By Steve Robinson | November 11, 2018 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Normal Community West High School’s quarterfinal football game at Oak Lawn Richards High School brought out a big crowd to cheer on both sides. But you had to be thrilled with how many Normal West fans and players’ family members turned out for the trip. There were a few hundred at least.

And there was a student section from Normal West present, too, at Korhonen Field. And as was customary for them, they stood throughout the contest yelling and cheering on their classmates on the field hoping to give them encouragement to see them through to the final gun. I checked out the student section to get the kids’ reaction to how the team was doing.

West student Anna Ludolph said she wasn’t surprised by the Wildcats’ keeping pace with their hosts at halftime, only down, 9-7. “I’m not surprised about being so close,” she said. “I trust our boys. Oak Lawn may be ranked higher than us, but I think we came to play.” In fact, Oak Lawn Richards was seeded second while Normal West was seeded sixth.

Just as they do at home games, West students remained standing on the road, too, explained Jaxynn Dyson, a senior who is on Normal West’s Softball and girls’ Basketball teams.

“We have a good team and it has been a good year, and we made history so we wanted to support them,” added West junior Kenneth Martin. The history he speaks of is the fact that this year’s Wildcats team is the first to get this far along in football for the first time in school history. Of the contest itself against the Bulldogs, Martin added, “I expected this to be a good fight and I think we can pull off a good win.”

Normal residents weren’t the only folks who came to the game. Reganne Camp, sister of Wildcats senior quarterback Carson Camp, flew in from New Jersey where she is attending Seton Hall University so she could witness her younger brother playing in the quarterfinal contest. “I’m super excited to be here,” she told me.

Of her brother, Reganne Camp said, “I have great expectations for Carson. He’s a great athlete. His team reminds me of the Softball teams I was on at West where they’re like a family, and when you have that kind of chemistry on a team, anything can happen. So I wasn’t surprised when I found out they were going further.”

Reganne Camp ought to know: She experienced getting to the State Softball Finals in East Peoria in June 2016, leading the way from the pitching circle. Her team finished second following a 10-inning battle against Oak Park-River Forest. She added she had been texting her brother during his team’s playoff run, giving advice, the biggest piece of which was, she said, “Enjoy every minute of the run because it goes by so fast.”

Normal West’s playoff run was, for students, parents, and fans alike, a fun ride while it lasted. The group of fans I saw and had occasion to talk to in Oak Lawn were optimistic their football heroes “would find a way to come back” during the contest, as Dyson said. She added, “They always come back.”

They gave it a good effort, scoring with 22.9 seconds on a 14 yard touchdown pass from the younger Camp to senior wide receiver Armani Forrest to pull within five, 22-17, with 22.9 ticks left on the game clock. West tried an onside kick with hopes of recovering the ball in that manner as they had done earlier in the fourth quarter, but Oak Lawn defenders were ready for that and recovered it, running out the clock on what was a historic run for the Wildcats.

Reganne Camp is right when she states, in this case for future seasons, that the Wildcats football program will find a way back to the playoffs. And just as there were this year, there will be fans and sisters and brothers and parents along for the ride. They will be another group of folks who will enjoy that ride for as long as it lasts.

OAK LAWN – The quest for a first football championship in school history for Normal Community West High School came to an end Saturday at Korhonen Field here but the Wildcats did make their hosts in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A contest, Oak Lawn Richards High School, work for the victory.

Using a stingy defense and employing the running talents of senior wide receiver Armani Forrest to get past defenders, the Wildcats proved formidable during their road contest. Forrest’s return after being sidelined for a month due to an ankle injury appeared to be an encouraging sign to roughly dozens of Wildcats’ fans as they watched him race past defenders at key moments in the contest.

But for as well as this season had gone for the Wildcats, they couldn’t overcome the Bulldogs’ defense in the final quarter to achieve another victory, dropping a 22-17 decision before roughly 3,000 fans, finishing the season at 11-1.

Ranked second in the state in the Class, Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) scored first in the first quarter on a 1 yard run from junior running back Leshon Williams for the only score in the period, putting Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) in front first, 6-0, followed by a missed extra point by junior kicker Sabastian Lasak. A 35-yard field goal by Lasak early in second quarter advanced that lead, 9-0.

Sixth ranked Normal West pulled within two, 9-7, on a 35 yard pass from senior quarterback Carson Camp to Forrest with 6:06 left until halftime followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald. The two sides would show defensive might to their opponents throughout the third quarter keeping the score in tact going into the fourth quarter.

But Bulldogs senior quarterback Sebastian Castro’s 3 yard run into the end zone with 7:32 left in the contest silenced the Wildcats faithful, who, up to that moment, had been cheering throughout. Lasak’s extra point followed pushing Oak Lawn Richards forward, 16-7.

West’s next drive was highlighted by Camp passes to senior wide receiver Davion McQuirter of 16 and 5 yards, aiding in getting the Wildcats to the Bulldogs’ 13 yard line where Oak Lawn Richards defenders forced the Wildcats to kick a field goal, successfully done by Theobald from 30 yards out. That helped Normal West trim Richards’ lead to 16-10 with 1:43 left.

West opted for an onside kick, but Richards recovered it at West’s 48 yard line. Two plays later, a 45 yard run by University of Iowa recruit Castro with 1:24 left pushed the Bulldogs in front, 22-10, following a failed 2-point attempt.

Camp and Forrest connected a second time from 14 yards out with 22.9 seconds left, followed by Theobald’s extra point, cutting Richards’ lead to five, 22-17. West tried another onside kick, which Richards players recovered allowing them to let time expire.

First season Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham said afterward his team “showed determination” all year, continuing to do that to the end of this contest. “Our team was like this all year. When they were down, they just never gave up. They showed that tonight. They pushed the limits of Oak Lawn tonight.”

Following a final postgame huddle with all his players, Fincham met with the 25 seniors on his roster. Of those players, he said, “That senior group is obviously a special group for me and the way they supported me in my first year here this year means a lot.

“Our guys believed from the beginning 100 percent they were in this game and from the very first play, they knew they could compete with Oak Lawn,” Fincham said. “That’s a pretty good football team here, and I think we are too, and I think we showed that tonight.”

Fincham said he knew from looking at Oak Lawn Richards team tape “running the ball would be extremely difficult, but I knew they were weak in the defensive backfield and I knew we could take advantage of that and we did that.”

“We don’t take anybody lightly and we knew Normal West could play,” stated Oak Lawn Richards head coach Tony Sheehan. “Camp is very good and we knew he’d do a good job. Their coach is obviously in his first year and he has their program going in the right direction. Normal’s kids played hard and they played hard the whole game.

“Being in a quarterfinal means there are no bad teams left,” Sheehan said in complimenting Normal West’s program. “Because of that, we knew we had to play to the last whistle. Armani Forrest was a difference maker tonight and we knew he would be. That was the only thing we wondered about but we figured he would play.”

By Steve Robinson | November 5, 2018 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Residents concerned about the prospect of having a new fire station in their neighborhood brought their concerns to Normal Town Council members at the governing body’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing City Manager Pamela Reece to negotiate and execute a contract for the purchase of property at 1438 Hershey Rd. Putting the new fire station in the Hershey Road location, according to a memo prepared for Council members by Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day, would “improve service east of Veterans Parkway and would replace the current fire station on College Ave.”

Undeveloped property in the Blackstone Trails Subdivision was considered an appropriate site for the new fire station. The land is situated on the northeast corner of Hershey and Shepard Avenues.

The vote taken Monday was merely to get approval for the project to get underway. But the idea of a fire station being situated in their neighborhood brought out residents from that subdivision with concerns, among them that the station was a done deal with the ordinance discussed at the meeting.

What Council members, including R. C. McBride explained to the residents, numbering 20-25 who sat in the Chambers, was the vote was merely to get the process started. He and Reece explained to the residents that Normal Planning Commission members must examine the plan and approve it, after which, the final plan would return to Council members for a final vote. If the Planning Commission approves the plan, it would go back to the Town Council for approval.

When Council gets it back for a vote, one thing they will have to do is vote to rezone the land the fire station will sit on. That area is zoned for R-2 Mixed Residences and R-1B Single Family Residences. A fire station would need to be zoned S-1 Public Lands and Institutions.

Normal Planning Commission could get the proposed fire station land item on their agenda as early as their December meeting. Among five residents who asked to address the Council, was Don Byrd. He wanted to know from Council members if other properties were considered.

Another speaker was Pat Dullard, a member of Friends of Constitution Trail, reminded Council members there needed to be access to the Trail from the subdivision. Resident Don Byrd asked the Council if other properties were considered.

Resident Michael Pauken told Council members, “This was thrown at us at the last minute. We would have liked to have more time to meet with the Town.” He said he believes the subdivision’s residents “should get compensation for decreased property values.”

Reece informed the gathering a location analysis was done by the Town using Geographic Information System, or GIS, and that response time to emergency calls was among the reasons for the site being chosen. She added Normal Fire Department ran distance tests to help determine where the new fire station should be located.

NFD Chief Mick Humer told Council members using Veterans Parkway to get to calls from the station’s current location “has caused slowdowns trying to get to call scenes.” He cited taking 9 minutes to get to Normal Community High School. He explained that under fire prevention standards, that’s too much time.

Humer added the new station, which would replace one currently located at the corner of College Ave. and Blair Dr., would sit off of Shepard, with the building’s living quarters facing Shepard Rd. on the east, and the fire apparatus on the west side of the building toward Hershey Rd. He said the Town would plant trees near the station to reduce noise levels. He explained it would be manned by three firefighters and three Emergency Medical Technicians.

Rooming House Gets Special Use Permit: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance granting a special use permit for a rooming house to the owner of 904 W. Hovey Ave. The building has been operating under such a permit since 1981 when Council members approved such a permit for Sigma Nu fraternity.

The building’s new owner plans on renovating the front of the building, including a two-story wrap-around addition with an enclosed stair tower. There would be 22 parking spaces, including one that is ADA-compliant. Town Code requires such rooming houses have a parking space per 2 roomers plus an additional two spaces. Fifty residents would require 27 spaces. As a result, the owner is asking for a variance.

Ordinance Approving Prep Of 2018 Property Tax Levy OK’d: Council members unanimously approved a motion authorizing for the preparation of the 2018 Property Tax Levy. The proposed tax levy will result in property tax revenue totaling $12,958,494 for the Town in fiscal year 2019-20. The Town’s Property Tax rate, including Normal Public Library, is expected to decrease by 1.53 cents, from $1.4910 to $1.4757, or a drop of 1.03 percent. That decrease would translate into a homeowner of a $150,000 residence seeing their tax bill go down by $7.50.

Board And Commissions Update: Appointments to one Board and two commissions were announced by Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Fritzen. Patrick Bane was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Children’s Discovery Museum Board. A resident of Arrowsmith, Bane, a third generation farmer and member of Illinois Farm Bureau, has been active with the Museum at the McLean County Fair. He is filling a vacant seat with an initial term that expires June 30.

Jennifer Swartout, dean of humanities at Illinois Central College, has resided in Normal since 2013 and will fill the vacancy on the Normal Planning Commission as a result of Michael McFarlane’s moving from Normal.

Carl Teichman, named Normal’s Citizen of the Year in 2017, has been reappointed to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. His new term expires Dec. 31, 2021.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 15, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 1, 2018.

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

• A resolution of financial commitment and acknowledgement of the Town’s support for a Safe Routes To School Grant Application for improvements to Chiddix Junior High School at 300 S. Walnut.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Normal-based SCADAware, Inc. to install upgrades at the Northbridge Sanitary Sewer Pump Station in the amount of $28,269.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Hoerr Construction, Inc. for sanitary sewer repairs on Poplar St. in the amount not to exceed $162,000 and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving a final plat within one and one-half miles of corporate limits by expedited process – Schaab Subdivision (northwest corner of Linden St. and Kerrick).

• A resolution conditionally approving an amended final development plan – Phase 2 of the J&M Planned Unit Development (Cottage Ave.).

• A motion to release school land dedication fees to McLean County Unit 5 School District.

By Steve Robinson | November 3, 2018 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – To explain what happened to Normal Community West High School in their second round Illinois High School Association Class 6A game against Palos Heights-based Alan J. Shepard High School, a school named after the late astronaut, verbiage used by NASA would seem appropriate: Normal West’s mission to get to the championship avoided being scrubbed. Normal West came from behind to beat the Astros, 26-17.

With the win, the 6th ranked in the Class Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals of Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs for the first time in school history. The victory will have the Wildcats taking to the road to take on 11-1 Oak Lawn-based Richards High School this weekend, winners of a second round contest by the score of 35-21 over Yorkville.

Junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez scored two touchdowns, the second of which put West in front after trailing for most of the first half, aiding in the effort.

After winning the coin toss and accepting to receive, Shepard (8-4) scored first on an 8 yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Jamail Hunt at 8:23 in the first quarter followed by senior kicker Michal Strama’s extra point, putting the Astros on the scoreboard first, 7-0.

A 43 yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver Magnus Moeller helped Normal West (11-1) tie the game at 7-all following senior kicker Parker Theobald’s extra point..

Although Shepard started their next drive at their own 30, West defenders managed to see to it the Astros only got as far as West’s 16, prompting the decision for Strama to kick a 34 yard field goal. That gave the Astros a 10-7 lead with 11:15 in the second quarter. West ended their ensuing drive with a punt allowing Shepard to begin their next drive at their own 38. Eight plays later, right hand senior quarterback Kevin Graham was forced to throw across his body to senior wide receiver Chris Harrison to avoid defenders for the Astros next score, followed by Strama’s extra point, increasing Shepard’s lead, 17-7 with 5:56 until halftime.

West cut that lead to 17-13, as Camp connected with Hernandez for the first time on the night from 15 yards out followed by Theobald’s extra point cutting Shepard’s lead, 17-13, at the 3:44 mark, a score they would keep until halftime.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, each team seeing opportunities spoiled by the opponents defensive maneuvering. But it was a 9 yard pass to Hernandez from Camp that put West in front for the first time in the contest, 20-17, after Theobald’s extra point with 2:09 remaining.

A defensive maneuver by West junior linebacker Zack Marcotte helped the Wildcats’ effort on the Astros’ next series, as he stripped the ball from Graham and scrambled to pick up the ball in the end zone with 53.9 seconds remaining on the clock. But Theobald’s extra point was no good resulting in the final score after West defenders forced Shepard to rush through their plays until the final gun.

Of what was his first defensive score, Marcotte said, “That was the most exhilarating. I suddenly realized, ‘I got the football. It’s a touchdown. Game’s over. We win.’”

“I’m just excited to make it to the quarterfinals,” West head coach Nate Fincham said, explaining not getting that far into the playoffs in years the school has existed “has been like a black cloud hanging over these kids’ heads. I’m proud of the way they stuck with it. They just kept working throughout the season and offseason.”

“I knew they were athletic and I knew they would give us some issues,” Fincham added. “They kind of surprised us a little bit. I don’t think we expected them to be that physical up front. But we responded well and that’s what’s important.” Beating Shepard was the goal for the week, Fincham added. Having Oak Lawn Richards to beat is another goal, he explained.

“The main thing I can say is hats off to Normal West,” said Shepard head coach John Roan. “They made fewer mistakes than us so they deserved to win the ball game. We liked our chances coming in and we thought we played a pretty good first half. In the second half, the mistakes started to mount and we didn’t overcome them.”

BLOOMINGTON – With both Illinois Wesleyan University ’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams getting into NCAA Div. III playoffs last year, Men’s head coach Ron Rose and Women’s head coach Mia Smith don’t foresee this season ending in either team staying home when NCAA bids come out this year. What’s more, they would like their individual teams to get further than they did at the end of last year.

But first, both must play tough non-conference and Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin schedules to prove to opponents they will get back to compete for championships.

Both teams exited early in the NCAA tournament – the Men exiting after a round one loss to Wooster , the Women leaving after a second round loss to Trine. Women’s team head coach Mia Smith said her team was hampered by injuries as the season wound down last year, to forwards Raven Hughes and Sydney Shanks, both of whom watched the team’s post-season march from the bench.

Hughes, Shanks “Were Helping Coach” Team: But for the Women’s team, a curious thing got noticed by Smith about how Hughes and Shanks, now healthy and ready to take on opponents this year, contributed from the bench during the team’s tournament run. “They were helping me coach at the end of the season because they could pick up on things having been in the system, and watching from the bench at games, they picked up on a lot of things and for them to do that is very mature.”

Smith described Hughes, a sophomore and a University High grad, and Shanks, a junior and a Central Catholic grad, as “basketball-oriented kids who have basketball-oriented minds. What did surprise me is how they stayed in the game for their teammates.” She explained injured players on the bench have a tendency to show discouragement about the fact they are not on the hardwood because an injury has benched them. Smith said that didn’t occur with either Hughes or Shanks. “Their vision from the sideline was really good,” Smith said of the pair’s contributions.

A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament on her left knee sidelined Hughes for the Conference playoffs and NCAAs. She received clearance from doctors to begin working with the team again at the beginning of this season. “It was difficult to be on the bench but at least I had Sydnee with me,” Hughes said. From the bench, Hughes said she learned that, even when a player gets hurt, “the team knows to keep going and that we shouldn’t give up.”

Shanks said being at NCAAs her sophomore season, although she didn’t get on the court due to a broken hand, was “amazing” and she loved cheering on her teammates as they made their way through the bracket. She added she “can’t wait to get back to NCAAs again next year.”

Downs Tri-Valley grad Maddie Merritt will be experiencing her final season on the court for IWU this year. She is one of four seniors expected to lead IWU back toward CCIW Tournament and an NCAA tourney bid. The team’s other seniors are guards Emily Farris and Nina Anderson, and forward Ashley Schneider.

Sophomore guard Kendall Sosa called what she had last season at IWU “a great experience for my freshman year.” Now a sophomore, she added she learned plenty from last year’s senior teammates which included El Paso Gridley High School alum Rebekah Ehresman. “That prepared me a lot for this year, I think, so that means we will have a lot of experience for this year.”

Last year’s seniors taught Sosa a number of things including “how to stay composed and the speed of the game,” she said, adding, “this level has a little more speed and having to learn about shot selection” from that group has prepared her for this season.

Rose Coaching A “Hungry” Men’s Team: Rose’s men’s team is again relying on senior depth to help get them through, and one of those seniors will be his son, Brady. “Brady had a great junior year,” his coach said, explaining his son “had a great junior year, having been named all-conference. He comes back with a world of experience.” The senior Rose said the 6 foot-3, 185 pound guard spent the summer doing workouts to improve. He said the same could be said of Jack Martin, the 6 foot-4, 180 pound guard and University High alum.

“Jack is bigger and stronger, was on the Junior Varsity team last year and learned a lot,” Rose added. “He has learned the system and really shown improvement this first week.”

The younger Rose, a guard, may be a senior but he’s going to be playing in his fifth season for his father because of a broken foot injury he sustained in his sophomore season. He was allowed to redshirt which gave him an extra season this year.

“It seems like a long time ago that I showed up on campus,” the younger Rose said. “Just looking back on the four seasons I had – three I played and this last one I’m getting a chance to. I’ve played with a lot of great players, a lot of great friends, a lot of great coaches. It’s brought us a lot of different experiences every single year. It has brought me a lot of different learning experiences I’ve been able to take some lessons from.”

Personally, Rose said, the ultimate goal of winning a national championship is front and center on his mind. That means going for a repeat of getting the CCIW championship since IWU won it last year. He called being at IWU collecting “some of the best memories of my life.”

Sophomore guard and University High alum Jack Martin was on IWU’s junior varsity team last year and admitted the up tempo pace of the game from high school to college didn’t intimidate him. “I just want to practice hard and do the best I can this season,” he explained.

“We’ve got some great senior leadership,” Coach Rose reminded. In addition to the younger Rose, that group includes guards Colin Bennett and Jason Gregoire, and forward Danny Baker. “We’ve got some great senior leadership,” explained the coach, who is entering his 13th season at the helm of the program. Of his players as this season dawns, Rose said, “This is a hungry group. We shared the CCIW title last year, made it to the NCAA, but we’re certainly not satisfied. We have the team that has the potential to have a special season.”

EPG Alum Ehresman Now A Grad Assistant: Sometimes, students find the career path they wanted gets changed simply by changing majors. That’s what happened to Rebekah Ehresman, the star basketball player at El Paso Gridley High School and an IWU graduate. She got her undergraduate degree in Accounting but is now a graduate student at Illinois State University in Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, as well as serving as a graduate assistant coach for Smith’s IWU Women’s team.

As part of her job, Ehresman helps with logistics for the women’s team as well as recruiting, scouting, and helping at practices. “I’m very passionate about sports and basketball in general, and this school,” she said. She started out as a Business major and switched to Accounting, but even as she was getting her degree, the yearning to stay close to sports in some way never left Ehresman’s thoughts.

For me, accounting was sitting and looking at a computer, and not a whole lot of interaction,” Ehresman said. “I should have known that going into it. I switched my major late, in my junior year. So now, I’m changing career paths a little bit.”

Circle Your Calendars: IWU Men will play two exhibition games – at University of Illinois at Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 1 and at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana on Nov. 2, both starting at 7p.m. They open the regular season at Shirk Center on Sunday, Nov. 11 against University of Chicago at 4p.m. Their CCIW season starts at home against Carthage College on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7p.m. IWU Women open with two road exhibitions, at Eastern Illinois on Nov. 1 at 6p.m. and at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7p.m. Their regular season opens also opens Nov. 11 at Shirk Center against UC starting at 2p.m. Their first CCIW contest is on Dec. 1 against Carthage College begins at 5p.m.