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posted: 9/1/2011 5:00 AM

Wide, interesting variety etched on face of the suburbs

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Just who are we in the suburbs? We're often portrayed in monotone. Written off as bland vanilla. Beige. Banal. Colorless. Odorless. Tasteless.

The newspaper tells a different story. Consider just a few vignettes from the past week.

We are, for instance, Chris Errera, of Schaumburg, a cigarette-smoking, beret-wearing, fast-talking, trumpet-playing, paralyzed, 4-foot-2-inch-tall concert pianist who throws himself almost literally across the keys as he hammers out everything from Ludwig van Beethoven to Scott Joplin with virtually knuckle-less fingers. Burt Constable wrote about him Sunday. No mere curiosity, Errera is a solid talent who has toured the world with a rock band, volunteers as musical director for a program for kids with disabilities and has written the score to an award-winning movie about his life. Monotone, he is not.

We are high school students Maribel Aguilar, Elena Babushkin, Jhovani Diaz, Nick Samata and English teacher -- yes, English teacher -- Mike Burke, some of the members and coach of Wheeling High School's unique-in-Illinois boxing club. They were a front page feature Wednesday. Do they have Rocky-like dreams of glory in the ring and of one day getting their shot? No doubt. But they talk more about things like "building character" and, in Burke's phrase, "doing something for somebody else." They've raised nearly $5,000 for charity in three years. Nothing beige about them.

We are Denise Richards, the self-styled "girl next door" from Downers Grove whose jet-set Hollywood career has included a leading part as a "Bond girl," a season run on "Dancing with the Stars," movies, television roles and, of course, a tabloid-topping marriage to actor Charlie Sheen. Jamie Sotonoff wrote about her Tuesday in the "Suburbs to Showbiz" column. Her favorite role? Mother to three daughters. Grounded? Maybe, to use her term. Vanilla? Hardly.

We are 16-year-old Ryan Hartman, a West Dundee hockey phenom who is combining a rigorous professional-development schedule with a commitment to graduate high school a year early so he can take a full scholarship to Miami University of Ohio. Elena Ferrarin writes about him on today's front page. He is many things. Dedicated. Talented. Disciplined. Tough. With dreams, legitimate his coaches say, of a career in the NHL. He is not bland.

And of course we are much more. We are hosts to 600 softball players at the 2011 Special Olympics National Invitational Softball Tournament in Elgin. We are hosts to another 150 teams and 4,000 players, fans and family for the 35th annual Gay Softball World Series. We are a successful, independent bookstore in Naperville whose co-owner is president of the American Booksellers Association. We are a Bartlett woman fighting to save the town's ash trees, a St. Charles woman working to clean up a blighted foreclosed home, thousands of prep sports fans turning out not just for the Friday night lights glory of fall football, but also for soccer and volleyball and golf and tennis and swimming.

We are less glorious things, too, of course, many of them chronicled alongside the various heroes, heroines and everyday stars who become the focus of Daily Herald news stories. But colorless, odorless and tasteless? Far from it.

The Daily Herald's mission statement confidently asserts our aim to be the voice of the suburbs, and that surely is our goal. But we also are the region's face, and if you think of our area as bland or banal or beige, you're missing something. You clearly need to be reading your local newspaper more.

• Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.