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QUEEN IN PIECES: Historic team soldiers on despite news of school closing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Queen of Peace underclass basketball players cry during a Senior Night speech Thursday after beating Kennedy, 73-33. This was the last game in the gym as the players found out two days prior the school was closing.

In mid-January, Chicago Ridge’s Brooke Vida heard the unsettling news that her grammar school alma mater, Our Lady of the Ridge, could be shut down if the school didn’t meet financial obligations by the end of February.

“I was upset – but we have a chance to get it back,” Vida said. “There is still a chance.’’

On Jan. 24, the historic Queen of Peace basketball team that she is on had just beaten Joliet Catholic when the junior forward heard another piece of bad news.

Queen of Peace is scheduled to close after this school year.

Talk about a double-whammy for Vida.

That news hit the Peace teachers, students and administrators hard.

“It was like a slap in the face to be completely honest with you,” said senior guard Kara Shimko.  

For many, it was unexpected.

“We were completely blindsided,” junior Ashley Murphy said. “Our numbers were up. We had 80 students take the entrance exam. I thought we were doing great.’’

So many people will be affected by this closure but coach George Shimko’s basketball team, which entered this week with a 25-1 record before Tuesday’s Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal game against Mother McAuley, was especially hit hard by the news.

No other team in school history won more than 24 games and eight of the 10 players on this team are underclassmen. Plus, there are 11 players on the freshman-sophomore roster waiting in the wings and hoping to contribute to future success.

The teams hosted the last event in the Queen of Peace gym and beat Kennedy, 73-33, in front of a full house of 550 people. Kara Shimko led the Pride with 23 points and 11 assists and Jessica Potter had 13 points. After the game, Shimko and Potter were honored for Senior Night, Shimko had her number retired and the team was surprised with a banner for winning the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White Division. 

Heck, even Kennedy seniors Sabrina Ricci and Patty Kapusciak were given flowers before the game. It’s rare that visiting seniors are honored. But this was a unique night.

It was a night of mixed emotions -- but mostly sadness.

“I couldn’t believe it – it was the worst news I ever heard,” junior Ashley Murphy said. “This place has been my home the past three years. It’s all I’ve known and I love it so much. I’ve known all the girls here and they are all my family. That I can’t walk across that stage with my family (for graduation) breaks my heart.’’

Her heart was warmed by the fans’ support on that final night.

“For everyone to be here in this last moment in this gym is just…there are no words to describe it,” Murphy said.

Kara Shimko, a Hickory Hills resident who owns the school’s scoring record and will attend Cardinal Stritch next season, said she was stunned to have her number retired. The life-size poster of her jersey won’t have a permanent home in the gym, however.  

“I have no idea what I will do with it,’’ she said. “Maybe I can bring it to Cardinal Stritch. My roommate might hate me for it. Hopefully she will understand.’’

There seemed to be a lot if finality for the team and school last week, but George Shimko said his team knows there are still important games ahead.

“We told them it was a bump in their lives,’’ he said. “It’s a magical team and a magical season. Enjoy every single moment. The school will close, but what we are doing will never be forgotten. Let’s send a message every time we play and let’s try to finish out the best way we can.’’

“The girls are resilient. I know it’s an old adage, but play them one game at a time. But that’s really how it is for us.’’

“It might be our last game here, but we’re not done,” Murphy added.