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Article updated: 10/10/2013 5:10 PM

Tri-Cities soccer teams unite for good cause

By Dave Oberhelman

A "TriCities Night" has been held for the past eight years to bring together the boys soccer teams of Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North. On Oct. 1 the event at Geneva displayed its potential to unite these schools and their communities.

Suspending admission fees, instead donations were sought for the oldest child of Batavia assistant soccer coach Chris Payton and his wife, Christine. Their 7-year-old boy, Owen, was born with multiple congenital heart defects that have necessitated three open-heart surgeries, the first when he was 6 days old. He also has other serious medical conditions, and on March 2012 was placed on a donor waiting list for a heart transplant.

"We wanted to raise some money for him," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Gianfrancesco.

Connections fanned out. St. Charles North coach Eric Willson reached girls volleyball coach Lindsey Hawkins, and the North Stars collected $1,000 during their home match against Elgin.

The Batavia girls soccer team, led by assistant coach Jenna McKnight, held a bake sale at the TriCities Night. That's more impressive knowing it was approved by the Geneva All Sports Boosters, and held on Geneva grounds.

"Owen was at the game, the whole Payton family was at the game," said Gianfrancesco, who also coaches Batavia's girls squad. "I think they were pretty amazed -- the connection, the sense of community, things that were bigger than soccer. It's nice to see the matches and stuff, but there was an overall purpose that was more important than what was going on, on the field.

"When do you see school rivals, shall we say, really commit to doing something at that level beyond their coaching responsibilities? We kind of enjoy doing stuff like that."

In the end the event raised $3,500 for the Paytons -- "which was pretty impressive for a one-night show," Gianfrancesco said.

It shows what can happen, to paraphrase Gianfrancesco, when people care about what happens off the field as well as on it.

"I've been friends with Chris Payton for almost 20 years, so this is personally meaningful to me," said Geneva coach Ryan Estabrook. "It's great to see our rivals on the soccer field team up to raise money for a worthy cause. This has served as a great experience for our soccer team and even our whole school community."

Welcome to the club

Joanna Conner, who joined fellow Geneva graduate Lindsey Koehn to lead the Millikin Big Blue to the 2005 Division III women's national basketball championship title, was inducted into the Millikin Athletic Hall of Fame during homecoming weekend, Oct. 4.

A four-year letter winner, as a junior Conner scored 14 points with 15 rebounds and 6 assists in 29-2 Millikin's 70-50 win over Randolph-Macon (Va.). Those numbers paired with her 13 points and 9 rebounds in the semifinals earned Conner the Final Four MVP.

Among a host of other career honors, she also was named to the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin All-Conference Team and was an all-region and third-team All-America selection by D3Hoops.com. Conner is Millikin's fourth career rebounder, its 14th leading scorer.

Now living in Decatur, in 2011 Conner rejoined Millikin to serve as an assistant women's basketball coach and strength and conditioning coach.

Reel meal

Most times a solicitation notice tucked under the car windshield wiper goes straight into recycling or dropped onto the passenger-side floor mat, not to be seen till next spring.

Free lawn gnome with each $19.95 oil change? No thanks. Two bucks off cover charge to see a metal band from Massachusetts? Done that.

Upon returning to the car from the Sept. 27 football game at Marmion, however, was an offering closer to home which sounds good to support -- the Marmion fishing team fish fry fundraiser. Just rolls off the tongue.

For $10 a meal -- two pieces of Sgt. Dotson's Famous Fried Catfish, fries and those delicious, plump, breaded clusters called hush puppies -- people can support the Cadets' bass fishing team. Pick up is between 4-7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the circle drive behind the school cafeteria.

Meal tickets may be ordered online at marmion.org/fishfry.

The reign in Spain

Josh Ruggles never planned anything like this. Regardless, his nearly unerring ability to make long-range baskets has vaulted him to national and even international acclaim. Again.

Following up last week's item, last weekend the Wheaton Academy junior was in Vitoria, Spain, having accepted an invitation by that country's ACB men's professional basketball league to compete in the 3-point shooting contest that's part of a tournament to start the season. It was held in the 15,000-seat Buesa Arena.

Ruggles, 16, the first high school student to compete in the event, won the thing.

Beating Utah State all-time 3-point champ and two-time ACB scoring champ J.C. Carroll, Ruggles registered 25 of 30 possible points in the championship round, same as Carroll. Ruggles won the shootout 14-12.

In prior rounds Ruggles beat North Carolina State all-time 3s leader Scott Wood and the No. 1 seed, former Chicago Bull Andres Nocioni.

"Everything about it was awesome," Ruggles said earlier this week, back in Wheaton. "I think to experience the culture over there, being able to meet the players, being able to play in that arena, overall it was a great experience."

Ruggles said the Spanish version of booing was a high-pitched whistle, which greeted certain players who had been thorns in the side of the home crowd. Ruggles didn't get that treatment.

"I think they were all, I wouldn't say behind me, but I think they ... all wanted to see, I guess, history in that contest," he said.

His father, Dave Ruggles, said the interviews started rolling after that, from the Spanish television network covering the event to Fox News, WGN and ABC back in the states. Dave Ruggles said ESPN also contacted them.

Dave Ruggles said in Spain his son "took 300, 400 photo-opps. Little high school girls were running away screaming after they looked at their phone like they just saw one of the Beatles."

In March Josh Ruggles won Illinois' King of the Hill 3-point shooting contest in Peoria. In August he set a world record with 135 3-pointers in a five-minute span in the Wheaton Academy gym. Now this.

What's next?

"The biggest thing," he said, "is the season."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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