By Steve Robinson | March 15, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Community West High School ’s Softball season opened on a somber note March 15 at Maxwell Park as, before head coach April Schermann’s team took to the field against non-conference rival Metamora, they paid tribute to Olivia “Livi” Sonetz, the team’s shortstop, died March 7 from injuries she suffered when her car was struck by another vehicle.

Normal West’s Softball team paid tribute to 17-year-old Sonetz as part of their lineup introductions before the game with the Redbirds began. A pair of bats shaped together into a cross with a softball attached stood just inside the fencing behind home plate. A light blue and white “O” was painted into the sand in front of it.

Ellie Sonetz, Livi’s older sister who also played at West, stood in for her sister, wearing her sister’s number 0 uniform when Livi was introduced as the second baseman, batting ninth. The crowd of roughly 700 at Maxwell Park registered their feelings with applause as her older sister stood in for Livi. As each member of the team was introduced, they touched the makeshift memorial before standing in line for the national anthem.

Prior to the first pitch, the team released sky blue and white balloons into the air and hugged one another in the pitcher’s circle. There was also a moment of silence for Livi.

As the game began, Schermann made a substitution for Ellie, putting Kacie Quick in at second prior to the start of the contest. Quick took a knee before the game started, as well.

In the stands, there were players and coaches from Twin City softball teams and teams throughout the county in attendance. University High, Bloomington Central Catholic, Bloomington High School, Downs Tri-Valley, Holy Trinity School, and members of Bloomington-Normal Girls’ Softball Association (BNGSA) were all visible in the crowd.

The tone may have been somber at the beginning, but once the game got going, there was cheering, albeit subdued, and rooting from the crowd. The Wildcats blanked the Redbirds to start the season, 5-0.

Parkside Junior High Softball Parents Operate Concessions: Normally, West parents man the concession stand at Maxwell Park, but Megan Davis, a parent of a Parkside Junior High Softball player, offered to get and rounded up volunteers of seven PJHS parents to operate the stand so that any West Softball parents who wanted to see the pre-game activities and the game could do so. “We told the West parents we had it covered, and that was it,” Davis explained.

By Steve Robinson | January 29, 2018 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – Once Normal Community West High School’s boys’ basketball team got the jump on rival Normal Community High School Friday night in their rivalry contest, there appeared to be no stopping them the rest of the evening. But NCHS did manage to put the breaks on the Wildcats late in the fourth quarter but it couldn’t keep Normal West from staying in front for a 42-37 road victory.

Sandwiching two missed free throws by Wildcats sophomore guard Drew Wollenschlager were two deuces by teammate junior center Francis Okoro which gave the Wildcats a quick 4-0 lead. NCHS junior Dishon Hall put the Ironmen on the scoreboard with a layup at the quarter’s 3:27 mark, cutting that lead to 4-2. Another deuce by Okoro gave Normal West a 6-2 lead. A trey by NCHS junior Daylen Boddie sliced that lead to one, 6-5. But a trey by West guard Shea Cupples gave the Wildcats a 9-5 lead with which to open the second quarter.

Boddie opened the second quarter by fouling senior forward Drew Yonker who sank two free throws and was followed by a trey from senior forward Terance Montgomery-Fisher, and after an Ironmen timeout, senior guard Brady Cupples hit a deuce which pushed Normal West ahead, 16-5. Boddie hit a jumper and senior Dalton Tevis followed, to come within seven, 16-9 with 2:20 left in the quarter. Okoro’s next basket doubled the Wildcats’ lead, 18-9 with 1:17 left in the quarter and he followed that up with a jumper to put Normal West up 20-7, with four seconds left.

But Boddie startled the full crowd of roughly 5,000 fans with a half court shot to beat the buzzer and cut Normal West’s lead, 20-12, going into halftime.

NCHSBrady Cupples’ opening shot for the third quarter put West up, 22-12, and was followed by a bucket from Boddie, changing the score to 22-14. From there, West went on a 7-0 run that was all Okoro except for the last two points. Up until that point, the 6 foot-9 junior scored three baskets and answered a foul with two free throws before Wollenschlager answered a foul with a free throw giving West a 29-14 lead. Coleman reduced that to 29-17 with a trey at 2:48 in the period but Coleman and junior Joe Lippert responded with unanswered baskets to cut the lead to 10, 29-19, with 2:30 left in the quarter. An Okoro bucket put West up, 31-19 and a free throw by Wollenschlager made the lead, 32-18. NCHS came within 11, 32-21, on a Boddie shot and Okoro closed out the quarter on a basket for a 34-21 Wildcats lead.

Boddie opened the fourth quarter for NCHS with a trey, closing West’s lead to 10 again, 34-24, and then Cupples was fouled where he answered with two free throws putting West up, 36-24 with 7:09 left in the game. After a Wildcats timeout, senior Jalen Coleman’s trey at 3:49 pulled NCHS within nine, 36-27. But Coleman fouling Cupples got West one free throw to put the Wildcats up 10, 37-27, with 2:46 left.

Normal WestA free throw by Boddie closed the Wildcats’ lead to nine, 37-28, and West called a timeout with 1:45 left. A C. J. Chastain basket cut the Wildcats’ lead, 37-30 and a free throw by Alec McGinnis gave West an eight-point advantage, 38-30 until a fouled Boddie cut that lead at the line, 38-32. That prompted Wildcats head coach Brian Cupples to call time with 59.5 seconds left. following the timeout, a fouled Okoro went 1-for2 on the line to stretch West’s lead, 39-32. Cupples then fouled Christian who sank one, closing in on West, 39-33. But Cupples then was called for a technical for something he said to an opponent. That cut West’s lead, 39-35 with 32.3 left. Two NCHS fouls against him sent West junior forward Nate Duckworth to the line where he sank 3-of-4 giving West a 40-35. The last basket of the night came from Boddie with 3.8 seconds left.

“I thought we were great defensively, and I thought we were great rebounding,” said West head coach Brian Cupples. “NCHS’ kids did a great job battling and that got it down to a one or two position game which got it tight on us. We had a great start defensively. NCHS made tough shots.”

“We dug ourselves in a whole and West did a great job of taking care of the ball and made just enough free throws and did enough to win,” explained NCHS head coach Dave Witzig. “Okoro was a ton tonight and they handled the ball well tonight, and they did a great job.”

By Steve Robinson | January 28, 2018 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – The annual North-South Girls’ Basketball Shootout featuring teams from Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, Belleville East and O’Fallon rotated its way to NCHS Saturday, Jan. 27 giving fans something other than cold weather or politics to ponder. NCHS went 2-for-2 in victories over their opponents while Normal West dropped both sides of their contests.

Belleville East 68, Normal West 44: An opening 10-0 lead from the game’s tip-off by Belleville East (15-9) featuring two baskets each from juniors Kayla Rainey and B’Aunce Carter helped put the Lady Lancers in front of Normal West quickly to begin their day. Two baskets by junior Jess Jacobs and Carrie Sims allowed the Wildcats to cut that lead to 16-9 going into the second quarter, but Carter would add 8 more points before halftime, joined by senior Grace Tantillo who added one more bucket to give the Lady Lancers a 38-24 halftime lead. West’s biggest basket in the second quarter was a trey by Jacobs at the quarter’s 6:15 mark.

Carter and senior Jailyn McClenney each had three baskets in the third quarter helping increase their team’s lead, 56-35. A trey for West by Jacobs added the Wildcats’ biggest points in the quarter. Junior Whitney Bozarth’s trey in the 4th quarter toward the game’s conclusion helped to narrow the score.

Carter led Belleville East in double-figures with 35 points followed by 13 from junior Bryce Dowell and 10 from McClenney. Jacobs was the only player to hit double digits for Normal West (13-9) with 10.

NCHSNCHS 63, O’Fallon 39: NCHS (20-5 after their second game) closed out the event with a 63-39 win over O’Fallon. The opening quarter was highlighted by three treys for the Lady Iron from senior Summer Stoewer giving NCHS an 11-6 lead until O’Fallon senior Sydney Thurwalker hit a trey cutting the lead to 11-9. Thurwalker scored 9 of the Panthers’ points in that opening quarter, but NCHS went into the second quarter with a 17-14 lead.

After NCHS junior Abby Feit and O’Fallon’s Ashley Scholer exchanged buckets to keep NCHS up 19-18 early in the second quarter, NCHS demonstrated a 12-0 outburst featuring baskets from sophomore Kylee Schneriger, sophomore Maya Wong, and senior Hannah Johnson pushing NCHS’ lead to 31-18 before O’Fallon’s bench called time. O’Fallon would only score four points after that though, while NCHS entered the 3rd quarter after holding a 40-22 halftime lead.

Defender for O’Fallon (24-3 after their second game) held NCHS to just 8 points in the third quarter while only scoring 9 themselves topped by a trey at 1:09 in the quarter by junior Rayna Bullock. That reduced NCHS’ lead to 48-29. NCHS lead 48-31 going into the fourth quarter.

As she had at the start of the contest, Stoewer led off the fourth quarter with a basket to put the Lady Iron in front, 50-31 and the team got a boost courtesy of three baskets in the quarter from Molly McGaugh to seal the victory. Stoewer led NCHS’ scoring with 18 points, including four treys, and was followed in double-figures by Feit with 16. Thurwalker was the only O’Fallon player in double-digits, scoring 11.

Normal WestNCHS Starts Day With A Win: NCHS appeared unfazed by their 10a.m. tipoff which started the annual rotating event, defeating Belleville East, 69-55. Although Carter did the heavy lifting for the Lady Lancers by scoring 14 of her team-high 24 points in the first quarter, NCHS’ Feit matched that pace and exceeded it finishing with a game-high 26. NCHS held leads of 21-19 after one quarter, 42-30 at halftime, and 58-41 after three quarters. Schneringer was the only other Lady Iron player in double-figures with 15 points. Rainey and Dowell each had 9 points apiece for the Lady Lancers.

Normal West Drops First Game: Normal West started their morning game against O’Fallon strong, with scoring led by junior Ayanna Gibbs, scoring 6 points in the opening quarter and powered further by a trey by Bozarth giving the Wildcats an 18-14 lead going into the second quarter. Second quarter treys from sophomore Claire Demosthenes and Bozarth gave West a 35-32 halftime lead before two treys from Schloer and a trey each from sophomores Kayla Gordon and Makayla Best helped push the Panthers in front, 50-47 as the game went into the fourth quarter.

The Panthers stayed in front on the strength of a trey by Best followed by two deuces each from Schloer and Thurwalker. West only scored 15 points in the last quarter powered mainly by buckets from senior Arie Sims and a trey from Kaitlyn Hardin. Schloer led double-digit scoring for O’Fallon with 16 points followed by 10 each from Best and Thurwalker. Gibbs led West with 14 points followed by 13 points each from Demosthenes and Jacobs.

By Steve Robinson | January 10, 2018 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

Unit 5NORMAL – Within three days last month, the football coaches of both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School resigned. The public comments portion of the Jan. 10 meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board centered on Normal West High accepting the resignation of head coach Darren Hess. Hess completed his 15th year patrolling the sidelines in 2017.

Collectively, the parents don’t believe Hess is leaving for the reason he stated – wanting to enjoy the last three years his son is in high school and pursuit of a graduate degree. They believe, rather, that Hess’ exit is connected to two closed door School Board sessions insisted on by parents of three Wildcats players. The closed door sessions took place following Board meetings on Nov. 8 and Dec. 13.

Five parents of Wildcats players addressed Board members, one of them citing that the fact that Hess and Normal Community High Head Coach Wes Temples both resigning within two days of each other in December left many players’ parents wondering what was beneath the timing. Amy Green, mother of a now-former Normal West player, told the Board her son opted to send Hess an email regarding a life decision he was struggling with. Green said Hess taught her son the importance of having such conversations face-to-face. She told Board members the Gridiron Club, Normal West’s booster club, operated by parents of West players, would like to “partner with Unit 5 to help in the selection of the Wildcats’ next coach.” As speakers addressed Board members, about a half-dozen West players sat in groups, listening.

Natalie Mardt spoke of the time Hess has put in being a mentor to the players, encouraging them, and sometimes joining players on college visits. Mardt closed her remarks by saying she “implored the Board to not let Coach Hess’ legacy die and to give every coach on staff the opportunity to remain with the program and continue his work.”

Darrell Batley, a parent of a Normal West player, told Board members, “the program is dedicated to making young men better, strong of character and of good moral standing there is no question that comes from the head coach of the program.”

“We’re at a loss and we would like more information as to what the future of Normal West holds and we do not want to let the program deteriorate,” Batley concluded.

Jimmy Camp, a parent of a Normal West player, said he, too, wants answers for what has happened. But, seeing as the team needs a new coach, Camp told Board members the next leader should be found within the Normal West program. “As a parent of a player on the Normal West football team, I am demanding a sense of order be restored to the program in the immediate future. I no longer want to read about this program in social media or news sites in a negative light.”

Camp also told Board members he “demanded Nathan Fincham be hired as that head coach to continue the values and integrity and winning ways that Coach Hess laid the groundwork for.”

Camp and his wife, Jenny, are the parents of sophomore quarterback Carson Camp. Jenny Camp added, “The only way we will get answers is if the Unit office agrees to release the minutes of those meetings.” She said being able to have those minutes released will tell the public exactly under what circumstances Hess resigned.

Jenny Camp added that since Unit 5 is a public body and operates public schools, taxpayers have a right to know. To that end, she said, she wrote the district office asking that the minutes of those executive session meetings be released.

The parents might want this matter to go from executive session to public light, but because it’s a personnel matter, those notes will never be released, explained Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent. Following the meeting, responding to a question related to Camp’s inquiry. “Personnel information is not going to be discussed in public,” he said. “That’s done to protect the rights of the employee.”

Improper Payments To Coaches Highlight Issue: Published reports indicate assistant coaches did receive stipends from booster clubs of both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School. To receive such payments is in violation of both Illinois High School Association bylaws and Unit 5 rules, and resulted in both head coaches of the schools’ football teams – Darren Hess at Normal West and Wes Temples at NCHS – resigning within two days of each other in December.

Jeff Lord, treasurer of the Gridiron Club, Normal West’s booster club, admitted he received an email from the Unit 5 district office asking if any booster money had been used to pay assistant coaches. Such payments were described by Lord in published reports as being “miniscule.” Such payments also violated those bylaws and rules. During his public comments to the Board, Lord said he made sure the booster club complied with Internal Revenue Service regulations.

Unit 5 mapNormal Community West High’s “Good News”: Konnor Halsey, a junior at Normal Community West High School, was honored for his efforts in the field of music during a “good news” report presented to Board members introduced by West’s principal, David Johnson. Konnor takes music theory and plays percussion instruments in band as well as studies music composition with Professor Roy Magnuson at Illinois State University. As a result of such study in that field, Konnor has become the composer of a new piece of music for wind band, entitled Joyful Chaos.

Recently, Joyful Chaos has earned recognition, including 2nd place in the Instrumental – Large Ensemble category from the Illinois Music Education Association during their 2017-2018 Student Composition Contest. Konnor’s has also been accepted into the All-State Composer Track at the 2018 Illinois Music Education Conference at the end of January.

In addition, Konnor has also had his piece performed during a live read-through by the Illinois State University Wind Symphony as a part of a student composition recording session coordinated by Professor Magnuson and Professor Anthony Marinello, Director of Bands at Illinois State University. Konnor’s piece was also selected the winner of the 2017 World Projects International Composition Contest, the payoff for which will be the piece will receive a World-Premiere Performance in Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 12 as a part of the World Projects New York “Sounds of Summer” International Music Festival.

Combined Marching Bands Previewed: With the news announced last month that Normal’s two high school’s will be merging for practices and competitions next year, Board members received an update on the situation from band directors. Ryan Budinski, band director at Normal West, did most of the explaining before Board members, explaining that when the Marching Band takes part in competitions, it will be a joint group of kids from both schools who will participate. He added practices for that group will take place at the football field at Kingsley Junior High School, the former home of Normal Community High School.

He said Unit 5’s high schools aren’t the first to combine their bands’ efforts, citing Lincoln-Way High Schools, East and West, in the Chicago area, have done the same thing. As for outfits, Budinski explained, the kids all wear black pants so they will wear slightly different tops.

Miscellaneous Reports Given:
While the issue concerning Normal West’s football team took up much of the meeting, Board members also heard reports concerning an update on Health, Life, and Safety bond processing; and received an update an update on energy efficiency being done at Normal Community West High School.

By Steve Robinson | October 14, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Normal Community West High School found itself in a tight defensive battle for the first half of their Big 12 Conference game against Peoria Richwoods at Wildcat Stadium on Friday, Oct. 13. The game included a scoreless second quarter for both sides.

But West head coach Darren Hess’ troops pulled forward in the second half – featuring three 3rd quarter touchdowns – for a 35-21 win in front of 450 fans. West’s win, coupled with Danville losing at Normal Community High School, 42-14, gave the Wildcats sole possession of second place in Big 12 Conference standings. Illinois High School Association will announce playoff pairings on Oct. 21.

Peoria Richwoods (4-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12) received the opening kickoff and scored three plays later on a 61 yard pass from senior quarterback Keenan Streitmatter to senior wide receiver Sharod Danage just 64 seconds into the contest, putting the Knights up, 7-0, after senior kicker Alex Nieves’ extra point.

Normal West (6-1, 5-1 Big 12) responded during the ensuing drive with a 3 yard scoring run from junior running back Adriel Fussell at 8:06 in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Eddie Miller’s extra point, tying the score at 7-7.

Richwoods responded by concluding their ensuing possession with a 34 yard touchdown pass from Streitmatter again to Danage followed by Nieves’ extra point, with 6:30 left in the quarter. That put Richwoods up, 14-7, going into the half, thanks to a defensive second quarter performance from both sides.

Normal West FootballNormal West won the pregame coin flip and deferred receiving the ball until the opening of the second half. They stuck quickly when they got the ball, scoring three plays later as wide receiver C. J. Davis dashed 36 yards for the Wildcats’ tying touchdown at 10:52 in the quarter, followed by Miller’s extra point, knotting the score at 14-all.

Richwoods’ next possession ended in a turnover on downs giving West the ball at the Wildcats’ 39. Four plays later, Davis dodged defenders for a 36 yard touchdown, followed by Miller’s next extra point pushing West in front, 21-14 at the third quarter’s 7:30 mark.

The Knights’ ensuing possession ended in a punt which left West to start at their own 11 yard line. Eight plays later, junior quarterback C. J. Lewis connected with sophomore tight end Cole Hernandez on a 15 yard touchdown pass, followed by Miller’s next extra point. That increased West’s lead, 28-14, with 5:42 left until the start of the fourth quarter.

Peoria Richwoods football helmetRichwoods’ second possession of the fourth quarter started following a West punt, at the Knights’ 9 yard line but ended in an interception touchdown for West defensive back Armani Forrest, which pushed West up, 35-14, following Miller’s extra point, with 5:42 left in the contest.

Richwoods responded quickly as senior return man A. J. Johnson took the ensuing kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown followed by Nieves’ last extra point on the night.

“This game was about energy, it was about matching Richwoods’ intensity, and I didn’t think we did that very well in the first half,” Hess said. He credited Richwoods’ Streitmatter-to-Danage combo “with giving the Knights momentum and it was just a matter of containing them.”

“We didn’t finish our drives off,” lamented Richwoods head coach Roland Brown. “When you don’t finish drives against a team like West that has speed and talent like they do, you’ll get worn down a little bit.”