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Sports & Recreation

BEST CLIMBING WALL
VERTICAL ENDEAVORS
Sometimes bigger really is better. At Vertical Endeavors, climbers of all skill levels put in serious off-season hours clambering around the facility’s 18,000-square-foot wall sculpted from real rock. It’s the biggest in the Chicago area and we think easily the best, offering 21 auto belays, 60 top rope and lead stations, and a bouldering cave. Vertical Endeavors also offers a family-friendly area, climbing lessons, and organized trips throughout the Midwest. At Life Time Fitness, 28141 Diehl Rd., Warrenville; 630-836-0122, verticalendeavors.com

BEST BATTING CAGE
DRIVE PERFORMANCE
From beer league softball to major league baseball, hitting boils down to the timeless mantra of coaches everywhere: See the ball; hit the ball. Like several other top baseball and softball training facilities in the Chicago area, Drive Performance in Wheeling offers indoor cages that allow for year-round practice at hitting, along with knowledgeable instructors who work in one-on-one or group sessions and use tools such as video to dissect a player’s swing. But what sets it apart is its focus on the first part of the batting equation—seeing the ball—using its iTrac Vision Training System. In drills involving a device that shoots tennis balls at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, hitters work on recognizing the speed, rotation, and location of pitches. This year the Mets, Indians, Rays, and Giants are using the system, and some players—among them the 2008 American League rookie of the year, Evan Longoria, and the Mets’ star center fielder, Carlos Beltrán—swear by it. 1543 Abbott Dr., Wheeling; 847-229-1009, drive-performance.com

BEST FOOTBALL COACH
FRANK LENTI
Sure, Lovie Smith’s been to a Super Bowl and Pat Fitzgerald’s got it going at Northwestern. But over the past quarter century a 57-year-old disciplinarian has been quietly accumulating mythical status at Mount Carmel High School: Frank Lenti has won nine state championships, three Prep Bowls, and 16 Catholic League titles since 1984 and has sent nine players to the NFL, led by the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Is the secret to Lenti’s success his “We—Not Me” dictum, fortified by an evenhanded application of the iron fist? His uncanny rapport with the contemporary teenage athlete? Yes and yes. (Some attribute his sensitive father-son approach to the coach-player relationship he had with his own son, Frank, a 2003 Mount Carmel graduate and wide receiver.) And let’s not forget the rushing attack that has become Mount Carmel’s signature offense: Lenti’s devastating belly option.

BEST GOLF HOLE
Tip of the beanie to Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune golf writer
PUBLIC: #16 AT COG HILL GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB COURSE #4 (DUBSDREAD), PAR 4, 456 YARDS
If you survive the notoriously brutish 13th hole on Cog Hill’s legendary course, site of the 2009 BMW Championship in September, you are rewarded with this beauty. You’ve got options off the elevated tee: a 3-wood, hybrid, or even long iron. Hit a draw to avoid the cavernous bunkers on the right, but hook it and you’re in the jungle. A narrow, elevated green awaits your approach. 12294 Archer Ave., Lemont; 866-264-4455

PRIVATE: #12 AT MEDINAH COUNTRY CLUB COURSE #3, PAR 4, 456 YARDS
You may have bunker fatigue by the time you get to this stunner, but as the only sand-free hole on the course, it’s a welcome respite with its sloping fairway and elevated green protected by an inlet of Lake Kadijah. The course architect, Rees Jones, wasn’t shy during his 2002 renovation, but when he arrived at number 12, he said: “Let’s go to 13. Why tinker with perfection?” 6 N001Medinah Rd., Medinah; 630-773-1700

BEST ROLLER RINK
FLEETWOOD SKATING RINK
The 2005 film Roll Bounce featured scenes here, but this isn’t the location used for the flashy roller disco competition. It’s the location for the rink that shuts down. A number of local rinks have closed in the past decade, but the 52-year-old Fleetwood rolls on without the addition of cosmic lighting, trendy jam-skating lessons, or exclusive teenagers-only nights. And that’s just how we like it. Every session is an open skate, so all skill levels and ages are welcome. The beige-and-orange rentals are Wham-ozoic, but the maple floor is perfectly smooth and the Top 40 tunes get every booty shaking, young and old. 7231 W. Archer Ave., Summit; 708-458-0300, fleetwoodrollerrink.com

BEST NEW COMIC BOOK STORE
CHALLENGERS COMICS + CONVERSATION
Open since March 2008, Challengers is no meek boutique operation: The store boasts an encyclopedic collection of trade paperbacks, new issues, and 99-cent back issues that puts this newcomer on par with local giants such as Chicago Comics and the Graham Crackers chain. But while traditional comic shopping can be an isolating experience, this is like a superhero salon. Bright red chairs encourage patrons to thumb through books (gasp!) and talk to one another (double gasp!). The “+ Conversation” part of its name is also important: The store hosts book clubs, movie outings, and a section on its website where customers can review comics. 1845 N. Western Ave.; 773-278-0155, challengerscomics.com

BEST HARD-CORE POOL HALL
CHRIS’S BILLIARDS
The room is ugly, the people are surly, the food—as one online reviewer put it—“is probably poisonous.” Still, Chris’s Billiards is, always has been, and maybe always will be the best pure pool hall in Chicago, and possibly the universe. The pooloscenti may roll their eyes—too obvious. Tough. The purists, the old heads, the hustlers know. Even Hollywood couldn’t ruin the place. Then again, the scenes they filmed there were from The Color of Money—the sequel to the greatest billiards movie of all time. So sling your pool case over your shoulder like a Tommy gun and chalk up at one of the 41 tables in three rooms, under the searing cones of over-table lights. Try not to get hustled. 4637 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-286-4714

BEST BOWLING ALLEY
RETRO
  ELK GROVE BOWL
So maybe it doesn’t have all those flashy disco lights and loud music, but Elk Grove Bowl has that kitschy Wonder Years feel we love. One of the few local bowling alleys that have maintained such low prices—$3.50 per game on most weeknights—this 40-lane bowling and billiards hall offers a classic Polaroid photo machine, a cozy black-and-white-tiled café, and a green-neon-lit bar. Good, clean fun without the high-tech clutter. 53 Arlington Heights Rd., Elk Grove Village; 847-437-3393, elkgrovebowl.com
FANCY  PINSTRIPES
We toast Pinstripes with our pinkies up for injecting luxe touches into our favorite Everyman sport, including a free pair of Pinstripes socks for every bowler, on-the-lanes food and beverage service, and a bistro that features a Sunday brunch complete with chocolate fountain. At $7 a game in the evenings (plus a $4 shoe rental), it’s not even the most expensive in town. 1150 Willow Rd., Northbrook, 847-480-2323; 100 W. Higgins Rd., South Barrington, 847-844-9300, pinstripes.com

 

Photography by Nathan Kirkman

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