It’s March Madness on – and off – the basketball court

GroceFrom the Saturday, March 21, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal.

Or, at least it is, unless your team has already been bounced out of the NCAA Tournament – or, ahem, already bounced out of the NIT.

Beyond any Cinderellas on the hardwood, spring training is in full swing promising hope for the summer. Elsewhere, spring football abounds promising hoping for the fall. And rumor has it that there may even be hope for warm weather soon.

Although, perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.

Instead, exhale as we take trip around the spring sports scene and check in on the Cubs, White Sox and Fighting Illini.

March Badness

The last time Illinois missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments was 1991-92, and then only because the Illini were barred from the ’91 postseason due to NCAA sanctions. There are no sanctions this time around, but there’s plenty of frustration after Illinois was sent to the NIT and then failed to even show up in a 79-58 loss at Alabama.

“Certainly there’s some disappointment,” Illini athletic director Mike Thomas said after the loss. “We’d rather be playing in the NCAA tournament, and that’s our goal every year and any given year when we’re not playing in the NCAA tournament.”

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Illini’s Athletic Mess Stems From The Top Down

mike-thomas-ncaa-football-illinois-spring-game-850x560Wednesday’s column from

(CBS) In a perfect Illini world, Tim Beckman would roll to a Rose Bowl next January and John Groce would follow up with a Final Four run in March.

But as any University of Illinois fan knows all too well, we don’t live in a perfect Illini world. Instead, we live in the one created three years ago by athletic director Mike Thomas.

And right now, it’s in a world of hurt.

At Memorial Stadium, Beckman’s Big Ten football record is an unsightly 4-20 as the oft-misguided coach continues to lose games and press conferences while railing on reporters for their lack of positivity. Over at the State Farm Center, Groce’s Big Ten basketball mark stands at just 24-30, his program has missed the NCAA Tournament for two straight years (unseen at Illinois since the early 1990s) and on Tuesday night he stood helpless as his shockingly fight-less Illini were blown out 79-58 by a football school with an interim coach in the first round of the NIT (that was Alabama, for those of you who better used your time).

Elsewhere, even Illini women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant has seen his record fall from a solid 19-14 record in his first year to 9-21 and 15-16 these past two seasons. Overall, Bollant’s Big Ten ledger is 17-33, which means that he, Beckman and Groce now have a collective record of 45-83 (.351) in league games after three full seasons.

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Chicago’s Irish roots run deep on the South Side

paradeFrom the Saturday, March 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

With the dyeing of the river, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade stomping its way north out of Grant Park and all the ensuing Irish-themed revelry, Chicago’s Loop and North Side will be painting the town green today.

But tomorrow? It’s the South Siders’ turn.

And on Sunday with the 2015 South Side Irish Parade, the southern half of the Windy City make the most of its big day (within reason) just like it has almost every year since 1979 (but, notably, not during all).

With perhaps the most colorful history of any parade in Chicago, the South Side Irish Parade has both a rollicking past and what’s become a more tempered, but no less popular, present.

The Parade

Scheduled to begin at noon, this year’s South Side parade will kick off in the Beverly neighborhood at 103rd Street and head south down Western Avenue to 115th Street.

Held prior to the parade at 11 a.m. is the Emerald Isle Mile, a one-mile, timed race starting at 112th and Western and heading north to 104th, with proceeds benefitting Special Olympics Chicago.

For more information about the parade route or the race, visit

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Illini Fumble By Moving Football Opener To A Friday

Memorial_Stadium_ReDedicationToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Football used to be so simple.

Fridays belonged to high schools, colleges owned Saturdays and the pros played their games on Sundays – plus one Monday night affair.

Nowadays, that’s all changed as football has crept so far across the calendar that during the season you can now find a college or pro game on TV almost any night of the week. And for the most part, I’m OK with that.

As long as none of those nights happens to be a Friday, an evening that should always be reserved for high schools.

But on Monday, Illinois football disagreed when it announced that it will tread onto prep turf by moving its 2015 season opener against Kent State at Memorial Stadium from Saturday, Sept. 5, to Friday, Sept. 4.

The game will be televised on BTN, and while a start time is TBD, I’m not sure it really matters. Because no matter what hour the ball is kicked, the switch will still be a mistake – for multiple reasons, none of which Illinois or BTN seem to recognize.

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In Chicago, it’s St. Patrick’s Day all month long

GreenFrom the Saturday, March 7, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago is so green that it leaves other cities with envy.

The holiday, in fact, is such a big deal in the Windy City that it doesn’t merely encompass the 17th of March, but instead consumes much of the month. Today, for example – a full 10 before the big day – there’s already a Pre-St. Patty Day’s Pub Tour taking place in the Northwest Side enclave of Edison Park as well as the “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” blowout consuming in the bars and streets of Wrigleyville.

Chicago’s big weekend honoring Irish heritage is seven days away, and with that fast approaching here’s how you can plan to celebrate as the city paints the town green.

March 14: Dyeing of the river & parade

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, annually held on the Saturday prior to the holiday. For 54 of those years, the city has kicked off its festivities by having the Chicago Plumbers Union dump orange dye into the Chicago River to magically turn it green.

Rain or shine, this Saturday will be no different. The dyeing of the river will take place at 9:30 a.m., followed by the parade kicking off at noon in Grant Park. The noisy, fun-filled homage to the Irish will start at Balbo Dr. and head north along Columbus Dr. to Monroe St. along with plenty of bagpipers, drummers and dancers marching their way past a viewing stand in front of Buckingham Fountain that’s filled with local dignitaries.

If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the parade live on ABC-Ch. 7.

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With Bleacher Reconstruction, Cubs Dropped The Ball

wrigley-field-bleachers-renovation-1Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) As a Cubs fan, I’m well conditioned to wait ’til next year.

But not when it comes to my season tickets.

At this point, though, I’m half-prepping myself to receive an email from the Cubs regretfully informing me that due to a setback in its rehab program, the Wrigley Field bleachers have been sidelined until 2016.

And that they’ll be renamed in honor of Mark Prior.

That’s because when the Cubs invited members of the media to tour Wrigley on Monday while the 101-year-old ballpark undergoes the first phase of its massive rebuilding project, what they witnessed was far from promising for fans – especially those who have season tickets in the bleachers, as I do.

Back during the Cubs Convention in January, the team had already announced that the reconstruction of the bleachers would be delayed until at least May 11. But Monday, we learned that the progress is dragging so far behind schedule that the team was seeking an OK from the city for its construction crews to work 24 hours a day.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected that idea.

Even if that request had been green lit, the Cubs said the right-field bleachers still won’t be ready until at least early June. It’s unclear when all of the bathrooms will be completed. And while the Cubs say that the left-field/center-field bleachers will still be open by the May 11 date, let’s be honest, they don’t really know – especially with Mother Nature calling the shots.

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Rahm, runoffs and more Chicago mayoral history

RahmEmanuelFrom the Saturday, Feb. 28, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

With the death of Jane Byrne last fall at the age of 81, there are now only two former Chicago mayors still kicking today.

However, 70-year-old David Orr and 72-year-old Richard M. Daley could soon have company in the Old Bosses’ Home along Lake Michigan, if Mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t get his act together soon.

Thanks to his inability to eclipse the 50 percent benchmark in Chicago’s election earlier this week, the deep-pocketed Emanuel has now been embarrassingly forced into the a mayoral runoff this April against upstart Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the current Cook County Commissioner.

The runoff is uncharted waters for Emanuel, who garnered just over 45 percent of the vote to Garcia’s 34 percent. That’s a far cry from 2011 when Emanuel rolled into his first term on the strength of a 55 percent clip, far ahead of closest opponent Gery Chicago, who received just 25 percent.

The runoff, set for April 7, is also uncharted waters for Chicago, which never before has experienced one. As a result, we can expect the Running of the Bull to continue on local airwaves for six more weeks. But perhaps that’s only fitting since the Windy City earned its nickname on the words of political blowhards.

And in preparation for the ongoing war of words, here are a few more about Chicago’s mayoral history.

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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – and a bite of history

ClarkFrom the Saturday, Feb. 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

In 1929, it was just a nondescript red brick garage for the SMC Carthage Company. But by 1949, it had become a packing-and-shipping facility whose famous interior wall attracted far more tourists than it did actual customers, much to its owners’ chagrin. And by 1967, it had been demolished into nothing but a pile of rubble.

These days, the only thing still standing at 2122 North Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood are a few lonely trees and a wrought-iron fence dotting a lawn in front of a nursing home parking lot.

But the barren place is still plenty busy this time of the year.

“This is where history happened!” a young man dressed in black coat and 1920s-style fedora shouted last Saturday evening to a couple dozen bundled-up gawkers as they crowded around him on the sidewalk.

“Rat-a-tat-tat-tat!” he added, mimicking the noise of a tommy gun.

The demonstrative guide and his rapt group were in the midst of a historical walking tour of the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” And as the sightseers listened to the description of the bloody event which took place at 2122 North Clark Street around 10:30 a.m. 86 years ago today on Feb. 14, 1929, I passed by on my way to get a taste of its last surviving vestige – in both a figurative sense and a literal one too.

Across the street at 2121 North Clark Street stands a two-story brownstone that reportedly served as a lookout when five of Al Capone’s henchmen, dressed as police officers, burst into the SMC garage, lined seven of gangster rival Bugs Moran’s associates up against a brick wall and opened fire with machine guns, killing them all.

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‘Chicago’s Big Ten Team’ Should Always Face Illini There

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Riddle me this: If you’re really “Chicago’s Big Ten team,” can you play three conference road games in the Windy City?

The answer: No, you can’t. Not if you’re really “Chicago’s Big Ten team.”
But if Northwestern wants to continue to talk that broad-shouldered talk here in the state, then it needs to also walk the walk by taking its home football games against Illinois in 2016, 2018 and 2020 and moving them south from Evanston to Soldier Field.

You know, just like the Illini are doing with their 2015, 2017 and 2019 home games against the Wildcats.

On Monday, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced that his university — which boasts the slogan “Our State. Our Team” — will be staking its own claim to Chicago by playing those three season-finale contests 138 miles north of Champaign at the home of the Bears.

“By taking these Thanksgiving weekend games to Soldier Field, we will provide a great environment for our student-athletes, fans and students who are already in the Chicagoland area for the holiday,” Thomas said. “Ending the regular season at a historical site and one of the best stadiums in the world will make for a big-time event for our student-athletes and will be a great springboard for our football program into the postseason.”

What it also should be is a great springboard for an enhanced Illinois-Northwestern football rivalry, which really has never been much of a rivalry at all. With neither program known as a pigskin powerhouse, the game has usually been more of something that happens rather than a true happening. However, perhaps it could have some added juice if the two in-state schools turned their game into an annual affair for “Braggin’ Rights” in Chicago.

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Short on days, February long on fun in Chicago

From the Saturday, Feb. 7, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

Botanical-Orchids-3-10-131The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

February may be a short month, but in Chicago it’s long on fun. So, if you’re considering a trip up to the Windy City and looking for something to do, here’s the long and short of it.

Tonight: The Ultimate ’80s Prom

Do you miss the ’80s? Do you miss Prom? Do you miss the ’80s and Prom?

If you answered yes to any of those questions and are still looking for something to do tonight, consider a last-minute trip to Chicago’s House of Blues (329 N. Dearborn St.), which is preparing to relive Prom with a throwback twist.

Featuring popular cover band Sixteen Candles, HOB will host the “Ultimate ’80s Prom” playing all of your favorite hits from the decade, along with drink and food specials and a costume contest. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the performance beginning at 9 p.m.
For more information, visit

Feb. 14: Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid Show

If you’re fed up with the snow and cold, the Chicago Botanic Garden – located north of the city at 1000 Lake Cook Road in Glencoe – has a way to put a little springtime in your step.

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