to give thanks
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[November 25, 2009]
Turkey Day is
finally here -- Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, by the way
-- and I thought it might be appropriate to dedicate this column to
10 teams, players or coaches I am especially thankful for. Too many
times, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and don't
take time to express thanks to those who achieve in the sports
arena. So with that in mind, allow me to opine as I get ready for
lots of turkey, sausage dressing and pumpkin pie.
1. I'm thankful for the new faces
on the Illinois basketball team and the energy that players like D.J.
Richardson and Brandon Paul have brought to my hometown. Some have
said this dynamic duo reminds them of 1986-1987 and the freshman
seasons of Kendall Gill and Stephen Bardo. Let me say that if
Richardson and Paul turn out to produce like Gill and Bardo, I'll be
thrilled, but I think they are both further along at this point than
either of the two Illini legends were during the fall of my senior
year in high school.
2. I'm thankful for the dominance of
the Okaw Valley Conference in football, as a trio of teams will play
for a state title Friday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Tuscola
(1A), Maroa-Forsyth (2A) and Unity (3A) all have the opportunity for
classic endings to storybook seasons, and Central A&M and Monticello
both rebounded from tough seasons to make playoff runs. If there is
a better conference in the state of Illinois, I sure can't find it.
3. I'm thankful for the stable of Hall of Fame-worthy high
school coaches I have been able to watch and cheer on, up close and
personal. I'm thinking of Neil Alexander, our legendary hoops coach
at Lincoln High School. I'm thinking of Mark Ramsey, the football
chief at Central A&M in Moweaqua. I'm thinking of Donna Dulle and
her volleyball factory at Mount Pulaski. These giants will never be
fully appreciated until they no longer patrol the sidelines.
4. I'm thankful for once again actually wanting to watch
the game of hockey. For far too long, the Chicago Blackhawks gave
disaster a new meaning -- but no more. There is true excitement on
the west side of Chi-town. I love Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and
Kris Versteeg, but I also love the fact I can actually watch the
Hawks most of the time. If we can get DirecTV and Versus to act like
grown-ups, we'll really be thankful.
5. I'm thankful for the great season by Lincoln Christian
University's women's volleyball team and head coach Jason Farr. The
Red Lions finished second in the nation once again, and senior Megan
Donnelly Callahan from nearby Clinton was named the national player
of the year. These ladies are all class, both on and off the court,
and they were just a couple of points away from giving LCU their
third national title. Great job, ladies!
6. I'm thankful for the apparent end of the Milton Bradley
era on the north side of Chicago. Can you say clubhouse cancer? -- I
know I can! I've been a pretty big Jim Hendry fan, but I cannot
figure out the plan to trade Mark DeRosa and bring in Mr. Attitude.
Here is hoping for lots of Cub wins in 2010 and a quick exit for
Bradley -- I would even be open to trading him for a batch of bats
[to top of second column]
7. I'm thankful for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who is
currently being destroyed by fans and talk radio geniuses alike.
Cutler has had a season to forget in Chicago but will bounce back
big-time in the years to come and will go down in history as the
greatest quarterback in franchise history -- at least in my
lifetime. I also love the fact that Cutler can play professional
football at the highest level despite having diabetes -- an
encouragement to us all!
8. I'm thankful for the resurgence of Illinois volleyball
under first-year head coach Kevin Hamblin. Led by senior Kylie
McCulley from Clinton, the Illini are a top 10 team nationally
heading into their final weekend of regular-season matches. Not
since the late 1980s has Illinois volleyball been this exciting, and
a Final Four run is not out of the question.
9. I'm thankful for a team full of Illini basketball
players who are not too big for their own britches. For the season
opener, I brought three grade school boys -- a Taylor, an Ewald and
a Mayfield -- courtside after the game, and they were brimming with
excitement at the prospect of getting an autograph or two from their
Illini heroes. They walked away with autographs from Brandon Paul,
D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Billy Cole, Stan
Simpson and former player Sean Harrington. And each one made Peyton,
Payne and Will feel like a million bucks.
10. Finally I'm thankful to be able to live in the land of
the free, where I can watch any athlete or game I choose to watch.
From junior high girls basketball in Mount Pulaski (go, Jordan!) to
lights out in Roy S. to Illini hoops hysteria, I'm thankful for the
freedom to live out my sports passions.
Have a great Thanksgiving, and don't forget to take time to count
[By GREG TAYLOR]