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Druley: Kane County Cougars mascot prospects strut their stuff

Ozzie has items to give away while in the stands during a 2013 game against Beloit. Auditions recently were held for the next Ozzie T. Cougar, the venerable mascot of the Kane County Cougars.
Ozzie has items to give away while in the stands during a 2013 game against Beloit. Auditions recently were held for the next Ozzie T. Cougar, the venerable mascot of the Kane County Cougars.

Five weeks and six days before the start of their 25th season, the Kane County Cougars still seek a face of the franchise.

With apologies to long-tenured former right-hander Scott Deal in the club’s Oakland A’s days, that distinction always will fall to a mascot when minor league baseball is concerned.

On Saturday, the Cougars held open auditions for the next person to fill the shoes (and suit) of the venerable Ozzie T. Cougar. Candidates toured Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, got a taste of the gameday routine and performed a choreographed song and dance number on demand. In costume, of course.

They also did something that’s otherwise forbidden for mascots – talked, extensively, in an interview setting with Cougars officials.

“It’s a unique role. It’s certainly not for everyone,” Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney said. “It’s a specialized skill. We’ve got high expectations, obviously. We want to find the right person to fill that role.”

Touney said the defending Midwest League champion Cougars are “at the homestretch” of an open search process, having auditioned several candidates Saturday and a few more during the week.

Those still interested can contact Cougars promotions director Justin Cohen at (630) 232-8811 or email jcohen@kanecountycougars.com.

“We’re excited,” Touney said. “We’re obviously looking for someone who has that ability to proudly represent the Cougars and have the professionalism, the energy level, the excitement and the general goodwill during games that you see with promotions, parades and meeting groups upstairs.”

Longtime former Ozzie portrayer Mike Forrest of West Chicago left the Cougars during the middle of the 2014 season.

Via Facebook, Forrest recently posted about a new gig working for the independent Schaumburg Boomers in 2015.

Auditions continue at 9 a.m. Saturday for prospective members of the Cougar Crew. Touney said that peppy fan squad is “typically college age,” but the Cougars are not limiting themselves to that demographic.

B-Towner Sager back in fold: Craig Sager, an NBA sideline reporter for TNT, high-fived several staff members Wednesday at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital.

The Batavia native wasn’t on camera or clad in one of his trademark, offbeat suits. Sager simply reacted colorfully to the news he officially was cleared to work again after his April 2014 diagnosis with acute leukemia.

“He’s always been that guy who, if you give him an assignment, his brain just switches right like that,” Sager’s son, Craig Sager Jr., said Thursday. “It was tough to see him have to just sit there and wait.”

The elder Sager, 63, had pneumonia for almost 16 weeks after a bone marrow transplant. Sager Jr. tweeted Wednesday his dad will return to the airwaves for the Bulls’ March 5 home game against Oklahoma City. He also will again be part of the Turner networks’ coverage of the NCAA tournament later next month.

Sager rooted for the Bulls, who came into existence when he attended Batavia High in the late 1960s, a passion that extended to his son. Growing up in Atlanta, where the family has made its home since the 1980s, Sager Jr., 26, recalls naming several pet tree frogs after such former Bulls as Michael Jordan, Luc Longley, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

Sager Jr., managing editor for Georgia preps-centric Score Atlanta, never has been to Batavia, but hopes to visit soon. He knows it’s still a big part of his dad’s life.

“Every time I ever said anything about my dad or gave an update, I’d always see people from Batavia writing back,” Sager Jr. said. “I know he’s excited every time he goes back and stays in touch.”

Cadets grapple hype: Speaking about the Illinois Matmen wrestling rankings earlier this month, Kaneland coach Joe Orosco said, “You’ve got to have some type of measuring tool, but be careful to not put too much credence in it.”

Marmion might be wise to heed that outlook.

A number of websites and publications, Illinois Matmen included, regard Oak Park-River Forest as one of the top programs nationwide, let alone in the IHSA.

Marmion meets the Huskies in a team dual state tournament quarterfinal Saturday facing both a formidable foe and its mystique. The Cadets are eager to conquer both at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.

“They wrestle the matches for a reason,” Marmion co-coach Donny Reynolds said. “Hopefully, we can pull a couple we’re not supposed to win and hopefully good things can happen for us.”

OPRF, the defending Class 3A dual state champion, shared at least one thing in common with Marmion during Tuesday’s sectional round.

The Huskies adjusted their lineup considerably and thumped Evanston, 57-13, behind only five wrestlers who competed during individual regionals on Feb. 7. Marmion did some substituting of its own while edging Lyons, 38-36, although much of it was necessitated by late-season injuries. The team also has competed without a 106-pounder throughout the season.

Recently minted 3A individual state champs Riley DeMoss and Nathan Traxler both moved up a weight class, to 182 and 195 pounds, respectively, to earn key falls for the Cadets.

“It’s really impressive and it just goes to show about the mindset and the character of those boys,” Reynolds said. “They knew that they had to come back and make weight. They didn’t know necessarily they’d be moving up a weight class, but the matches turned out better that way. We went with it. So it’s nice to know we have those guys we can rely on.”

Reynolds doesn’t deny “our lineup’s kind of getting a little thinner right now,” which triggered a late scratch for the final bout of sectionals, at 160 pounds.

When Matt Ferraro’s pin at 152 sealed the outcome, the Cadets forfeited freshman Nate Jimenez’s bout at 160 to keep him out of harm’s way.

OPRF handled host Marmion, 49-14, in an early January dual, but the Cadets’ lineup was even more topsy-turvy then.

Marmion, a dual team state tournament entry for the third straight year, will take its chances against the Huskies knowing it has done its share of jelling in the past few weeks.

“Oak Park, they’re definitely a tough out,” Reynolds said. “They’re ranked No. 1 in the country right now, so we can’t toss (in) the towel, we’ve got to go battle.”

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinDruley.

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