“Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete, and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.”

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, track and field athlete

This summer, girls in grades 3–6 have a unique opportunity to gain confidence, make friends, and get stronger both physically and mentally at one of the best sports camps in Illinois. And it’s right in your backyard.

Girls Play Strong, at the Park District of Highland Park, is a one-of-a-kind camp that teaches everything you would expect: fundamentals, rules, skills, and techniques for a wide variety of

sports. And while everyone is having fun playing soccer, volleyball, tennis, softball, and basketball (along with some non-traditional sports), the counselors are also instilling life lessons that last well past the end of summer.

“Our motto is “Embrace Your Strength,” said Recreation Supervisor Stephanie Sylvester, and when you talk with her about Girls Play Strong be prepared for how serious she is about having turned what was a simple summer sports camp into something that resonates with girls all year.

“I focused on girls in grades 3–6 because that’s the time they are developing leadership skills,” said Sylvester, “and I wanted the Park District to be in the forefront of building strong, powerful, confident women.”

So in addition to all of the health benefits of playing outdoors and gaining physical strength, the girls learn good sportsmanship, the value of teamwork, and empathy. Critical life skills. They are also taught about how important it is to give back. To contribute to our community by being a part of events throughout the year, including last year’s Thanksgiving Food Drive for At-Risk Kids.

But what about just having fun? No problem! Campers go swimming once each week at Hidden Cove AquaPark or the beautiful Rosewood Beach. They go canoeing, play flag football, learn archery, and take a whack at pickleball—America’s fastest-growing sport! Each camp session includes weekly trips to great local adventure and entertainment venues like Action Territory and Main Event, and pro sporting events like the Chicago Dogs.

Having fun also becomes inspirational when girls go to a Chicago Sky game and see a whole court full of empowered women athletes. The experience is awesome.

Make lasting friendships, build confidence, gain leadership skills, and learn to Play Strong. Does this camp sound like it’s right for the girls in your life? We bet it does!

Renovation Project

Installation of finishes continues. The drywall is up, the walls are getting primed and painted, and the doors have been delivered.

About the Project

During regular annual maintenance in June, staff uncovered an unknown issue on the Centennial rink floor. The Park District acted swiftly to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the facility and ice flooring system with an engineering firm. The findings confirmed that the building is structurally sound. However, the rink floor had been compromised and requires complete replacement.  

The 2023 Champions Gala is March 15, at Studio One, in Highland Park. There are so many great reasons for you to be there and support the Foundation, but the special presentation of this year’s Legacy Award is something you truly don’t want to miss.

If you were one of the hundreds of kids who were learning to play baseball or basketball under Coach Baker, he knew your name. And he remembered it when you grew up, got married, and brought your kids to play on the teams he was coaching. Long before psychologists studied the effects of that, Marv Baker knew exactly how important it was to each and every student and young athlete he taught. It was a sign of respect. An indication of how much he cared for you as a person. You called him Mr. Baker. Or Coach Baker. “It was a real milestone in your life when you were an adult, and could call him Marv,” said his son, Doug. And as the ultimate sign of respect for their coach, everyone who played in his baseball and basketball leagues—and their parents—called it BakerBall.

Everyone was welcome to play BakerBall. That was one of the joys, and part of the experience that made being around Marv so memorable. His approach to teaching youth sports was inclusive and impartial. The best local athletes and kids with special needs were on the same team, and they all learned much more than how to play the game. Of course, they were drilled on the fundamentals—the game isn’t fun for anyone without knowing the rules and having some skills. But coach taught that it wasn’t about the scoreboard or the won-loss record. When they learned how to back up the throw, they were becoming team players. And when they learned how to not be afraid of failure they took that lesson into adulthood, taught it to their kids, and became successful business leaders.

BakerBall kids grew into high school athletes, and they returned year after year to work with Marv coaching the next generation of young players. Some of them now manage the programs they started in, teaching what they were taught: love the game; be humble in victory; learn how to lose gracefully. Coach Baker was ahead of his time in making sure that parents and fans behaved properly at games as well. He insisted on only positive cheering, and would stop a game if necessary to toss a belligerent parent out of the park. “He was kind of a big guy, having been an offensive lineman in college,” said Doug, “so there was typically not much pushback!”

Marv Baker grew up in DeKalb, and early on knew that youth sports education was his passion.

He was a 3-letter varsity athlete—baseball, basketball, and football—and attended Northern Illinois University on a football scholarship. He began his teaching career in Highwood, at Oak Terrace Elementary School, while raising a family. That’s when he started the BakerBall youth leagues and began to instill his philosophy of the game in the area’s young players. “Parents respected my dad,” says his daughter Patti, “and knew instinctively that their kids were in good hands. They also chose his programs because of their inclusivity.”

Marv instilled a love of sports in his children as well as his grandchildren. While his oldest daughter, Susie, played softball, she did not play BakerBall. “At that time, I would have been the first girl in the program, and he didn’t want to put me in that awkward position of being included because I was the coach’s daughter,” she said. A few years later, when Patti was old enough, she did play in the program, since girls were now included.  “He showed no mercy,” Patti remembers, “when I hit a hard line drive, he caught it just like any other!” Later, Susie’s two children, Nick and Sami, and Patti’s two children, Sophia and Anthony, all played BakerBall under their #1 Papa. Henry, Doug’s son, is just 3 years old, but BakerBall is waiting.

Susie, Patti, and Doug all replayed a similar memory: not fully appreciating the impact their dad had on the community—both the kids and their parents—until they were a little older. “My dad always rode his bike everywhere,” said Patti, and one day in high school another kid opened a window and yelled out ‘Hi Mr. Baker!’. That’s when I figured out that everyone knew him.” When Susie went to U of I, and told people where she was from, “They would ask if Mr. Baker was my dad. That was pretty amazing.”

Marv was, above all, a family man. A loving husband to two wives, Beverly for 5-1/2 years and Sue for 51 years. “He would always tell me how lucky he was to have found two loves of his life,” said Susie. As a father, and a grandfather, he never missed a school concert or an open house, or, of course, a game. Whether it was soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, or football, he was there in what must have been his favorite role, #1 Papa.

Coach retired from his job as a Physical Education teacher in 2005, after a 40-year career. He coached his last BakerBall players in the summer of 2009. When he and Sue moved to Sedgebrook, in Lincolnshire, in 2017, it was no surprise that there were people there—parents and grandparents of his former players—who knew him. Of course they did!

Marv succumbed to the ravages of ALS on April 1, 2022. “The irony of it being April Fool’s Day was not lost on those who knew his big sense of humor,” said Doug. On Wednesday, March 15, at the Parks Foundation of Highland Park’s 5th Annual Champions Gala, the community that is so much better for having known him and loved him, will say ‘Thanks, Coach’ one more time as the family is presented with Foundation’s Legacy Award. A fitting tribute to a man whose legacy lives on every day, all over the country, in everyone he included in his incredible life.


Purchase your tickets for the 2023 Champions Gala today, and join us on March 15 to enjoy this glamorous evening! You’ll enjoy signature cocktails from the open bar, delicious hors d’oeuvres, an exciting game of chance to win up to $100,000, and of course hear our featured guest: Chicago Blackhawk’s legend Chris Chelios. The live auction will feature fabulous trips, dining experiences, one-of-a-kind items, and memorabilia. Sponsorships are still available.

Congratulations to our gymnastics team that competed on Saturday, March 4 in Schaumburg at the Spring Into Gymnastics Meet.  In the Level 3: 11-year-old division for the All-Around, Clara Rozenberg was awarded 4th place, Lena Whittman placed 3rd and Olivia Rogic was awarded 1st place.  In the Level 3: 12-year-old division for the All-Around award, Kaylee Lynch placed 3rd and Noa Schwab came in 1st place.

Lena Whittman, Clara Rozenberg, Kaylee Lynch, Noa Schwab, Olivia Rogic
Olivia Rogic & Noa Schwab – All-Around Champions

One of the most beautiful places to hold your next special event is close to home, yet a world away. The Prairie Room, at Heller Nature Center, looks out over a 97-acre landscape of a beautiful oak-hickory forest and local wildlife. It offers a peaceful, serene space that’s perfect for birthday parties, reunions, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. Off-site corporate roundtables, monthly club gatherings, workshops, seminars, and presentations are popular here in this secluded atmosphere, where taking a break from the action includes a refreshing walk in the woods on three miles of trails—something a hotel conference room just can’t match.

The Prairie Room is one of the larger venues available in the area, able to accommodate up to 100 people. Tables and chairs can be set up in a wide variety of configurations, audiovisual equipment is available at no extra charge, and use of the kitchen is included. Rental applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The unique setting of the Nature Center has made it the go-to place for residents and businesses in and around Highland Park for many years. “You won’t find a place like Heller in most of our neighboring towns,” said Debbie Pierce, District Wide Rental Manager, “and that makes it especially attractive to people who want to host a one-of-a-kind event.”

In addition to the Prairie Room, Heller Nature Center has another enticing feature for groups of up to 25 people: The Fire Ring. It’s outdoors (of course) and is perfect for campfire fun in spring, summer, and fall. Wood and a lighter are provided, along with a water tank. Cooking over the fire is not allowed, but roasting marshmallows is encouraged! Scout troops love it. Girls’ Night Out is unlike any other. Family reunions around a fire get even warmer and more memorable. The Fire Ring is available as a separate rental, or as an extra-special add-on to any Prairie Room rental.

Guests can also enjoy our self-guided StoryTrail and WanderWoods free play natural area designed to nurture a child’s sense of wonder and discovery. Nestled in the trees and solitude, children can climb a tree house, create in a mud kitchen, experiment with ramps and much more. Let the creativity and messiness begin. 

Want to add a little adventure to your private event? Our one-of-a-kind Teams Course is made up of a series of thought-provoking ground-level puzzles, challenges and obstacles, each one having a specific set of tasks and an end goal that can only be accomplished by all members working as a cohesive group. Throughout the program our experienced facilitators lead group discussions on the insights and skills learned to help the team progress further along the course and integrate new ideas into their daily lives all in a safe and private environment.

Our friendly staff is ready, willing, able, and happy to assist with coordinating your event, any day of the week. To reserve a date for your next very special celebration or meeting, contact Debbie Pierce at 847.579.4047 or email dpierce@pdhp.org.  For more information about our teams course, contact Mark Bryant at mbryant@pdhp.org, 847.579.4184.

Go Green

Heller Nature Center and the Park District of Highland Park support green initiatives and encourage our renters to consider ways in which to make their events more sustainable! If you are looking for ideas, download our list of Sustainable Events Suggestions.

Updates from the February Park Board Meetings

February 1: Special Meeting of the Park Board

The public hearing for the proposed Budget and Appropriation Ordinance for the Fiscal Year beginning January 1, 2023 and ending December 31, 2023 for the Park District of Highland Park was held. No members of the public provided comment on the proposed 2023 Budget.

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the Microsoft Windows Server 2022 Licenses, the Centennial Ice Arena Water Heaters Bid, the Centennial Ice Arena Landscaping Bid, the 2023 Moroney Park Improvements Poured-in-Place Safety Surfacing Bid, the 2023 Moroney Park Improvements General Playground Construction Bid, the Gewalt Hamilton Associates Proposal for Compton Avenue Trail Connection Design, Resolution 2023-01: Authorizing a Contract for Procurement of Playground Equipment, allowing the Executive Director to enter into a 5-year lease term with EZ-GO for 65 lithium-ion battery-operated golf carts and 1 gas-operated beverage cart for a 5-year total not to exceed $538,901.70 and to enter into a 5-year lease term with EZ-GO for Alternate A (GPS System) in the amount of $165,789, the 2023 Budget and 2023 Budget and Appropriation Ordinance (2023-01) for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2023.

February 7: Special Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners went into closed session pursuant to the following sections of the Open Meeting Act: Section 2(c)5 – the purchase or lease of real estate including discussion on whether a certain parcel of property should be acquired; Section 2(c)6 – the setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the District.

February 8: Workshop Meeting of the Park Board

Staff provided construction project updates for Fink Park Athletic Field Development and the Centennial Ice Arena Rink Floor Replacement and the Facility and Site Renovations.

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the Illinois Mutual Retirement Fund (IMRF) Authorized Agent Appointment to Larry M. Carr and the Supporting Resolution.

Staff reviewed the 2022 and 2023 membership efforts to increase fitness participation at the Recreation Center of Highland Park.

February 14: Finance Committee Meeting

Staff reviewed the preliminary Cost Center results for 2022, Resolution 2023-03 Authorizing and Increase in the Budgeted Year-End Fund Transfer Amounts, and Ordinance 2023-02 Authorizing and Providing for the Conveyance or Sale of Surplus Personal Property.

Staff also reviewed the bid openings for the 2023 Deer Creek Racquet Club Concrete and Masonry Repairs and the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance Routes.

February 22: Regular Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners approved Resolution #2023-02: Authorizing an Increase in the Budgeted Year-End Fund Transfer Amounts, Ordinance #2023-02: Authorizing and Providing for the Conveyance or Sale of Surplus Personal Property, 2023 Deer Creek Racquet Club Concrete and Masonry Repairs bid, the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance – North Route bid, the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance – South Route bid, the Rejection of the 2023 Routine Grounds Maintenance – Electric Route bid, the Changes to Personnel Policy #2.8 Definitions “Introductory Employees”, the Changes to Personnel Policy #3.2 Equal Employment Opportunity, the Changes to Personnel Policy #4.10 Performance Evaluations, the Changes to Personnel Policy #6.2 Fleet Safety, the Changes to Personnel Policy #6.14.2 / #6.15.2 Reimbursement During Business Travel, Personnel Policy #6.17 and #6.17 Nursing Mothers, the Changes to Personnel Policy #8.3 Sick Time, the Changes to Personnel Policy #8.3 / #8.5 Bereavement, and the Changes to Personnel Policy #10.3 Illinois Victims’ Economic and Safety Act (VESSA).  

Governor JB Pritzker, along with state and local leaders and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), today announced that the Park District of Highland Park was one of 118 park and recreation agencies throughout the State to receive an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant. The Park District of Highland Park was awarded a $600,000 grant to fund a portion of a Sunset Woods Park revitalization project, including the installation of a rain garden with native plantings and an interpretive sign, a new game area, the replacement and relocation of the 16-year-old basketball court to create a multi-use sports court, the replacement and relocation of the 21-year-old skate park, and a new wheel friendly plaza that creates a space for all ages and wheel activities. Sunset Woods Park is a 34-acre community park in downtown Highland Park that serves all residents. The Sunset Woods Revitalization Project seeks to enhance roughly 9 acres of the park by implementing initiatives from the park’s master plan.

The OSLAD grant program was designed to help communities fund land acquisition and development for parks and outdoor recreation projects.  Established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1986, OSLAD is a cost-sharing program between state and local governments that has become one of Illinois’ most popular grant programs. Since its establishment, OSLAD has awarded over $530 million for park projects throughout Illinois (including the awards announced today).  OSLAD grants typically provide up to 50% of funding for a project – excluding economically distressed communities where 100% of project costs have been covered. The other 50% is supplied by matching funds from the project’s local government agency.

“We are thrilled to be awarded the OSLAD grant to allow us to invest in Sunset Woods Park, our community’s central downtown park,” said Brian Romes, executive director for the Park District of Highland Park. “The Park District heard from many residents through the Sunset Woods Master Planning effort, and we are grateful for the support from the OSLAD grant program to be able to act on initiatives from that plan. The Park District is excited to begin engaging the community through the design process.”

Phase 2 of the Breakwater Project is construction of ancillary items that support safe use of the boat ramp including an ADA accessible floating dock, safety bollards and lighting.  After close to a year of delays from the State of Illinois the Park District has been awarded a Boat Access Area Development Grant through IDNR for $200,000 toward the project.   The delay in receiving the grant has delayed purchase of the ancillary items.  

Park Avenue Boating Facility is on schedule to open Memorial Day Weekend.  If any ancillary items, such as the bollards, are not delivered and installed by Memorial Day weekend, the Park District will provide temporary measures to ensure safety for boat launching. 

About the Project

High lake levels accompanied by intense storms over the past few years caused damage to the breakwater wall/barge and concrete ramp at Park Avenue Boating Beach. These extreme weather conditions have affected communities all along the Illinois Lake Michigan shoreline.  

At the April 27 meeting, the Park Board approved construction of Phase 1 of the Park Avenue Breakwater Project in the amount of $2,221,890. The base scope of this project includes removal of the existing barge breakwater and boat ramp, stockpiling and salvaging existing breakwater fill and armor stone, construction of a new steel sheet pile breakwater with a concrete crown wall and construction of a new concrete boat launch.   Funding for the project includes $2,000,000 from the Park District’s capital fund and $400,000 from the Parks Foundation of Highland Park, made possible from community donations

Kathryn Lentz leads a double life. The wild one will be on display at Heller Nature Center in March and April.

It started when she brought home a stray dog. And then another. And another. Unfortunately, she learned, each already had a home. Her own first dog arrived when she was seven, and that began a life-long journey of caring for pets, rescuing animals, writing a popular series of children’s books, and making stunning photographs of animals in the wild. For the upcoming exhibit in the Prairie Room, Kathryn has curated a selection of 40 photos from the thousands in her portfolio that she has made over the last seventeen years.

Lentz has a background in art that clearly shows in her work. The photos are beautifully crafted—from the subject to the composition and lighting. These are thoughtful images, each with a story that draws you in, and invites you to spend time looking closely. Wildlife photography comes with a unique set of challenges. Working outdoors is one. Subjects who are free spirits is certainly another—there’s no saying “move a bit to the left, love”—so quickly assessing the right place to be at exactly the right moment is a critical skill learned the hard way. “I had a wonderful instructor who impressed upon us the importance of carefully composing the scene before clicking the shutter,” says Lentz, “And of course we were using film, which was expensive, so I learned not to waste it.” Even so, like most serious photographers, she would come back from a road trip to National Parks with thousands of images. A couple of quotes from Ansel Adams are evident in her work: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” And one that iPhone camera users should memorize: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  Photography is, after all, art.

The exhibit at Heller features images that can be appreciated by all ages, so be sure to bring your kids and grandkids. If you’re a smartphone camera enthusiast, an amateur photographer, or a working pro there is much that will inspire you to get outdoors and make your own photos. Lucky for you there are woods and trails throughout the Park District where you can find plenty of interesting, and sometimes unusual, animals to photograph.

As an extra treat for kids and families, some of Kathryn’s children’s books (created on the milder side of her life) will be in the Nature Center. Get acquainted with the animals in her stories and download some free coloring pages at kathrynlentz.com. Her photography can be seen on Facebook at Kathryn Lentz Author.

Heller Nature Center, 2821 Ridge Road, is open Tuesdays from 11:30am–5pm; Wednesday–Friday from 10:30am–5pm; and Saturdays from 9am–3pm. We’re closed on Sundays and Mondays. Call us for more information: 847-433-6901.

On Wednesday, March 15 crews will begin installation of the dog enclosure fence at Moraine Park and Beach. The path will be closed during the times that crews are working. Work is expected to take 4 days. We appreciate your patience during the fence installation.

About the Project

In summer 2019, Park District began working with engineering firms, contractors, and the US Army Corps of Engineers to investigate numerous repair approaches and reopen the path and Dog Beach. In early 2020, an engineering firm was hired to develop preliminary site improvement plans. Those plans were presented to the Park Board in August 2020. After careful consideration, the Park Board elected to defer the final design phase to a future year. Repair of the beach access path is a goal in the Lakefront Master Plan Update. The project’s final design was included in the 2021 Capital Plan, and construction began as scheduled in 2022.