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Crete-Monee football — and Jerry Verde’s move — top 2012 stories

Jerry Verde. | File photo

Jerry Verde. | File photo

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How We Voted

Stories received 10 points for a first-place vote, nine for second, etc. Votes were collected from 10 SouthtownStar staffers. Point totals (first-place votes in parentheses):

1. Crete-Monee/Verde/Mattio 87 (6)

2. Lukas Verzbicas 60 (1)

3. Jordan Lynch/NIU 49 (1)

4. Frank Lenti’s 10th title 44

5. Ajani Cargle wins 6 39

T6. Christian Vande Velde admits doping 35

T6. Marist softball wins state 35

8. Bryan Craig/Rich Central mess 34

9. Andrew boys and girls bowling titles 30

10. St. Laurence/St. Rita brawl 29 (1)

Other stories receiving votes: Marian baseball wins state (1); Lincoln-Way Central athletes Tom Schuman (April) and Austin Lempera (November) die, apparently the result of heart conditions; Homewood-Flossmoor accused of violating Title IX in legislation’s 40th anniversary year; Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty passes 700 wins; Sandburg wins team wrestling title; Richards grad Dwyane Wade wins another NBA title; Lincoln-Way Central water polo player Danijela Jackovich plays for U.S. Olympic Youth Water Polo team and signs with defending NCAA champ Stanford; ex-NFL linebacker and Thornton High School star Napoleon Harris elected to congress, decides to run for senate; St. Rita hockey wins fifth straight Kennedy Cup, state title; Burbank neighbors St. Laurence and Reavis announce plans to meet on football field for first time ever; Orland Park sisters Rebecca, Lizzie Kamp back-to-back winners of NCAA Division III Volleyball Player of the Year honors; St. Xavier falls in semis while attempting to defend NAIA football title.

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:13AM



Given the kind of year it was in Southland athletics — with historic wins everywhere from the bowling lanes to the football field, tragic losses off the field and near tragedy on a training run, dark lapses in judgment and sportsmanship — it’s no surprise we had more than twice as many nominations for our top 10 sports stories of the year than we had spaces on the list.

But who would have thought the ballots that were turned in just a day ahead of deadline would have to be scrapped?

That’ll happen when, on Dec. 20, a guy jumps ship from one school that already was getting votes for its first state championship to replace a man whose retirement, too, was occupying a place on the charts.

Two stories became one. And when the new ballots were counted, No. 1.

So, without further ado, the SouthtownStar’s Top 10 Sports Stories of 2012:

1. Crete-Monee wins title, loses coach to Marian Catholic

Jerry Verde went 56-14 in six years at Crete-Monee, the last of those wins for the Class 6A title over Cary-Grove on Nov. 24. His top player, Laquon Treadwell, was heralded as the best unsigned receiver in the country, his junior class never has tasted defeat in high school. And less than a month after leading the Warriors to their first football crown, Verde accepted the top job at his alma mater, Marian Catholic. There, he will replace Dave Mattio, who in 37 years went 251-141.

2. Lukas Verzbicas up and running

On July 31, 19-year-old Lukas Verzbicas, a former world junior triathlon champion in his first year as a pro, crashed into a guardrail on a training ride in Colorado. The former state cross country champion at Sandburg suffered damage to his spinal cord, fractured a clavicle and had blood in his lungs. Doctors feared he would never walk again. Yet, on Thanksgiving Day, Verzbicas returned to competitive running — finishing third in the Orland Park Turkey Trot. Clutching his the 4-inch tall trophy he collected, Verzbicas said, “For me, this is the most thankful Thanksgiving I’ve had.”

Jordan Lynch puts 3. NIU in the BCS

We’d like to say we saw it coming — after all, Jordan Lynch was our prep football player of the year in 2008. But no one expected this: In his first year as a starting quarterback at Northern Illinois, the Mount Carmel graduate vaulted himself into Heisman Trophy talk and the Huskies into the Orange Bowl. Heading into the bowl season, he led the nation in total offensive yards gained (4,733) and his current, 11-game streak of 100-yard rushing games is an NCAA record for a quarterback. The Huskies meet Florida State in the Orange Bowl at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

4. Lenti, Mount Carmel back in the winners circle

There’s only one place in Chicago a kid named Butkus wouldn’t have the most famous moniker on his football team. Mount Carmel, with Dick Butkus’ great-nephew, Don, at quarterback, won the Class 8A state title Nov. 24 by a 28-14 count over Glenbard North. It was notable, yes, because it was the Caravan’s 11th title overall, and first since 2002. But, despite the gritty effort of Butkus, who ran 12 times for 50 yards after leaving Mount Carmel’s semifinal win with an ankle injury, and Draco Smith (7 carries, 129 yards) and Matt Domer (12 carries, 79 yards), this title will be remembered as coach Frank Lenti’s 10th, moving him into a tie with former Providence coach Matt Senffner for most in state history.

5. Cargle makes history

They read like the results of six judges watching one very good routine: 9.65, 9.7. 9.75, 9.7, 9.5, 9.65. But those were Ajani Cargle’s scores May 12 during the state gymnastics meet’s individual events competition at his home gym, Lincoln-Way East. His winning scores, were in the floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar, respectively. No gymnast in state history had previously won all six events in the same state meet. “It’s a great feeling to know that I’m the only person that’s ever done something,” Cargle, a senior, said.

6 (tie). Vande Velde admits doping

Lemont’s most famous son, Tour de France team champion Christian Vande Velde, took a turn toward the infamous in 2012. In June, word broke that he and other big names in U.S. cycling circles were removed from consideration for the Olympic team. Quickly, that led to speculation that those men were involved in the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s ongoing investigation into Lance Armstrong. In October, the speculation was confirmed — Vande Velde accepted a six-month suspension and in return testified that he doped from 1999 to 2005. In a statement issued on Oct. 10, Vande Velde said, “I’m very sorry for the mistakes I made in my past and I know that forgiveness is a lot to ask for. I know that I have to earn it and I will try, every day, to deserve it — as I have, every day, since making the choice to compete clean.” He has not responded to multiple interview requests from the SouthtownStar.

6 (tie). Marist girls get a first

You might have thought the first title would come in volleyball, or maybe basketball. But in 2012, Marist’s softball team earned the first girls state crown, in the school’s 10th year as a coed facility. At one point, the RedHawks were 15-15, but they won their final 12 games, including a 5-0 decision over Bartlett for the 4A state title.

8. The Rich Central mess

Bryan Craig hadn’t had the best season as a coach. In December 2011, he and two of his players on Rich Central’s girls basketball team were tossed from a game after each earned multiple technicals, and in February the Olympians had to forfeit a bunch of wins because they used an ineligible player then cancel a game because they’d scheduled too many. Though all of that couldn’t get him fired, Craig’s self-published self-help atrocity, “It’s Her Fault,” caused the coach to resign hours after the SouthtownStar brought his misanthropic musings to light. In time, he would be permanently removed from his job as a guidance counselor, as well. It has not been reported, however, whether he kept his part-time job working security at a local strip club.

9. No split for Andrew’s bowlers

In the first nine years that the IHSA ran boys and girls state bowling meets, no school had ever won both crowns in the same season. Then along came Andrew. First, the boys stormed to their title Jan. 28, its five bowlers averaging 213.7 over 10 games to top Vernon Hills 12,821-12,652. Then, on Feb. 11, the girls held on to beat Minooka 12,349-12,327. One of the boys bowlers, Kyle Damon, explained the combined titles’ impact on his school days thusly: “People never knew I was on the bowling team. Everyone knows now.”

10. Not Stevie’s Way

On May 18, the Do It Stevie’s Way Showcase featured some of the top baseball programs in the Chicago area, playing in honor of Stevie Bajenski, a Mount Carmel baseball player who died in 2009 after heart surgery. During St. Rita’s contest with St. Laurence, the teams brawled. Players first, and after things were beginning to calm down, coaches inflamed the situation. Ultimately, St. Rita had two coaches and one player suspended, St. Laurence two coaches and seven players suspended. The IHSA placed both programs on probation through the 2013 season. And the Bajenski family? “My family and I and the (Stevie’s Way) foundation are extremely disappointed,” said Mark Bajenski, Stevie’s father. “My wife was distraught about the whole thing. The hope is, after talking to (St. Laurence coach) Pete (Lotus) and (St. Rita coach) Mike (Zunica), they get the big picture. It’s a game. It has nothing to do with literally beating the (crap) out of each other. It’s something that will be addressed as we move forward in 2013. It will not be tolerated.”



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