By Steve Robinson | March 28, 2007 - 1:31 am

Farmer CityFARMER CITY – A DeWitt Circuit Court judge granted the City of Farmer City a judicial deed to a downtown property on Wednesday upon which an abandoned building currently sits.

The city started the year trying to obtain the deed in an attempt to take over the property because the building, located at 211 S. Main St., has been decaying since its last known owners abandoned it nearly a decade ago.

All that is left to be done is for DeWitt County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Peters to sign the deed formally. That is scheduled to take place in a brief session in Judge Peters’ courtroom on April 25.

Granting the judicial deed for the property removes the rights of the property’s last owner, who abandoned the property, and would allow the city to own the property without there being a lien placed on it.

Peters’ had ruled in February for the city to continue trying to make contact with the building’s last known owner, Basri “Boz” Emini.

Joswiak said the city tried repeatedly through contact with a number of legal entities – including the international police agency Interpol and the U. S. Immigration Service – to find Emini and his wife, Sevda Keyifli, who abruptly left town in 1998 and have not been seen since.

Joswiak said Emini had hoped to but never did open a planned restaurant in the building, which saw, among other things, a crafts shop and a TV & Appliance repair shop occupy it during the structure’s existence before Emini owned it.

Joswiak said the city, by having no business operating in the building for almost nine years, has meant the area’s taxing bodies have lost $3,000 in tax revenue, as well, during that period.

Joswiak estimates the building is between 80 and 100 years old.

Although he could not give an exact date, Joswiak said the building, located in the middle of the city’s long two-block downtown business district. was damaged by fire “sometime in 1996 or 1997.”

Joswiak said the city plans to demolish the structure, which has walls and a roof that are both decaying from a combination of age and not being tended to. That has meant the city has had to step in with some repairs.

The city has already had to spend money to put plywood sheets on the roof of an adjacent building being used to by a local antique dealer to keep the decay of the vacant building from spreading to its currently-used neighbor.

Joswiak said the city has spent between $1,500-$2,000 in legal fees as a result of trying to get the matter resolved.

Last month, Peters ordered the city to put an ad in local newspapers as part of a final push to give the couple a last chance to claim the property. No one inquired.

“The party never came forward to state their case,” Joswiak said.

“We want to put together a plan for tearing down the building that will not negatively impact the adjacent buildings,” Joswiak said.

Steve Barrow, owner of Steve’s Antique Center, 213 S. Main St., also owns the buildings which house businesses at 205, 207, 209, and 213 S. Main St. Included in that group of buildings is Chef’s Kitchen restaurant, at 209 S. Main, operated by Sue Shaffer. The eatery just opened last October.

Joswiak said the city wants to develop a plan for tearing down the abandoned property but said that plan “must not have a negative impact on the adjacent buildings.”

If the demolition costs are found to be $2,000 or more, Joswiak said, by State Law, a bidding process to award the demolition job to a contractor must be used by the city.

By Steve Robinson | March 25, 2007 - 1:51 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Rivermen

Norm UlrichPEORIA – When the Peoria Rivermen’s season ends, it will not just be the players who hang up their skates.

Longtime Rivermen broadcaster Norm Ulrich will retire at the end of the season, having spent over 20 years covering some of the team’s most cherished moments, including two championship seasons in two separate leagues. It is a stint that will conclude after 35 years behind a microphone covering sports locally and regionally.

Ulrich has seen many changes in how leagues operate having seen the team go from IHL (1984-96) to ECHL (1996-2005) to AHL (2005-present).

Ulrich said he is looking forward to spending time with his wife of 35 years, Pearl, and their four children and eight grandchildren.

“It’s an exciting game to call,” Ulrich said. “It’s the most exciting game there is as far as I am concerned, to call, because of the speed of the game, because of the hitting, (and) because of the goaltending. It’s just an exciting game.”

It’s also a game of statistics. And Ulrich, like any good sports broadcaster, stays fluent on not just the current players’ stats, but said he has racked up some of his own covering the Rivermen.

By his count, when this season ends, Ulrich, 65, will have covered over 1,400 hockey games, in the U. S. and Canada. In doing so, Ulrich said he has been racking his own personal stats that broadcasters and writers don’t often share with the public.

Those stats include knowing that he has covered hockey games in 77 separate arenas in 69 cities crossing 32 states. He said part of the reason for those numbers is because, in eight of those 69 cities, he covered games in two different rinks.

“The thing that blows my mind is not the number of states, not the number of rinks, but the number of cities,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich notes that his Rivermen coverage has taken him “from Anchorage, Alaska to Estero, Fla., and from Albany, N. Y. to San Diego, and everywhere in-between.”

Ulrich jokes that, now, he wished he had counted the mileage involved to go with those stats. He said the fans of the Louisiana IceGators, the Rivermen’s opponents for the ECHL Kelly Cup at the end of the 1999-2000 Season, were probably friendliest fans he met on the road.

“Fans were great all over the country,” Ulrich said. “But the IceGators’ fans were phenomenal because of how they treated us when they were there. They were unbelievably kind.”

Peoria Rivermen“He’ll Be Tough To Top”: Rivermen management, under the direction of team Vice President and General Manager Bart Rogers, knows watching Ulrich retire will not be easy.

“Anytime you have somebody with his character and knowledge of the game, who has been around for a long time, he’ll definitely be tough to top,” Rogers said.

“He has a lot of knowledge and seen a lot of history,” Rogers said of Ulrich. “He’s seen it all. He’s seen the ups and downs of Rivermen hockey.”

We Knew Him When…: Prior to his stint with the Rivermen, local sports fans remember Ulrich as sports anchor/reporter for WEEK-TV, channel 25, through much of the 1970s and early 1980s. He broadcast Rivermen games for a couple years in the mid-80s, but took a few years off to follow other broadcast options, returning in 1988.

His return to Peoria in 1988 would bring radio listeners the thrills from the team’s 1990-91 Turner Cup championship season when the team belonged to International Hockey League.

Ulrich said he will always remember the Turner Cup-winning season as “the best year. Nothing will ever compare with ’90-91.

“(Having a team with) an 18-game winning streak and winning the Turner Cup…Nothing will ever top that,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich said the championship years were fun, and he said he and those associated with the Turner Cup team, including then head coach Bob Plager, and players like wingers Dave Thomlinson, Jim Vesey, Kelly Chase; defensemen Dominic Lavoie, and goalies Pat Jablonski and Guy Hebert among others, “couldn’t wait to get to the rink.

“Every day was fun,” Ulrich said, recalling those times. “Every trip was fun. Everything about the year was fun.” He said although a lot of work went into putting the game on-air, it didn’t feel like work.”

From there, he would move on to do play-by-play for the IHL’s San Diego Gulls for three seasons before returning to the River City in 1995 to clue Rivermen fans in on how their team did during that season, and has been here ever since.

With a rich voice and knowledge gleamed from daily contact with players and coaches, Ulrich has conveyed the excitement of the game to fans – particularly when the team won both the Turner Cup and again when the Rivermen won the Kelly Cup championship trophy, under then-head coach Don Granato, as members of ECHL at the end of the 1999-2000 season.

“That was an extremely fun year, also, especially the way we won,” Ulrich said of the Rivermen’s most recent championship.

AHLMoods and Times Change: “The IHL was totally different from how AHL is right now,” Ulrich observed. “Everything is serious from the coaches down to the stick boys.” He said players, coaches, and broadcasters enjoyed ribbing with each other, and now, it’s all business.”

On the other hand, Ulrich said he likes the game “the way it is now.” He said when he covered IHL, the league earned the reputation as a “goon league.”

“There were so many players then who, all they wanted to do is hit and fight, and everything else,” he said. “Nowadays, leagues have made it a lot easier for the smaller guy to play because of making more hooking and interference calls.”

By Steve Robinson | March 20, 2007 - 1:56 am

Farmer CityFARMER CITY – The city council of Farmer City voted unanimously at its regular session Monday to the amending an intergovernmental agreement which allows municipalities in the state to help each other in emergencies.

City Manager David Joswiak said council members voted unanimously to approve the city’s Mutual Aid Agreement with the Illinois Municipal Utilities Association.

Farmer City work crews received assistance from crews from Rantoul and Princeton in December following the winter season’s first ice storm, which downed wires and caused parts of town to lose power.

Joswiak said it was discovered after the storms that parts of the agreement required evaluation, particularly in the area of liability issues when one community’s workers assist another.

IMUAJoswiak said the agreement, as now amended by IMUA, updates how communities receiving assistance should handle liability issues for those from other communities who provided help.

Joswiak said before the amendment was approved by IMUA, “questions of liability were unresolved between communities because (the communities) did not spell out the liability responsibilities in the earlier versions of the agreement.

“But this agreement does that,” he said.

Further, Joswiak said the agreement “improves matters between communities, but issues concerning being reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (for these kinds of situations) still need to be resolved.”

Joswiak said “several hundred” communities in the state belong to IMUA.

By Steve Robinson | March 18, 2007 - 1:59 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

BasketballNORMAL – Kathy Jones, Mapleton, is considering making a comeback in Special Olympics basketball.

Although she once played basketball for another Special Olympics team in the area, illnesses had sidelined Jones from playing on a team for about a decade.

Saturday, Jones participated in a Basketball Skills competition, which was part of the annual Illinois Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament this weekend, which had games at both Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan.

Amber Daulbaugh, Southern Regional Manager of Sports Training, based in Highland, was overseeing the Basketball Skills competition at the south end of Horton Field House on the Illinois State campus, and explained that the event involves an athlete’s being able to do three things:

* Spot Shooting: To be able to shoot and make a basket from six points along the free throw lane. Having the ball either hit the rim or the backboard, would earn points in this competition, in addition to getting the ball in the basket.

* Wall Pass: To be able to throw the ball at a square taped to the wall. Getting the ball inside the square, or having the ball hit the edge of the square, and/or be able to catch the ball once it comes off the wall, would earn the participant points in this part of the competition.

*10 Meter Dribble: A timed event where a participant must continuously dribble the ball a short distance between two points.

Special OlympicsKathy, who turns 41 in May, successfully qualified for State in the Basketball Skills competition by getting a gold medal at the District level.

She is hoping to use the Basketball skills competition as a means to get back to playing on a team again like she did a decade ago for Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association, based in Peoria.

Participating in the skills competition “is okay,” Kathy said. She looks to join a team “in September,” she explained, when Special Olympics groups like Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association and HISRA in Peoria, begin gearing up for the basketball season once again.

Being able to play again would mean that Kathy would be on an IRVSRA team, just like her brother, Danny, who plays on the IRVSRA’s senior male team, which won a gold medal in their division after winning two games this weekend.

Kathy’s mother, Rhea Jones, said her daughter has been sidelined from playing basketball for about a decade, due to suffering from seizures after a bout with chicken pox.

Kathy admits that she has known about her being able to compete in the skills competition for two months and has been excited about it ever since finding out – so excited that she has literally had a suitcase ready to go ever since.

By Steve Robinson | March 17, 2007 - 1:02 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

BasketballNORMAL – Members of the senior male basketball team from Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, based in Pekin, learned that looks can be deceiving.

The IRVSRA team, nicknamed the Flames, had defeated Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Association Saturday in their division’s first round-robin game, 62-28, and Sunday were preparing to face Tinley Park-based Southwest Suburban Special Recreation Association for either a gold or silver medal.

But SSSRA had lean players who looked quick during warm-ups. Yet, IRVSRA managed to teach SSSRA a lesson, as well: Height, not just looks, can deceive, too.

That is where 8-year-old Ryan Cole, one of the newest members of the IRVSRA Men’s team, enters this story.

At just four feet tall, the Willow Grade School student who began playing for IRVSRA just this season scored four points, retrieved one rebound, and held his own defensively against the opponent he was assigned to defend — a girl who had a 13 inch height advantage on him.

The efforts of head coach Steve Grys’ squad, including Cole, paid off in the team’s first gold medal in State competition in five tries since Grys took the coaching reins, as IRVSRA beat SSSRA, 46-28. IRVSRA’s teams, under Grys, had previously earned bronze medals in the previous four years.

Grys’ team beat Mt. Greenwood Special Olympics, 62-28, on Saturday to come one step closer to gold, prior to their game with SSSRA.

Grys’ team’s season closes with a 6-1 mark.

IRVSRA Girls Get Gold, Too: Gail Smith, IRVSRA girls’ basketball coach, had seen her teams already place in recent years, and had to do it, at first, by teaching her athletes basketball’s most basic skills – shooting, passing, dribbling.

But Smith’s players have graduated from basics to learning a couple of set plays for certain circumstances. Understandably, Smith said she saw a couple of local high school teams do these and “borrowed” them. She won’t say what plays she barrowed from where.

IRVSRA Girls won a squeaker against the Lady Diamonds of Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Association, 22-21, at ISU’s Horton Field House to open their division tournament play early Saturday. Winning their second game against those same Lady Diamonds, 31-24, later in the day at Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center, would allow them to walk away gold medal winners. In game two, IRVSRA Girls owned a 22-5 lead at halftime, and 31-8 after three quarters.

Smith said that she might add one more specialty play to the girls’ team’s bag of tricks next season, now that her team has finished the year with a 4-1 mark.

Special OlympicsNeighbor & Coach: It isn’t just an athlete’s family members who stop to watch athletes participate. Sometimes, neighbors come to lend support, too. Joel Carter, Pekin, is a neighbor to IRVSRA girls’ team member Lisa Hofmann, and has a connection to one of the city’s first remembered Special Olympics teams, the Pekin Olympians, coached by Bob Ramirez.

Carter said that friendships among athletes and between athletes and non-athletes like the neighbors who came to support Hofmann and her teammates, is the truly special thing he sees in these events.

Carter coached with Ramirez in the mid-1980’s, as did current IRVSRA men’s coach Steve Grys.

Carter and a couple other neighbors from the complex where Hofmann lives came to support their friend and her teammates in the second game of the day on Saturday, the IRVSRA-C-USR matchup. The double win earned Smith’s team, including newcomer Jenna Bundy, Pekin, gold medals for their efforts.

Competing in Special Olympics is an escape from very busy lives for both the athletes, many of whom have parlayed learning sports skills into learning work skills which have made the athletes productive members of the community.

New Experience: Just as winning a gold medal for the first time was a new experience for Bundy, Bundy’s guardians, Tim and Brenda Fosdick, Pekin, were soaking in the atmosphere of their first Illinois Special Olympics competition.

Special Olympics appears to be the perfect outlet for Bundy, 15, a Pekin Community High School student, considering she loves to exercise, spending part of each day on the family’s treadmill machine, Brenda Fosdick said.

Brenda Fosdick said she enquired about athletic activities for Bundy because Bundy wanted to play basketball upon entering high school.

Another Fosdick child, Nikki Stephens, played on PCHS’ girls team a few years back, which was something that sparked Bundy’s interest in playing, Tim Fosdick explained.

“This is something Jenna wanted to do,” Tim Fosdick said.

“I think it has helped Jenna develop in her social skills,” he said, explaining that, before her interest in Basketball, Jenna was not real talkative around others, coming across shy, but now has opened up.

Tim Fosdick said something positive can come when any child is challenged and given a chance to develop their social skills, physical skills, and mental skills.

“Special Olympics gives (Jenna) a chance to do all those things – and more,” he said. “It’s another step in their development. It’s a good opportunity.”

Jenna proved herself quickly as, following the championship game against C-USR, the game officials gave her a “Ron Knisley Spirit Award.”

The award, named in honor of the late Director of Competition for Illinois Special Olympics, was given to one player from each team at the conclusion of each game all weekend, for demonstrating sportsmanship.

“It’s For Fun”: “Special Olympics has come a very long way,” Carter said, 22 years removed from his turn along the sidelines. “It is very competitive and it is a learning experience for everybody.

“Special Olympics is for fun,” Carter said, reminding about the organization’s motto, which is recited at the beginning of every sports competition’s opening ceremony:

Let Me Win,
But If I Cannot Win,
Let Me Be Brave
In The Attempt.