I will admit not much happened last year compared to other recent years. However, this is simply adulthood kicking in, and my 30s work life kicking in.
Work dominated my 2016. Last year was one where much time was dedicated to working. Free time went down last year, despite going on a few small trips. Every week hovered around 35-45 hours, and when thinking about my Top 10 moments of the year, five out of the 10 either directly or indirectly involve work.
For reasons I’ve written about many times, 2015 was one of the worst years of my life. I’m happy with the way I’ve rebounded in 2016, and there’s so much room for more better things in 2017.
So, to be succinct, here are my ten best moments of 2016 — in no order whatsoever.
Covering state cross country — I mentioned in SV Weekend’s year-end edition that the state cross country meet has been the one fall sports constant in my tenure at SVM. Because it is a marquee coverage event, I enjoy being able to unleash my creative side when it allows; and it certainly did allow when I covered Brayden Hamblen winning the 1A race for Rock Falls.
We had five runners finish in the top 20 in 3 races: Hamblen, Newman’s Chris Ahlers and Sterling’s Jake Gebhardt (both 7th), Sterling’s Dewey Landis, and Bureau Valley’s Haley Weidner. Sterling boys as a team finished in fourth place in 2A. So I had a lot to write about, and thus a lot of walking around all over Detweiler Park.
Covering Forreston Football’s title win — Every now and again, I’ll write articles for our sister publications. When our Forreston beat writer was unable to cover the Cardinals at the state final, I got the call. I actually got the call around 7:30 the night before, asking if I could be in Champaign at 10 the next morning. Wasn’t much of a problem for me.
My article in both SVM and in the Forreston Journal/Polo Tri-County Press. Forreston started its 1A championship game slow before breaking through and throttling Decatur St. Teresa 35-7 at Memorial Stadium. Great defense created plenty of great offense.
(Both the cross country and football articles were the first state championship articles I’ve written for print.)
New Year’s Eve — I didn’t have plans for NYE a couple of days before it happened, but settled upon Dubuque, one of my favorite cities, to ring it in. I wanted to do it somewhere out of town, at some bar near some college with the hopes of finding some cute girls to hang with.
I drove up at night, which felt unusual for me, and settled on Fat Tuesday’s near Loras College. The waitress was hot, the bartender was hot, and there was this beautiful woman sitting not too far from me. We chatted for a little bit, and noticed a diamond ring on her finger. Ah, what the heck! I’m never going to be there again, and she’ll never see me again. As I departed the joint, I let her know how pretty she was. All this may seem like casual conversation for most people, but considering my history of shyness and being nowhere near home, I felt comfortable in letting her know my feelings.
St. Jude’s Fundraiser — The only great Casey’s memory of last year involved October’s month-long fundraising effort for St. Jude’s Cancer Research. I was the top fundraiser during 2015 and sought to defend my championship, despite not working as many hours.
I enjoyed competing with Jennifer, Melissa, and Trace for top position. Despite working half as many shifts as the other three, I had enough confidence to come out on top. So much confidence, that I wagered a bet with Jennifer and Melissa over buying dinner after the month. Loser buys dinner. As the four of us battled for the win, I had the opportunity to catch up in the final shift of the month. That’s because Jennifer came though with the win, and I made good on my bet by buying her Kelly’s. I knew she liked Kelly’s burritos, and not knowing how big they were, bought two of them. Turns out they were huge, and after giving her both of them, she offered me one of them to have.
Wrigley Field — No. The Cubs winning the World Series isn’t going to make me a Cubs fan. But I had the opportunity to get as close to the scene as I could while on my way to a football game for the newspaper.
Dixon football was playing at Gately Field in a first-round playoff game at 3:30, so I decided to make a day of it in Chicago. I drove up through Irving Park and turned on Sheffield to at least drive along the other side of the right field bleachers. This was the Saturday before Game 3. I didn’t encounter a large mob of people, but there were lots of people gathered around the stadium at least 7 hours before game time. Luckily for me, a FedEx truck turned onto Sheffield from Waveland, and I just followed it as it parted the blue sea. I didn’t intend on turning west on Addison toward the marquee, but I did it anyway. The traffic flow wasn’t that horrible.
Night at Sully’s — This was the start of a Chicagoland 2-for-1 week. I covered Sterling boys soccer against Benet Academy at St. Francis High School in Wheaton. This was on a Tuesday, that of Game 1 of the World Series. I wanted to watch the game someplace somewhere after immediately typing my article for my soccer assignment.
A Google search for sports bars near St. Francis turned up Sully’s, on the corner of Geneva and Gary. The bar was small, and all seats were taken as we were glued to the TV. Everybody but me were regulars, and since I was the lone outsider, I attracted a lot of attention. The owner of the bar, Sully himself, was two seats from me drinking his whiskey. Everyone else either had a can of PBR or Blatz. I settled for soda; not Pepsi, not Coke, but soda whose name was never revealed to me. Tasted like store-brand straight cola. Came from a spray tube.
Everyone was outgoingly friendly, and I was able to make plenty of conversation with these locals whom I have clue who they are. The plenty of conversation was so much fun for this shy guy, and I drove back home highly elated about the experience. I CAN MAKE CONVERSATION AT A BAR! I’m not sure if I could do that at home with people I’m familiar with, but that experience led to wanting to go to the aforementioned Fat Tuesday’s in Dubuque.
Bulls 100, Bucks 90 — After a rough morning at Casey’s, I wanted to go to sleep. Then I got a text from my friend Charlie. Next thing I know, we’re driving to a Bulls game at the United Center that night (from the previous season).
I hadn’t been to a pro sports event since going to a Cardinals game about 12 years back. We talked high school and Sauk sports and the like on the drive to and fro, and enjoyed the Bulls game from the top level bleachers. Jimmy Butler was out with a knee injury, and by that time was was establishing himself as the team’s leader well over Derrick Rose. Chicago led most of the way, and survived a small comeback in the fourth quarter.
This was the third time I had seen Jabari Parker play in person. The first two times were when he was at Simeon.
Gout — This isn’t a positive moment by any means, but it was an eye-opener of sorts. I noticed some pain in my left big toe on my drive back from covering a football game in Erie. It grew worse in the next couple of days, and I eventually worked a Casey’s shift slowly ambling around with a old-person walker.
This was a lot of pain considering the small area of it. It all made me look at my health a little better. Less red meat. No beer.
Stepping down from NISB — One area of busyness responsibility was freed from my grasp just before the start of this current high school sports season, when I handed over control of Northern Illinois Sports Beat: the high school sports website I founded in 2004 and wrote for until 2013. I still ran the message board after that, but couldn’t find enough time to really dedicate myself to it.
I had considered shutting down the website at the end of December, but someone stepped up and offered to take it over. So, I have no say over total operation of the website, but I have stayed on as a message board administrator under his watch. I don’t come by as much as I used to (or at Turk’s or Edgy’s) because of work commitments, but I wish “crippler” the best of luck with the torch I have passed.
Illinois High School Glory Days Trip — About 6 months of planning, and I finally found an off-day during the spring to make a trip to Chicagoland to visit old school sites to do research and take pictures.
There were quite a few small visits, but the big highlights were the visits to Seton Academy in South Holland and Lincoln-Way North in New Lenox. Those two schools were operating in their final year. The folks at Seton were very hospitable toward me, and gave me a tour of the campus. I didn’t go inside LWN, but was amazed about how large this campus was, and the fact that it was going to close. A restaurant nearby still had a S.O.S. sign hanging: Save Our School.