Medill Graduate Work

Christmas comes early for one Chicago Public School football team

Kelvyn Park High School from Elise Menaker on Vimeo.

Kelvyn Park High School on Chicago’s North Side was in need of additional football gear for their 2012 season, but without the funds, head football coach Kurt Cooney couldn’t afford it.  That’s when he decided to reach out to friends and colleagues for help.  Enter Joe Sanchez; the head football coach at Barrington High School in the northwest suburbs.  According to Cooney, Sanchez donated $5,000 in gear.  Now the Kelvyn Park coach says he’s noticed an improvement in his players on and off the field.

As seen on the Daily Herald’s website:


Imagine competing in sports without being able to see. That’s the reality for one group of Chicago men.  Find out how a game of bell basketball really isn’t that different at all.


Even though collectors can touch and see memorabilia in stores, shop owners are still finding the Internet to be stiff competition for business.


Have you ever wondered how many species of ants there are in the world?  North Carolina State University is teaming up with the University of Florida to lead a nationwide study to find out how many species of ants there are across the country.  Chicago is one of three main collection sites in this summer’s School of Ants species study.


Pro softball: ‘not a lemonade stand’

Women’s professional softball consists of four teams and may not pay anywhere near what men earn but for 80 young women across the country, it is their lives. These dedicated women are trying to make a living while hoping the popularity of the sport grows. A one-year old $6 million stadium in suburban Chicago is just a start.


ChicagoSide takes a swing at local sports

A local sports website, created by Chicagoans Jonathan Eig and Solomon Lieberman, is trying to fill a niche in a Web world inundated with sports coverage.


Cubs on-field performance drives off-field businesses

Opening day in Wrigleyville brought out crowds to bars and businesses but should the Cubs slide in the standings, businesses could take a hit.


Fans react to proposed Wrigley renovations


The Evanston Township High School baseball and softball teams have trouble getting outside to practice and play games in the spring because of the weather, so now coaches and players talked about the effect this has on their schedule and if the season in which the sport is held could ever be changed.


Tennis may be a sport that depends on footwork and agility, but a tennis program with the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association proves even players who are ambulatory or use a manual or power chair can enjoy and excel at the sport. At Northwestern University’s Combe Tennis Center, coaches, players and volunteers show how a sport can impact lives beyond the court.


An audio slideshow highlights how twin softball coaches at Northwestern University flipped a coin to see who would donate a kidney to their father, giving him three more years of life.


Evanston hopes March Madness possible for Northwestern, Download and Listen to MP3 file


Price of the pinnacle

Once every four years, athletic competitors capture the world’s attention during the Olympics.  Millions of viewers watch as fans become worshippers and teens become overnight sensations.  The event is easily considered the pinnacle of an athletic career.  In this year’s London Olympics, more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries competed.  But of those thousands of athletes, fewer than 10 percent went home with hardware.  Years of sacrifice and endless hours of training created priceless memories but at a cost.

The trials and tribulations of training aren’t the only struggles that accompany an athlete’s journey to the top.  Each step of the way carries a price tag, and some are more capable to afford the journey than the rest.  Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with 19 medals, is one of the few Olympians who reaped financial benefits just from participating in the games.  As stated in Forbes, his agent, Peter Carlisle, projected in 2008 that the swimmer could earn up to $100 million in sponsors in his lifetime.

“I guess it pays off for some of them like [Michael] Phelps and [Ryan] Lochte and gymnastic girls,” said Jake Herbert who wrestled in the 2012 London Olympics.  “If you’re a wrestler or a speed-walker or a water polo player and you don’t get a medal, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh’… If I got a medal maybe it would have been a different story.”

Herbert’s story started when he was a child.  The Pittsburgh native began wrestling at an early age because his dad taught him, as he was a high school champion wrestler himself.  And for 27 years, wrestling is all Herbert’s known.  He graduated from North Allegheny High School as state champ and went on to wrestle at Northwestern University.

It wasn’t until the middle of his collegiate career around 2006 that making the Olympics became his dream.  He had his first shot in 2008.  He red-shirted for a year and participated in the Olympic Trials but did not make the U.S. team.  Since he was still part of the NCAA, Herbert could not take money from any sponsor or organization.  He funded his training by teaching private lessons and got support from his parents.

“We figured he didn’t cost us anything for college, so what the heck,” said Kelly Herbert, Jake’s mother.  Jake, one of three children, got a full scholarship to the Big Ten school.

Three years after graduating from Northwestern, Herbert qualified for the Olympics.  While training, he had money coming in from USA Wrestling.  He got an annual stipend of $1,000 a month for being the number one wrestler in the country in 2009, 2011 and 2012.  When he dropped to second in the nation in 2010, he received $500 a month.

“It was basically USA Wrestling saying congrats, you’re the number one wrestler in the nation for us; that’s what you have to train and live off of,” the 6-foot-1 inch wrestler said.

The base pay Herbert received was more than his coach and roommate Andy Hrovat got when he competed in the 2008 Olympics.  And today for Olympians in training?

“They get more sponsorships,” said Hrovat, 32, who currently makes about $20,000 a year.  “Guys are able to train full-time and don’t have to be college coaches.”

While training, Hrovat had money coming in from sponsorships and earned prize money from placing in various tournaments and working wrestling camps.  Similarly, Herbert gets $2,000 a year from one of his sponsors, ASICS, an athletic apparel and footwear company, and has a deal with Cliff Keen Athletic, a wrestling wear company.  Herbert also looked to other families in his hometown for a commitment of about $2,000 a year to help fund his way to the Olympics.

“It’s hard,” Herbert said.  “You have to do fundraising and get sponsorships.  If it wasn’t for five or six families back in Pittsburgh who I know very well, I wouldn’t be able to do it… I’m very fortunate to have that.”

When the training stopped and the Olympics came, Herbert received additional perks.  His trip to London was completely paid for.  He got loads of free gear, so much that he’ll “never be able to wear it all.”  His mother said she got a $1,000 credit card from Proctor and Gamble to help pay for the trip to London.  However, Herbert did have to fundraise in order to have his own personal coach and training partner travel overseas.

Living the Dream Medal Fund is a non-profit program that offers financial incentives to the nation’s top wrestlers.  It awarded stipends to those who medaled in this year’s World Championships and summer games.  For the Olympics, this wrestling program offered $250,000 for a gold medal, $50,000 for a silver, and $25,000 for a bronze, but Herbert would see no such reward.  At the 2012 games, he placed seventh.  At 185 pounds, he defeated Cuba’s Humberto Arencibia in a tight match that came down to the final seconds and then lost to Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan after a controversial call.  And just like that, it was over.

“It’s totally worth it,” he said.  “But now you have to start over again.  I don’t know; it’s weird… I hope the Olympics aren’t the pinnacle of my life.  I’d like to do a lot better things than just wrestle, like I hope I make a better husband and I make a better father.  Those are the things that are going to keep you happy in life.”

Herbert has time to decide what he wants to do before the 2016 Olympics.  In the meantime, he is relying on stints like wrestling camps for income.  He said he makes between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.  Recently he returned from a camp in Alaska where he earned between $1,000 and $2,000.

“Right now it’s hitting me pretty hard,” said Herbert who has shoulder surgery coming up in January.  “This is the first time I’m ever not wanting to do it… I know I’m one of the best wrestlers in the world.  I’ve proven it.  It’s a matter if I still have the drive and desire to do it.”

Ed Hula, 61, never competed in the Olympics but he’s been covering the games for two decades as the Editor and Founder ofAround the Rings, a website delivering Olympics news since 1992.  Hula started planning for the London Olympics ever since they were announced seven years ago.  He said the preparation he faces might mirror what the athletes themselves go through.

“It’s a big whirlwind and it’s a spotlight for 17 days – three weeks and then one day, the day after, it’s over,” he said.  “It’s as if someone flips a switch and it’s over, the lights are out the excitement, the energy just sort of evaporates.”

U.S. Olympians who medaled in this year’s games received a bonus of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.  While this sum covers some of the expenses spent while training, it still not enough.  Putting it into perspective Hula said jokingly, “How long would that last at Northwestern?”

On a more serious note, Hula said “new” and “different” discussions concern “whether athletes at the Olympic games should receive some sort of prize money, some sort of payment, some sort of share of the several billion dollars that are raised during the Olympic games.”  And that’s not all.  “There’s also athletes raising questions about why they can’t wear their sponsor’s gear, their sponsors logo at the games.  If they were able to do that, they’d make more money from their sponsorships” because sometimes the money coming in just isn’t sufficient.

“You have to get to the elite level to have any chance of getting any type of support whether it’s sponsorships support or a training grant from the U.S. Olympic Committee,” he said.  “For someone who’s just aspiring to do that, you have to pretty much do it on your own.”

And yet even some gold medalists are on their own.  Rebecca Johnston played forward for the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team.  She won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.  She received a bonus of $20,000 from the Canadian Olympic Committee for placing first, but for Johnston it’s about the memories, not the money.

“It gives me the shivers every time I think about it,” the 23 year old said.  “It took me a long time after the Olympics to process it.  It seems surreal to me and to be able to have that gold medal and to be able to show it to people, to have that memory, is so, so special.”

Today Johnston continues to train as she prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in Sochi, Russia.  She lives with her boyfriend and his family in London, Ontario Canada.  Three to four times a week she drives nearly two hours just to get to practice in Toronto, travel expenses that come out of her own pocket.  She works part-time at a health and science foundation that pays $12 an hour.  Besides the extra income, she said the job is a way for her to gain experience in the working world.

“I’m experimenting with jobs and what I like and hopefully I’ll figure out what I want to do in the next couple of years,” the Cornell University graduate said.  “You can’t play and have a full-time job.  It doesn’t work, you miss too much.”

Hula mentioned that post-Olympic life has gained increasing attention from the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee as they are looking into providing some sort of helpful transition between the athlete’s career and the working world.

For right now, though, Johnston’s main focus is on life as an athlete.  Starting next year she begins formal Olympic training.  During the last Olympic year, Johnston got around $2,600 a month from AthletesCAN, an organization supporting Canadian national team athletes.  In Johnston’s case, it covered expenses like housing and travel to tournaments.  She could also make at least a couple thousand dollars a year making appearances at events for team Canada.  Most recently she played in the Four Nations Cup in Finland, an all-expense paid trip.

“It’s nice to be able to see different places and to not have to pay for anything,” she said.

While perks like these may never add up to Phelp’s financial status and his ability to rake in millions of dollars, there is one thing Herbert and Johnston have in common with the swimming sensation: the right to call themselves Olympians.


ETHS Taking Necessary Steps to Prevent Concussions

The family of Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears player, is suing the NFL alleging the league did not do enough to prevent and treat concussions that he suffered during his playing career.  This suit emphasizes the current focus on concussions in sports filtering all the way down to the high school level.

Evanston Township High School is taking no chances when it comes to head injuries.  The school has been monitoring its student athletes carefully with some of the latest technology called imPACT testing – a computerized concussion evaluation system.   For three years, the school has used the testing only for contact sports but next year, it will be available for every sport.

“We’re blessed to have this imPACT testing,” said Mike Burzawa, head coach of the Evanston Township High School football team.

Burzawa’s top two concerns for his players are concussions and hydration.  This past season, Burzawa said they had nearly half the number of concussions compared with the prior season, dropping from 20 to 12 cases.  While the team has been able to purchase top-of-the-line helmets for the past two years, Burzawa also teaches his young athletes how to block and tackle the right way in order to avoid injury.

“The most important thing is teaching proper technique, not leading with the head,” said Burzawa who is also assistant athletic director at the high school.

Laura Byrd, assistant athletic trainer at Northwestern University, said concussions are more likely to happen in football but warns athletes involved in non-contact sports also are at risk for head trauma injuries.

“You can see concussions in any sport because it’s not just head-to-head contact,” she said.

A concussion can result from a blow to the head, neck or body.  Dr. Pam Bahmandeji worries about concussions as she watches her 14-year-old daughter, Natalie, play soccer for Evanston Township High School’s junior varsity team.  Her biggest concern is if Natalie were to head the ball, something her mom said she has never done before.

“It sounds funny, but I think of Muhammad Ali who got hit in the head a lot,” Dr. Bahmandeji said.

Natalie, though, said concussions are not something she thinks about while playing.

“I don’t know a way to prevent it because in the game you can’t really prevent people from running into you,” she said.

But the soccer player said she is aware of the potential dangers and adjusts her level of play in order to prevent injuries.

“When we’re doing scrimmages and practice, I don’t go really hard,” Natalie said.  “I try not to trip people or push too much.”

Byrd does not think more concussions are a result of sports becoming more dangerous.  She said she thinks it is increased education and awareness that is alerting more people to head injuries.  According to a 2011 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency room visits by children and adolescents due to brain injuries are up 60 percent over an eight-year span.

“Concussions are in the news more,” Byrd said.  “So there may be more reports which lead to greater numbers.”

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