'Playing for Ms. O': Students Honor Memory of Teacher with Charity Basketball Game

Palos Heights District 128 teacher Maureen Oleskiewicz left a lasting impact on her students. Now, after her sudden death in May 2013, they want to help carry on her legacy—and play a little ball.

Students of a Palos Heights District 128 teacher who died unexpectedly last May have not forgotten her—and will do their part to ensure others won't, as well.

A group of Maureen Oleskiewicz's students have organized a fundraiser in her honor. In The Harlem Showdown, to be held Sunday, April 13, eighth-grade girls basketball players from Palos South will face off against Independence in an epic battle of two storied teams. 

But at the heart of it, are several students who miss their teacher. 

Independence eighth-grader Molly O'Leary was moved to memorialize Oleskiewicz, the teacher she said "was always smiling."

"She was always making learning fun," said Molly, who was in her seventh grade language arts class. 

The game will be the first time the two teams duel, but it's been a long-awaited matchup. Each has won 400 games in their time together since first grade, and both groups have topped their conference.

The audience will be splashed with purple tie-dye t-shirts, as a reminder of their teacher taken too soon. Oleskiewicz worked most recently as a 6th and 7thgrade language arts teacher at Independence, and was wrapping up her fifth year teaching at the school. Oleskiewicz died suddenly after an accident at Wrigley Field. She was 28 years old, and her favorite colors were purple and pink.

Oleskiewicz grew up in Palos Heights and attended Navajo Heights and Chippewa elementary schools, as well as Independence for junior high and Alan B. Shepard High School.

Molly's dad Mike can remember clearly the day she learned of her teacher's passing. She was "shocked, devastated. She had never experienced anything like that before."

To watch Molly and her classmates churn positivity from tragedy, has been a beautiful sight. Margaret Oleskiewicz, Maureen's mother, said the outpouring of support has eased their burden of grief.

"It's so heartwarming," she said. "We feel honored to be part of such a caring school district community."

Maureen adored the time she spent teaching, and pushed herself to find new ways to reach the students—even one day dressing up as a rapper to help students learn vocabulary. 

"She would be so happy knowing so many people thought so highly of her," she said.

Admission will be $5 at the door, at Our Lady of the Woods gymnasium. Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to the District 128 scholarship in the teacher's name.

The remainder will go to District 118 schools, and a Catholic Charities program in the name of beloved Palos Baseball Organization Trustee John O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan, 51, lost his battle with cancer earlier this month. 

Mid Villa pizza will provide food during the game, and all proceeds from concessions will go to the scholarship Fund. Each player will also bring a case of water or gatorade to sell during the game. Supporters can purchase a Harlem Showdown t-shirt for $15, either at the game, or through pre-order. The event will also include shooting contests and 50/50 raffles. 

"I'm very proud of my daughter and her friends for wanting to turn a pickup game into a chance to do some good and bring the community together," said Mike O'Leary, Molly's dad.

To purchase a t-shirt ahead of time, contact Mike O'Leary, at 708-516-5431.

To Sum It Up:

What: The Harlem Showdown, Charity Basketball Game to Honor Maureen Oleskiewicz
When: Sunday, April 13, 2 to 5 p.m. 
Where: Our Lady of the Woods, 10731 W. 131st Street, Orland Park


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