Wood Family Foundation celebrates first annual wiffle ball tournament

By Dana Getz

Former Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Kerry Wood returned to Wrigley Field last weekend—this time to play a different kind of ball. On August 10 Wood and his wife Sarah premiered the first annual Woody’s Wiffle Ball Classic, inviting celebrities, retired pros and corporate ringers to battle it out in an all-day wiffle ball tournament. On the batting list were Bill Murray (“Lost in Translation”), Matthew Perry (“Friends”) and Jenny McCarthy (“Love in the Wild”), among others.

The day kicked off with the Corporate Wiffle Ball Tournament, featuring 16 corporate teams in their quest to become champion. The Home Run Derby followed later in the evening, serving as an opener for the Wiffle for a Diffle celebrity game. All proceeds from the event benefitted the Wood Family Foundation, a two-year-old non-profit organization started by Kerry and his wife to provide resources and opportunities for Chicago-area children.

“It’s a great organization. They’re all about giving school supplies and resources to kids who may not have the means to have their own resources,” said Dexter’s Aimee Garcia. “They really kind of empower the community, and I feel like education breaks the cycle of poverty. This foundation puts their time and money where their cause is.”

The idea came to Wood over a dinner outing with friends, one of whom had a wiffle ball field that he’d built to host neighborhood tournaments.

“We had a bowling event that we had done for about eight years and kind of thought it was running its course, so we were already thinking of something new and fresh and something that no one else has done,” Wood said. “When the wiffle ball conversation came up, I thought, ‘Oh, no one’s done that, let’s see about putting on a tournament.’”

With Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts only a phone call away, getting the green light to take over the field for a day was fairly painless, and celebrities were eager to hop on board.

“I grew up a Cubs fan, I’ve been able to throw out the first pitch here, but this is better than that. I mean, to be able to help out the kids and things like that, and what the Wood Family Foundation’s done—it’s just awesome to be a part of, and it’s an honor more than anything,” said American Idol winner Lee Dewise, who sang the national anthem.

Though many celebrities undoubtedly had their game faces on—“I’m counting on the fact that celebrities will hopefully not be very athletic,” Garcia said—it was clear the event was strictly fun and games.

“All these actors and actresses and personalities—this is their first time getting to play in front of a few thousand people, so I’m just excited to see these guys have fun,” Wood said. “They have serious jobs in the business, the whole nine-yards, but you see them out here and they’re acting like eight year olds, so it’s awesome.”

Photos by Kenny Kim

Q&A with Taylor Canfield, winner of the Chicago Match Cup race

By Dana Getz

Tall Ships Chicago returned to Navy Pier August 7-11, partnering with the Chicago Match Cup for the first time ever. Twelve teams from seven nations sailed alongside 14 majestic Tall Ships as they competed for $100,000 in the only U.S. stop on the six-city Alpari World Match Racing Tour.

The four-day affair kicked off with the inaugural Tall Ships parade and round-robin racing, in which teams faced off on windward-leeward courses. After a challenging few days, the USOne sailing team took home their third consecutive win, led by skipper Taylor Canfield and his crew of Rod Dawson, Mike Rehe and Hayden Goodrick. Canfield’s spinnaker tore at the first mark rounding during the third race, leaving him vulnerable to opponent Keith Swinton and the Black Swan Racing Team. With the big downwind sail increasingly descending, trimmer Mike Rehe was able to hold things together while Canfield maintained his lead to the finish. During the fourth race, Canfield caught Swinton with a bold but risky maneuver, resulting in a collision and penalty for the Black Swan Racing team. Tied at 2-2, the win could have gone either way, but Canfield’s early lead led to a clean finish in the final match. The victory earned Canfield and his crew a $25,000 grand prize, boosting them to within nine points of tour leader Ian Williams, the number one ranked match racer in the world.

The win was especially significant for Canfield, who moved to Chicago three years ago to work as a sailing director for the Chicago Match Race Center. At 24-years-old, he is the youngest skipper on the tour. He grew up sailing in his home of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, securing his spot as a first-time tour card holder after winning both the Monsoon Cup and Argo Group Gold Cup last year.  In the days following his exciting victory, we chatted with Canfield on the challenges of being a newcomer, his mindset during the race and what he loves most about living in Chicago.


This is your first year as a Tour Card Holder on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. Tell me a little bit about your journey to get here.

I have been match racing for about seven years now and have always had my eye set on becoming a tour card holder. While we have been slowly climbing the rankings the past years, it was not until last year when I locked in a solid crew that we really started to turn it up. Hayden Goodrick, Mike Rehe, Rod Dawson and Dan Morris joined me in 2012 to win two of the eight WMRT events as wild card holders. This was when we realized we had what it takes to compete at the level of the top match racers in the world.


You’re also one of the youngest skippers on the tour. Do you think you’re viewed as an underdog?

There is definitely some extra pressure as the youngest skipper on the tour, although I do not think we are viewed as the underdog after winning the two events last year. We are definitely looking to continue to prove ourselves throughout the rest of our first season.


What are the biggest challenges you will face? Do you feel you have any advantages?

One of our biggest challenges is actually paying for all of the events. While some big wins have covered some of the events, the prize money is not always guaranteed. Our biggest advantage is having Chicago Match Race Center to train at during the year if we feel necessary.


How did it feel to win the Chicago Match Cup?

Winning Chicago Match Cup was unbelievable. Not only was winning after being 0-2 in the finals a great feat, winning an event in my new hometown with all the support made everything that much better. It was great having all of our family and friends there to cheer us on.


Tell me about your experience during the race. What was going through your head? Did you think it was over when you tore your spinnaker in the third race?

I would be lying if I said I was not a little nervous, although what did we have to lose with three must win races to go? We knew we were sailing the boat well, yet we still had to put together a good start and well-sailed tactical race. I was thinking that no matter what happened after race three, second place was still a respectable finish. As we rounded the top mark and saw the rip in the kite, I actually thought it was going to affect us more than it did. After rounding the leeward mark still ahead, I did not have any doubt in my mind we could still easily win the race.


Who was your toughest competition?

Toughest competition was definitely Keith Swinton and his Black Swan Racing. We knew going into this event that Swinton is really good in the type of boats we were sailing: TOM 28. He and his team had a huge comeback after starting off the regatta slow. They really switched it on after making it to the quarterfinals where they beat Adam Minoprio 2-0, and then followed it up by beating Williams 2-0 in the semi-finals.


You’ve traveled all over the world. Do you have a favorite place to sail?

Favorite place to sail is definitely St. Thomas, my hometown. Beautiful weather, crystal clear water, and 15-25 knots almost every day.


What’s special about sailing in Chicago?

Chicago is a great place to sail because you can get any conditions you can imagine—big breeze from the north with big waves to light shifty conditions from the west with flat water. It allows you to prepare for any venue by offering the best conditions at times and some of the most challenging conditions at other times.


Why do you think it was chosen as the only U.S. stop on the world tour?

Chicago was chosen as a stop on the AWMRT because of a few things. One: Chicago Match Race Center. Founded by avid Match Racer Don Wilson, CMRC has been running international match race events for six years now. Two: stadium sailing at Navy Pier. You could not ask for a better viewing area.


What do you like to do in Chicago when you’re not sailing?

I like to explore the city. There are so many areas with new exciting buildings and restaurants. I also like to be outdoors: running down the lakefront trail, walking through the zoo, being out on the lake. Best skyline I have ever seen.


Lastly, what advice do you have for young sailors hoping to join the tour someday?

Work hard and stay relaxed and anything you want bad enough will be much easier to achieve. Also, be sure to find the right people to sail with because you will be spending a lot of time with them. It’s not only the chemistry you have while you are sailing, but the relationship you have with them on land will really separate the good from the best.

Chicago Sport and Social celebrates annual Volleywood Beach Bash

By Dana Getz

Chicago Sport and Social Club took over North Avenue Beach July 13, transforming the sunny tourist hot spot into a spring break rager worthy of the big screen. Around 4,000 people flocked to the annual Volleywood Beach Bash event, enjoying food, drinks and all-day live entertainment as over 300 teams competed in the Midwest’s largest adult beach volleyball tournament. This year’s performances included Grammy award-winning artist Nelly and hip-hop tribute band Too White Crew, as well as live DJ sets from B96’s Jerzy and local favorite DJ Rock City.

The day kicked off at 8 a.m. for the tournament, with recreational and competitive teams facing off on the beach while local bars competed within a sectioned off area of the venue. When DJ Rock City took the stage around 11 a.m. several small groups had already trickled in to claim their spots for the day, and by 3 p.m. the place was overflowing with revved up beach goers. Drink representatives passed out samples and other free giveaways throughout the day, and Akira turned the beach into a sandy catwalk for a mini-fashion show midway through.

The event started 10 years ago as a volleyball tournament for Chicago Sport and Social members, according Club President Jason Erkes. It was rebranded into Volleywood around its third year as an opportunity for players to stick around and relax after the competition.

“It started as a beach volleyball tournament and over the course of time it just kinda grew. Each year we’d add some different elements to it,” said Erkes. “I think it’s really grown to be one of those iconic Chicago summer events.”

Chefs on the Grill

By Dana Getz

On a sunny Wednesday evening beneath the hub of tourists surrounding Millennium Park’s bean, around 550 people gathered June 19 to celebrate the sixth annual Chefs on the Grill event hosted at the Park Grill. Guests sampled entrees and creative cocktails from 13 local restaurants, with all proceeds benefitting Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities. The event also featured a raffle, silent auction and live performance by local cover band The Walk-Ins, as well as NBC 5 Chicago’s meteorologist Cheryl Scott as emcee.

Chef Cory Morris of Mercat a la Planxa took home the trophy for Champion Chef with his summer-inspired dish of Colorado lamb chops with ramp pesto, pickled ramps and migas. After a brief hiatus last summer, first-time winner Mercat returned for its third year in the competition.

“We took one of our best dishes and added a seasonal twist,” Morris said of his key to success. “It means everything [to win]. It’s good for a lot of people supporting the foundation.”

Chef Brian Jupiter of Frontier earned best cocktail for his Yerba Buena mix of cognac, Absolut craft vodka, agave syrup and lemon.

Park Grill owner Bernie Laskowski started the competition in 2007 to raise awareness about the culinary scene developing in the South Loop—a scene typically associated with the River North area according to Laskowski. The event has since blossomed into both a haven for foodies and a learning experience for local chefs.

“I can’t say there’s competition. All the chefs are very competitive by nature…but we’re also very supportive of each other,” Laskowski said. “It’s more collaborative than competitive.”

When asked his favorite places to eat, he pointed to each of his 11 competitors’ stations, saying his favorite part of the annual event is “all of the chefs getting together to relax and have a good time.”

Laskowski’s own dish was Lechon style roasted pork with cilantro and goat horn pepper sofrito, inspired by a recent trip to Puerto Rico.

“The food in Puerto Rico really was part of my upbringing as a kid being Guatemalan,” Laskowski said. “It’s a reflection of my origin and my love for cooking meat.”

The dish was designed to demonstrate the Park’s concept for their own menu: approachable yet modern. Laskowski said the Park’s clientele consists mainly of well-traveled tourists and businessmen and women, so they aim for something unique but also familiar. To test new dishes they’ll run them on specials first, so Laskowski suggests looking there if you’re feeling adventurous.

Chefs on the Grill began partnering with the Special Olympics during its third summer. All proceeds go toward covering the expenses associated with the 22 sports their more than 5,000 athletes participate in, primarily including transportation and equipment costs.

“It would be impossible for us to do this on our own,” said Susan Nicholl, executive director of Special Children’s Charities. “We would definitely not be able to reach the number of athletes or events held that we have now; it’s creating many more experiences and memories that we can offer them.”

O.A.R. Rocks Chicago

By Dana Getz

Braving heavy rain and threatening thunderstorms, loyal fans ventured to Charter One Pavilion June 28 to kick off the Midwest leg of O.A.R.’s Sounds of Summer Tour. The ska-turned-pop-rock group is renowned for their explosive live shows and extensive summer touring, with their Friday night performance proving to be no exception.

Brimming with reggae tinged vocals, melodious rock anthems and high-energy power solos, the show ranged from O.A.R.’s jam-heavy college classics to their radio-ready pop rock ballads. Following a brief rain delay, the band made its long-awaited appearance, immediately launching into rastafied single “About Mr. Brown” from their 1997 debut album The Wanderer. Backed only by simplistic colorful lights, the five-member group opted for sound over showmanship, pausing their near two-hour set only briefly to chat with the audience. Singer Marc Roberge didn’t come up for air until around the sixth song—a feat for anyone who knows how lengthy O.A.R.’s live renditions can run.

“Once again rain has found us in Chicago,” he said, but quickly dismissed it as “just another twist in the road” of rock ‘n’ roll.” The band then transitioned into “One Shot,” a soulful staccato number from their fifth studio album Stories of a Stranger. Shortening the gap between audience interactions the second time around, Roberge breaked for a sentimental moment only two songs later.

“We could stay up all night with each other and do nothing at all, and when we went home our hearts hurt because we weren’t with our friends anymore,” Roberge said during his introduction to Black Rock, a song named for the city of Rockville, MA, where four of the band’s members grew up together. The moment was particularly revealing as Roberge closed his eyes and gripped his heart, seemingly transported to a place far from Chicago as he sang. Such emotional telltales emerged recurrently throughout the performance, allowing fans a more personal connection with the singer.

“Something always comes from music. It came into my life and took everything else away,” Roberge said before bursting into the breezy island-flavored pop jam “Anyway.”

The second half of the show consisted of a much more rock-heavy vibe, littering hits like “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” and “This Town” with intricate instrumental solos that highlighted almost every member of the band. The crowd exploded during concert staple “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” throwing playing cards high into the summer air and wildly waving leftover memorabilia from the earlier Blackhawks’ Victory Parade. Roberge even stopped to take a picture of the impassioned audience, later commemorating the moment on twitter.

Roberge wound down his overzealous fans with a “song that kinda started the whole thing for [him]”: a new, stripped-down acoustic single entitled “Peace.” For the finale, he called openers Allen Stone and Andrew McMahon back to the stage for a lively rendition of Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” The crowd of keyboardists, guitarists, drummers and bassists that emerged to conclude such an exhilarating night of music was undoubtedly a capstone moment. Despite unrelenting pleas from the audience, there seemed to be one very obvious reason O.A.R. didn’t return to the stage for their usual encore: there was nothing that could top it.

Young Chicagoans Toast ‘Cocktails For a Cause’

By Gemma Follari

On June 21, nonprofit Orchard Village hosted its ninth annual Cocktails for a Cause event at Market Bar, a restaurant and sports bar located in Chicago’s West Loop. Over 100 guests enjoyed drinks both inside and outside on the patio. The organization successfully raised over $20,000.

Based in Skokie, Orchard Village is a forty-year-old nonprofit that partners with families and communities to help individuals with disabilities live their lives. “We’re a social service organization that works with persons with developmental disabilities to get them housing, vocational opportunities and transitional skills so that they can live normal fulfilled lives.”

“Cocktails for a Cause is just one of the ways we reach out to the community to support the work we do with our clients,” said Peter Kuntz, the Vice President Director of Development for Orchard Village. “It started as an attempt nine years ago to get a younger, more urban crowd to learn about what we do and support the dreams and aspirations of our clients: to lead very fulfilling lives.”

Market Bar was chosen due to its popularity with young professionals in the West Loop. “We wanted to attract some new, younger folks who are themselves becoming more aware of philanthropic concerns of different organizations,” said Kuntz. “So it’s fun, it’s social and at the same time it’s helping other people.” The cost of the event was $40 in advance and $50 at the door, making it a price that appeals to younger clients who may not be able to afford more expensive charity events. Over 100 bracelets, provided Cheryl Pisha of Madre y Hija, were sold at the event to raise additional funds.

For more information, visit Orchardvillage.org.

The Night Ministry Hosts Their Largest Annual Benefit Dinner Ever

By Gemma Follari

About 380 people attended the Night Ministry’s ninth annual Lighting Up the Night Benefit Dinner and Auction on the evening of June 20.

This year, the number of attendees was greater than any of the previous eight years. When asked about the number of guests, President and CEO of The Night Ministry Paul Hamann said, “I was told 380 which for us is a record. So yes we’re really excited about that. We’re sold out!”

Hamann said the event is a night of celebration.

“It’s a night to really celebrate the work that we do, it’s a night to celebrate those who benefit from the work we do and most of all it’s a night to celebrate those who make our work possible.”

He said the dinner honors both volunteers and donors involved with the organization.

“It’s really our chance to let people know about what’s going on with the organization, the good work we’re doing on the streets and in our shelters, and be able to thank them for helping to make that work possible.”

During the live auction, Hamann auctioned off a home-cooked meal at his home in Evanston. The auctioneer spontaneously got Hamann to agree to two dinners-one for each of the top bidders and therefore raised double the money for The Night Ministry.

The Night Ministry has existed in Chicago for 37 years.  According to Hamann, the organization “compassionately provides housing, healthcare, outreach and human connection to individuals who are living on the streets or who are lonely in the city of Chicago.”

Among the many things The Night Ministry does, the Health Outreach Bus is a 38 foot long bus that stops on the streets of Chicago four nights a week providing healthcare and food for impoverished people and the homeless.

The Night Ministry is also very involved with youth in Chicago. The organization provides 52 shelter beds for homeless youths from the ages of 14 to 24. The young adults can stay for just one night or for up to two years while figuring out how to support themselves.

“A lot of it is about making connections with people on the streets, making sure they’re safe and trying to do our best to link them to necessary services,” said Hamann.

This year The Night Ministry honored one individual and two groups that have dedicated a lot of time to helping The Night Ministry.

“These are three different individuals and corporations that really give back to their community and we’re really fortunate that they give back to the community through The Night Ministry,” said Hamann.

Long-term volunteer Willie Harris, People’s Gas whose employees volunteer their time every month to prepare sandwiches for The Night Ministry and the Lakeview Rotary Club were all honored this year for there work with The Night Ministry.

In addition to this being The Night Ministry’s largest Lighting Up the Night dinner ever, this was also the first time they used touchpads for the silent auction. This made the auction much more efficient said Stacey Massey, the Media Relations and Communications Coordinator for The Night Ministry.

Reporter Christian Farr of NBC5 emceed the event this year. Farr and his wife have both emceed the event in previous years and said “it was an honor to take part in this again. “

While working at WTTW, Farr reported stories on The Night Ministry.

“I found it to be an organization that just has a great deal of outreach, that helps a great deal in the community and is very needed,” he said.

“I like to see people coming together and giving what they can to this organization.”

Gary Sinise “Inspiration to Action” Dinner Raises Over $300,000

By Dana Getz

The Gary Sinise Foundation hosted its first-ever local Chicago event Saturday, June 15 at the Montgomery Club by Gibson’s. An “Inspiration to Action” dinner, the foundation partnered with sponsors Michigan Avenue Magazine, Josh Cellars, Reyes Holdings and Moet Hennessey USA to raise over $300,000 for the foundation, whose many programs provide assistance and support for our nation’s defenders.

Guests enjoyed a live performance by Katherine McPhee, American Idol breakout and star of NBC’s “Smash,” as well as appearances by comedian Tom Dreesen, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis and actor, musician and Steppenwolf Theatre co-founder Gary Sinise. The private dinner also included a VIP cocktail reception and a “Raise Your Paddle” pledge for EOD2 Taylor Morris, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Tech who lost all four limbs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while leading a team in Afghanistan.

Sinise started the foundation in 2011 as an expansion of his individual efforts to aid our nation’s servicemen and women, including the formation of his band “The Lt. Dan Band” in 2004 to entertain troops serving at home and abroad. According to Sinise, his passion developed through a “long process” that began with veterans in his family and grew through his involvement with local veteran groups in Chicago during the 1980s. After playing a concert Thursday, June 13 with his band at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Sinise’s old friends from Steppenwolf offered to host the event if he stuck around for a few more days, the actor said.

“It’s Gary’s hometown so of course that holds significance,” said Davis, the evening’s honored guest, on the importance of the dinner, “but Chicago is also a ‘do it’ town, and all they had to do is become aware.”

Davis said his favorite part of the night was “to have a group of likeminded people coming together for a purpose” and to inspire others to lend a helping hand.

All proceeds from the evening will go toward building quadruple amputee Morris’ smart home as part of the foundation’s “Building for America’s Bravest” program, which will expand its efforts from 10 to 13 homes this year according to executive director Judy Otter.  The foundation will also extend its arts and entertainment outreach to the Geffen Theater in Los Angeles, as well as add USO Las Vegas, San Diego and Dallas/Fort Worth to its Serving Heroes program. Though Sinise said he will be “keeping plenty busy” with his foundation and band, since CSI:NY’s end in February he’s been hoping to work on some new acting projects as well.

“It was a great run—nine years— I can’t complain,” Sinise said, “but I’m looking forward to something else down the road.”

Sue Wong’s The Great Gatsby Soiree

On Friday, April 19, Sue Wong, fashion’s grand diva designer of Hollywood glamour, launched her “The Great Gatsby”-inspired Fall 2013 Collection with a rollicking Jazz Age soiree at her palatial home The Cedars. The season’s social highlight drew a cavalcade of leading celebrities and artists, as well as entertainment and fashion industry insiders to celebrate Sue’s glittering array of evening dresses designed to reflect the effervescent exuberance of the Roaring Twenties. Photos by Joyce Chow, Robert Kovac, and Adriana Mendiola.

Photos by Joyce Chow & Robert Kovac

Snaps by Adriana Mendiola