I first met Doris Davenport when I appeared on her Oak Park-based radio show (at the top of the Oak Park Arms) about two years ago. I joined Wednesday Journal colleagues Dan Haley, Ken Trainor and Michael Romain to form a sort of quixotic Journalism League of America, defending the virtues and necessity of community journalism despite the gloomy state of the industry.
The real superhero, I quickly discovered that fateful Sunday night, was Davenport. Like this summer’s hit movie, Wonder Woman, Davenport’s show has been well received in Oak Park and beyond, despite initially modest expectations.
Her show’s appeal derives from extended discussions about a variety of topics in Oak Park, such as local government, politics, news, culture and entertainment with an eclectic but relevant group of guests.
Doug Wyman, a longtime Oak Parker with a wonderful personality, typically sits in on the show. In his late 80s, he offers plenty of wisdom, cheerfulness and humor to the show format.
Davenport’s interest in radio goes back to her family.
“My sisters and I grew up in a family that emphasized civic responsibility,” she explained,” and so my volunteer activities can sometimes read like a career within itself, but I firmly believe that, as citizens, if we want and expect change, we can make it happen.”
Although many adjectives describe Davenport — like intelligent, charismatic, lovely, determined and caring — the best one in my observation is passionate. Her heartfelt belief about whatever topic is discussed and how she expresses her opinion on that matter is an inspiration.
It elevates her show and the guests who appear on it. To use a sports analogy, Davenport has that rare ability to make others better — a la LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and, it’s looking more and more, like Lonzo Ball.
A few weeks after my inaugural appearance on her show, I contacted Davenport and pitched the idea of sharing a monthly segment to talk about local sports and profile a high school team.
She loved the idea.
Within a month, we had our first guests — Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Power and the Fenwick girls basketball team. During the interview, one of the Friars, all of about 17 years old, quipped, “Gosh, I’ve known Coach Power like all my life. I knew him before I knew basketball.”
Since that initial visit from the Lady Friars, the following teams have visited the studio: from OPRF, the wrestling, boys basketball, and softball (state champs) teams, and from Fenwick the football, boys basketball, and boys and girls tennis teams.
We also featured a special segment about the Olympics. Current Olympian Emery Lehman (speed skating) and former Olympian Dani Tyler (softball) appeared on the show. Lehman, from Oak Park, and Tyler, a River Forest native, both graduated from OPRF and now stand as two of the most accomplished athletes ever from our area.
As a co-host for the sports segments, I’ve enjoyed watching Davenport create a comfortable atmosphere for our guests via her warm personality and thoughtful questions.
In my opinion, the best show we’ve had was when head coach Rick Malnati and the Class 3A state runner-up Fenwick boys basketball team came on the radio last spring.
The Friars (30-5) turned in a historic campaign with a school-record 30 wins; plus the John Malone tourney; Chicago Catholic League North Division; and regional, sectional and supersectional championships. Although Fenwick lost 69-67 in overtime against Morgan Park in the state championship game, the Friars had their best season in program history.
When the Friars appeared on the The Doris Davenport Show, Malnati and eight players represented the team. About midway through the hour interview, a radio host’s dream came true. Fueled by several thought-provoking questions from Davenport to the players, the Friars took Q&A flight.
For the remainder of the interview, the players essentially moved the microphones around the table as beautifully as they pass a basketball. Whether you were a star player or benchwarmer, it didn’t matter as the Friars’ chemistry in the studio reflected their prowess on the court.
To her credit, Davenport rarely intervened.
Davenport honors Landmark athletes
Good times are common during The Doris Davenport Show.
Lehman and Tyler were gracious enough to bring their Olympic Gold Medals to what amounted to the coolest “show and tell” I’ve ever seen, even though the listeners couldn’t see them.
And like any good party, delicious food has often played a role. After a lively segment with the OPRF boys basketball team, including head coach Matt Maloney and players Jared Scott, Cameron Gross, Connor Fuller, Sam Francis and Patrick Skrine, everybody feasted on catered food from Skrine Chops in Forest Park.
When we had the Fenwick football team in studio, several Fenwick mothers, led by Marie Lillig and Anne Keller, surprised the players with a post-show meal of Jimmy John’s sandwiches, snacks, fruit and candy.
Not surprisingly, that’s the kind of environment Davenport strives to create for her show, and her guests truly enjoy taking part.
In addition to our radio partnership, I’ve had the good fortune to co-host with Davenport our annual Wednesday Journal “Night of Champions” sports awards gala held each summer.
This year, we hosted the party at the lovely Lund Auditorium on the campus of Dominican University. We honored approximately 20 teams, athletes and coaches from not only OPRF and Fenwick but Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township with an audience nearing 500 guests. The evening included raffle prizes, sponsor booths, live entertainment and guest speaker/former Major League Baseball player Mike Huff.
Winners for the Landmark included: LTHS boys swimming (Male Team of the Year); Spencer Walker, LTHS boys swimming (Male Athlete of the Year); Kyle Fitzgerald, RBHS baseball (Male Athlete of the Year); LTHS girls tennis (Female Team of the Year); Lahari Yelamanchili, Female Athlete of the Year; Joey Swallow, RBHS football/wrestling (Most Inspirational Athlete of the Year); Jacob Kaminski (Breakout Athlete of the Year) and Tom McCloskey (RBHS boys basketball, Hall of Fame).
Davenport and I split the announcements of award winners; however, she stole the show when she challenged OPRF softball supporter Bill Leark to a dance-off on stage. With Ciara’s “1-2 Step” blaring throughout the 1,200-seat venue, Davenport and Leark brought the guests to their feet with an array of sweet dance moves.
With the high school sports season revving up again in about three or four weeks, I’ve been intently focused on planning coverage for the Wednesday Journal and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sports sections.
However, I am also looking forward to talking sports this fall with many more compelling guests on The Doris Davenport Show.
Davenport and I will have our questions at the ready.
Hopefully, we can expand our coverage on the radio show this sports season to some RBHS and LTHS sports. It at least merits a discussion to include the teams we cover for the Landmark.
I think my favorite question she asked the Fenwick basketball players last year was simply why do so many players miss free throws?
She prefaced the question by mentioning how it’s a non-issue with a lot players. She noted when Michael Jordan went to the free throw line, two points was basically a given.
The players offered fatigue, nervousness and bad form as reasons.
While Davenport acknowledged those factors, I don’t think she completely accepted them. Michael Jordan never has, why shouldn’t we “be like Mike”?
Like Jordan, Davenport is passionate about her craft and strives for excellence.