By Steve Robinson | December 6, 2021 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: Champaign Central, NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Community High School continued its winning streak, increasing it to five games following their Big 12 Conference home game Friday night, defeating Big 12 Conference foe Champaign Central, 57-31, continuing adding to their undefeated streak at the Intercity Tourney two weeks ago. On the other hand, the game was the season opener for the Maroons who started the season at 0-1.

Champaign Central Ta’Shawn Butler got his team off quickly with a game opening trey putting the Maroons up, 3-0. But NCHS was quick to respond thanks to a pair of deuces by senior forward Zachary Cleveland putting the Ironmen up 4-3. Cleveland followed that up with an unanswered trey, increasing NCHS’ advantage to 7-3. Champaign Central senior forward Maurice Thomas Jr.’s deuce cut the lead to 7-5, but a deuce for NCHS by sophomore Noah Cleveland put the Ironmen up, 9-5. Thomas’ jumper cut that lead to 9-7, but that was all the offense the visitors could muster, as a deuce from sophomore guard Braylon Roman and a trey from Noah Cleveland nearly doubled the Ironmen’s lead to 13-7 going into the second quarter.

NCHS (5-0 after this game) opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run thanks to one basket by senior guard Crofton Perry, and a pair of baskets by Dwinal, followed by another basket by Perry opened the Ironmen advantage to 21-7 with 6:27 in the quarter prompting Maroons head coach Leconte Nix to call timeout. Thomas would score his team’s only other points of the half, cutting NCHS’ lead to 23-9 with 4:55 left in the half. Two baskets for NCHS by senior forward Zachary Cleveland and one by Roman followed and were all unanswered by Champaign pushing the home team up 27-9 with 3:55 left in the half, prompting Nix to call another timeout. But the temporary stop didn’t appear to be much help as NCHS pressed on as sophomore forward Noah Cleveland closed out the half with a deuce and an unanswered trey, giving NCHS a 32-9 halftime lead.

A foul called against NCHS’ Dwinal sent Butler to the free throw line to open the third quarter, where he only made 1-of-2 which cut the Ironmen lead to 32-10. But from there, NCHS’ offense pushed forward on back-to-back unanswered baskets by Zachary Cleveland, increasing the lead to 36-10. Only a trey by sophomore forward Axel Baldwin for the Maroons stopped that, cutting NCHS’ lead to 36-13 with 5:56 in the quarter.

Junior guard Robbie Brent and senior forward Famious French sandwiched baskets for NCHS around a trey for Champaign Central by Butler, increasing the Ironmen lead, 40-16, followed by another Maroons bucket from senior guard Dwayne Hubbard, reducing the Ironmen lead to 40-18, prompting the Maroons to call time with 2:40 left in the quarter. Following the timeout, sophomore Jaheem Webber’s jumper increased NCHS’ lead to 42-18 and was followed by a 3-point play of deuce and free throw by Butler to close out the quarter with NCHS holding a 42-21 advantage.

Butler opened the fourth quarter for his team with a trey and NCHS senior guard Eli Benson replied with a trey of his own followed by an unanswered deuce by junior forward Owen Pogge putting NCHS up, 47-24. Butler’s ensuing trey cut that lead to 47-27, but that was short-lived a basket by senior center Tye Niekamp followed by a Butler trey sent NCHS up, 52-27, with 3:58 remaining, prompting a Champaign timeout.

Following the timeout, an NCHS foul sent Central senior guard Javier Cooper to the foul line with 2:51 left making only 1-of-2, reducing NCHS’ lead, 52-28. But a trey by Benson put NCHS up, 55-28. Senior forward Klaeton Davis hit a jumper for Central, cutting NCHS’ lead to 55-30 and Niekamp responded with the Ironmen’s last points of the night, increasing their lead to 57-30. Champaign Central’s last point of the night came when senior guard Lawrence Parks went 1-for-2 from the free throw line having been fouled by an NCHS player.

NCHS head coach Dave Witzig touted how well his players have helped get their team off to their undefeated start after this game. “We have some height, we have some speed, and we just hope we can keep winning like this. We wanted to win in front of our home crowd and I thought our guys did a good job all the way around staying focused and working on things we have been working on it practice.”

Witzig said his team “missed some layups, but I really like how our defense played. We have seven seniors who are dedicated to getting better. When you have seven seniors who are really into playing, it helps your team. We hope we can keep going.”

Champaign Central head coach Leconte Nix said his team had only had two practices over the previous two weeks before this game because of players who contracted COVID and, as a result, was only were able to suit eight players for this game. Despite that and the outcome from this game for his team, Nix said, “Our kids played hard and I loved their effort, so that’s all I can ask for.”

Streak Continues: Saturday, the Ironmen traveled to southern Illinois to take on East St. Louis High at the annual Mount Vernon Shootout tournament. NCHS extended their winning streak to six with a 50-37 victory. The game’s first half was a tight battle, with the Ironmen holding a 21-20 halftime lead. But the Ironmen managed to pull away in the second half, outscoring the Flyers, 29-17, toward the consecutive victory.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:08 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – By a 6-1 vote, Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance authorizing the 2021 property tax levy. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote. A State statute requires that on or before the last Tuesday in December, Council members approve and the Town files the tax levy with the McLean County Clerk. At Council’s Nov. 15 meeting, members unanimously approved authorizing preparation of the 2021 tax levy ordinance. The Town proposes to collect $13,381,652 from the levy, an increase of $326,324, or a 2.5 percent increase from monies collected in 2020. The increased tax levy was aimed at continuing to meet Normal police and fire pension requirements.

There was some disagreement concerning the amount sought in the levy. Nord stated his objection to voting for the levy by saying he didn’t think most current increase was necessary citing the Town receiving incoming money from increasing its gas tax, having a tax on marijuana sales from a local business, a recent increase in sales tax, and incoming Federal funds related to passage of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Because of those sources for incoming funds, Nord said, “I don’t see a justifiable reason why we should increase property taxes as well, and ask for more money. We’ve got over $25 million in new money coming in so I would like to hear we’re justified in raising these property taxes.”

Council Member Karyn Smith provided some reasons replying to Nord’s objections, first by explaining funding the pensions of retired police and fire employees “interest rate returns and mortality tables keep moving the goal post.” She said the Town hasn’t a desire of underfunding those accounts. She said a combination of people living longer and dollars earning less even when invested call for contributions from the Town must increase. “This tax levy doesn’t get us to 100 percent, but we are treading water, so more dollars are needed to fund the pensions,” she said. She added bonds the Town had planned to pay off next year needed to be refinanced partly due to low current interest rates.

Only one resident made a public comment on the levy, explaining although the levy would not change from last year, equalized assessed valuation of property would increase by 2.5 percent. “You, as Council members, do not have to the tax base in order to issue a tax increase,” Stimpert told Council members.

Ordinance Abating $6.5 Million Worth of 2021 Property Taxes Passes: Council members unanimously approved authorizing abatement of 2021 property taxes for debt service. The following bonds abated total $6,533,413: 2009(A) bonds issued July 2009 (Build American Bonds); 2012 bonds issued October 2012 to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued November 2013 to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued December 2014; 2016(A) bonds issued March 2016 to refund 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued March 2016; and 2017(A) bonds issued March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds.

Final Plat For Greystone Fields Subdivision Conditionally Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution conditionally approving the final plat for Greystone Fields subdivision 4th addition on Parkside Rd. Originally proposed for an initial subdivision in 2004, the land initially had 172 single family lots. The area has three total areas of housing and the developer is submitting approval to the Town for a fourth addition. The fourth addition covers 4.79 acres with 30 lots.

Lease Agreement With Enterprise Fleet Management Approved: By a 6-1 count, with Nord casting the lone opposing vote, Council members voted to approve a resolution authorizing City Manager Pam Reece to enter into lease agreements with Enterprise Fleet Management for 30 2022 Ford F-150 4×4 SuperCab vehicles for 12 months and four vehicles for six months. In his memo to City Manager Pam Reece, Town Director of Finance Andrew Huhn wrote, “By utilizing this leasing program, the Town’s operational spending for vehicles will decrease, saving the Town money and ultimately the taxpayer.”

But the subject touched off a lengthy discussion begun by Nord when he explained he believed this process for the purchase to be atypical of how the Town commonly makes such purchases. Council Member Kevin McCarthy countered Nord’s objection calling the process for the purchase of the vehicles, “pretty straight forward,” adding, “we have an opportunity to save some money on fine vehicles that we use in the operation of government.”

Development Agreement With O’Brien Automotive Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution for a development agreement with O’Brien Automotive. The agreement supports expansion of the dealership’s two current locations on Fort Jesse Rd. As a result of the agreement, the Town will continue receiving sales tax revenue. As part of the agreement, annual revenues of more than $435,000 will be eligible for rebate back to the developer up to $850,000 under certain conditions over a seven year period.

Nord told Council member he was in favor of the agreement, specifying it didn’t include any risk to taxpayer dollars. He added he wanted to see Normal put together a standard set of incentives to make available to businesses which wouldn’t be eligible for the incentives in the Bloomington-Normal Enterprise Zone.

Work Session Held Concerning Federal Dollars Town Received: Council members held a work session prior to the regularly-scheduled meeting concerning Federal dollars allocated to the Town under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Act, signed by President Joe Biden signed in March, includes $30.5 billion in Federal funds for use to support the nation’s public transportation systems as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as support the President’s call to vaccinate America’s population.

The Town was to be allocated $10,879,113 by Dec. 31, 2024 and the Town must have spent all of what it receives by the end of December 2026. Monies provided to the Town need to be used toward projects which provide short-term stimulus and have long term positive economic impact.

City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the Town sent out a survey to residents in October to try to understand how residents prioritize different funding opportunities, to understand how that prioritizing differs depending on age, gender, and ethnic groups, and to understand what characteristics influenced preferences for each of the funding opportunities. A total of 905 local residents age 18 and older responded to the survey and their responses, Town officials discovered, broke down into two categories of priorities: Infrastructure improvements and social support.

Reece explained eligible uses for the funds set by the government included utility assistance, behavior health program support, and community health care clinic assistance related to COVID. Connect Transit, which was affected by the pandemic because of how it had to alter its ability to aid residents who use the service, received funds to recoup financial losses as a result of it.

NORMAL – It came down to penalty kicks for Heartland Community College’s women’s soccer team to earn their national title, beating Tucson, Ariz.-based Pima Community College, 4-2 to win the National Junior Collegiate Association of America’s Division III title at Wichita, Kan. HCC was the top seed in the tourney while PCC was seeded 4th. As a result, the HCC’s Hawks finished the season with a 19-0-1 mark, while PCC finished their year at 16-4-2.

The victory also marked the very first national title win for the school in that sport in school history.

“We knew from the beginning that we had a very good team,” sophomore goaltender Bekah Nielsen said. She said the team collectively felt they were making headway after a 2-1 road win over Illinois Central College Sept. 15.

HCC found themselves down to ICC 1-0 at the half, tied the game 1-all by the end of regulation and won the contest in overtime.

“We were down in that game and then we came back,” Nielsen said. “I think that was a very good turning point for us.” She said coming back in that contest showed the team that if they were down in a contest, they had the ability to come from behind to achieve a victory. For Nielsen, winning that game was an indication to her HCC had the potential to win the national championship.

HCC lost in the semis last year in a contest to Mississippi-based Holmes College that went into double overtime to resolve.

Being at HCC in his first season at the helm of this team, head coach Norman Ramos Franco said he had moments when, during their winning streak, he needed to get the team to refocus and not think too far ahead, taking one opponent at a time. He was an assistant coach for the team at the time.

HCC had two local players on their 22-player roster, both Normal Community West High School alums — sophomore goalie Bekah Nielsen and freshman forward Carla Martinez. The other players were from Texas and Florida with some international students from Spain.

“It really made me feel really secure having Bekah at goal,” Franco said. He added he always “felt secure having her at goal.” That security will require looking for another player between the pipes next season as Nielsen will graduate from HCC at the end of the year.

Of the contributions the other local girl on the team, Martinez made to the team, Franco said, “Carla is the glue to the team. She’s the very big piece to the puzzle. Offensively, when she runs and doesn’t have the ball, she opens a lot of offense space up for us.”

“Not every coach gets to be lucky enough to have the group of girls who played for me,” Franco said.

Game Action Against Puma Community College: HCC goalie Nielsen had five saves and teammate Lucia Cuadra fired 7 shots on goal, two of them getting past two goaltenders PCC used during the contest. Heartland outshot PCC by a 19-7 count during the contest.

HCC scored first as sophomore forward Lucia Cuadra scored her team’s first goal at the 4:13 mark in the first half. PCC sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Bassett tied the contest at the 20:34 mark in the half, knotting the score at 1-1, as the game went to halftime.

PCC freshman midfielder Delaney Buntin put her team up, 2-1, at 64:47 in the second half, and was followed less than three minutes later, in the game’s 71st minute, by a second goal from HCC’s Cuadra, tying the game at 2-2, which is how the game ended forcing overtime.

During overtime, five members from each team got to make kicks in to the opponents’ net. For PCC, Freshman Midfielder/Forward Marilyn McFeaters and Sophomore Midfielder Litycia Espinoza missed their overtime kicks while their teammates, Sophomore Defender Kortney Cahill and Sophomore Midfielder/Forward Seti Valencia got their goals past HCC goalie Nielsen.

When HCC had their turn in overtime, they went a perfect 5-for-5, as freshman forward Zara Dominguez, sophomore Midfielder/Forward April Alvarez, sophomore defender Marta Gonzalez, sophomore midfielder Leslie Gutierrez, and sophomore midfielder Alicia Martinez all got the ball into the net.

By Steve Robinson | November 21, 2021 - 4:35 pm
Posted in Category: Ridgeview, Ridgeview Review

LENA, Ill. – When Saturday’s Illinois High School Association Class 1A semifinal started, Ridgeview-Lexington’s main goal was to keep Lena-Winslow from getting to DeKalb for a fourth try at a State Football title. They already had two under their belt as it was. But a nuisance defense and offensive wherewithal allowed the Panthers to outpace their guests from McLean County, 28-12.

Both sides seem to size up their opponent in a scoreless first quarter before either team crossed the goal line with the ball for a first score. Senior quarterback Luke Benson went into the end zone first for Lena-Winslow with 11:57 left in the second quarter completing a 11 play 64 yard drive. That was followed by Benson successfully completing a 2-point conversion play, putting the 6th seeded Panthers up, 8-0.

A Panthers punt return late in the quarter put Ridgeview at Lena-Winslow’s 25 yard line. Three plays later, senior Carter Coffman dashed into the end zone from one yard out for the touchdown, but the team’s 2-point conversion try was foiled by Lena-Winslow defenders, shortening their lead to 8-6 going into halftime.

Roby added to his team’s lead in the third quarter on a 1-yard scoring run followed by Benson connecting with senior wide receiver Brody Mahon to push the Panthers further in front, 16-6, with the game entering the fourth quarter. Benson added an additional touchdown from 7 yards out with 10:40 in the final quarter followed by a failed 2-point try, increasing Lena-Winslow’s lead to 22-6.

Sophomore Cal Thomas connected with senior wide receiver Ben Peacock and fans watched as the receiver scrambled to avoid tackles on his way to a 38-yard touchdown followed by a failed 2-point try. As a result, Lena-Winslow owned a 22-12 lead with 9:11 remaining in the game.

The Mustangs forced Lena-Winslow to punt but wound up ending the ensuing drive on a fumble near midfield. Lena-Winslow got a last score from Roby from 5 yards out followed by a failed 2-point conversion attempt resulting in the final score.

“There’s a reason they’ve won as many State championships as they have,” Mustangs head coach Hal Chiodo said. “They’re an extremely excellent football team. “They’re very strong and very difficult to run the ball on, and we had a hard time establishing any offense today. We’re thankful that we could throw the ball some. But it was tough. We got beat by a great football team, and I’m very, very, very proud of the way our guys fought today.”

During the game, Chiodo said, “We tried to capitalize against their blitzing but we just couldn’t get the job done. They got there too quick and we just weren’t getting the ball off quick enough. They played better than we did and they deserve to win.”

Of the kids on his team’s 41-man roster, Chiodo said, “If we had lost all our games, I would have said moving back here was worth it. I’m glad I got to work with them and get to know them, and get some life back in this football program.” Chiodo returned to central Illinois from Florida to take the head coaching job at Ridgeview-Lexington last summer.

Of the Mustangs, Lena-Winslow head coach Ric Arand said, “They are fundamentally sound. They do a lot of things well and they were all we could handle today. They are tough on offensive and defensive line and they play just line we do, playing smashmouth football.” He added.

By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2021 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members met in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station and unanimously approved authorizing preparation of the 2021 tax levy ordinance during their regularly-scheduled session. Preparation of the tax levy is required by State law under Illinois tax code. The Town proposes to collect $13,381,652 from the levy, an increase of $326,324, or 2.5 percent above what was collected in 2020.

In his report to City Manager Pam Reece, Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn explained the Town’s general fund “will be absorbing $1.3 million in funding needs that were historically covered by the property tax levy.” As a result, Huhn wrote, “That will keep the property tax rate unchanged from the previous year.”

Actual assessed value jumped by 1.85 percent when it was .65 percent in 2020 to the 2.5 percent figure for this year.

Agreement With Developer For Phases II And III Of Underpass Project Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement with WSP USA Inc. for Phases II & III engineering services for the Uptown Station Underpass Project in an amount not-to-exceed $3,291,586. Council Member Karyn Smith said she wanted to remind the public the funding for this project which has been discussed by the Council in recent years.

Smith said she pulled the item off Council’s omnibus agenda to remind residents the Town’s financial obligation for the project is offset by, as she said, “a myriad of sources that we have worked to compile to fund this project.” She reminded Normal’s share of the total tab would be around $232,634.31 as the remainder of the tab is anticipated to be picked up by grant funding and railroad related dollars. She said funding for the project design would come from other sources including Federal and State funds.

Town Director of Public Works Ryan Otto informed Council members the Town would pay bills related to the project and then seek reimbursement to the various government agencies overseeing certain parts of the project. Receiving reimbursement from those agencies, Otto said, depends on staffing levels of the various agencies at time of submission.

Council Approves Amended Site Plan For Rivian: Council members unanimously approved a resolution granting an amended site plan for Rivian Automotive, 100 N. Rivian Motorway. After placing building additions onto the property in the last couple years, the electric car manufacturer sought Town approval to add a 623,000-square-foot addition along the building’s west side. That expansion would bring the total size of the facility to approximately 3.7 million square feet and remove 218 parking spaces to the west. Among other proposed changes to the property, Town Code-compliant wall-mounted lighting would be added to the proposed building addition. When Rivian officials approached Normal Planning Commission’s Nov. 4 meeting with their planned changes, the commission voted 7-0 granting approval.

Carl Teichman Reappointed To Regional Planning Commission: Mayor Chris Koos announced the reappointment of Carl Teichman to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. Recognized as Normal’s “Citizen Of The Year” in 2017, his current appointment expires Dec. 31 and the reappointment extends his term on the Commission until it expires Dec. 31, 2024. He is currently employed by Illinois Wesleyan University as director of government and community relations, and has been at IWU since 1979.

Liquor Commission Renews One License, Approves A New License: Prior to the Council session starting, Council members, serving in their capacity as members of Normal Local Liquor Commission, approved a pair of licenses in a meeting prior to the regularly-scheduled Council session. The first license was to approve a license renewal for the Town doing business as Normal Theater, 209 North St., which Council did by a unanimous vote. Originally opened in 1937, and the Town began ownership of the theater in the early 1990s. In September, Council members passed an ordinance amending Town Code allowing the theater to begin selling beer there.

Commission Member Stan Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece if the Town had a “recorded estimated amount of revenue versus the cost of selling liquor?” Reece said she didn’t “personally have that information. I don’t know.” Nord stated the Town selling liquor produces challenges because of potential liability issues and having staff who are age 21 available to sell product. Commission Member Kevin McCarthy said Normal is experienced concerning this matter and “has a good track record” and “a successful history” where it’s concerned. He added he believes the Town “makes good budgetary decisions” where this matter is concerned, as well.

Council members voted 6-1 to approve the license for the theater with Nord casting the lone opposing vote.

Council members also unanimously approved a Class M (brewpub) license for Fiala Bros. Beer, LLC doing business as Fiala Brothers Brewery & Beer Hall, 127 E. Beaufort St.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of Nov. 1, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 10, 2021.

• A resolution requesting permission to close a portion on U.S. Highway 51 for the Annual Jaycees Christmas Parade.

• A resolution executing an agreement with Bloomington-based Scharnett Associates for design and construction documents for the new Luckey Climber at the Children’s Discovery Museum in an amount not to exceed $89,400.

• A resolution authorizing staff to accept the base bid and all alternates and execute a contract with Morton-based Otto Baum Company, Inc., for parking garage maintenance services in the amount of $139,670.

• A resolution authorizing the purchase of a Turfco CR-15 Large Area Top Dresser and Material Handler from Burris Equipment for $37,907.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept quotes totaling $84,545.87 from Dell for the purchase of computer equipment.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the re-subdivision of Lot 2 in the re-subdivision of Lots 1, 2, and part of Lots 3, 4, and vacated Ward Drive (Shoppes at College Hills).