Sports stories of the year
With 2013 bearing down fast, here is a look back at 10 of the most memorable local sports stories from 2012:
• Cougars-Cubs partnership
The Kane County Cougars' season ended short of a playoff berth in early September but the real drama was only beginning.
A couple weeks later, a longstanding rumor became official: the Cougars would be the Chicago Cubs' new Class A, Midwest League affiliate.
The Cougars had most recently been aligned with the Kansas City Royals.
“It’s a natural fit for us,” Cougars general manager Curtis Haug said in September. “They’re 35 miles away, there’s a lot of Cub fans here in the area, obviously, and I think out of all the Major League Baseball teams, this is a great fit for us. Nothing against Kansas City. ... But the Cubs is the best opportunity that we could possibly have, and we’re just thrilled to be partnered with them.”
The Cougars recently announced that former White Sox catcher Mark Johnson will be the team's new manager for the 2013 season.
• Hall of famer Jim Roberts steps down at Batavia
Batavia had to replace more than a boys basketball coach when Jim Roberts resigned from his post in April. Roberts, a major figure in the program's illustrious history, was a Batavia institution.
Citing family health concerns, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association hall of famer stepped down after 27 seasons and 455 victories on the Bulldogs' bench.
Roberts viewed the program's storied past reverently and went out of his way to honor the program's many traditions with each new group.
"I don't ever want to say anyone is ever irreplaceable, but it's pretty darn close when you have a gentleman that coached the amount of years and has had the impact [Roberts ] has over that time," Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews said.
Former Wheaton North coach Jim Nazos was selected as Roberts' successor.
• Aurora Christian football wins second straight state championship
The Aurora Christian football team knows how to finish games – and seasons.
For the second straight year, coach Don Beebe's Eagles were crowned IHSA Class 3A state champions on Thanksgiving weekend in Champaign.
This time, the Eagles fell behind 12-0 in the first quarter to Tolono Unity before reeling off 42 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout.
The Eagles were led by a trio of Northern Illinois-bound seniors – Brandon Mayes, Joel Bouagnon and Chad Beebe, the coach's son.
Aurora Christian matched the 2011 championship team with a 13-1 record, its lone loss coming to 5A champion Montini both seasons.
• Batavia, Kaneland football enjoy perfect regular seasons, stumble in playoffs
For the second straight season, the Batavia and Kaneland football teams each steamrolled through the regular season with 9-0 records.
But unlike in 2011, the Bulldogs and Knights weren't able to provide much of an encore in the playoffs.
Batavia was stunned by Downers Grove North in the opening round of the 7A playoffs while Kaneland dropped a second-round, 5A playoff matchup at Lincoln-Way West.
Still, both teams enjoyed major accomplishments throughout the fall. Batavia's season started with a marquee win against DuPage Valley Conference powerhouse Glenbard North, while Kaneland remained unbeaten in three years of Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference play.
The former conference rivals were in talks to face each other next season in a nonconference game but no agreement was reached.
• Mooseheart basketball's African transfers draw scrutiny
Towering South Sudanese transfer students Akim Nyang, Makur Puou and Mangisto Deng stick out on the basketball floor, and the trio also drew plenty of (unwanted) attention from the IHSA.
After the boys sat out last season to fulfill IHSA transfer requirements, the IHSA deemed the players ineligible four games into the season because the agency from which the players arrived at the school deals specifically with basketball players.
Mooseheart went to court and won a temporary restraining order against IHSA executive director Marty Hickman's ruling, then won an appeal with the IHSA's Board of Directors to have the players' eligibility restored on a permanent basis.
The IHSA did, though, put the program on probation until Mooseheart fulfills several requirements, including devising a new compliance play to more closely adhere to the IHSA's bylaws.
The boys' war-torn homeland of South Sudan and Mooseheart's reputation as a place where children from troubled backgrounds are welcomed helped draw widespread media attention to the case.
• Upstate Eight Conference invites three new schools.
Conference dominoes are once again set to affect Tri-Cities schools.
Just three years after Batavia and Geneva joined the St. Charles schools in the Upstate Eight Conference, the UEC is in the midst of more tinkering.
After Lake Park announced it is departing to join the DuPage Valley Conference, West Chicago emerged as Lake Park's likely replacement. The UEC also invited current DVC members West Aurora and Glenbard East to join, which could swell the conference to 16 teams if nobody leaves.
West Aurora and Glenbard East have yet to make their final decisions regarding the UEC's overtures.
• St. Charles North girls soccer loses 3A state title match in quadruple overtime.
The St. Charles North girls soccer team came maddeningly close to notching what would have been the school's first team state championship before falling to Naperville North in quadruple overtime.
Playing in Naperville North's home city at North Central College, the North Stars went toe-to-toe with the favored Huskies before surrendering the decisive goal less than a minute before the match was going to move to a penalty kick shootout.
"It's awesome because we weren't really supposed to be here," North's Alex Gage said after the match in June. "People always underestimated us. We were the underdogs. Our fight and our heart, that's what got us here to this match tonight."
St. Francis, meanwhile, won the 2A girls soccer state championship.
• Chicago Hitmen's stay at Fox Valley Ice Arena brief, stormy
Local hockey enthusiasts never had much of a chance to warm up to the Chicago Hitmen.
The Hitmen, a junior hockey team that competed in the North American Hockey League team, played one season at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva before the NAHL announced in the spring that the Hitmen would not be allowed to compete in the 2012-13 season.
Even if that were not the case, it is doubtful the Hitmen would have been back for an encore at Fox Valley Ice Arena. The Hitmen brass fought with arena management throughout the season about finances, marketing and several other off-ice disputes that provided a gloomy backdrop for the team throughout the season.
At one point, the sides went to court to determine whether the Hitmen would be allowed to remain on the ice through the end of the season in March.
• Kaneland's Victoria Clinton claims school's first cross country state championship
Sophomore Victoria Clinton became the first Kaneland cross country runner, male or female, to notch an IHSA state championship, taking the 2A title in November in 16:56 at Peoria's Detweiller Park.
Clinton, who finished 11 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Stephanie Saey of Galesburg, was not considered one of the main favorites going into the race.
“At the two-mile mark, I got this urge that I needed separation,” Clinton said. “I needed to start picking it up a little bit because I knew my competitors were really good runners. My body just told me it’s time to go, to start taking action with my strategy.”
• Aurora Central Catholic football breaks school's 14-year playoff drought
Aurora Central Catholic had not made the football playoffs since 1997 – easily the longest drought among area programs – before finally breaking through this year.
In coach Brian Casey's third season at ACC, the Chargers posted a 6-3 record in the regular season to earn a spot in the 3A field.
The Chargers lost their first-round playoff game at St. Joseph-Ogden but the breakthrough season still went a long way toward countering the program's reputation as a football doormat.