Judge Jim O’Malley had a passion for St. Bernardine’s School and the Chicago Bears. In 1989, he combined these interests by helping launch Game Day at St. B’s. That first event featured the Bears vs. Packers at Lambeau Field. Fearon Hall was filled with the aroma of ribs donated by Robinson’s and the sights and sounds of TVs on loan from Trage Brothers. Proceeds from the pigskin party went to St. B’s athletic department.
O’Malley’s son, Jim, Jr., was attending St. B’s at the time and saw the need to upgrade the sports program. Athletes wore their gym uniforms to compete against other schools, while most sports remained in-house. Lacking a gym, the basketball players practiced on portable hoops in a hallway.
Over the years, proceeds from Game Day have paid for uniforms, sports equipment and gym rental. Today, under volunteer Athletic Director Meg Roach, St. B’s fields teams in soccer, basketball, volleyball and track. Meg hopes this year’s event will continue the generous tradition.
The all-day affair kicks off on Oct. 23, at 11:30 a.m. Fans can cheer for the Bears, as they take on the Bucs, at Wembley Stadium, in London. Immediately following that, Green Bay will take on Minnesota. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Donors are entitled to all they can eat and drink, as well as valuable raffle prizes.
Meg hopes fans will be bighearted enough to defray her department’s $6,000 budget. She sees sports as an important aspect of St. B’s mission. In an era when a third of U.S. children are obese, exercise has never been so important. While other schools are cutting PE, St. B’s pupils have gym class twice a week. The students also eagerly fill the rosters of their “Lightning” sports teams. 35 kids signed up to run track the first year it was offered.
Meg, who played basketball in high school and college, coaches the girls’ b-ball team. Her squad went 0-14 last year but that didn’t bother the players. They were having too much fun. This year, the same crew rebounded to 7-7. Meg stresses sportsmanship above all but noted that sport also encourages kids to “put their phones away.”
Jim, Jr., meanwhile, cherishes the memory of his father, who passed away in April 2008. The O’Malleys lived a block east of Harlem but Forest Park was the center of their social lives.
Jim can still picture his dad chewing on a cigar, while cheering on the Bears. Other Game Day supporters have also passed on but Jim sees a resurgence of enthusiasm this year. At some point, amid the brats and beer, the pizza and wings, his dad will be recognized for his service. And his name will live on as the guy who brought the Bears and St. B’s together for a great cause.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.