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OUTDOORS: Tinley Park show still in high school at 20

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Updated: February 6, 2013 12:04PM



A twist on the famous line from ‘‘A Christmas Story’’ — ‘‘You’ll poke your eye out, kid!’’ — comes to mind in the hallways of Tinley Park High School the second weekend in February.

That’s when people walk around with rods sticking up or out at the Tinley Park Fishing & Outdoor Show.

The little show in a gym, grown into one of the major shows in the Chicago area, celebrates it 20th year this weekend.

Rich Komar III was at the end of high school at Tinley Park when his dad started the show as a fund-raiser for the football team. With riverboat gambling just taking off in Illinois, Vegas nights were no longer the money-makers they once were.

So Rich Komar Jr., who learned fishing from his dad and passed it along to his boys Rich and Joe, thought to try an outdoors show.

‘‘Booths were $5, and we were begging for people coming in and sitting in the booths, and that is how the concept was made,’’ Komar Jr. said.

That’s still the basic idea. Booths are inexpensive by show standards. There’s been a waiting list for vendors for years.

The first year, the show barely filled a gym. Now it packs hallways, auditoriums and gyms.

‘‘My dad used to take us to Rosemont [for the big show] as kids, and that is the vision I had,’’ said Komar III, a fifth-grade teacher who is also the offensive coordinator for Tinley Park’s varsity football team.

It was nothing like that, just some tables and booths in a gym.

‘‘But I remember that I walked around and couldn’t believe how many people there were,’’ he said.

The show took off from there.

‘‘It was kind of neat that all proceeds were going to football,’’ Komar III said. ‘‘All the football players were working. It being my dad, I was there all the time.’’

The football team still does the loading the Friday before the show. But other clubs, teams and organizations pitch in now. The show grew so much that proceeds go wider than the football team.

‘‘Football would be filthy rich if it was just them,’’ Komar Jr. said.

Over the years, proceeds paid for such things as half the equipment in the weight room, a new scoreboard on the athletic field and the trophy cases in the athletic wing.

I asked if he ever thought it would last this long.

‘‘Never,’’ said Komar Jr., who is on his third principal, sixth athletic director and fifth head football coach. ‘‘I thought this would be a flash in the pan and would end after a few years. There is a group of core vendors who came back year after year.’’

Driving the longevity are free parking, inexpensive tickets ($5), an intimate feel from crowded halls and the focus on area fishing and outdoors.

And there is a secret ingredient. Every morning there are doughnuts for the vendors. At lunch, cheerleaders take their lunch orders.

‘‘It is a home feel for vendors,’’ said Komar III, who only missed one year when he was living in California. ‘‘It is a little more like home.’’

Even after 20 years.

Springfield

Online registration (dnr.illinois.gov/ConservationCongress) is open for the 2013 Illinois Conservation Congress in September. There also will be regional meetings this month and next.

Stray cast

Beyoncé was to the Super Bowl halftime what steelhead are to Lake Michigan.



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