High School Lites: Decisions, Decisions

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High School Lites: Decisions, Decisions

So what will it be: Will Sparty have a satellite campus at 81st and Vincennes? Will the Cameron Crazies become Parker's Posse? Or will the student body, athletic staffs and ticket vendors in Provo, Palo Alto or Gainesville have reason to celebrate? All of those questions will be answered next Thursday when Simeon's Jabari Parker makes his college choice.

READ: Simeon's Parker to announce college decision next week

At the very least, the Wolverines --and obviously the Parkers-- can be happy that this decision didn't linger into February (or even the IHSA playoff season). But there's still work to be done for Simeon between now and then, namely a huge road trip to Dallas and Memphis. They will take on DeSoto (TX) Thursday night and then fly to Memphis to participate in the Penny Hardaway Classic on Saturday.

MORE: Simeon's upcoming trip will focus on more than just basketball

Comcast SportsNet will also have cameras at 10 local games this week, which includes a Thursday tilt in the Central Suburban South battle between Waukegan and New Trier. Also, 13th-ranked Fenwick --with former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach on the sidelines-- travels to Brother Rice to take on the Crusaders.

Plus, we'll make a few stops in the Public League: should Whitney Young be on notice with Westinghouse's fast start? Bogan may not have a superstar, but could they play deep into spring this year? The Bengals are in action against Julian. And third-ranked Morgan Park looks to tame Vocational in a Red South battle.

The lone Chicagoland non-conference game we highlight is at the Plainfield North Invitational, with Benet taking on Lockport. The Redwings, thanks to standout players Sean O'Mara and Pat McInerney, already have turned heads with wins over York and Curie.

Here is a snapshot of every boys basketball game we will profile on Friday's High School Lites at 10:30pm. The rankings reflect the latest CSN Top 20:

THURSDAY GAMES

Waukegan @ New Trier, 6:30 p.m.

(1) Simeon vs. Prestonwood (TX), 8:30 p.m. in Dallas

FRIDAY GAMES

(5) Benet vs. Lockport, 5:15 p.m. at Plainfield North Invitational

Vocational @ (3) Morgan Park, 5:50 p.m.

Westinghouse @ (2) Whitney Young, 6:00 p.m.

Julian @ Bogan, 6:00 p.m.

Addison Trail @ (8) Proviso East, 6:00 p.m.

(13) Fenwick @ Brother Rice, 7:00 p.m.

Eisenhower @ Richards, 7:00 p.m.

Downers Grove South @ Morton, 7:30 p.m.

Schaumburg @ Palatine, 7:30 p.m.

Given the recent football BCS buzz, the words "Notre Dame" and "championship" have been uttered around Chicagoland frequently. Could those same words be used in March? And we're not (necessarily) talking about the basketball team in South Bend. Notre Dame High School in Niles has played very well to start the year. We'll catch up with the Dons in our "Muscle Milk Team of the Week" segment.

Plus, we're going old school --as in the Ivy League-- for our Allstate High School Athlete of the Week.

Also: how is Simeon preparing for a road trip to Dallas and Memphis? Check out our Simeon "Drive" segment.

And as always, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment and bring you up-to-the-minute scores and highlights from across Chicagoland.

High School Lites streams live this Friday night on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: highschoollites@comcastsportsnet.com

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Jack Aho is the reigning state champion in Class 2A and recently shattered a course record at Warren High School. 

But beyond posting some of the area's fastest times, cross country is also a family affair for Aho.

See why he was named this week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week in the video above.

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

“Football is life. Until it’s not.”

That message Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar relayed to his team in the week leading up to the Griffins’ Week 5 tilt against Thornton was an important one. For the 115 student-athletes who make up a team with legitimate state-title aspirations, high school football can feel like a life-and-death situation. Until it’s not.

Private First Class Aaron Toppen, a 2013 Lincoln-Way East graduate, was 19 when he was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. And on that June 9, 2014, a country lost a hero, a family lost a son, a brother and an uncle, and a community lost a friend who had walked through the halls of Lincoln-Way East High School and drove his famous pick-up truck through town just a year earlier.

So when the Griffins held their annual Salute the Troops night last Friday night, before blowing out the Wildcats 42-6, Aaron’s surviving family was an easy choice to join the team as honorary captains. Aaron’s mother, two sisters, uncle, grandmother and niece were recognized before the game, all in loving memory of a fellow Griffin graduate who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country.

“Aaron’s passing was a big deal to our community,” athletic director Mark Vander Kooi said. “And we wanted to embrace his family and let them know that we cared about them, loved them and appreciated the sacrifice they made.”

When Lincoln-Way East principal Dr. Sharon Michalak contacted Aaron’s sister, Amy, about honoring her brother last week’s football game, the family jumped at the opportunity. Aaron and his family had been honored at a game in 2014, just months after Aaron’s death. And with the Griffins hosting “Salute to Troops” night, and that coinciding with the annual 5k run held in Aaron’s name the following day, the family accepted the invitation with open arms.

“It’s just amazing. The support never stops, and to hear that they want to keep Aaron’s name alive and honor him, it just really makes us feel wonderful,” Aaron’s mother, Pam, said. “It’s a way we’re getting through it, is through the support of everybody.

Many of the Griffins know the Toppen family – Amy and Amanda are also graduates – but for those unfamiliar with Aaron’s story – like the student-athletes who transferred from North – head coach Rob Zvonar made it a point to relay that message during practice week. Before the team dressed Friday night, all 115 players watched a pair of video tributes to Toppen in one of the school’s classrooms.

“It’s awesome playing in his honor,” senior Sam Diehl said. “We understand football’s just a game and that (Aaron) made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for our country, that we have more to give than just football to our community, that there are people out there we need to be more thankful of.”

Once the pregame festivities ended the Griffins put on a worthy performance. They scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the game into the third quarter. Jake Arthur threw three more touchdown passes, wide receiver Nick Zelenika topped 100 yards and the Griffins’ offense averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Devin O’Rourke tallied five tackles for loss and two more sacks – he has five in the last two weeks – and the Griffins defense limited the Wildcats to only a late touchdown in the final minute. The Griffins first team defense has allowed zero points in its last six quarters and appears to be putting its early-season struggles behind them.

But the night belonged to the Toppen family and Aaron’s legacy. The night coincided with homecoming weekend, and it brought back more than a handful of Aaron’s old classmates. One of them, current Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, spoke highly of Aaron and the impact he left on the school and community.

“I always enjoyed talking in class sitting with him,” he said. “Any person that’s going to go out and fight for our country and fight for our freedom, I have unlimited respect for. So obviously it’s a sad thing to remember, but I think it’s awesome seeing the support we have out here, from the community to the school to the administration.”

The following day each member of the Griffins and the coaching staff traveled to Mokena to participate in the third annual Our Fallen Hero 5k run in Aaron’s memory. Zvonar and the seniors joked about the aches and pains they’d feel running the 3.1 miles less than 12 hours after a football game, but they also understood the importance of showing up, honoring a fellow Griffin and raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re able to run if we have to, walk if we have to, do what we have to to get it done,” running back Nigel Muhammad said. “Because it’s not about us.”

Added the 285-pound Diehl: “We’re more than happy to run the 3.1 miles. Even us offensive linemen don’t mind.”

More than 600 people were expected to show up for the fundraiser run, which had raised nearly $50,000 in its first two years.

“Aaron would probably say, ‘Mom I don’t like attention, what’s going on here?’ Because he was never that type,” Pam said. “But such a tragedy has brought together a community, and like Amanda said we’re blessed to be a part of this community…We just love seeing everybody.”

Football is life. Until it’s not.

It would have been enough for Zvonar and the coaching staff to speak about who Aaron Toppen was, and the impact he left on a school, a community and a country. The Toppen family could have simply been honored at halftime. Attending the 5k could have been optional for the team to attend.

Instead, football took a back seat for a night in Frankfort. The Toppens were gracious enough to be placed front-and-center to remember a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms of each one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

“You think back to Aaron Toppen, who a few years ago was walking the hallways of this school and in the same classroom as these guys, and going to the same homecoming dance, and this was just a little bit ago,” Zvonar said. “A young man that’s barely older than these guys and then he goes off and serves his country and fights for the rights for all of us, and pays the ultimate sacrifice. You certainly don’t let that go by unnoticed.

“You want to really make sure that that’s pointed out, that freedom doesn’t come free. And these young men have an opportunity to come out and play this great game tonight. And all these things they’re allowed to do because of the bravery of young men like Aaron Toppen. One of those situations where I know as long as Coach Vander Kooi and myself are here we’ll do everything we can to stop and talk about him.”