Forever Young Sports Cards owner Mitch LaRock, of Schererville, had a passion for sports since he was a kid.
When LaRock was 6 years old, a life-changing event was occurring that he would be forever grateful. After initially feeling unsure about his mom’s new boyfriend, Nick Ilickovich, he quickly had a change of heart.
Ilickovich invited young LaRock to share in his passion for sports. Ilickovich eventually would become his "Dad."
“I remember he would always bring me packs of baseball cards and spend time with me to talk about sports,” LaRock said. “We became inseparable, and I appreciated the time he spent with me. He has so many amazing stories about growing up in East Chicago and playing ball with the neighborhood kids, which included (MLB center fielder) Kenny Lofton.”
LaRock’s dream is to get fathers and sons and daughters to share their same love for sports and build relationships like he has done with his dad.
He decided to open his business, which he operates out of his home, and will host “Da” Region Sports Card & Collectibles Expo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 25 at Villa Cesare Hall in Schererville.
“I think the biggest part about doing this massive show is that I want kids to be able to experience the stories I have,” the 28-year-old LaRock said. “There have been small shows for years, but this one is going to be huge with many vendors, which include cards, memorabilia, wax boxes, autographs, comics, toys and other collectibles.”
Ilickovich, 56, had grown an impressive sports memorabilia collection over the years that included Cubs players like Fergie Jenkins, Larry Bowa, Ernie Banks, and the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dr. J, and his favorite, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. He eventually gave the collection to LaRock, who now amasses more than “a quarter-million cards.”
“Mitch’s passion is energizing,” Ilickovich said. “I remember at Christmas he was hyperventilating over a pack he opened. Inside was a Mitchell Trubisky card, and I thought he was going to seriously have a heart attack.”
In LaRock's defense, the card — a gold autographed superfractor card of the Chicago Bears QB — is the only one of its kind and is said to be valued at about $2,000.
“My mom (Lori Ilickovich) actually picked out the box, and before she thought she was bad luck, but I told her not anymore,” LaRock said.
LaRock, who played football at Munster High School, feels lucky to have a supportive family and is quick to compliment his fiancee, Erika Malloy, for bearing with his obsessions. His favorite pieces include his Kyle Long Bears autographed memorabilia; he loves Chicago teams.
LaRock and Nick Ilickovich still enjoy opening cards and sharing time together. They even have a special bonding method that has them taking turns when opening each pack to see what cards each other draws.
“I once told him that it’s exciting and it makes me feel young,” Ilickovich said. “That’s how he named the business because he wanted to share that experience with others.”
LaRock’s passion for sports is evident, especially when entering his home, which looks more like a Chicago sports museum. He even named his black 1-year-old Shichon dog Rizzo — after Chicago Cubs player Anthony Rizzo.