Lester: Suburban team makes history wearing hijabs on court

During the hour-plus ride last week to the Illinois Elementary School Association's regional finals game in Ford Heights, MCC Academy girls basketball coach Kadir Oz had a simple message for his players, who were about to make history as the first and only team to wear hijabs on the court.

"It was really about drowning out the noise," said Oz, a Schaumburg native. "I told them, 'Don't think, just play. Focus on the play itself, don't worry on the antics.'"

The Morton Grove-based team, which finished first in its conference, has spent the season working on its defense and learning plays used by the Niles West High School girls team.

The 13-player roster of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls lost in the regional finals to Cottage Grove Middle School, but the girls say they left the court hoping their presence had taken a step toward challenging stereotypes.

<h3 class="leadin">'An honor'

"It's really an honor to be wearing my scarf on the court," team captain Isma Manzoor of Morton Grove tells me. While she said the uniform can sometimes get hot with its pants and long-sleeved shirt, "you can't let that hold you back."

Oz says he considers it the team's job to show competitors "we're all the same, we're here to play the game of basketball, we're all going to play with humility and sportsmanship."

The team's next goal is to arrange an exhibition game with a local public school.

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Mount Prospect's holiday tree hue helps mark the village's centennial. courtesy of Manfred Pfeifer Photography

Centennial tree

Have you noticed the striking, all-purple lighted Christmas tree standing in front of Mount Prospect's village hall? Mayor Arlene Juracek tells me that's just one part of the village's monthslong celebration of its centennial, which will be formally marked Feb. 3. "Ninety-five percent of the village understands what it means,"she said, with centennial colors of purple and white repeated on a park district tree and on the centennial seal. Events are scheduled through 2017, but Feb. 3 the village will re-enact the signing of the articles of incorporation and shoot off fireworks.

<h3 class="leadin">Well, this is timely

The Lake County Department of Transportation has developed a new tool to give residents more information about snow and ice removal operations. You can find out which roads the county plows, link to real-time traffic data and email your questions to "Ask a snowplow driver." Take a look at

<h3 class="leadin">Emergency funds

The Illinois Community College Board voted late week to distribute $3 million in emergency funds to help ease the strain of the state's budget failure, with the College of DuPage, College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, Harper College in Palatine, Oakton Community College and McHenry County College receiving some funds. How much will each school get? ICCB spokesman Matt Berry tells me it'll be weighted toward schools that rely most on state funds and have shown an inability to make payroll after Feb. 15.

<h3 class="leadin">Still feeling it

While K-12 education is the only thing budgeted for a full year by the Illinois legislature, the state's backlog of unpaid bills still is taking a toll. School officials say they're still owed money from the last fiscal year for transportation, special education and bilingual education. For Elgin Area Unit District 46, that comes to $19.8 million. A sampling of other suburban schools shows Maine Township District 207 is owed $1 million from the last fiscal year, Grayslake District 46 is owed $926,000 and West Chicago District 33 is waiting on $450,000.

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Today's snap

Here's a look at Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods on a scuba diving venture this week in the South Pacific, something he says he never thought he would be able to do after a motorcycle accident almost 10 years ago left him without the use of his legs. On vacation, he says, he encountered an instructor who went above and beyond to make a dream a reality, making McConchie's 44th birthday the best one yet.

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