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Photos: Christmas in Kaneville

in Featured/Kaneville by

Riders (right) return from a tour of the town during the Kaneville Christmas celebration.

Gunner Barrett (left), 21 months, really liked seeing Santa at the Kaneville Fire
Department during the Christmas in Kaneville event.

Katee Werrline hands out free snacks and drinks at Hill’s Country Store in Kaneville.

Photos by John DiDonna

Christmas crafts

in Featured/Sugar Grove by

Saturday’s Holiday in the Grove event featured events all over the village of Sugar Grove, including a craft show and ornament making at Kaneland John Shields Elementary School. Helen Touchton of Sugar Grove helps her son, Alex, 3, with his ornament, as Kyra Warren, 3, of Sugar Grove, makes her own. Matt Seidel (below, right), 7, of Sugar Grove, shows his St. Bernard T-shirt to Ziggy Stardust from the Fox Valley Therapy Dog Club. The therapy dogs were at the library again this year as part of the village-wide Holiday in the Grove event. Visitors of the Sugar Grove Public Library (below, left) had a chance to read to the dogs of the Fox Valley Therapy Dog Club. The Fox Valley Therapy Dog Club is a volunteer organization providing a wide variety of canine-assisted therapy programs and services in the communities of Kendall, Kane and DuPage counties in Illinois since 2002.

Photos by Ben Draper

SG native stars in ‘found footage’ thriller

in Featured/Sugar Grove by

Photo: Summer Bellessa (left) recently starred in the film “Amber Alert,” written and directed by her husband Kerry (right). Photo courtesy of Trever Hoehne

by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—When Sugar Grove native Summer Smith Bellessa and her husband, Kerry Bellessa, saw an AMBER Alert notice as they drove down an Arizona highway, they began debating what they would do if they actually saw the suspect’s car—would they follow it? Would that put the victim in more danger?

The couple never saw the car, but the idea for their first movie was born.

The thriller, “Amber Alert,” stars Summer, 32, as Samantha, a woman who spots a suspected child abductor (Jasen Wade) on the highway and begins chasing the vehicle with her best friend Nate (Chris Hill). It’s a defining moment for the characters, writer/director Kerry said.

“At the beginning of the film, we see them both. They’re having a good time together; they’re good friends and love life. Then things take a turn, and when they’re put in this situation, you see who they are,” he said. “I wanted to have two main characters with different opinions on what to do. Things kind of start going sour for them.”

As the frightened Nate urges caution, Samantha risks everything to save the abducted girl.

“Before she’s put in this situation, she’s the more responsible of the two,” Summer said. “But I think with women, if there is a child in the balance, we tend to become little mama bears and do things outside the realm of what we think we would do. She does anything in her power to help the child.”

The 80-minute film is rated R and had a limited release in 10 theaters on Nov. 2—none of them in Chicago—and is now available everywhere through Xfinity On Demand.

Critical response has been polarized, Kerry said.

“Either people really, really like it or they really, really hate it,” he said. “At the end of the day, I wanted the main question of the film to be ‘What would you do?’ Was it correct what they did? Some people think it was noble. Other people think they were crazy. People definitely have a reaction to it. People who are parents, and women especially, have a reaction because they relate to it. At the end of the day, whether they like it or not, at least they’re watching it, and I’d rather have something polarizing that people are talking about than something that’s forgettable.”

Actor Chris Hill, director Kerry
Bellessa and
Summer Bellessa on the set of “Amber Alert.”
Photo courtesy of Raquel Hansen
The story is told from the perspective of Samantha’s 14-year-old brother, who is in the backseat with a video camera and recording everything as it unfolds. The documentary-like style is known as “found footage,” a genre popularized by films such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” Summer said.

“It’s as if a character in the film is shooting, but he isn’t really,” she said. “It adds to the feeling that this could have really happened, especially in this day where we all have cameras on our phones, and you could be driving down the highway and see this.”

The found footage style makes the film seem so realistic, Kerry said, that some viewers don’t realize it’s fiction.

“I get emails constantly from people saying, ‘I’ve googled these people, and I can’t find them. Can you tell me how to get money to the victims?’ It kind of tricks people and makes them think it’s real,” he said.

It’s also a style that fit neatly into the Bellessa’s budget. The film was financed entirely by the couple and their business partner, Joshua Oram, and made with a crew of no more than 15 people.

“At times, it was only the three of us and the other two actors. That was it on some days,” Summer said. “We had a microbudget, probably less than what “Transformers’’ (budgeted) for bottled water. We had to be creative so that we could stay in our budget and still make a film that did what we wanted to do.”

Kerry had done a number of commercials and music videos when he began raising money for his first feature film. But when the real estate market crashed in 2007, his largest investor dropped out and Kerry had to start over.

“We kind of came to the realization that no one is waiting around to give us a few million dollars to make a film,” Summer said. “We paid for the film between the three of us.”

The gamble paid off when distribution company Wrekin Hill, which often works with smaller independent productions, picked up the film at the beginning of this year.

“Wrekin Hill bought the rights to it for a certain number of years,” Summer said. “We retain ownership of the film and get a percentage of the box office take.”

Though the Bellessas were working on the film together from the beginning, Kerry originally intended for Summer to help him produce the film. He didn’t plan on casting his wife in the starring role.

“I didn’t want to have it be ‘writer/director husband and actress wife,’” he said. “It sounded like a recipe for disaster or low-budget stuff, you know, because that’s what everyone does.”

Kerry held casting calls and considered several actresses for the part, but something made him keep coming back to the idea of using Summer.

“I kept having this gut feeling it should be Summer,” he said. “She was good for this because she was the kind of person I was looking for, and she never once asked me to choose her. She’s gotten a great response from everyone, and I think it was a good decision.”

Though the project was Summer’s big screen debut, she’s been modeling and doing commercial work since she was a child. By the time she was a junior at Kaneland High School in 1997, she was traveling to Japan, Paris, Miami, New York and Los Angeles for modeling jobs.

For the past three years, Summer’s also been hosting an online variety show, “The Girls With Glasses,” with her friend Brooke White, a singer/songwriter and former “American Idol” contestant.

The two met on MySpace “back when it was cool,” Summer said.

“One day she called me up and said, ‘Let’s meet at IHOP and figure out something we could do together.’ We thought doing something television-oriented would be a lot of fun, and we started putting them up online,” Summer said. “We’ve had a lot of success monetizing it.”

The pair interview musicians and bloggers, write jingles, give fashion tips and work with various brands.

“It’s a way (for brands) to get the word out about their products in a fun, entertaining way,” Summer said. “With Kate Spade, we kind of wear their clothes and talk about fashion trends. For Method, we interviewed one of the founders of their company.”

Viewers often catch a glimpse of the Bellessa’s two children, Rockwell, 1, and Phoenix, four weeks, as well as White’s child, on screen—something that Summer said adds to the show’s personality.

“We have kids screaming and wanting stuff between takes, but we have a really good time. It was important for us to have something that was kid-friendly and to do something that was creative while also being able to be moms,” she said. “We kind of embrace it. For a few takes, Rockwell’s on my lap, and for another few takes, he’s not. Our viewers embrace that because we have a lot of moms who watch us. It’s kind of fun like that.”

Summer hopes the online show will lead to a network television deal.

“We’ve had a lot of networks want to possibly develop it into something on television, and following us and our crazy lives becoming mothers and trying to do it all. We haven’t found a perfect fit yet,” she said.

“Amber Alert” is available through Xfinity On Demand, Amazon Video or Apple iTunes. To watch episodes of “The Girls With Glasses,” visit www.thegirlswithglasses.com.

Too much for Morris

in Featured/Girls Basketball by

Photo: Senior Ashley Prost fights for the ball in the third period of Kaneland’s easy 56-27 win at Morris on Friday. Photo by John DiDonna

Lady Knights lay hurt on rival Redskins in NIB-12 tilt
by Mike Slodki
Kaneland—Lady Knights basketball doubled its pleasure on Friday evening in Grundy County.

They did it by doubling the point total of host rival Morris.

Tipping off the third-ever Northern Illinois Big XII season, the Lady Knights put up double figures in every frame en route to a 56-27 win.

KHS now sits at 5-0 (1-0 NIB12).

“Our strong start has allowed us to get to see a lot of players early on. This has allowed us to focus in on ways to improve both individually and as a team,” KHS head coach Ernie Colombe said. “This is a great group of players. They work real hard and have great attitudes.”

Leading the way point-wise was Aly O’Herron, who nailed four three-pointers for a 12-point night. Kaneland hit five treys on the evening.

Kaneland also saw eight points from teammate Amber Winquist-Bailey. Eleven players found the scoring column on the night.

On the defensive side of the floor, Sydney Strang had a team-high three steals in an effort that produced nine overall.

KHS was ahead 14-1 after one quarter, and 34-11 at the halftime buzzer. The Lady Knights were up 46-18 at the end of the third before outscoring Morris 10-9 in the final eight minutes.

Meanwhile, the sophomores also got the best of Morris by a 33-22 margin. Ally VanBogaert had a team-high nine points.

Kaneland varsity sharpshooters host familiar foe Sycamore on Thursday, Dec. 6.


in Boys Basketball/Featured by

Photo: Senior Dan Miller works some defense during the varsity boys exciting 32-31 comeback victory over Morris on Friday. Photo by Kimberly Anderson

Carlson’s putback buzzer-beater gives KHS win No. 1
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—It was a case of right place, right time for Kaneland junior Tyler Carlson.

But that ending sequence couldn’t have taken place without a battling mentality, which helped the Knights crawl back the entire game against Morris on Friday night.

Carlson’s (four points) rebound and putback off the glass after a John Pruett (11 points) three-point miss gave Kaneland a 32-31 win over Morris in Northern Illinois Big XII action.

It was the first win of the young season for the Knight unit after a hard-luck 0-3 start.

“I just saw the shot go up and it was the right place at the right time,” Carlson said. “It was my first buzzer-beater and it felt pretty good.”

Morris fell to 2-2 with the setback.

The fourth quarter marked the first time Kaneland actually had a lead after a three-point play by Dan Miller made it 27-26 with 6:20 remaining. Pruett connected on a foul shot with 4:47 to go to make it 28-26 before a Ben Ortiz basket with 4:10 to go tied the game.

Ortiz’ three-pointer with 1:18 to go gave Morris a 31-28 edge, setting up the final exchange.

Two missed shots by Kaneland hindered a comeback attempt, but Miller’s two charity stripe shots with 57.5 to go made it 31-30.

KHS got the ball back, but a time out was called with 17.7 seconds to go after no shot opportunities opened up, setting the stage for the final sequence.

“The last one was a lucky one,” KHS coach Brian Johnson said. “Ty just happened to crash and got the ball and barely got it off. We’re very fortunate to come away with the win.”

Morris led 13-7 after one quarter. A three-point play by Pruett with 2:38 remaining closed within 10-7 before an Evan Bjelland three with 58.7 to go upped the lead to six.

Morris led by as much as seven in the second quarter, but baskets by Pruett and Matt Limbrunner closed it to 18-14 with 34.9 remaining in the half.

Kaneland kept matters close, and a Miller basket with 3:15 to go in the third made it 23-22 before a Bjelland three with 33.3 to go set the stage for the final frame.

Sycamore represents the next challenge for KHS, in a match-up along Spartan Trail on Saturday, Dec. 8.

Knights power through

in Featured/Wrestling by

Photo: Kaneland Senior Sonny Horn gets the upper hand on his opponent at Sycamore on Nov. 29. Horn went on to win the match. Photo by Patti Wilk

Wrestlers slammed by Sycamore, split Saturday triangular
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—Area teams know when they’ve been on a mat with the Sycamore Spartans—the KHS grapplers are no different.

The Knights traveled to Spartan Trail on Thursday for a Northern Illinois Big XII matchup and fell 55-16 in head-to-head action. Kaneland acclimated itself better with a triangular meet that led to a 36-35 slim loss to Plano and a 54-21 handling of the Lemont Indians on Saturday in Maple Park.

Through six dual encounters, the Knights are 4-2.

Against the Spartan program that had a top-tier finish in the IHSA dual meets in February, Kaneland fell victim to an onslaught that began with a 6-1 loss by Adam Mish to Bryce Hansen in the 106-pound match, a 17-1 technical fall win by Kyle Akins over 113-pound Stephen Gust, and a forfeit in the 120-pound match.

David Barnhart lost to Jesus Renteria 10-1 in the 126-pound clash, and George Strang was pinned in the 132-pound match in 2:40.

Kaneland’s first positive development happened with Sonny Horn’s 3:28 pin of Andrew Larsen at 138, followed by Dan Goress’ 12-4 decision over Dylan Foster at 145.

Sycamore went on another roll with an Austin Culton 19-4 tech fall over Knight Austin Parks at 152, an Austin Armstrong pin of Knight Zach Russell in :51 at 160, a major decision by Ren Swick over KHS rep Zach Parker at 182, followed by two forfeits.

The final two matches of the evening had 220-pounder Nick Sharp of Kaneland lose to Martin Malone by 13-5 major decision, but heavyweight Zach Theis pinned Devin Knight in 3:20.

“We weren’t on the attack like we were in the (practice) room the last couple of weeks,” KHS coach Monty Jahns said. “We’ll get it back. They’ve got it, they just didn’t bring it tonight. We wrestled well last Saturday. Sycamore’s a different caliber team, but I expect us to wrestle much better the next time.”

Indicative of Theis’ importance to the squad, the anchor knew he had to come through, regardless of the team score.

“I was in the mindset that I needed to do something good,” Theis said. “I was working on moves all week in practice. I’m just going to keep moving and keep learning.”

Jahns said he hopes the Knights don’t serve up a repeat performance of the Knights-Spartans skirmish anytime soon.

Saturday’s encounter with the capable Plano Reapers contingent began with an 11-2 major decision loss by Mish to give Plano an early edge, but Kaneland went on a roll thanks to a Gust tech fall (15-0), a 15-12 win by 120-pound rep Diego Lobo, a forfeit, a 9-0 major decision by 132-pound Esai Ponce, a 2:56 pin by Horn and a tech fall 20-5 win by Goress.

Plano closed the deficit after a pin of Parks at 152, a 3:10 pin of Zach Russell by state-qualifier Wes Brown, a loss by Zach Parker in 9-6 fashion at 170, two forfeits and a 10-2 win by Derrick Maisonet over Sharp.

Theis had a 5:20 pin of Junior Nunez in heavyweight action, but the tiebreaker edge of decisions went to Plano for the razor-thin win.

Kaneland regained its footing with a win over south suburban fixture Lemont, beginning with a forfeit and a 4:56 pinfall win for Gust.

After a Lemont forfeit win, Barnhart picked up a 5-0 decision to lift Maple Park’s spirits. Ponce acted on a 1:20 pinfall, but Horn fell victim to a 7-2 decision in the next two matches.

Goress earned a quick :30 pinfall at 145, and Parks followed up with a 1:28 pinfall. Russell pinned Mike Fragner in 3:52 to send KHS on its way. Kaneland took a forfeit win followed by two of the same for Lemont, before Sharp won a 5-2 matchup at 220, and Theis won a forfeit.

Kaneland was set to head to Crystal Lake Central on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. The Knights will then face host DeKalb on Thursday, Dec. 6.

Photos: Here’s the steeple

in Featured/Sugar Grove by

Father Bob Jones (left to right), Scott Resetich and Keith Rich, both of Rich
Harvest Farms, and Ted McCannon, building committee chair, cut the ribbon for the St. Anthony Chapel at Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Sugar Grove on Monday.

The ribbon cutting was followed by a luncheon and a tour of the new chapel. Visitors (above) check out the interior of the new chapel. The event was presented by Schramm Construction. Exterior view (below) of the new St. Anthony Chapel.

Photos by Patti Wilk

Photos: Turkey Bowl time

in Elburn/Featured by

The 7th Annual Blackberry Creek Turkey Bowl brought out neighbors both young and old for a little touch football before the big Thanksgiving dinner later in the day. The annual event started at 8 a.m. and resulted in about 200 pounds of food for the Elburn Food Pantry, as well as a few pulled muscles. Elburn’s Mark Wilson (above) goes for the flag with defenders in hot pursuit. Randy Blakeslee (below) of Elburn looks for an open receiver. Photos by Kimberly Anderson

3’s a welcome crowd

in Featured/Wrestling by

Photo: Senior varsity wrestler Esai Ponce gets pulled down during his winning match against Freeport on Saturday. Kaneland hosted a quad tournament against Freeport, Wheaton-Warrenville and Burlington Central. Photo by Patti Wilk

Wrestlers get on right side of mat with sweep at KHS
by Mike Slodki
KANELAND—Coaches and wrestlers have often said the Knights tend to be a different tournament team than a dual team.

Freeport, Wheaton-Warrenville South and Burlington Central probably wish neither showed up on Saturday in Maple Park.

The Knights took it to the Pretzels 54-18, the Tigers 51-16 and the Rockets in a slim 34-33 affair to go 3-0 on the young 2012-13 season.

In last year’s head-to-head clashes, the Knights went 11-12.

Against the NIC-10 staple Pretzels, two forfeits gave the Knights an early 12-0 lead before Adam Mish was beaten 7-2 in the 106-pound encounter. KHS 113-pound entry Stephen Gust continued his trajectory from a year ago with a pin, and teammate Connor Williams won his 120-pound encounter in :50 over Brett Spradlin to go up 24-3.

Williams felt good about the ending, with his skills ready to give the team a boost.

“I’m feeling good; I’m taller this year,” Williams said. “The chance for six points is always there. We have to fill out a lot of weights, but I think we’ll be a pretty solid tournament team.”

Adding to the solid nature of the Kaneland group is Gust, who looks to capitalize on the sixth-place finish at 106 a year ago.

“It’s the first meet and so you get kind of nervous, but as soon as the whistle blows, you just start going,” Gust said.

After David Barnhart dropped a 5:26 pin against Nate Anderson in the 126-pound match, four more forfeits went the Kaneland way.

Zach Parker lost a 4-2 match against Brian Meiborg in the 170-pound match, with a double forfeit and a forfeit in the 195-pound match completing the scoring.

Against the DuPage Valley Conference rep Tigers, Kaneland got on the board with three straight forfeit wins for an 18-0 lead before Barnhart was pinned to make it 18-6.

Dane Goodenough emerged with a 7-5 win in 132-pound action, followed by a Sonny Horn win by 7-0 count at 138 to make it 24-6.

Knight 145-pounder Dan Goress took a 3-1 win for a 27-6 edge before a forfeit win and a 160-pound pin by Kaneland’s Zach Russell in 2:54 for a 33-6 lead.

After WWS secured a major decision, followed by a double forfeit and a 195-pound forfeit, 220-pounder Nick Sharp pinned his way to a win in 1:48, and Zach Theis’ 3:13 pin in heavyweight action closed the scoring and 35-point margin.

Facing the Rockets, KHS enjoyed an opening 17-0 lead after an 11-9 overtime win by Mish, a 13-2 major decision by Gust, an 8-2 decision by Williams, a 12-4 major decision for Barnhart and a 4-0 decision for Esai Ponce at 132 pounds.

Sonny Horn dropped a 7-3 encounter at 138 to make it 13-3, before Goress’ 1:51 pin gave KHS a 23-3 edge.

BC then went on a tear, earning pins at 152, 160 and 170 before taking forfeits in the 182 and 195 categories.

Down 33-23, Sharp stuck a three-minute pin at 220 to make it 33-29 before Theis’ 11-0 major decision tied the score, allowing the tiebreaker of most decisions to go Kaneland’s way for the win.

Ahead for Kaneland is a trip to Sycamore for dual action on Thursday, Nov. 29.

Knight boys have early uphill climb

in Boys Basketball/Featured by

Photo: Tyler Carlson goes up for a shot to close up the score against Crystal Lake South on Friday at Batavia. Photo by John DiDonna

KHS drops first 3 contests as part of Windmill Invite
KANELAND—Good news for Kaneland boys basketball is that it’s still November.

The bad news is there will be time spent negating the rough start in November.

With the season beginning in Batavia as part of the popular Windmill City Basketball Classic, Kaneland dropped a 47-45 game to the host Bulldogs on Nov. 21, a loss to Crystal Lake South, 63-55 on Friday, and a 63-50 loss to St. Francis on Saturday to set its mark at 0-3.

Against Batavia, Tyler Carlson led KHS with 13 points, followed by nine from Connor Fedderly.

Batavia was enjoying a 9-2 lead after one quarter before the Knights stormed back to 21-21 at the halftime buzzer. Hoops matters were deadlocked at 34 apiece going into the final frame.

KHS was 12-for-16 from the foul line on the evening.

The Knights couldn’t solve the Gators of Crystal Lake South despite the best intentions of Matt Limbrunner, who had 26 points, leading to the encounter with the Wheaton-based Spartans.

In the 13-point setback, John Pruett had 20, while Limbrunner added 11, including two three-pointers. The Knights were 17-of-25 from the charity stripe.

Kaneland and St. Francis were tied at 15 after one quarter of play, but the Spartans took a 33-26 lead at the end of the second quarter. The Knights saw the lead balloon after three to 57-38 before the final shrinking margin.

KHS coach Brian Johnson isn’t dismayed with the effort put forth, and the prospect still exists in the young 2012-13 campaign to turn the team’s fortunes.

“At this point in the season we are still trying to mix and match and see what line-ups have success during different times of each game,” Johnson said. “The boys have done a nice job of staying focused and putting forth their best effort thus far.”

Up next for Kaneland: a home matchup with Grundy County rival Morris on Friday, Nov. 30.

Bowlers stopped by Marengo

in Bowling/Featured by

Photos: Senior Amanda Strayve stays calm under pressure during Kaneland’s home match against Marengo on Monday. Photo by John DiDonna

KANELAND—The Kaneland High School bowling team dropped a pair of meets this week, starting out the season 0-3.

Looking to get its first win in its second meet, Kaneland bowling instead fell victim to a high-powered Marengo unit.

The Indians took a 3,099-2,524 win at Mardi Gras Lanes in DeKalb on Monday. Their high game was 1,048, compared to 868 for KHS.

Marengo’s Dominique Bailey’s total knockdown of pins was 607 to lead the winners. Kaneland was paced by junior Christie Crews with a 480 series and senior Angela Charhut with 458.

Kaneland dropped Tuesday’s meet against visiting Sterling, with the Knights hosting at Mardi Gras Lanes in DeKalb.

Sterling won all three games by a combined total of 3,267-2,795.

Christie Crews led the Lady Knights with a high game of 192 in game three, as well as with high series with 537.

Kaneland travels to Dixon on Thursday, Nov. 29, for Northern Illinois Big XII crossover action.

KHS fall athletes earn accolades

in Boys Cross Country/Featured/Football/Girls Cross Country/Golf/Volleyball by

Kaneland—A number of Kaneland High School fall athletes were recognized for their performance from throughout the 2012 season.

Leading the way for Kaneland’s post-season honors was senior offensive lineman Zach Theis. He was named to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association All-State Team, was the NIB-12 East Division Offensive MVP and All-Conference.

Joining Theis as Kaneland football All-Conference Team members were senior offensive lineman Nick Sharp, junior offensive lineman Alex Snyder, senior wide receiver Zack Martinelli, junior running back Jesse Balluff, junior quarterback Drew David, junior defensive lineman Justin Diddell, junior defensive lineman Jaumaureo Phillips, senior defensive back Blake Bradford, senior defensive back Kory Harner, junior linebacker Gary Koehring, senior linebacker Ryan Lawrence, and junior kicker Matt Rodriguez. Balluff was also an All-State Honorable Mention. Balluff, David, Snyder and Koehring were each named to the All State Academic Team.

Earning All-Conference honors from the Kaneland High School volleyball team were sophomore Ellie Dunn, senior Lauren Banbury and senior Ashley Prost.

Girls cross country All-Conference honors went to sophomore Victoria Clinton, freshman Brianna Bower, senior Abby Dodis, junior Sydney Strang, and senior Amanda Lesak.

Junior Kyle Carter earned All-Conference distinction for boys cross country.

All-Conference golf team members were juniors Matt Yonkovick and Brody Kuhar, and seniors Luke Kreiter and Connor Williams.

Photos: A night on the town

in Featured/Kaneland by

Kaneland High School presented its performance of “You Can’t Take It With You,” a comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, on Nov. 16, 17 and 18 in the High School auditorium. It is the story of two families, one wild and eccentric, one straight laced, who are thrown together. Chaos is created (right) when fireworks go off outside while the IRS is visiting.

Paul Sycamore, Essie Carmichael and Grandpa, played by Andrew Tobin, Kyra Trynoski and Mitch Bateman, go about their evening routines.

Tony Kirby and Alice Sycamore, played by Beau Ott and
Kelsey Cotton, having a toast.

Boris Kolenchov (Austin Doyle) gives Essie Carmichael (Kyra Trynoski) a twirl in a scene from “You Can’t Take It With You.”
Photos by Patti Wilk

Photos: A good cause, a good time

in Featured/Maple Park by

Grace United Methodist Church in Maple Park hosted its annual Turkey Drop on Sunday. The church, working in partnership with St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maple Park, collected donated turkeys, hams and canned goods for families in the area. Over 150 turkeys were collected. Volunteers (right) fill bags with food to go along with the turkeys.

The event also included refreshments, and live music was provided by the band Back Country Roads.

The event had some serious coloring done by sisters Kathryn and Lauren Kleckner.

Photos by John DiDonna

Goodbye, Cottonwood Farm; Hello, Autumn Lane

in Featured/Regional by

Photo: The former Cottonwood Farms of Big Rock is now open under new ownership. Autumn Lane Equestrian has full barns and individual stalls available for boarding. The equestrian facility was recently purchased and renovated by Joe Ludwig and his daughter Gianina. Courtesy Photo

by Keith Beebe
HINCKLEY/BIG ROCK—Gianina Ludwig has lived in Hinckley and Big Rock her entire life, and at a very young age was raised around horses. So it made perfect sense when her father, Joe, purchased Cottonwood Farm in Big Rock on Oct. 1, 2011, and then immediately leased the 21-acre property to his daughter as a way to “fulfill her lifelong equine dream by transforming the property into a high-end boarding facility at an affordable price.”

Gianina reopened the farm a month later under a new name: Autumn Lane Equestrian Center.

The farm, located on Dauberman Road, was reintroduced as a horse boarding facility rather than a breeding ground, and featured one other very noticeable facelift.

“(We’ve added) an indoor riding arena, heated club room, bathrooms, bridle path, outdoor arenas and much more,” Gianina said.

The changes made to the former Cottonwood Farm weren’t purely cosmetic, either, according to Gianina.
“We have recently introduced winter layups for race horses to our previous boarding packages, stall boarding and pasture boarding,” she said.

Gianina also recently opened a tack store on the property, and offers feed sales as well. She said the fact that the equestrian center was a former breeding facility makes it a fantastic property for a boarding facility, thanks to its very large double-sized stalls, 42 pastures, solid wood fencing, open layout, and top-quality amenities throughout the facility.

An Autumn Lane Equestrian Center press release states that the Pasture Board Plus is the highlight of Gianina’s facility, offering an affordable pasture board with the luxury of using the entire facility. The Pasture Board Plus program includes “indoor shelter, use of the indoor and lighted outdoor riding arenas, use of the bridle path, wash bays, tack rooms and, of course, the clubhouse.”

Entire barns are also available for lease, including the likes of a 36-stall barn with 8,640 square feet, and a 40-stall barn with 10,368 square feet.

The facility also features over 21,000 linear feet of wood board fencing with 42 private pastures and a bridle path. Simply put, you name it, this place probably has it. And given her deep connection to horses, it’s only fitting that Gianina live on the Autumn Lane premesis, as well. She does so to ensure she oversees everything that goes on around the farm.

“(Autumn Lane is) a must-see to believe,” Gianina said.

2 Elburn residents charged with cannabis trafficking

in Elburn/Featured/Regional/Sugar Grove by

ELBURN—Two Elburn residents were among the five suspects recently arrested following a three-month-long investigation into cannabis trafficking that yielded a seizure of 598 pounds of cannabis.

Matthew A. Westerlin, 28, and Crystal L. Westerlin, 29, both of the 300 block of Nebraska Street in Elburn, were arrested on Nov. 13 and each charged with cannabis trafficking, a Class X felony; unlawful possession of cannabis (more than 5,000 grams) with intent to deliver, a Class X felony; and unlawful possession of cannabis (more than 5,000 grams), a Class 1 felony.

The investigation began in September after law enforcement personnel obtained information regarding a cannabis-trafficking organization, based in Kane and McHenry counties, that transported “hundreds of pounds of cannabis” from Arizona to Illinois.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, North Central Narcotics Task Force, Illinois State Police, and the DuPage and Kane County state’s attorney’s offices, used surveillance to gather additional information regarding the organization, including the date of the next cannabis shipment.

During the shipment, agents followed the suspects, who traveled from Arizona to Illinois in four seperate vehicles, and performed simultaneous traffic stops in Kane County—one of which took place at the intersection of Route 47 and Jericho Road in Sugar Grove. The other stops occurred on Orchard Road in Aurora.

Agents also performed a search of the Westerlin’s home.

The five suspects appeared in Kane County Court on Nov. 14 for a bond hearing, with Matthew and Crystal’s bonds each set at $27 million.

3 goals at a time for State Champ Clinton

in Featured/Girls Cross Country/Triathlon by

Photo: Kaneland sophomore Victoria Clinton (1059) competes against familiar foe Skyler Bollinger of Yorkville at the Nov. 11 Nike Cross Midwest Regional in Terre Haute, Ind. Clinton was joined in Terre Haute by Lady Knight teammate Brianna Bower (not pictured). Runners from five states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri—competed in the Regional for a chance to move on to the National meet in Oregon. Clinton has a chance to be invited to the National meet, but that information wasn’t available as of press time. Photo by Ben Draper

Class 2A cross-country queen applies skills to triathlon circuit
by Mike Slodki
Kaneland—Many fellow cross-country runners were witness to Kaneland High School sophomore Victoria Clinton’s success at the Class 2A State meet in Peoria two weeks ago, specifically the back of her jersey.

From November through August, area followers of Clinton can also keep up with her on the triathlon circuit.

Clinton won the Class 2A State meet with a time of 16:56, but a foot race that asks everything of an athlete would only be a third of the task asked of her as part of the run-bike-swim elements of a triathlon.

Clinton competes as part of the Multisport Madness Triathlon Team (MMTT) housed in the western suburbs. The group boasts more than 20 individual national champions as part of the youth triathlon world, and Clinton doesn’t mind the extra work.

“For triathlons, you have to have endurance,” Clinton said. “You have to have technique and know what to do. It’s swimming, biking and running; and you have to have more strategy.”

MMTT team director John Lorenz has seen what area standouts like Geneva’s Kelly Whitley can do when competing, and has been privy to athletes reaching success under the USA Triathlon banner as part of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He feels Clinton’s skillset is amplified by her work ethic.

“It takes a unique athlete to compete, and she’s always had a desire to want more. Swimming is the hardest for a new athlete coming in, and she showed she was up to the challenge early on,” Lorenz said.

Back in August, Clinton was second overall in the 13-15 category at the National Championships in Westchester, Ohio, and moved up to the 16-19 category this season.

“I’ve always had a love for running, but as I’ve trained and competed, I’ve become fond of swimming, and I’ve felt like it’s helped my running,” Clinton said. “It’s helped me cardiovascularly and made me more flexible.”

Lorenz feels that the sophomore’s triathlon possibilities are limitless.

“She has the drive and talent to compete for Team USA one day, and the world championships are an achievable goal,” Lorenz said.

In just her second season, Clinton isn’t intimidated by what could lay ahead.

“The World Championships would be great, and then there’s the Junior Olympics. It’s my second season, and we’ll see what happens,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s MMTT outfit looks to compete in March as part of a competition in Claremont, Fla. The team website is www.mmtt3.org.

Photos: Scoring some spaghetti

in Boys Basketball/Featured/Kaneland by

The Kaneland boys basketball program held it’s fourth annual spaghetti dinner on Nov. 15 at the high school cafeteria. Proceeds benefited the program, and the food was served by the basketball players. Marty Scialabba, 11 (right), gets his helping of food
during the dinner.

A group of kids make a party out
of the dinner by acting silly and
eating treats.

Photos by John DiDonna

‘Miracle’ Meagan turns 3

in Elburn/Featured by

Photo: Luellen Seals holds her daughter, Meagan during her third birthday party at the Lord of Life Church in LaFox on Sunday. Meagan was born with several health problems and wasn’t expected to survive but now she is beating the odds. The Seals family has a Facebook page, “Meagan Seals, Miracle Baby,” which is set up to tell her story. Photo by John DiDonna

by Chris Paulus
ELBURN—Doctors three years ago advised Elburn resident Luellen Seals to terminate her pregnancy because of the slim chance of her unborn daughter surviving.

Luellen’s daughter, Meagan, who suffers from the conditions encephalocele, microcephaly and lissencephaly, celebrated her third birthday on Sunday at Lord of Life Church, located on the corner of LaFox Road and Route 38 in LaFox. The event was open to the public.

“We were told that she was not going to be living this long. Most do not survive the encephalocele,” Luellen said. “Doctors said that the CT scan looked like someone that had gotten hit by a car going 100 miles per hour.

Luellen said it’s been a trial-and-error type of experiment in trying to figure out which combinations of treatments work best for Meagan’s seizures. She recently had a good visit with the neurologist.

Since her birth, Meagan has been making great progress. She can accomplish many things she wasn’t able to a year ago. She can now say words like “mama,” “up” and “hi.” She’s able to track movement. She still responds positively to music and other sounds. She acknowledges her name, and she smiles and shows other facial expressions.

A specially-designed wheelchair, donated by community members and Lutheran Church Charities, has helped with Meagan’s physical development. Although she cannot sit up and walk on her own, her back is getting significantly stronger because of the support of the wheelchair, which allows her to build muscles. She can also army crawl around the room and move around.

“Doctors said that she wouldn’t be able to do most of that. The wheelchair has been extremely helpful,” Luellen said.

Meagan’s had a lot of pleasant surprises in the last year, and has had her share of stardom, too. She met Christian music artist Jeremy Camp, who dedicated the song “Walk by Faith” to Meagan and sang it to her at the Compass Church in Naperville, Ill. She also won a Halloween costume contest that gave the family a month’s worth of baby formula. For a family that spends about $80 a week on high-calorie formula, that’s quite a relief.

Meagan is the youngest of the Seals’ four children, and she now has a Facebook page—“Meagan Seals Miracle Baby”—that helps keep the Seals in touch with other families that have members afflicted with the same disorders. The page also features Meagan’s medical records, videos of news coverage and updates on how she’s doing.

“There’s nothing positive when you search these disorders on Google. We’re kind of hoping to use (the Facebook page) as a tool for change,” Luellen said. “We’ve gotten in touch with other families that have children that have the same afflictions. We share ideas on what kind of treatments work the best and what doesn’t.”

Luellen said her family has met most of these families in person, some even overseas.

“We carry on conversations about how our kids are developing,” said Luellen.

For community members and local residents interested in donating, there is an account set up for Meagan at the Old Second Bank. Residents can also visit www.lutheranchurchcharities.org/ to donate to the Meagan Seals Fund. Donations are tax-deductible through the church and will go 100 percent toward Meagan’s medical bills and purchase of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

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