All posts by juliacardi

Chasing Nojel

By Julia Cardi

When the final afternoon bell rang in Evanston Township High School at 3:35, a rush of teenagers and their cacophony of end-of-day chatter flooded the hallways. The open space adjacent to the school’s various athletic facilities clogged with kids heading to practices; in the locker rooms, they traded Timberland boots and jeans for workout clothes in the high school’s signature navy and orange. Members of the Wildkits boys basketball team loped into Beardsley Gym a few minutes before 4 p.m., and stretched and jumped rope until Coach Mike Ellis called them together.

The jewel of Ellis’ squad is first recognizable by the “20” emblazoned on the back of his practice jersey. During a break in running drills, positioned well behind the half-court line, Nojel Eastern scrunched his six-and-a-half-feet of lean basketball body like a coiled spring and released, sending the ball in a graceful arc to swish through the net. Eastern punched the air in celebration before looking around at his teammates to see who had noticed, but during the lull most had scattered to drink water and chat or practice their own shooting.

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Chicago says goodbye to NFL Draft until (insert best guess here)

By Julia Cardi

Lisa Nelson loves Chicago, and she loves football. So when the NFL Draft came to the city starting in 2015, the La Grange resident and lifelong Green Bay Packers fan was thrilled. Nelson and her family have enjoyed attending Draft Town with her family to meet former and current players, spend time around other football fans, and watch the final rounds these last two years.

She can’t understand why the NFL will probably move the event in 2017, saying Chicago has done so well as host.

“I was hoping this was going to be its home,” she said as she waited to watch her children run the 40-yard dash. “It’s a good, central location, and people are passionate about sports here.” Continue reading

NFL stars signing autographs draw crowds at Day 2 of Draft Town

By Julia Cardi

The much-hyped first round of the NFL draft may have ended the night before, but football fans still gathered in droves at Draft Town in Grant Park on Friday for their fill of mock combine drills, player autographs, and Chicago cuisine.

Surprisingly, the Windsor Ice Cream Shoppe saw plenty of business despite the persistent chill. Louella Gruezo, a friend of the booth’s owner, said the stand’s funnel cake sundae was a popular pick.

“You get the [warmth] of the funnel cake, and then you get the ice cream to offset it,” she said.
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Cloudy Skies Don’t Dampen Opening Day of NFL Draft Town

By Julia Cardi

Temperatures hovered in the 40s and a gray blanket of clouds hid the sun. But the less-than ideal April weather didn’t deter football fans from congregating in Grant Park on Thursday to kick off the first day of the NFL Draft at Draft Town. The open-air festival, dubbed “NFL Disneyland,”attracted fans representing every team in the league. They participated in mock combine drills, sampled food from an array of Chicago restaurants and rode a 120-foot Ferris wheel.

While the weather was a topic of much conversation, it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who braved the chill. “We were going to be here rain or shine,” said Hannah Yeiger, a San Francisco 49ers fan. Continue reading

As NFL Draft host, Chicago seems lame duck, but is not dead one

By Julia Cardi

“Chi-Town is on the clock,” reads the cobalt-blue-and-white signs bearing the NFL’s shield. They are affixed to light poles throughout downtown Chicago advertising the return of the league’s draft Thursday, when 32 teams are normally the ones fighting time — and each other. For the second year in a row, the event will overtake Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre for two days and turn Grant Park into Draft Town for a three-day fan festival, a concept introduced last year.

But now, Chicago’s time on the clock might be running out.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told an Associated Press Sports Editors group last week that the draft will “very likely” move to a different city for 2017, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Competition for the draft has dramatically increased, and the league will likely announce next year’s site in July. Continue reading

Notre Dame ends Evanston’s bid for state basketball title

By Julia Cardi

Trying not to cry, Nojel Eastern contorted his face after he missed his second-to-last free throw. With the top-seeded Evanston Wildkits trailing the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Dons by nine points late in the final quarter, the junior point guard knew his team wouldn’t go to the state championship. The Wildkits fell in the sectional semifinal Tuesday, ending their season with a 68-56 upset loss.

Evanston was hoping to duplicate its first matchup against Notre Dame: 71-64 victory. Instead, they finished 22-6, while the Dons (24-6) will play in the sectional final Friday.

“All four of our seniors are such high-character and high-value teammates,” a somber Coach Mike Ellis said after the game. “There are a lot of underclassmen who are disappointed that they didn’t get it done for the seniors.”

Senior Dylan Mulvihill left the locker room with puffy, reddened eyes. Junior Malik Jenkins fixed his downcast eyes on a spot past the reporters, and despair weighed on his normally confident voice. “We feel like we let the seniors down,” Jenkins said. “It’s on every underclassman that played tonight.”

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Evanston shortens road to championship with win over Glenbrook South

By Julia Cardi

Three-nineteen-sixteen.

The Evanston boys basketball team used the three numbers as its battle cry through strenuous conditioning sessions this past offseason, and the Wildkits put 3-19-16 in group text messages and chanted the sequence after practices and games.

March 19, 2016 is the date of this year’s state championship.

“We have that one common goal in mind. … We all know that date is what we’re going for,” said senior Charlie Maxwell.

The Wildkits shortened their road to the championship by one more game with a 56-29 regional semifinal win over the Glenbrook South Titans Tuesday night. The victory earned the Wildkits (22-5) a trip to the regional final Friday while the Titans ended their season at 12-16.

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Evanston coach keeps his eyes on the real prize

Q&A: Wildkits basketball coach Mike Ellis

By Julia Cardi

Twice in the past decade, Mike Ellis coached teams at Richwoods High School in Peoria to within three points of winning state championships. Now he’s four games away from the title with the Evanston Wildkits. But he’s not asking his players to bring home the trophy for his sake.

After more than 20 years coaching high school basketball – including 14 at Richwoods and the last six at Evanston – Ellis has come to focus more on mentoring his players than on cutting down the nets.

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Young and hungry: Wildkits freshmen fight to find their way on varsity

By Julia Cardi

After a signal from coach Mike Ellis, Jaheim Holden hopped from the bench with a grin, shed his warmup T-shirt, and knelt on the sideline, poised to run onto the court. His teammates Lance Jones and Ryan Bost joined him, and for four minutes and 21 seconds of play, the three freshmen dominated the court.

Fueled by a pass from Bost, Holden drove easily past the overwhelmed St. Ignatius defenders for a layup. The Wildkits on the bench exploded with cheers for the 5-foot-7 guard and began chanting gleefully.

“He’s-a-fresh-man, he’s-a-fresh-man,” they howled.

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Wildkits honor fallen teammate on Senior Night

by Julia Cardi

Tiffany Rice cherishes the smallest details about her son, Dajae Coleman. She remembers how his impressions of Stewie Griffin from “Family Guy” would bring her to laughter no matter her mood.

“That’s what made him Dae,” said Rice, laughing again at the memory. “He had this good sense of humor that he wore outwardly.”

The Evanston Wildkits celebrated those memories on Friday night in a ceremony honoring the team’s seniors before the final home game of the season, played against the Glenbrook South Titans. The Wildkits’ 73-38 win made Trevon Marshall, who is Coleman’s cousin, Dylan Mulvihill, Charlie Maxwell, and Micquel Roseman’s last home game a memorable one.

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