By Steve Robinson | October 18, 2021 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – It seems tough to believe that is it has been over 20 years since Dan Muller suited up to take the court for Illinois State’s Redbirds basketball team. It seems even more astounding that Muller will be going into his 10th season as head coach when the season starts next month.

And he’s hoping the team will show improvements as well as get through a full season without injuries or the Coronavirus or game cancellations by opponents interrupting any of his players’ or coaching staff’s season. With all that, the Redbirds are looking to finish this season in better shape than the 7-18 overall mark, including a 4-14 Missouri Valley Conference record which had them at the bottom of the 10-team league’s standings.

“This year has been a breath of fresh air, even with the guys being able to go to class and work out at normal times,” Muller said. ISU sent students home to learn remotely in mid-March. But by that time, Muller’s crew’s fate had already been sealed as far as last season was concerned.

Of how it feels currently for his team, Muller said during “not only does it feel like it’s back to normal, it feels even better because it was kind of taken away from us last year. So, the appreciation level is higher than it has been in the past, allowing players and coaches to be in the gym together and do our job.”

Team goals remain the same for the team, Muller said. Those are: “Protect home court, win the league championship, play in a tournament.” No doubt, the tournament the coach and his players are shooting for is the NCAA Tournament. “Our players want to put a good product on the court,” he said.

Players Looking To Achieve Wins: Looking at ISU’s roster, you see Muller’s recruiting wasn’t confined to the continental USA. Redshirt junior Liam McChesney, a junior forward, is just one example of that, being from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada by way of transferring to ISU from Utah State University.

At 6 foot-2 and 200 pounds, McChesney said he “plays wherever I am needed” on the court. “I didn’t know Normal was so normal,” he quipped, saying the team and the Town have “been great” to him. “My main goal is to get through this whole year and get to the tournament.”

Junior forward Harouna Sissoko was busy last season and his stats prove it. Among his successes while playing in all 25 of the team’s games during the season, the 6 foot-7 forward started in 13 games and scored 104 points and retrieved 78 rebounds. He also scored a career-high 21 points against Greenville in December. He attended high school in Des Moines, and said he wants to see the team get to both MVC Tournament and any post-season tournament after that.

At 6 foot-10, junior forward Alex Kotov also adds to the height factor opponents had to contend with last season and will have to adjust to again this season. With such taller players like himself, Kotov said he thinks ISU will have an advantage when facing opponents this season. “I think this year, having so many guys roughly my height, we have a chance to outrebound teams since we have reach.” Born in Canada, Kotov’s family moved to Russia where he lived for 16 years. He explained he moved to America in his senior year of high school, attending a private high school in Florida.

Senior forward Abdou Ndiaye finished last season with the second highest number of blocked shots to his credit, with 1.4 per game. The 6 foot-9, 200 pound senior forward said the veterans on the team “just want to win this year and take things one game at a time and get better every day. But as a team, we are looking for wins this year.” He said last season was tough on the team because there were a number of games back-to-back against one opponent as a means of dodging Covid. “It was really, really tough,” Ndiaye explained about the experience the team had last season.

But, Ndiaye was quick to add that Redbirds players were able to spend time together this summer and get a head start bonding in preparation for the season. “I just want to try to do to help the team win more games this year,” Ndiaye said.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU will host an exhibition against University of Davenport Thursday, Nov. 4 at 7p.m. before getting the season underway with a non-conference tilt against University of North Carolina-Wilmington Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7p.m. ISU will travel to Eastern Michigan for a Nov. 12 game and host Murray State at Redbird Arena Nov. 16 at 7p.m. The Redbirds will be part of the week of Nov. 20. They will host Purdue Northwest in a non-conference game Nov. 27 at 8p.m. before playing their first Missouri Valley Conference contest Dec. 1 when Missouri State visits Redbird Arena for a 7p.m. contest.

By Steve Robinson | October 17, 2021 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Following a first half where both teams played what appeared to be a fairly evenly matched contest, keeping their homecoming guests from Champaign Centennial High School scoreless in the second half proved key for Normal Community High School in their

35-13 Big 12 Conference victory over the Crusaders at Dick Tharp Field Friday night.

Senior running back Javon Smith’s 7 yard touchdown run with 54 seconds left in the first quarter followed by junior kicker Ryan Millmore’s extra point put NCHS (8-0 overall, 7-0 Big 12) up, 7-0 to begin the contest. But the game quickly became a 7-7 tie when Centennial senior running back Braylon Peacock received the ensuing kickoff and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown followed by sophomore kicker Karson Kaiser’s extra point with 36.3 seconds left.

NCHS went up to 14-7 over Champaign Centennial (4-4, 4-3 Big 12) courtesy of a kickoff return which put the Ironmen at Champaign’s 35 yard line. Three plays later, junior running back Christopher Taylor rushed for a 28 yard touchdown followed by Millmore’s extra point giving the Ironmen a 14-7 lead just 10 seconds into the quarter.

The Chargers would score on their next possession on a 77 yard touchdown sprint by junior running back Brandon Harvey, but NCHS defenders would block the extra point try leading to their holding a 14-13 lead which they carried through to halftime.

NCHS received the second half kickoff and were delighted to start the half with an 85 yard kickoff return by sophomore running back Tommy Davis, putting the Ironmen up, 21-13 after Millmore’s extra point at 11:45 in the third quarter.

The Ironmen scored again at 3:09 in the third quarter on a 34 yard touchdown pass from Mackey to senior wide receiver Terence Washington followed by Millmore’s next extra point, putting NCHS up 28-13, a score they would keep going into the fourth quarter.

Champaign Centennial ensuing possession would begin at their own 20 yard line but end eight plays later in a turnover on downs at NCHS’ 23 yard line with 11:22 left in the contest. One play later, Mackey would dash around and past defenders to score from 77 yards out at the game’s 11:06 mark followed by Millmore’s extra point resulting in the game’s eventual final score.

“We knew this was going to be a bit of a battle,“ NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz acknowledged afterward, adding his team knew they were facing a team primarily consisting of very young players. “I thought their returning a kick for a score in the first half was a big momentum shift allowing them to take control in the first half.” But the fourth season head coach was quick to add Champaign Centennial’s roster was made up of younger players. He added Peacock’s running touchdown briefly jolted his team, but once the Ironmen made some second half adjustments, his defense was able to keep the Crusaders from getting to the end zone the remainder of the game.

He added Davis’ touchdown at the start of the third quarter “is always nice to put points on the board on one play. If felt that play brought momentum and energy for us in all three phases of our game and we played much better in the second half.”

Chargers head coach Kyle Jackson classified his team’s play as “a tale of two halves,” adding, “In the first half, we executed and played pretty well, the second half, we didn’t execute as well. In the first half, we executed, but in the second half, we just didn’t execute as well.”

Ironmen fans will have to wait until week 9 to visit crosstown rival Normal Community West High Friday night for their annual “Chili Bowl” showdown. Normal West is 6-2 overall including a 5-2 Big 12 Conference mark after delivering a 54-0 shutout at Peoria Richwoods Friday night.

NORMAL – A generally positive audit report, were all part of what members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board heard about at their regularly-scheduled meeting held Oct. 13 in Normal Community West High School’s auditorium.

Audit Report Presented: Hope Wheeler, a principal with Champaign-based audit firm of CliftonLarsenAllenLLP, informed Board members conducted during the 2019-20 school year. The audit wrapped up at the end of that school year. Wheeler said auditors found no misstatements in the records auditors looked at in district financial books. She said auditors were able to issue an unmodified report, what auditors refer to as a “clean report” concerning the district’s financial statements. Unit 5 was able to retire $26.3 million worth of debt this year but in the same period incurred $5.1 million in what she described as new debt this year. The district added $7.6 million in additional capital assets, or purchases, over the course of the year.

The district saw increases in revenue in its education, operations and maintenance, working cash, and tort funds, Wheeler said, showing the increases demonstrated with graphs. Graphs also showed an increase in expenses related to the district’s education fund. The district spent $115,775,782 during the previous school year, a nearly 2 percent jump from the year before.

Kingsley Junior High School’s “Good News”: Board members received a “good news” report from Kingsley Junior High School Associate Principal Shane Hill introduced Board members to Brandan Oates, KJHS’ Computer Skills & B.E.L.T. teacher. B.E.L.T. stands for Bandwidth/Broadband, Education/Environment, Leadership & Technology. Oates simulated a non-for-profit business called the Global Cardboard Challenge. This culminated in an event for nearly 200 Oakdale students led by Oates in his BELT classes. For his efforts, Hill explained, Oates has recently won For these reasons and more, Mr. Oates won the Emerging Professional Award for the North Central Business Education Association.

This is an annual award given to a K-12 business educator who has shown outstanding contributions to the field of business education within their first 5 years of teaching, and is given to one business educator annually within the north central region that encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and four other midwestern states. Hill said Oates, who has taught for four years, “has been very creative in his approach” and “using real life experiences to create the Global Cardboard Challenge.

Update From District Equity Leadership Team Given: Board members received an update from the district’s director of diversity, Dr. Kristal Shelvin concerning Unit 5’s District Equity Leadership Team, or DELT, which was introduced in August. She explained a cross-section of district staff from different departments, numbering 35 people in total, address five separate sections of the program. Among the duties the district is trying to accomplish before this group has their first meeting next semester is selecting students interested in becoming members.

Adding Girls’ Wrestling, Inappropriate Substitute To Vaping Addressed In Public Comments: Margaret Lehr addressed Board members seeking for Normal’s two high schools to add girls’ wrestling to its sports rosters. A former girls’ wrestler herself, Lehr asked the district to consider supporting adding the sport to their teams list. She said IHSA will hold its first State Girls’ Wrestling Tournament on Feb. 26 at Grossinger Arena in Downtown Bloomington. She stated there are currently no schools in the State which have wrestling teams exclusively for girls.

Parent Michaellyn Clark addressed Board members concerns regarding a series of signs which have been found at Normal Community High School which were deemed inappropriate because, while the signs suggested students stop the practice of vaping, it encouraged other activities which the district considered inappropriate.

Vaping is defined as inhaling and exhaling vapor containing nicotine and flavoring products. While District Superintendent Dr. Kristin Weikle didn’t identify the activity the signs suggested to students, she said the activity “would not be anything as a school we would promote. We think a student posted it as a prank.” School administrators combed the building and removed the signs, she said. She added school security cameras were checked as a means of trying to identify who was responsible for bringing the signs into the school, but have not been able to identify those responsible for bringing the signs to the school. Dr. Weikle said the signs were of a nature which would be approved for posting by the school.

Requesting Students No Longer Wear Masks In Public Comments: Students continuing to be required to wear masks to protect themselves from the effects of Coronavirus prompted parent Dawn Bergeron to address Board members, saying, “There is little or no scientific evidence that supports the use of masks to protect yourself from COVID-19. There are more and more doctors from throughout the world who do not support the wearing of masks.” She added wearing masks were more harmful to those who wear them.

Don Twedell, a grandparent, added to the opposition to the district having students wear masks, saying “What scientific proof as a school board, do you have that those masks work? I don’t wear a mask. I don’t believe a face diaper is going to stop me from getting COVID. If I get it, I get it.” He also expressed a concern about an increase in fights within District schools.

Parent Steve Mickowiak told Board members, “I am sick of seeing my daughter in a mask. There is no scientific background for it. It hinders them, especially the younger kids. Developmentally, they need to see each other’s faces. They have to. Unmask our children, please.”

An immediate Statewide mask mandate was imposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker for Illinois schoolchildren on Aug. 4, reversing his earlier stance.

By Steve Robinson | October 11, 2021 - 11:30 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High’s varsity football team began the month of October on the losing end of a 40-0 blowout at the hands of Springfield High School. On Oct. 8, head coach Brody Walworth’s team redeemed themselves a week later, thrilling the homecoming crowd at Hancock Stadium with a 41-0 win over Decatur Eisenhower High School.

A U-High interception put the Pioneers at Decatur’s 15-yard line and from there, one play later, senior wide receiver Bronson Mueller caught a pass from junior quarterback Colin Cunningham for U-High’s first score, followed by junior kicker Declan Duley’s extra point, putting U-High up, 7-0, at 5:19 in the first quarter.

Decatur Eisenhower’s ensuing possession ended in a fumble taking place while the Panthers were trying to punt and the Pioneers recovered getting possession a second time at Decatur’s 19-yard line. But incomplete passes forced U-High’s Duley into kicking what turned out to be a successful 25-yard field goal, increasing his team’s lead, 10-0 with 2:37 left in the quarter. A turnover on downs would give the Pioneers the ball again at Decatur’s 21-yard line, and six plays later, Mueller would score a 2-yard touchdown followed by Duley’s next extra point, giving U-High a 17-0 lead going into the second quarter.

The Panthers’ next possession ended in a fumble in their territory where, three plays later, Cunningham’s 4-yard scoring run, followed by Duley’s extra point, increased U-High’s lead to 24-0, with 11:05 until halftime. Eisenhower’s ensuing possession ended in a turnover on downs, and U-High capitalized on it seven plays later with Cunningham’s 35-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Colton Chinowth. That score was followed by Duley’s next extra point, putting U-High up, 31-0, with 5:37 left in the half.

Duley would add a 32-yard field goal as the first half closed, giving U-High (3-4) a 34-0 lead. When the second half opened, U-High got to Decatur’s 46-yard line as a starting point, following up five plays later with Moeller’s 11-yard touchdown run. Duley’s follow-up extra point resulted in the eventual final score.

With U-High having a 40-point plus advantage, game officials employed IHSA’s “Mercy Rule,” – using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury. The running clock began as a result of Moeller’s last touchdown on the night. Moeller’s score was followed by Duley’s extra point, increasing the Pioneers’ lead to the eventual final score.

“We have not been focused on anything but us because we have not played our best the last couple weeks,” Walworth admitted after the victory. “We didn’t spend the week talking about Decatur. We talked about our process, making sure we were playing our best possible game.”

Explaining the Pioneers spent time in practice prior to this game on what he called proper execution, Walworth added he believes it was his team’s own mistakes that caused the Pioneers to lose what games they have this season. “Having a new coach and a new coaching staff, everything is about trying to raise our level of play,” Walworth said. “I think we raised it a little bit this week.”

Assistant coach DaJuan Johnson patrolled the sidelines for Decatur Eisenhower (0-7), filling in for head coach Moe Dampeer who was suspended one game as a result of an incident during the Panthers’ game a week ago against Decatur MacArthur. “Normal University High just came out and played a good game today,” Johnson said. “We need to come out and execute better. “What this comes down to is execution. We’re very young and we don’t have much experience. U-High just executed better in this game.”

By Steve Robinson | October 5, 2021 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The removal of artwork honoring an Illinois State University student who went missing last month and was later found dead in LaSalle brought out protestors in a vacant lot next to an empty business on Beaufort Street and in Normal Town Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

Previous to the meeting, a gathering was held at 104 E. Beaufort St. in Uptown where members of various groups including the local Democratic Socialists organization protested and later attending the Council session.

An unknown individual anonymously posted a painting of 25-year-old Jelani Day, an Illinois State University student who went missing August 24. Day, 25, studied speech pathology at ISU before disappearing in August. He was reported missing on Aug. 25. His body was recovered from the Illinois River on Sept. 4 but he was not identified by authorities until Sept. 23. A cause of death is pending further investigation and toxicology testing, police said.

Sometime between Sept. 27 and 28 on the side of 104 E. Beaufort, a building owned by the Town, someone posted a mural of Day. But by Sept. 29, Town officials had removed it citing Town rules for posting on public buildings. Town officials have promised to relocate the poster. returned for temporary display Monday morning, inside that building, visible through a sidewalk-facing window. It’s expected to be moved to an ISU location.

In Council Chambers Monday night, roughly 30 people showed to register their anger at a mural of Day, an Illinois State University student who went missing August 24, being removed. Day’s remains were discovered Sept. 23 near Peru, Ill. Eleven of the 30 in attendance at the meeting addressed Council members during the meeting’s public comments section.

Some of the attendees at the meeting in between speakers loudly chanted “Black Lives Matter,” and brought a banner with those words into Council Chambers. Mayor Chris Koos told those in attendance the Council session “was a business meeting” and asked that chanting and shouting not be done. Protestors ignored Koos’ request.

Normally, public comments are done toward the end of the meeting, but Council Member Stan Nord asked if there could be a motion to allow speakers wanting to address items not on the Council’s printed agenda to be heard prior to Council conducting business. It passed unanimously and those who had signed up to address the Council were allowed to do so. Prior to the speakers having their say, the chanting continued, with one man shouting, “Jelani’s life mattered.” The 30 in attendance repeated that chant.

Ann Rountree told Council members all she “knows what it’s like to lose a child” because her daughter was beaten to death in 2019. “To have your child to be remembered and not forgotten – I understand what that feels like,” she told Council members. She said the public could not search for Jelani Day, “so the least we could have done was leave his face outside” to be seen before it was taken down.

Ismail Addemik, a graduate teaching assistant at ISU, told Council members, “When we want to put up a memorial of a student who has passed, you all want to take it down and that’s not right.”

Lauren Guttschow, a local art teacher, told Council members, “I was so upset to hear this mural was taken down because art isn’t just an object, it’s personal. When that mural was taken down, it was being told that heart and soul doesn’t really matter. That was really upsetting, and I hope we can get better and heal from this.”

ISU student Riley Bionde told Council members she voted in the last Council election last year adding, “I am disappointed and disgusted that you chose to remove the mural of my peer, Jelani Day. That behavior is unacceptable. This was an act of disrespect to your community, to your voters, to your students, to Jelani Day’s mother, and to Jelani Day’s family.” She added it was also an act of disrespect to anyone else who looks like Day, as well.

When Council members spoke toward the end of the meeting, Council Member Chemberly Cummings acknowledged the pain Day’s family must be feeling but quickly seemed to be critical of people of attendees at the meeting when she added, “It’s even more painstaking to utilize those moments of pain and frustration to build a political platform, and that breaks my heart.” She added if people “really want to do good” to resolve this, they should not politicize Day’s death but rather be supportive of his mother.

Cummings added she wanted attendees to know Normal Police were not heading up the investigation of Day’s death.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of Sept. 20, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 29, 2021.

• A resolution to accept water treatment plant chemical bids from November 2021 through November 2022.

• A resolution conditionally approving the first addition to Silver Oak Estates subdivision (northeast corner of The Vineyards subdivision).