in my locker and wear only to pass the daily morning inspection.  He taught me how to properly salute and chided me to learn my cadet knowledge.  Jim was destined to be our class leader and future Regimental Commander.  I recall that he wanted to be Cadet Colonel so bad, not for the rank itself, but rather to be in the best position to help and mentor fellow students in the way of being military.

Jim and I both had a common interest in music, he was in the Cadet Chorus and I was in the Concert Band/Wind Ensemble and the Regimental Band.  We used to hang out in the chorus hall, do homework, talk about the things we wanted to do with our lives.  Only Jim knew exactly what he wanted to do: go to West Point and serve his country in the Army.  Jim loved his time in the choir; he became the student director of the choir our senior year.

When we were seniors, Jim was named Regimental Commander, with the rank of Cadet Colonel.  I fondly recall the evening of our Commissioning Ceremony as cadet officers, Jim was beaming with pride and honor to have earned the leadership position of our entire regiment.  I was proud to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the Regimental Band.  It was due to Jim’s mentoring of my feeble military skills that I was able to achieve that level of rank.  He got me through the system.

The Regimental Band was the only battalion in the regiment that didn’t have a sergeant major.  I volunteered to assume that position for the Regimental Band, taking a voluntary demotion from lieutenant to sergeant major.  I did it because I believed it was an opportunity to be special; there were only 4 sergeant majors in the entire regiment, while there were dozens of ordinary lieutenants.  It also allowed me to be glued to the hip of my best friend in high school, John Shaw, who was our battalion commander, making my final year at St. John’s a military breeze.

When word moved up the chain that I took a demotion, Jim found me and said “DeCesare, only you would take a demotion to try to make yourself look good.”  We both got a good laugh out of that one.  One day, I volunteered to be Officer of the Day, an assignment that took the serving cadet out of classes for the day to be an aide to the military instructors and school administrators.  When I went to the Military Office to report for duty, Jim laughed at me, asking me if I had a test today and needed to skip class.  Even though we were friends, Jim was pretty relentless on us in morning officer’s inspection.  He would demand that we lead by example and that started with appearance and attitude.  He expected the officers of the regiment to lead with dignity, honor, and sense of duty.

When graduation week came, we all knew that we would be moving on to our next phase in life.  The day before graduation, we took our class photo at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.  The Cadet Colonel is the centerpiece of the photo, standing in the middle of the front row with Brother John Herron, our school president.  It had rained that morning and we were unsure if we were able to take the picture, but the rain broke and we gathered as a class on the marble steps of the Shrine to take one last photo.  It would be the second to last day we would all be together as classmates.

On graduation day, we re-assembled at the Shrine to go through graduation ceremony.  It was the last time that we would all wear the uniform at St. John’s.  Jim, like so many other occasions, led the officers of the Class of 1985 into the ceremony, with his perfect military demeanor, white sash, chest full of medals and ribbons, 3 diamonds signifying the rank of Cadet Colonel on his shoulders.

After the ceremony, we were milling outside the Shrine, taking pictures with family, friends, and classmates.  I remember Jim and I hugged, glad that we made it through, sad that our days at St. John’s were coming to an end.  I knew Jim was going on to bigger and better things at West Point, while I was off to a vastly different life at Virginia Tech with two of our other classmates.  That would be the last time I would see Jim Walton.

While my initial memories of Jim have always been about his impressive military manner, my most fond, treasured, and lasting memories of Jim had very little to do with the military.  My memories were of his strength of character, kindness, dedication, compassion, honesty, and loyalty to his friends and family.  Jim loved helping people, especially his friends.  He was selfless in that regard.  I loved that we shared a like of music, the playfulness of the Senior right to cut in the lunch line and sit at the Senior Table.  We endured schoolwork, Brother Albert’s monotonous typing class, bonded for life with our classmates, and loved our school, it’s sense of integrity, honor and duty, and all it represented.

People may think that the world will be a lesser place without Jim Walton, but I believe otherwise.  I believe that the world is infintely a better place because of Jim Walton.  As I look at that picture of our class, the Class of 1985 of St. John’s College High School, I see front and center, where he belonged, the indelible image of Cadet Colonel Jim Walton.  I also see the image of Jim Walton my mentor, my leader, but most of all, my friend.

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