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Happ’s injury, winning teams mark 2013

1) A Happless feeling: Baseball fans from Canada to the United States, especially those in the Illinois Valley, watched in horror as St. Bede’s own J.A. Happ was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of the Rays’ Desmond Jennings while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 7 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

He collapsed on the mound at Tropicana Stadium, holding his head above his left ear, immediately attended to by team trainers, the stadium and players in a hush looked on. While being carted away, Happ had emergency personnel use his cell phone to call his mother, Sue, back home in Peru and let her know he was OK. He also returned a text to BCR Sports Editor Kevin Hieronymus, saying, “I’m going to be alright.”

Happ told reporters he remembers releasing the ball, but didn’t remember seeing it.

“Just immediate loud ringing in my ear. Just pressure on my ear, and I was on the ground,” he said. “That was kind of it. It took me a few seconds to kind of figure out what was going on, but I do remember them being there ... the coaches and Gibby (manager John Gibbons) and obviously, the trainers. I was coherent and talking pretty quickly.”

Happ sustained a fractured skull and later diagnosed with a sprained knee that would sideline him for a month. Knowing it could have far worse, Happ said he felt fortunate.

He said the entire MLB community showed unbelievable support and well wishes.

The then 30-year-old Blue Jays pitcher returned to the mound three months later on Aug. 7 at Seattle. He finished the season with a 5-7 record and 4.56 ERA in 18 starts and will report to the Jay’s spring camp next month in Dunedin, Fla.

2) Hall football back on the map: Hall football fans had grown to expect playoff football in October and November, including 20 playoff appearances in 25 years under former coach Gary Vicini, including two state championships and a runner-up finish in a span of six years from 1996-2001. But for five years, there were no playoff games to speak of in Spring Valley.

The 2013 Hall Red Devils ended that drought, winning its final four games of the season to ride into the playoffs with a 6-3 record. The Red Devils took it a step farther, defeating Bismark-Henning 20-7 to post its first playoff victory in six years.

Quarterback Taggert Venegas told the BCR it was “good to bring a playoff game back to Hall.”

3) St. Bede softball to state: The St. Bede softball team had a magical season, advancing to the state softball finals for the first time in school history. To get there, the Lady Bruins defeated Mendota 9-2 for the regional title, rode the 20-strikeout, three-hit pitching of Lainie Schweickert to a 1-0 win in 10 innings over Stillman Valley in the sectional finals and then beat Aurora Central Catholic 6-1 at the DeKalb Super-Sectional.

The Lady Bruins fell to Tremont 6-3 in the state quarterfinals and dropped the third-place contest to Nashville 1-0.

The Lady Bruins became just the second Academy team to reach the state finals, the first since the 1988 baseball Bruins won the state championship

“As a coach, one of my goals was to create a memory for this group of young ladies. I think we achieved that,” said Bill Prokup, who would resign as the Lady Bruins coach at season’s end. “I think we showed we could compete against the very best in the state. ... They made history at St. Bede as the first girls team to reach the state finals. That is something no one can take away from them.”

4) Signing off: Lanny Slevin signs off after 41 years as the Voice of the Valley for WLPO Radio. His voice has greeted us with his early sports reports in the morning and put us to bed late at night for Friday night football and other area events.

“It was a childhood dream and miraculously sent me around to a job that I’ve had for 42 years,” Slevin told the BCR. “And it’s hard to say goodbye, but I know that there are beginnings and ends to everything and this is the end.”

Slevin didn’t just broadcast games. He made you a part of the broadcast whether you were at home listening in Spring Valley or sitting there in the stands. He always brought a personal touch to his broadcasts.

His last broadcast came at the State softball tournament with St. Bede. He was inducted into the St. Bede Academy Hall of Fame as a Friend of the Academy and also received the 2013 IHSA Distinguished Media Award.

5) Special Olympian: Princeton’s Nathan Warren competed for Team USA in the Special Olympics Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in March. He was one of five Special Olympians from Illinois competing for Team USA. More than 2,300 athletes from more than 110 nations competed in seven Olympic-type sports. The Illinois athletes competed as part of the 152-member Team USA.

“It was fun. I’d definitely do it again,” Warren said. “It was fun meeting other people from the other side of the world and learning different cultures.”

Warren, 41, claimed silver medals in both the 200- and 400-meter snowshoe races. His time of 1 minute, 52.58 seconds in the 400 was considerably better than he’s run before in the States. The Warrens couldn’t help but feel Nathan had a little extra push from his dear friend, Brandon Putts, who passed away suddenly last July.

“His mom said he was in third place and decided he didn’t want to be in third place and kicked it into another gear. It was like he got a burst of energy. I think it was Brandon giving him a kick in the backside,” said Nathan’s father, Randy Warren of Princeton. “He knows Brandon’s watching him.”

6) State track medalists: Bureau County had its share of state track medalist once again with Bureau Valley senior Logan Hoffert heading the list with three (triple jump, hurdles and 4x400). Other area medalists were St. Bede’s Steven Gualandri (fourth, 1A 300 hurdles), Bureau Valley’s Lindsey Hoffert (third, 1A triple jump), Neponset’s Freya Block (2nd, 1A shot/discus) and Princeton’s Zoe Mead (seventh, 2A 800 meters).

Logan Hoffert and Block would later be named as BCR Track Athletes of the Year.

7) Friday Night Light(ning): Opening night of Friday Night Lights gives way to thunder and lightning as Week 1 of the 2013 prep football season was postponed by a thunderstorm throughout northern Illinois. Games between Princeton at Morrison, Hall at Bureau Valley and St. Bede at Amboy were all postponed until the next day.

It’s nickname aside, Bureau Valley stormed over Hall 36-13 when the game was halted at halftime. When they finished off Saturday, BV claimed a 42-21 win.

Princeton trailed 8-0 at Morrison when the game was called midway through the first quarter. The host Mustangs finished what they started Saturday for a 46-0 win.

St. Bede enjoyed an 8-0 lead when Mother Nature struck Friday. After an hour and half delay, the teams returned to the Harbor Saturday where the Bruins finished off a 41-6 victory.

8) Noted rivalry: The Princeton-Kewanee football rivalry was voted as the best in the state as part of the national contest sponsored by USA Today High School Sports. The teams first met in 1897 with William McKinley having succeed Grover Cleveland as president and Grant’s Tomb being dedicated in New York City. Generations of grandfathers and grandsons, father and sons and uncles and nephews have played the game on both sides.

The rivalry was renewed this year after a three-year hiatus following Kewanee’s departure from the NCIC. Kewanee won 36-0 Sept. 26 at Kewanee with the teams now meeting as Three Rivers South division rivals. After all these years, the all-time series is nearly deadlocked with Princeton clinging to a 56-55-4 lead.

9) New rivalry: Princeton and St. Bede met for the first time on the gridiron with the Bruins spoiling the Tigers’ Homecoming festivities 40-6 on Sept. 20 at Princeton’s Bryant Field. St. Bede quarterback Jack Brady lived up to his surname, throwing for 185 yards and 4 touchdowns to lead the Bruins to victory.

Logistics of being in different conferences and size difference kept the Bureau County teams just 18.4 miles apart from playing before.

“They’re kind of like our neighbors next door, so it’s kind of fun when you know some of the players over there,” Princeton senior captain Caleb Dickens said.

St. Bede senior captain Michael Slingsby said, it’s fun to get a new rivalry going. We’re pretty close, we should have played.”

10) PIT falls: One of the longest standing and highly competitive wrestling tournament in the state of Illinois takes place each year at Princeton High School’s Prouty Gymnasium. In January of 2013, Princeton marks the 50th anniversary of its Invitational Wrestling Tournament, aka the PIT. Dakota defeated defending champ Wilmington 190-171.5 for first place. Most Outstanding Wrestlers were Josh Albers of Dakota (lower weights) and Zach Nelson of Mercer County (upper weights).

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