Glenbard North's Emena finding his voice
Four years ago this month Ode Emena sat politely at a conference table in Glenbard North's athletic office, a freshman deferring to his three older brothers as they spoke of a harrowing journey and their acclimatization to the United States.
"Over there I wasn't used to being around many different types of people," he said, quietly, eventually, of his early life in South African refugee camps after his family fled the war-torn Republic of Congo. "Over here it's a change."
What a change. An outside back on the Panthers boys soccer team that finished its season Friday, the 17-year-old senior now has no trouble piping up after more than three years at Glenbard North and seven years since World Relief brought the Emena family of 10 to Glendale Heights.
"I think it's just the environment itself, adjusting. Especially the sports, like club (soccer). Eventually you have to talk. It was a little easier having my brothers stay with me. But as they left I guess I had to adapt," he said.
"I've got to say it goes by fast. I would say back then I was definitely more conservative, like shy. I didn't get around much. I recently got my driver's license. I can assure you I'm a safe driver."
His older brothers, Best and Livre, already have that privilege. So does Isaya Ebengo, adopted by Ramazani and Sangani Emena when still in the Congo. Ebengo's father was shot dead and of his mother, he said in 2016 as a Panthers senior, "she left."
Best and Livre Emena are in college now. Ebengo briefly moved to New Jersey but has returned home and is working in a Bloomingdale restaurant.
All three are working toward gaining citizenship; Ode, who won't turn 18 until February, must wait. A two-time all-sectional and all-DuKane Conference selection, he's evaluating his options regarding college and soccer.
"Working with Ode the last two years has been an ultimate blessing for me," said Panthers coach Spero Mandakas.
"Ode is a player that is always going to be the hardest working player on the field and a player who is always going to play the game the right way," Mandakas said.
Once Emena no longer had to fret about things like securing food or being pelted with rocks in a refugee camp, he started to grow into himself.
Over four years at Glenbard North, he widened his circle of friends and acquaintances.
He surprised himself by discovering he had the curiosity to learn how to play the piano, and the desire to take drawing classes to develop his already apparent skill.
"I just maybe wish I'd started sooner," Ode said, sounding more like an American every day.
College of DuPage women's tennis will compete for its fourth National Junior College Athletic Association Division III title this weekend at Peachtree City Tennis Center in Georgia. It's the first time the Chaparrals have qualified since they won it in 2010.
The team includes Downers Grove South graduates Merit Allendorfer and Alison McKenney, Glenbard North graduate Sondeep Randhawa and Hinsdale South's Rachel Hofstetter.
York senior tennis player Melissa Cartis, the Dukes' No. 1 singles player all four years, concluded her final high school season in high style.
Helping the Dukes to a 10th-place Class 2A tie with St. Ignatius, York's highest finish since 2012, Cartis went 4-2 over the two days, earning a ninth-place tie in singles and all-state honors.
Ending the season with a record of 33-8, Cartis' overall four-year record for York was 102-40.
Most satisfying, on the first day of the tournament she won the Tom Pitchford State Sportsmanship Award for tennis for all players in classes 1A and 2A.