Street Smart Chicago

Martial Arts, Victorian Style: Bartitsu at Forteza Fitness brings back the lost fighting art of Sherlock Holmes

Irving Park, Sports No Comments »

Photo: Forteza Fitness

By Kristen Micek

Forteza Fitness has an unassuming entrance set at the back of a small lot, but the recently opened center for physical fitness and traditional European martial arts is not something to be overlooked. The school, founded by Gregory Mele and Keith Jennings, has brought together various forms of unique martial arts to create a school that integrates history with physical training in everything from the use of swords to parasols and canes.

Tony Wolf, a martial arts instructor and fight choreographer for stage and film—he was Cultural Fighting Styles Designer for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy—is currently teaching one of the newest additions to the Chicago martial arts scene: Bartitsu. Read the rest of this entry »

Ring Leaders: The unlikely odyssey of a boxer, his manager and the woman who promotes them

Sports No Comments »

Osumanu Adama and his trainer Joseph Owinongya at Joseph's Joliet Gym/Photo: Bill Hillmann

By Bill Hillmann

When middleweight boxer Osumanu Adama represented Ghana in the Sydney Olympics, he was overcome by the pressure of the event and lost his very first bout. Adama turned pro and became the International Boxing Organization African light-middleweight Champion. He then left Africa and fought in Europe before he made his way to Chicago. Here he fought Chicago’s unbeaten super-middleweight Donovan George in a bout televised on Showtime. In the best fight of the night, Adama lost the decision. He fell to 17-2, and was ranked sixty-eighth by the International Boxing Federation’s (IBF) World Ratings.

While in Chicago Adama met Joseph Awinongya, a Joliet-based retired pro boxer originally from Ghana. Awinongya became Adama’s new trainer. Hardnosed Awinongya trains few fighters because few fighters are willing to work as hard as he demands. Unlike most trainers, Awinongya does not operate on a round system, in which boxers take one-minute breaks in between three-minute rounds. Instead his fighters hit the bag, spar and punch-mitts for half-hour and hour-straight stints with no break.

When Adama first started training with Awinongya, the trainer wanted to see what the boxer was made of. He drove Adama from his gym in Joliet to Bolingbrook and dropped him off. Adama ran the twenty miles back to the gym and then started training. “I do it to break him down, but now after running that far he is still strong,” Awinongya says. So he came up with another challenge: He took Adama outside and made him push his mid-size van around a parking lot for a half-hour. Read the rest of this entry »

One Goal: The Chicago Red Stars aim to capitalize on U.S. Women’s World Cup success

Lisle, Sports No Comments »

“If Americans don’t fall in love with soccer after this, well, maybe they never will,” said Jim Litke, the sports columnist for the Associated Press, after the US women’s soccer team defeated Brazil in a dramatic comeback in the quarterfinal of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this month. (They lost the final in a hard-fought nail biter.) The fact is, women’s soccer is a transient phenomenon for most sports fans in the United States. Every four years a squad of twenty-one of America’s best players give it their all, excite the crowds and typically walk away having performed very well. They’ve never finished the tournament in less than third place in its twenty-year history and on two occasions, the team walked away champions. Unlike their male counterparts, who have to play third fiddle to superior play in Europe and Latin America, women in America are arguably the best at soccer in the world. Yet a short time after the tournament ends, the women fade back into obscurity for the next four years as the American fair-weather love affair with soccer continues. But now a newish professional team aims to turn this occasional flirtation into a long-term commitment for Chicago fans. Read the rest of this entry »

Wrigley Field’s Summer of Love: Welcome to the best pickup venue in sports

Lakeview, Love & Sex, Sports No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

It’s Year 103 of the Drought and by the initial look of things, nothing’s changed. It’s cold, raining, damp, wind blowing… perfect baseball weather for opening day on the North Side. Baseball’s “other” worst team has come to visit, but the place is still packed.

Like Carnival off the Lake.

For the fairweathered, non-diehard, quasi-apathetic Cubs fan, this is simply the best time of the year. It’s when Wrigley Field turns into the Playboy Mansion East. When some of the most beautiful women this side of South America­—or LA, depending on who’s asking and who’s telling the stories—migrate to one place for the next five months, treating the national pastime like Fast Times at Cooley High.

When everyone gets to enjoy Wrigley Field for the “second best” thing it is known for: Welcome to the best pickup venue in sports. Period.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Boys of Sliotar: They make you want to hurl

Sports, Uptown No Comments »

As he explains the ancient Gaelic sport of hurling, Colm Egan spits on his hands, rubbing them over the leather-covered cork ball, the size of a baseball, called a sliotar. Behind him, a few men in brightly colored jerseys unwrap long metal poles to set up as end posts on opposite sides of the field, setting down bags of full-coverage helmets and wooden bats with flat paddles at the end.

“It’s an honest game,” he says, explaining that the only thing that keeps players from truly hurting each other in the fast-paced sport, which involves heavy wooden bats called hurleys and no protective padding, is the players’ honor. “There’s not a lot of rules.”

Each Sunday until May 8, Chicago’s Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) will be holding informal hurling games for all skill levels, hoping to recruit more Chicagoans to the game before the league’s season starts up on May 15. They’ll provide the equipment, the team and, of course, the instruction.

Egan, 42, first picked up a hurley as a 5-year-old in County Tipperary, Ireland, where hurling is the national sport and the local G.A.A. forms the basis of almost all social activity. Last year’s entirely amateur national championships in Ireland attracted 84,000 spectators. Read the rest of this entry »

Ski for Yourself: Whipping winter on its own terms

City Life, Green, Sports No Comments »

Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.

Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing el platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.

Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls. Read the rest of this entry »

Mani-a-Mani: Reporting from the Lady Arm Wrestlers title bout

Events, Sports 1 Comment »

Photo: Jonathan L. Green

As I make my way through the crowd I am accosted by a petite woman wearing a banana costume and thigh-high fishnets, shouting at me to put all my money on her. She is The Banana Split, and she has come to dominate.

“Potassium gives you strength,” she says, with steely determination. “And I’m full of potassium.”

The Banana Split (a.k.a. Nicole Richwalsky) has a hard night ahead of her. She’ll be competing against such dangerous adversaries as Malice in Wonderland, Babraham Lincoln and Gaga Gunshow to see who will be crowned champion in the eighth title bout of the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” says two-time CLLAW champion Strawberry Shivcake (or Ellen Wohlberg, 9 to 5). “Whether it’s illegal, stabbing someone, killing someone, bribing someone; bribes never hurt…”

Indeed, the matches haven’t even started yet when CLLAW 7’s reigning champ, The Killer Bee, gets shivved by Strawberry (natch) in the middle of the introductions.

“I’ve killed The Killer Bee’s manager a couple of times,” remarks Strawberry. “And The Bee ‘Nancy Kerrigan-ed’ The Cutting Edge last time.”

Started in 2009 as a satellite group of the original CLAW (Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers), the Chicago group has rapidly become one of the top Lady Arm Wrestling groups in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »

411: There Are Packers Among Us

Lakeview, Sports No Comments »

For the past twenty years, a dark scourge has thrived in the heart of South Lakeview, mere blocks away from Wrigley Field. This twisted secret society gathers in the shadows nightly: drinking Leinenkugel, eating pickled herring and participating in bizarre rituals involving Muskies and some sort of card game known only as “Sheepshead.” They proudly call themselves Badgers and Cheeseheads. We know them as Packers fans. And yes, they live among us.

Since 1991, Will’s Northwoods Inn (3030 North Racine) has been the go-to Chicago bar for Wisconsinite expatriates and other assorted Green Bay faithful. Packers games have become such an event there that they even host crowds driving down from America’s Dairyland itself.

“If you just go to some bar in Wisconsin, it’s like going to any old bar here in Chicago to watch a Bears game,” explains Will’s GM Kevin Kruse. “But when you come here, it’s wall-to-wall hardcore fans.”

This Sunday marks one of the most anticipated football games in the history of the world (or, at least, the Midwest), as the Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to face the Bears in a NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1941, and you can guarantee that Will’s Inn will be serving up plenty of beer brats and fried-cheese curds. Read the rest of this entry »

The One-Man Gang: How Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago became America’s first Heisman Trophy winner

Chicago History, Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »

By Martin Northway

He lives on in crackling 1930s football footage: a running back in a long, Homeric dash ranging from sideline to sideline, on a field so muddy water stands in visible pools; he is a speeding human gyroscope, maintaining his balance while he evades and breaks tackles. Every defender seems to have a shot, yet he crashes into the end zone.

Comparisons of John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger with other football players fail. Legendary sports broadcaster Red Barber called him simply “the greatest college player I ever saw.” Late former President and onetime Michigan star Gerald Ford bragged about his scar from tackling Jay Berwanger in 1934.

The famous Red Grange said Berwanger had a “faraway look” allowing him to see downfield and rapidly adjust. Grange also said Berwanger could hit a hole closing on him, drumming his feet lightly, freezing tacklers before slashing through.

In fall 1935, the star back of the University of Chicago Maroons was selected as the first recipient of what came to be known as the Heisman Trophy. “Seventy-five years later, Jay Berwanger still receives positive publicity,” says Brian Cooper, Dubuque newspaper editor and sports author, writer of a forthcoming biography of Berwanger. “Not just because he was the first Heisman recipient but because [of] how he played the game—tenacious and tireless, and playing both ways every game”—and “how he lived his entire life.” Read the rest of this entry »

A River Runs, um, Near It: Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters courts those who have been called

Lincoln Park, Sports No Comments »

Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters’ walls are covered in fluorescent green rabbit fur, feathers and glittery silver tinsel—these materials used for fly tying seem like decorations for a drag queen’s dream supply store. A corner of the shop is dedicated to fishing poles, which line the walls like pool cues. Wading jackets, Merino wool socks and general apparel occupy a room of their own. But this store does not lie next to one of Chicago’s rivers or even the lake—the store sits at 1279 North Clybourn, just a few blocks away from the remains of Cabrini Green.

Andy Kurkulis, the owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, is very much aware of the store’s unconventional location. “It’s a very unique store,” he says, “It’s different than most of them out there in Chicago. We don’t have a big famous river or beach where we fish but we have two great airports. So we pretty much travel everywhere and fish for everything.” Read the rest of this entry »