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posted: 10/31/2016 5:40 AM

Lester: Tiny St. Thomas girls cross-country team defies odds

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  • The St. Thomas of Villanova Lady Vikings cross country team placed second in the statewide meet in Normal on Oct. 15 despite the school's enrollment of only 194 students.

    The St. Thomas of Villanova Lady Vikings cross country team placed second in the statewide meet in Normal on Oct. 15 despite the school's enrollment of only 194 students.
    Courtesy of Mike Murphy

 
 

It's not, as Mark Twain once said, the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

The girls cross country team from tiny St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic School in Palatine, which has struggled to keep its doors open, took that motto to heart this season as it gutted out a second-place finish at the Oct. 15 state finals in Normal.

Anne Marie Jordan, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas of Villanova, won the statewide girls cross-country meet in Normal on Oct. 15.
Anne Marie Jordan, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas of Villanova, won the statewide girls cross-country meet in Normal on Oct. 15. - Courtesy of Mike Murphy

One team member, eighth-grader Anne Marie Jordan of Palatine, won the meet with a time of 11:39 for the 2-mile race.

Coach Mike Murphy tells me that the team developed an edge by realizing it was overlooked by bigger schools considered to be powerhouses. Runners stayed late and took on extra practices.

"Another coach remarked to us, 'You guys are doing really well, I could never imagine you guys winning anything,'" Murphy said.

From preschool through eighth grade, St. Thomas has 194 students and keeps its doors open largely through the help of a supportive foundation. There are only about a dozen runners on the combined varsity and junior varsity teams.

Murphy says it's the first time a team from the Northwest Catholic League has placed that high in the last 20 years. Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz proclaimed Oct. 24-30 St. Thomas of Villanova Cross Country week.

Holy coincidence

Looking at a picture of the runners with their trophy, I did a doubletake -- could the woman on the far left be my own cross country coach from St. Viator High School many years ago? Turns out my coach, then Kristen Abrahamson, is now Kristen Jordan -- and the mother of state champion Anne Marie Jordan. Such a small world.

Mundelein seminarians on a fall service trip to Birmingham, Ala.
Mundelein seminarians on a fall service trip to Birmingham, Ala. - Courtesy of Mundelein Seminary
Fall service break

During an October break, six Mundelein seminarians traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to learn more about the history of the black Catholic community. They met with former victims of segregation and helped local nuns with gardening, planting and food packing.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has donated $60 million to Republican campaigns in recent years.
  Gov. Bruce Rauner has donated $60 million to Republican campaigns in recent years. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
Yep, that's a lot

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a private equity investor from Winnetka, has spent much of this fall writing seven-figure checks to Republican campaigns across the state, including those of Comptroller Leslie Munger of Lincolnshire and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs. How much has he spent overall? Recent tallies by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform show Rauner has contributed more than $60 million to Republican campaigns -- including to his own war chest -- since he became a candidate in 2013.

Spending spike

We took a look at donors to Leading Illinois For Tomorrow, the new Democratic super PAC responsible for the television ads linking Rauner to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. The PAC, led by Evanston state Sen. Daniel Biss, has spent nearly $6 million on television ads. While it won't be clear until after the election exactly where all of this money is coming from, filings with the Federal Election Commission show Chicago business tycoons J.B. Pritzker and Fred Eychaner, as well as labor unions, are some of the group's biggest donors.

Cleanup efforts

Scientists with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of greater Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont say they're halfway through a seven-year study that is showing "early indications of healthy and diverse microbial communities" in the Chicago River, the subject of cleanup efforts in recent years. Since 2013, Argonne scientists have been analyzing samples taken monthly from 16 different sites on the river, running them through a DNA sequencer. The full study will be completed in 2019.

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