By Steve Robinson | April 30, 2007 - 1:21 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

Special OlympicsPEKIN – Members of the Soccer team from Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, in trying to continue their season, learned about a quirky rule of life in the process.

That rule: Sometimes, even when you lose, you win.

IRVSRA’s Soccer team, nicknamed the Flames, lost both of the regional qualifying games they needed this weekend which would have allowed them to compete at the 39th Annual Illinois Special Olympics Summer Games, to be held on the Illinois State University campus the weekend of June 15-17.

Both of this past weekend’s games were against Jacksonville-based Pathway Services Unlimited, whose sports teams are nicknamed the Storm. The Storm beat IRVSRA twice to advance to the Summer Games, 11-0 and 18-3.

Despite the Storm’s resounding victories, IRVSRA would learn that their losses would not keep their 9-person co-ed team, coached by Sarah Wolf and her assistant, Denise Fountain, from competing at the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games, to be held Father’s Day weekend, June 15-17, at various venues on the Illinois State University campus.

IRVSRA qualifies, under Special Olympics rules, because “area qualifiers that have less than 12 teams registered to compete, will send gold and silver medal winning teams to State,” explained Michele Henson, director of communications and publications for Special Olympics Illinois.

Coming in second in a two-team regional gave IRVSRA its opportunity to get to the State Games.

Rachel Doan, director of special populations for the Pekin Park District which sponsors Pekin IRVSRA, said under the current circumstances of having so few teams compete against in Soccer statewide, for IRVSRA to join the field of teams at the Summer Games allows the Flames to see more competitors than they normally would during the regular Soccer season.

Most of the competition IRVSRA faces leading up to qualifying for State are teams from agencies from the southern suburbs of Chicago, or Jacksonville.

By Steve Robinson | April 27, 2007 - 1:31 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics, Sports

Special OlympicsPEKIN – For the soccer team from Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, it probably seems a little too appropriate that they should have to play a team nicknamed “the Storm” Sunday in Springfield.

After all, the spring storms the area has been experiencing have hampered the 9-person co-ed team, coached by Sarah Wolf and her assistant, Denise Fountain, from getting in very much practice this season.

The team’s ultimate goal is to get to the Illinois Special Olympics State Summer Games, to be held Father’s Day weekend, June 15-17, at various venues on the Illinois State University campus.

But to get there, the IRVSRA Flames must take on the Jacksonville Red Storm in a two-game regional qualifier at SAS Fields, located at 4600 S. 11th St. in Springfield, with the first game starting at 9:15 a.m. The second game would start at 11:15a.m.

Winning both assures the Flames a number one seed in their division at State Games. Splitting the contests would require the two sides to play a third rubber game to determine who advances to State.

Rachel Doan, director of special populations for the Pekin Park District which sponsors Pekin IRVSRA, said the team is entering is second season, having claimed second place at State Summer Games following their rookie season last year.

IRVSRA had had a successful soccer program in the past, as far back as the late 1990s, but Doan said, in 2004, IRVSRA could not field a team and the park district decided to try other sports in its place, most notably, bocce.

But Doan said, the soccer players began to lobby each other and IRVSRA to bring back the game they knew and loved so well, even though they participated in other Special Olympics sports during Soccer’s hiatus.

“Actually, (at the time the decision was made to drop soccer), the athletes did not want us to stop the sport,” Doan said. “They were a driving force (in causing the sport’s return).”

Doan said she challenged the team members by telling them that they needed to have a hand in the process to get Soccer to return. She said two players, Jerry Harrison and Donald Frakes, both in their 30s, took charge of mounting the campaign for Soccer’s return.

Others on the team include: Lisa Hofmann, Kevin Thompson, David Dockins, David Campbell, DeeDee May, and Annette Bartley.

“Every time (Harrison and Frakes) saw me, they asked me when Soccer would return,” she said. “Every time they were with their friends, they brought it up with them.

“I want to leave a lot of the programming choices up to our athletes,” she said. “They talked to their friends, they talked former players to coming back to Soccer. They got their teammates really excited about it and they made it happen.”

Soccer season in Illinois Special Olympics starts in March, and IRVSRA practices twice weekly for 90 minutes.

Doan said, that in addition to finding a dry day for practice season, Wolf’s team has been hampered by game scheduling quirks, too, because IRVSRA is the only Special Olympics agency within its own seven county area, including Mason, Peoria, Tazewell, and McLean Counties, that fields a Soccer team.

That has meant having to travel, in most cases, to Jacksonville or the south Chicago suburbs to play regular season games.

“They know that they are starting a little bit behind other teams because the other teams did get in games (prior to regionals),” Doan said.

By Steve Robinson | - 1:27 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal’s Unit 5 School District, continuing to look for ways to slash a deficit in its Operations and Maintenance Fund, decided to lay off 12 full-time custodians at its regular meeting at the district office on April 25.

But one way to save the district $1.2 million meant costing some jobs, as Unit 5 is laying off 12 custodians as part of the deficit-reducing measures it considered at the meeting.

The jobs eliminated included those of six high schools custodians from both Normal Community and Normal Community West, a total of three other custodians working in two of the district’s three junior high schools, and two custodians from Brigham Elementary and one custodian from Colene Hoose Elementary.

By cutting those positions, Unit 5 expects to save almost $484,000.

In addition to the job cuts, additional steps the district will take toward saving the remaining portion of the $1.2 million include reducing purchasing outside services by 10 percent; reducing supply and materials purchases by 10 percent, and reduce overtime costs by 10 percent.

Board member John Puzauskas called the budget shortfall “a systemic problem.”

“This (decision) is not something we’re doing haphazardly or lightly,” board member Jay Reece said. “It still means we have to make some hard decisions and make some cuts. These don’t eliminate the deficit. It does reduce it.”

The cuts will affect the district office and the educational services center building, as well, as each facility will see a full-time custodial position reduced to half time.

Despite the district’s current financial squeeze, the school board voted not to increase the prices of student registration fees, school lunch prices, and optional student insurance for one more year.

AUDIT FIRM SELECTED: The board also voted to award a one-year contract for auditing services to Peoria-based Gorenz and Associates “for a fee not to exceed $16,500.”

Tod Altenburg, Unit 5’s chief financial officer, said that although the district sought a three-year contract with Gorenz and Associates, the auditing firm recommended a one-year contract for now in light of upcoming changes to the board as a result of the April 3 elections.

CARLOCK TEACHERS PRAISED: Among the District’s “Good News” items at the meeting were positive words for two Carlock Elementary School teachers, Kris Decker and Barb Larson.

Carlock Elementary Principal Carmen Bergmann introduced each woman to the board and said that first grade teacher Larson arranges individual packets of materials for her students for them to work on to help them improve on the lessons taught. Larson is scheduled to retire at the end of the school year.

Bergmann praised Decker for her efforts to bring a singing group from Zambia to Carlock. It spurred school-wide, year-long theme, which included a fundraiser for the purchase of three acres of land for “The Growing Project.”

The Growing Project is an organization that helps get land for Zambia residents so that they can use it for farming. So far, the fundraiser has earned enough money to have three acres of land purchased so far.

STUDENT EXPULSION APPROVED: The board agreed to expel a district student for the rest of the year and for the entire 2007-08 school year. Neither the expelled student’s name, or the reason for the expulsion were given.

By Steve Robinson | April 24, 2007 - 1:33 am
Posted in Category: News, The Normalite

NORMAL – In their own way, a local grade school and Illinois State’s student newspaper each plan to establish lasting memorials to a grandfather and grandson who died in a boating accident almost two months ago.

Thomas Metcalf School, the K-8 lab school that Kalin Hunter attended, and the student newspaper Richard Hunter worked for, respectfully, each plan to remember the grandfather and grandson.

The bodies of Richard Hunter, 59, and his son, Navy Petty Officer Jason Hunter, Sr., 29, were found on March 15, the day after their fishing boat went over the spillway at Clinton Lake. The body of 8-year-old Kalin Hunter, Richard Hunter’s grandson and nephew to Jason Hunter, was recovered in the late afternoon of March 22, just hours after the funeral for the two men.

Metcalf School“Kalin’s Corner”: Being a child who loved to read, Kalin was honored by the Metcalf Library with “Kalin’s Corner,” a corner shelf of books, with a rocking chair and a throw rug – a place where any of the children who attend the ISU lab grade school could come and enjoy some peaceful minutes reading.

Dee Damkoehler, educational consultant at the Metcalf School’s library, said both Kalin’s family and local residents touched by the tragedy have donated books to the project, particularly books on sports, and books that make children laugh.

‘He loved to laugh, he loved to be funny, so (his classmates, family, and other people) have brought in books they thought he would have liked,” Damkoehler said.

In addition to the books, such as “Max Found Two Sticks” by Brian Pinkney, Dr. Suess’ There’s A Wocket In My Pocket,” “The Stories Julian Tells” by Ann Cameron, other people have made monetary donations totaling over $500 to the library for the purchase of books that they thought the boy would have enjoyed.

Damkoehler said the donations have come from as far away as Ohio, in some cases.

“It’s just a place for us to remember and celebrate Kalin’s life, as they need to bring something special for Kalin,” Damkoehler said.

A Man Admired: Richard Hunter, Kalin’s grandfather, had spent nearly 10 years working at ISU’s student newspaper, The Daily Vidette, handling the publication’s information systems needs.

To honor him, the publications board, that oversees the Vidette, through the ISU Foundation, has created the Richard Hunter Memorial Scholarship.

Rick Jones, general manager of the Daily Vidette, said the Vidette has a goal of raising $20,000 over the next five years to formally endow the scholarship so that, each fall, a deserving Daily Vidette student staffer could receive a stipend to aid their education.

The Daily VidetteJones said students who exemplify Hunter’s primary characteristics “of hard work, demonstrating a humble spirit, (and) someone who would whatever they could to make the Vidette a better place for the other students working here” would be considered for the new scholarship.

The first stipend will be awarded at a Vidette function during Family Weekend on the ISU campus this fall.

“(Richard) was very well thought of by the students,” said Jones. He said two carloads of Vidette student staffers attended the visitation before the funeral held for Richard and Jason on March 22 at New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Peoria.

“The students at the Vidette, it’s fair to say, admired Richard,” Jones said. “He had a wonderful relationship with the 100 students or so who worked here.”

By Steve Robinson | April 22, 2007 - 1:43 am
Posted in Category: News, Pekin Daily Times

Illinois State Twins AssociationBLOOMINGTON – If you had the chance to be with those attending the 43rd Annual Convention of the Illinois Twins Association here Sunday, they would understand if you thought you had developed double vision.

After all, you would have been in a room with almost 100 sets of twins ranging in age from toddlers to folks in their 70s when the group met for their annual gathering at the Eastland Suites Hotel and Conference Center.

All if not most of the twins dress in identical clothes at these gathering, but twin brothers Jack and Jene Pfanz, Pekin, say they are used to seeing that when they come to these meetings.

Jack and Jene Pfanz, 75, agree that being a twin has been fun. Jack, a retired daily farmer, and Jene, a truck driver, say that sometimes, it is easy for friends of theirs to walk right up to one of them and not realize they are talking to the other brother.

Jack Pfanz said he and his brother each married a woman who was able to tell the brothers apart. But neither man knows how their wives do it.

“We don’t know how they tell us apart,” Jene Pfanz said with a chuckle. “They just must see a difference in us.”

In unison, literally, both men said they were closer as brothers than might be with siblings who are not twins.

Jene Pfanz said there were always a few other sets of twins with he and his brother when they grew up and went to school, and they encountered some more when they were both in the same outfit in the Army in France during the Korean War years.

Jene Pfanz and his wife, Dorothy, have been married for 54 years, having dated since they were 16-year-olds. From Dorothy’s perspective, marrying a twin “was kind of fun because there was two of them, and it was kind of neat.”

Jack Pfanz and his wife, Barbara, have been together for 51 years, and Barbara said having married a twin and been related to one means that “you’ve always got a close friend.”

Dorothy Pfanz, Jene’s wife, said with a chuckle that she hoped she and husband would be parents to twins. Both couples have grown children, but no more twins among them.

History Lesson: ISTA was founded in 1964, according to William Hunter, Gibson City, whose 12-year old twin son and daughter, Justin and Jessica, serve as co-presidents for the group through the end of the year. In actuality, Hunter and his wife, Karla, have legal responsibility for the group, while the children were voted into the positions at the group’s nominating meeting last year.

William Hunter said ISTA has a membership of 350 sets of twins, swelling the group’s total membership to 700 people.