The game of darts is changing. It’s grown into a worldwide spectator sport attracting thousands of fans, and the popularity of the sport is surging in Europe and in other parts of the world. But that surge has yet to really take hold here in the United States, where professional darts is an afterthought and amateur darts is uncommon.
But there are efforts to grow this sport across the country, and some of those efforts have roots right here in Chicago. In this episode of Medill Newsmakers, we clear up some confusion about the great game of darts, and introduce you to some players who are trying to bring this game into the forefront.
Photo at top: Mark Gillespie lines up a throw in a Windy City Darters Open League match at The Garage on a Monday night in May.
In recent years, opioid-related deaths have spiked nationwide. Since 2001, the Chicago Recovery Alliance has been working to combat the opioid crisis by utilizing a harm reduction approach with users across the city.
Photo at top: The Chicago Recovery Alliance van is parked at an outreach location. (Kaisha Young/MEDILL)
Every year, 5,000 detainees in Chicago’s Cook County Jail are treated for an opioid addiction. With such a large portion of its population using opioids, effective treatment has been a priority for this jail.
Much debate has arisen in the past few years about medical-assisted treatment in jail. In jails where this treatment is offered, detainees are usually given a medication called suboxone, which is a prescription narcotic that reduces opioid cravings. But the medication is very controversial. Suboxone itself is an opioid, so many people believe it replaces one addiction with another. Advocates say that it helps users stay clean both during and after their time in jail.
Fewer than one percent of U.S. jails offer opioid users medical-assisted treatment like suboxone, but Cook County Jail is in that one percent. Find out how treatment in this jail is creating more opportunities for detainees to stay opioid-free once they are released.
Photo at top: Looking into Cook County Jail from the wire fence. (Paige Totorelli/MEDILL)
Soccer in Chicago has a new team. With the lack of soccer clubs in the city, many youth players and aspiring professionals seek the suburban neighborhoods to better their skills and play for nationally-recognized clubs. Not only that, the pay-to-play model has left thousands of potential stars in the shadows as the wealthy represent the local grassroots soccer community.
Edgewater Castle FC is committed to changing both, the locale and financial restrictions to include the heavily diverse neighborhoods it represents and the underrepresented players that live within them. Based in Edgewater, Uptown and Rogers Park, general manager and founder Andrew Swanson has teamed up with director of soccer operations James Kitia and head coach Wojtek Piotrowski to ensure collegiate and professional opportunity for all.
Photo at top: Edgewater Castle FC sideline (Drake Hills/MEDILL)
Remember when you used to order DVDs from Netflix and discs would arrive within a week or two? When you added a movie to your queue, Netflix would locate a physical copy in one of its distribution centers, load the DVD on a truck and then ship it to your house in a signature red envelope.
Most people stream movies now, but that data still gets delivered to your device from somewhere else. It has a physical address, and that address might not be as far away as you think. Continue reading →
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kuzas considered 88 misdemeanor cases over the course of two hours at a recent 9 a.m. hearing. That is considered a moderately slow session in Branch 43, as the county’s misdemeanor court at 3150 W. Flournoy St. is known. Two more sessions filled that day with 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. court calls.
“Efficiency is the priority in most courtrooms,” said Joy Tull, one of the public defenders working at Branch 43.
To get through all those cases in the time allotted, the courtroom runs like a well-oiled machine. Assistant state’s attorneys and prosecutors stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the judge’s bench and consider case after case.
He knows violent gangs offer his West Side players a pass as they trek through bullet-riddled cityscape hauling their football pads to and from practice, while they dream of a life outside of Chicago.
D’Angelo Dereef and his coaching staff at Al Raby high school on the city’s West Side are more than coaches. Their players say their leadership means everything to their chances of educational and life success. The program’s impact has resulted in scholar athletes going to college and top talent drafted into the NFL.
“Some kids don’t even have a choice,” said senior cornerback Romel Goston. “For most, we’re the man of the house at 16 [years old]. We don’t have a father figure or role model at home. So, we come here for three to four hours [a day], and this is the only time we get grown men telling us, ‘Do this right. Do that right. No backtalk.’ Teaching us respect.”
Dereef, coach at Al Raby since 2004, believes if his program builds successful young men first, the product on the field will take care of itself.
“I want them to see that they can be different,” Dereef said. “They don’t have to [stay in Chicago]. They don’t have to be on the block. They can get a degree.”
In 2018, Al Raby’s staff watched proudly as one of their own not only played for and graduated from the University of Indiana, but also was selected in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
“That’s where it all started for me, and I don’t know where I’d be without Al Raby,” said Dallas Cowboys linebacker, Chris Covington. “They were like brothers – fathers – everything they could be to me – and I appreciate every man that’s at Al Raby because they’ve impacted me in such a positive way.”
In 2017, Dereef marched his program to a 12-2 record and to its first state semi-final appearance. More impressive though, 68 college recruiters came to visit Al Raby players that year, the coach said, and seven out of 11 seniors signed college intent letters to play football.
As many as 11 of 17 of Al Raby seniors this past 2018 season will go to college to play football on some level, with two commitments to Division I programs already despite a down year at 5-6, said Dereef.
What makes this even more impressive is that less than 400 students are enrolled at Al Raby, and the team only fields an average of 24 to 30 players each season. The average Chicago Public Schools high school has an enrollment of almost 900 students, according to the CPS website.
“I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Al Raby,” Covington said.
This scholastic and athletic feat is accomplished with “unwavering discipline,” players explained. Not just the hard stuff, either, but discipline coupled with love, acceptance and consistency according to Dereef.
Each player is expected to achieve a point total derived from off-season program participation like weights, team meetings and academic requirements. Failure to do so means a player does not dress in the fall.
The team also can’t afford to go to spring and summer camps, so the coaches bring the experience to them. Every training camp starts with the “lock in.” The team spends a week sealed inside the school, living in the gymnasium, bonding together and earning the final points needed to make the team.
“The lock in is where we become family,” Goston said. “It’s here we share all our life struggles and bond, become brothers.”
Dereef also has a special eye on academics to help ensure his team is achieving his expectations.
“[Players] know I’m also the dean of students, so they can’t get away with trouble,” Dereef said. “I push grades and attendance. I check every Sunday. So if [they] follow that little blue print and [they’re] a halfway decent athlete, [they’re] going to school.”
Part of the success is also attributed to the partnership and consistent presence of its coaching staff, especially from one former Wheaton College football player who adds experience coupled with ministry, said Dereef.
Jordan Dornbush, defensive coordinator and the West Side’s representative for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is in his fourth season volunteering at Al Raby. His dedication is enormous for a student population who expect men to come and go in their lives, according to Dereef.
“As you start to get close to these kids, you start hearing what they go through on a daily basis,” said Dornbush. “Most of them don’t have any male figure in their life that’s doing right. So, we’re coaches, teachers and mentors to them in school, and then like father figures after [school] to teach them things like how to cook and change a tire. Things they’d never learn from anybody else.”
The consistent presence of male role models inside the football program, to include some of its players, can be unusual for the area in which it operates, according to Dereef.
“I try to talk to them about stuff they don’t see everyday– happily married, not cheating on the wife, fearing God and putting people of different races into their lives,” Dereef said.
Students described their community as less fortunate and overlooked, but assure their situation gives them hope.
“It’s not just this narrative, it’s the truth,” said senior defensive back Dontay Givens. “When you put a bunch of people in a community with lack of education, lack of economics and no jobs, what do you expect to happen? You’re going to create the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’s’ You’re either going to use drugs, sell drugs or [make] music to ease the pain – and us that turn to sports, we get this gateway.”
Dereef and his staff are proud to be paving that road to success and breaking down misconceptions.
“They said it couldn’t be done on the West Side,” Dereef said. “You just have to make them believe. My number one goal is that these kids have an opportunity to get out of Chicago and see something different.”
Photo at top: Al Raby football helmet (Chris Cadeau/MEDILL)
Bronzeville, the South Side home of Chicago’s Black Renaissance and the birthplace of Black History Month, hopes to launch its next Golden Age with support from a smart microgrid being installed by utility ComEd. The microgrid will tap green energy to help power the community.
Once completed in 2019, the grid will have a load, or active consumption capacity of 7 megawatts, installed over two phases with the energy generated from its own resources including solar panels.
That’s enough generating capacity for the grid to serve approximately 1,060 residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Previous microgrids have served military bases or hospitals and the Illinois Institute of Technology operates on one as well. But the Bronzeville and IIT microgrid cluster will be the first of its kind to serve a community within a metropolitan area, giving the community a more resilient power grid to help withstand outages.
Representatives from ComEd, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Siemens Digital Grid North America met Dec. 4, to discuss the microgrid coming to Bronzeville.