NORMAL – Kyle Brennan was announced as the new Athletic Director for Illinois State University in a Zoom press conference on Dec. 31. Brennan will begin his tenure as ISU’s 12th person to hold that position on Jan. 15. He succeeds Larry Lyons who announced his retirement in October after 30 years with the University, serving as AD since 2013.

Brennan explained his passion for being in higher education saying he nearly didn’t stay with it until one of his professors guided him to the tract his career is at currently. He said he works with athletes “to help them achieve their dreams, not just to help them athletically, but also academically, and socially to help them become great adults as they move forward with their lives.”

Brennan said upon hearing about ISU’s opening for the AD’s position, “When this job came open, I called every search firm in the country and told them I wanted in on this job. The reason is it has such an amazing history.” Looking at Redbirds sports history, he explained its successes in Softball, Basketball, and Football showed him “a great opportunity to build on such great success that’s already taken place.”

He added the people he came in contact with during the interview process “really made the difference for me.”

Because of COVID-19, all interviews ISU staff did with Brennan were done remotely. He met face-to-face with ISU President Dr. Larry Dietz for the first time the day before the press conference.

Turning his attention to the Redbirds in relation to the Missouri Valley Conference, Brennan said, “I’m competitive. I didn’t take this job because we want to be good. I took this job because we want to be a dominant force in this conference and win championships. This school has everything it takes to do that.”

Shifting gears to another aspect of the job, Brennan added, “Community is very important to us, my family and I.” He explained that means “jumping in with both feet and getting involved in every aspect of the community, and we look forward to that.”

He thanked his family, which includes his wife, Beth, and sons Patrick, Mac, and Murphy. “They’re excited to come,” he said, adding his kids “are coming on a leap of faith.”

“What really attracted me to the position was the people,” Brennan said, who he met at ISU during his interview process. “After all the interviews and time I had with everybody, it really convinced me that this way the right place for my family and to have the opportunity to move forward and have success.”

He also thanked Lyons for conversations they had recently, and ISU Deputy AD Leanna Bordner for her efforts during the interview process. Regarding succeeding Lyons, Brennan said, “I’m humbled. I’ve got big shoes to fill, and I look forward to learning from him as we move forward, as well.”

Brennan said one does not get through life without there being people in life who help along the way, and began his remarks after being introduced by Dr. Dietz by thanking Dr. Chris Hill, athletic director at Utah for 25 of his 31 years at that University. He also thanked current Utah AD Mark Harlan, Barb Snyder, vice president for student affairs at that university, who, Brennan said, gave him some insight into ISU, and that University’s president, Dr. Ruth V. Watkins.

Prior to coming to ISU, Brennan has more than 16 years of combined University and athletic department experience at Northern Illinois University, Texas Christian University, Ball State University and University of Utah.

Dr. Dietz said the search for a new athletic director, which also makes that person a member of the University President’s Cabinet, was unique in that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it was the first time we held a Cabinet-level search without all of the candidates coming to the campus. It was different for all of us, but it worked.”

“When Illinois State announced Kyle’s hiring on Dec. 23, I commented that Kyle’s leadership and experiences make him an excellent fit for Illinois State,” Dr. Dietz said. “His terrific attitude perfectly complements his diverse and well-rounded background.”

A member of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association Fellows Program for future Athletic Directors, Brennan has been mentored by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith since 2013. He was hired in 2008 as Utah’s assistant athletics director for compliance and was named associate A.D. for compliance in 2009. In 2011, he was promoted to special assistant to the athletics director, and in 2012, he was named senior associate A.D. for administration. He was named the school’s first deputy athletics director in December of 2014.

Prior to joining the staff at Utah, Brennan served as the director of compliance at TCU in the 2005-06 school year and at Ball State from 2006-08. But his career life hasn’t always been in athletics. Prior to the job he had at NIU, Brennan was an estate planning attorney in Denver, beginning his collegiate athletics work as a graduate assistant at NIU during the 2004-05 school year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Calvin College in Michigan, and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver in 2001.

The press conference opened with Dr. Dietz calling for a moment of silence for Ty Jordan, a freshman at Utah who was also named PAC-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year. Jordan died of a gunshot wound back home in Texas, according to broadcast and print reports. A preliminary investigation by the Denton, Texas Police Department indicated Jordan shot himself, while reports from a Salt Lake City TV station indicated the gun went off accidentally.

Brennan thanked Dr. Dietz for acknowledging the loss of Jordan, saying, “Ty was very important to his teammates, to the University of Utah and it’s a great loss for everyone there. So I really appreciate the respect and honor that you’ve shown him today.”

By Steve Robinson | January 2, 2021 - 1:24 pm

On what should have been semifinal day of the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, also known to folks in the area as The Classic, Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus should have been bustling with activity: Players and coaches getting ready for or taking part in contests to get one step closer to possibly getting to a championship; Bleachers and the corridors outside the area teaming with fans; Special Olympics basketball players, coaches, and family members at the lower level basketball courts gearing up for another annual Ron Knisley Memorial Tournament.

But no thanks to a pandemic we have all been experiencing since March, the main gym, named in honor of former IWU head men’s basketball coach, Dennie Bridges, although lit, was silent. The practice courts just outside the big gym was silent and dark, one of the courts was even being used to store exercise equipment.

But this year, although the pandemic nixed the basketball action we have all come to anticipate and be thrilled by, if you went to one of the storage areas near the parking lot adjacent to the facility, there was plenty of activity on what would have been the event’s third day. That was because on Tuesday, Dec. 29, in what would have been the midst of the 42nd annual event, Holiday Tournament organizers held a canned food drive to benefit Midwest Food Bank. Basketball fans and residents are encouraged to stop by and bring canned goods and non-perishable food items for donation.

And from the look of the utility room Tournament organizers used for storage during the five-hour afternoon event, the public, including some teams who would normally find themselves on the hardwood that day, came through with plenty of donations. I don’t have a final total for you here, but I will get one and update you in a future column.

“It’s been a steady stream of cars all day,” explained Chris Highland, a member of the tournament’s organizing committee who coordinated the food drive. The food drive was born out of a suggestion one of its board members, Kraig Komnick, proposed the idea for the event to directors of the Midwest Food Bank.

By the time I got to the event, about 90 minutes into it, officials, some teams, and volunteers who would normally spend all or part of the tournament either keeping game scorebooks or doing public address announcing work had come by with donations to, what looked to me, to be a fairly full room to benefit others. “We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces come through and drop off donations,” explained Mike Wilkinson, a volunteer who serves as finance chair for the Tournament.

In August, when it was clear the pandemic was going to prevent The Classic from taking place, Wilkinson said, “When it was clear we weren’t going to have a basketball tournament, Chris reached out to some of us who have been active in helping and asked what we thought about doing something to benefit someone.

From there, the idea came for a canned food drive.” A few meetings in November followed, Wilkinson said. At that point, Wilkinson approached the other schools which host other games within the tournament to also collect canned goods. Those schools were Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and Bloomington High School. He said a subcommittee of seven Tournament Committee members helped set up the event, which included organizing and doing publicity to get the word out about the one-day drive. He said he was aware to expect deliveries from Normal Community High School and Bloomington Central Catholic High School during the drive that day, so the kids didn’t want to be left out of action, even if that action wasn’t on the court.

I wasn’t able to catch up with either Unit 5-based school’s teams at this event. But being local “and wanting to do something with the girls” were motivating factors for Bloomington Central Catholic High School to join the Normal schools in donating to the cause explain Debbie Coffman, head girls’ basketball coach at BCC. Lady Saints team members always try to do a service project during the season, but COVID-19 has prevented that from being done, so donating to the Food Bank via the Tournament was the next best thing, Coffman said.

“The kids and their parents collected all their food on a Friday night and we were able to donate it today,” Coffman said, adding their donations filled an SUV. Coffman’s last two years at The Classic have been memorable, having won the championship two years ago and finishing fifth last year.

I asked Wilkinson if seeking donations for Midwest Food Bank could become a regular feature of the Tournament in the future. “It probably will in some form or fashion,” he said. “We have talked about doing something.” He said “something” in past years led to the Ron Knisley Special Olympics Tournament and the annual silent auction, both of which have become integral components of the larger tourney itself. Discussions concerning the future of the food drive are in early stages, Wilkinson explained.

Wilkinson, when he isn’t working or doing volunteer work for the Tournament, said he also gives of his time to volunteer at the food bank, as well.

Tournament organizers have adapted and added items to the roster of side events during the tournament. Here’s hoping the food drive soon finds itself among those extra features in the future, as it will prove beneficial, not just to those folks Midwest Food Bank serves but to those players, coaches, and fans who give of themselves by donating to it.

By Steve Robinson | September 20, 2020 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

NORMAL – Six runs in the sixth inning of the Kernels Fall League contest on Sept. 18 allowed CornBelters 16U squad to coast to a 10-1 win over 16U Hoots at The Corn Crib, getting week three underway.

After their first two batters struck out, CornBelters 16U took a fast 2-0 first inning lead courtesy of Dalton Kruger being walked and stole second, followed by Conner Landstrum’s single. A single by Aiden Boundy followed helping both runners cross home plate for a fast lead.

The 16U Hoots’ lone run came in the top of the fourth inning with one out starting with a triple by pitcher Clayton Garmon, making it home during an out by James Carlson. That cut CornBelters 16U’s lead to 2-1.

CornBelters 16U added two more runs, increasing their lead to 4-1 in the third inning, as Brady Bengston reached first base on a fielding error and make it to second on a single by Jake Morrill. Both men scored on a triple by Dalton Kruger.

CornBelters 16U’s 4th inning started slow, with Caleb Lehman striking out. With one down, Leif Blair singled and was followed by Connor Kearfott who reached first and was put out trying to advance to second as Blair scored, putting his team up, 5-1.

Drew Logan and Steven Darnell were the next two batters to reach base, Darnell doing it on an error and Bengston doubling clearing the bases, giving CornBelters 16U a 7-1 advantage.

The next batter, Parker Michaels walked and was followed by Morrill who singled. Morrill was followed by Ben Ponce who singled and helped Michaels score to put CornBelters 16U up, 8-1. With two men on, the next batter, Kruger, doubled, sending Morill and Ponce across the plate for the eventual final score.

Yard Goats Beat CornBelters 18U Win Sept. 11 Contest: Week two of Kernels Fall League Baseball action saw local athletes engage in a close game in the first of the two games played at The Corn Crib Friday night while game two ended after coaches mutually agreed to end the game deadlocked at 9-all after seven innings.

A double by Brazelton in the bottom of the fourth helped Jesse Worley from St. Joseph Ogden High home to tie the game, 1-1. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley product Hunter Brewer got credit for scoring the winning run. Brazelton claimed the win, while Alex Willey, a Normal Community West High player, took the loss.

Central Illinois 18U Outlaws, 29ers 18U Sept. 11 Game Ends In 9-9 Tie: In the nightcap game on Sept. 11, two teams with players primarily from outside central Illinois gave fans plenty of action to see, enough that by mutual agreement, both team coaches agreed to end the game after seven innings, with Central Illinois 18U Outlaws and 29ers 18U playing to a 9-9 tie. The majority of the players on the Outlaws roster were high school players from East Peoria area. The majority of 29ers 18U players were from Chicago with one exception – Patrick Mulcahey who was listed as having played high school ball at Bloomington Central Catholic.

Yard Goats Get Past BNBA Hoots, 2-1 In Sept. 4 Opener: The Yard Goats, an 18 and Under team comprised of high school students from Mahomet and Champaign areas defeated BNBA Hoots, 2-1, to open week two of KFL action Friday night. Bloomington High alum Nate Johnson, the Hoots’ leadoff man, singled to start the contest in the first inning.

But that was followed by a pair of quick strikeouts delivered by Yard Goats pitcher Hayden Brazelton, a St. Joseph Ogden High product, shutting down Hoots second baseman and Normal West High’s Mason Buzicky and U-High’s Chase Adams for two of the offense’s three quick outs. A double by Bloomington Central Catholic High’s David Broadbear scored Johnson for the only run in the inning putting the Hoots up, 1-0

CornBelters 18U Win Sept. 4 Opener: CornBelters 18U and Team Game 7 18U on opening night on Friday, Sept. 4 with 18U CornBelters winning, 4-3, thanks to University High’s Evan Kochel’s 4th inning grand slam home run, scoring teammates Adison Worthman (Bloomington High), Eli Hensley (Normal West), and Charlie Vercruysse (U-High). Team Game 7 18U players attempted to mount a 5th inning comeback but weren’t able to overtake their opponents. Players who scored for Team Game 7 18U were Mitchell Murphy (Normal Community), Mac Conklin, and Matthew Davenport (both U-High).

By Steve Robinson | September 12, 2020 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

NORMAL – Week two of Kernels Fall League Baseball action saw local athletes engage in a close game in the first of the two games played at The Corn Crib Friday night while game two ended after coaches mutually agreed to end the game deadlocked at 9-all after seven innings.

Yard Goats Get Past BNBA Hoots, 2-1: The Yard Goats, an 18 and Under team comprised of high school students from Mahomet and Champaign areas defeated BNBA Hoots, 2-1, to open week two of KFL action Friday night. Bloomington High alum Nate Johnson, the Hoots’ leadoff man, singled to start the contest in the first inning. But that was followed by a pair of quick strikeouts delivered by Yard Goats pitcher Hayden Brazelton, a St. Joseph Ogden High product, shutting down Hoots second baseman and Normal West High’s Mason Buzicky and U-High’s Chase Adams for two of the offense’s three quick outs. A double by Bloomington Central Catholic High’s David Broadbear scored Johnson for the only run in the inning putting the Hoots up, 1-0

A double by Brazelton in the bottom of the fourth helped Jesse Worley from St. Joseph Ogden High home to tie the game, 1-1. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley product Hunter Brewer got credit for scoring the winning run. Brazelton claimed the win, while Alex Willey, a Normal Community West High player, took the loss.

Central Illinois 18U Outlaws, 29ers 18U Play To A 9-9 Draw: In the nightcap game, two teams with players primarily from outside central Illinois gave fans plenty of action to see, enough that by mutual agreement, both team coaches agreed to end the game after seven innings, with Central Illinois 18U Outlaws and 29ers 18U playing to a 9-9 tie. The majority of the players on the Outlaws roster were high school players from East Peoria area. The majority of 29ers 18U players were from Chicago with one exception – Patrick Mulcahey who was listed as having played high school ball at Bloomington Central Catholic.

NORMAL — To conclude the inaugural season of a league during a year when fans yearned to hear about something else other than an ongoing national political race and an ongoing pandemic, the end of the game between the CornBelters and the Bobcats, both local teams, seemed just what the fans needed.

Although the CornBelters trailed for the first three innings, they did catch up and managed to earn the league’s very first championship trophy, with bottom of the seventh heroics, 5-4, Sunday at The Corn Crib, before roughly 700 people.

The winning run came in the bottom of the 7th as Alex Steinbach’s walk-off single with two on allowed former Normal West football player Peyton Dillingham to cross home plate, giving the CornBelters a 5-4 win over the Bobcats in the Kernels Collegiate League championship game. When the playoffs began, the CornBelters were the top seed, followed by second seeded Bobcats in the four-team league.

Dillingham, who played quarterback at Normal Community West High School, said for him to walk away with having contributed to helping the team win the league championship was “icing on the cake…icing on the cake. It was the best summer of my life. Great time. It would not make sense to come out without a championship. All we wanted to do was come out and win.” He called this summer “the best summer of my life.”

“This year has given these guys so many question marks and to see them come out here and grind it out…30 games isn’t that much but in the time frame they’ve had to be able to come out and push through and come in every day when some of them are just starting to get hot right now,” explained CornBelters head coach David Garcia, who coaches baseball at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville. “For them to finish strong like that, I was really proud of them.”

“We lost first place twice and got it back both times the next day, so it was fun,” Garcia said.

The Bobcats had to play both games scheduled for Sunday because they lost one to the Gems Saturday, explained Bobcats head coach Jake Wegner. Wegner is actually still in college himself although his playing days are behind him, and about to enter his senior year at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

“We got four in the first inning, and Platt settled in and they shut us down,” Wegner said. Platt is CornBelters right hander and Pennsylvania native David Platt.

Game Rundown: The contest started on a four-run first inning by the visiting Bobcats as outfielder Jordan Libman blasted a grand slam home run, putting his team up 4-0. Prior to that, singles by infielder Jackson Chatterton and catcher Keaton Rice, and outfielder Dan Bolt loaded the bases.

A 4th inning double by infielder Austin Simpson scored Steinbach, putting the CornBelters on the scoreboard, 4-1. A bottom of the fifth homer with two on by outfielder Brant Vanaman scored outfielder Lincoln Riley and infielder Kai Moody, both of whom singled.