Lester: Naperville Central prayer tipster was Neuqua math teacher

  • Football players at Naperville Central kneeling in prayer before a game.

    Football players at Naperville Central kneeling in prayer before a game.

Updated 12/17/2015 10:02 AM
Editor's note: This article has been updated to fix the spelling of Daniel Capuano's name.

The atheist blogger who tipped a religious freedom organization about Naperville Central football team's pregame prayers was a former math teacher -- and current coach -- at rival Neuqua Valley High School, I've learned.

Hemant Mehta of Naperville writes the Friendly Atheist, a blog that contends people can be "friendly and skeptical at the same time." He taught at Neuqua, in Naperville, from 2007 to 2014 and remains the speech team coach.


Mehta says he received a tip from a reader that Naperville Central players, under the guidance of coach Michael Stine, were kneeling in prayer before games. The reader wanted to know if it raised constitutional issues. Mehta then approached the Madison, Wis.,-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to Superintendent Dan Bridges saying the practice was unconstitutional. Bridges put an end to staff-led team prayers.

Hate coal?

A parent of a Naperville Central alum sent a "care package" to the Freedom From Religion Foundation showing what he thought of its involvement in school matters. A note shared by the organization (with the parent's name redacted) explained the package's contents: "Your disgusting action against the Redhawks football team earned you a bag of coal for Christmas. Since it came from an old coal yard, I hope that it gives you no warmth this winter."

Fallen firefighters' suburban roots

The Chicago firefighter who lost his life this week spent years battling blazes in Lemont. Daniel Capuano, the 42-year-old who was killed Monday when he fell through an elevator shaft in a burning warehouse, was heralded in 1999 for his work helping to save the life of a caddie on the 15th Fairway at Cog Hill Golf Course. Lemont Fire officials said that just before Capuano's death, they had received Christmas cards from him in the mail. Condolences to his wife and three children.

Family support

The 100 Club of Chicago, a group known for providing financial support to families of fallen first responders, will present Capuano's family with $50,000 in the coming weeks.

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'Al' in the family

Al Capone's grandniece, Dierdre Marie Capone, will share family dinner table secrets Jan. 10th at the Raue Center For the Arts in Crystal Lake as part of the performing arts center's Artful Women series. Among her topics: "Was he a mobster? Yes. Was he a monster. No." Tickets are $15. For information, www.rauecenter.ticketforce.com.



Hat tip to Editor John Lampinen for obtaining this selfie of the Rascals' Felix Cavaliere after seeing his show at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles over the weekend.


Notice a brace on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's left hand? I had, and asked the Highland Park Republican about it during an interview this week. Kirk tells me it's a way to help straighten his arm after his January 2012 stroke.


U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk - Associated Press File Photo

Kirk held a $1,000 a plate fundraiser at the Chicago Club this week with Texas Sen. and Republican Whip John Cornyn, who declined to say much about his fellow Texas senator and presidential bidder Ted Cruz. Cruz currently is second in the polls next to tycoon Donald Trump in the GOP lineup. Cornyn did say he considers national polls to have "zero relevance" about who wins in the primaries next spring.

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