Jeff Hadala has taught art to students in Barrington, Arlington Heights and currently at Hoffman Estates High School, but the Hoffman Estates man never had submitted his own work to a contest until this spring.
Now, he's kicking himself that he didn't start submitting things sooner.
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Last month, Hadala submitted two, 3-D pieces -- created out of soccer balls -- to the second annual Art of Futbol, sponsored by the Chicago Fire. He wound up being one of 20 artists to have their work exhibited at the Society Art Gallery, on west Fulton Street in Chicago.
Even better, one of his pieces was selected as one of the People's Choice Award winners at the gallery reception.
The evening event also featured Chicago Fire defender Dan Gargan, who submitted his own original modern art piece. Gargan minored in studio art at Georgetown University.
Hadala and the other artists responded to a call put out by the Chicago Fire Foundation, whose members sought original works that celebrated the game of soccer "and everything it represents."
"The Chicago Fire Soccer Club wanted to find a unique and memorable way to connect with its supporters and the local community," said Jessica Yavitz, executive director of the Chicago Fire Foundation. "The Art of Futbol allows for soccer supporters to showcase their passion for the game of soccer while raising funds that benefit Chicagoland youth through the Chicago Fire Foundation."
Both of Hadala's submissions were made of soccer balls that had been cut open. With one, he put it into a printing press and created a painting. The People's Choice winner featured inspirational words written on some of the synthetic leather pieces.
"The philosophy behind that piece was to show the inner beauty of the game -- or the inner beauty of the ball. There would be no game without the ball," Hadala said. "Some of the words I used were from Tao sayings, which I thought captured the essence of the game."
Hadala says he sees things differently, not only as an artist, but having worked at Hoffman Estates High as a teacher's assistant with two visually impaired students. He helped them with everything from learning to create pieces in ceramics classes, to learning to play sports and even strike out a song on the piano.
"They are truly amazing students," Hadala said.
He also volunteers as a soccer coach at the high school, having worked last year as an assistant with the freshmen boys and the sophomore girls' teams.
Entering the Fire's art exhibition offered him a chance to merge his two passions, soccer and art, and gave him the unexpected bonus of affirming his artistic talent.
"The whole experience meant a great deal," Hadala said. "I was extremely excited to be a part of a group art gallery show, and then to be picked as a People's Choice Award winner was amazing.
"It has given me the spark to continue my art, and the confidence that people liked it."