By Steve Robinson | June 19, 2007 - 9:32 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – At its regular meeting on June 18, the Normal Town Council heard from the chair of an ad hoc committee which had been asked by the town, through Mayor Chris Koos, to study the town’s use of the 60-year-old movie house, which the city purchased from the previous owner, Kerasotes Theatres, in 1991.

Julie Hile, the ad hoc committee chair, addressed the council, and reported that the 13-member panel “heard loudly and clearly the mayor’s charge to look at the theater.”

Overall, what Hile said the ad hoc group saw was “that on-going improvements and development in Uptown Normal.

“Management of the theater has been very strong and we can knit this success within the fabric of the community,” Hile said.

City Manager Mark Peterson said city staff will now take the committee’s 21-page report, which included a test page for a redesign of the theater’s web site, and come back to the council with an action plan which will indicate the steps the theater’s marketing should be moving toward to attract further business.

The town considers the continuing action plan crucial to attracting business to the theater, especially with the new Hyatt Hotel due for completion in Spring 2009.

Peterson said the staff reports would come at regular intervals during regular town council meetings.

Council members, having read the committee’s report gave Hile some feedback after her presentation.

“The theater must be a much bigger focal point than it has been the last 15 years,” said council member Adam Nielsen. “I want it to see it create the same kind of buzz that it created when it opened.”

At the time of its closing in 1991, the Normal Theater was a two-screen movie house, and after extensive remodeling was restored to a one-screen theater, just as it was when it opened for the first time in 1937.

About Abe’s Bicentennial: The council also heard from the chair and vice chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of McLean County, concerning its efforts to present programs and bring speakers to the area with knowledge of the county’s role in shaping the life of the 16th President of the United States.

This ad hoc committee was formed as a result of a resolution passed by the Normal Council last August, and similar resolutions were also passed by the Bloomington City Council and the McLean County Board.

“The overall goal (of the group) is to make sure Bloomington-Normal and McLean County know of the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln,” explained Rick Lenz, the commission chair.

Lenz said a web site has been set up to give a head start to this task. The web address is: The mc in the address stands for McLean County, he explained.

Dr. John Krueger, the group’s vice chair, told council members that there will be a traveling exhibit as well as an exhibit at the David Davis Mansion, to help people learn more about Lincoln’s significance to the area.

Commission Appointment Announced: Council member Sonja Reece announced that Kristen Allen, an attorney with Kirkland And Ellis LLP, has been named to complete an unexpired term on the Normal Historic Preservation Commission.

Allen, an attorney who specializes in general property and intellectual property litigation, was chosen to complete the term vacated by Kathy Smith Whitman.

Allen term on the commission expires at the end of March 2008.

Omnibus Agenda Approved: Among the omnibus agenda items the council approved was:

  • Accepting a bid from Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $339,819.50 for Hovey Ave. reconstruction and pavement patching.
  • Approving a $10,500 funding request submitted by the YWCA of McLean County for its Wheels To Work Program and a budget amendment in the amount of $1,000 using contingency funds. The Wheels To Work program helps those with jobs on Sundays, when public transportation is not available in Bloomington-Normal, to arrange, at a small cost, to have transportation to get to a job.
  • Approving a resolution authorizing a second lease agreement amendment with Illinois State University for office space located at 305 S. Linden St.
  • Approving a resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement for technical planning services with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission during fiscal year 2008, ending June 30, 2008.
  • Approving a resolution naming the West Detention Basin the “Rosa Parks Commons” and authorizing a budget adjustment in the amount of $6,000 for related park signage.
  • Approving a resolution which approved a first amendment to the redevelopment agreement between the Town of Normal and Beaufort Partners LLC, pertaining to the redevelopment of 130-138 Beaufort St.
  • Approving a resolution waiving the formal bidding procedures and approving a contract with JP Morgan for actuarial services at a total cost of $12,000 plus travel and miscellaneous expenses, and authorizing a budget amendment in the amount of $3,000 using contingency funds.
By Steve Robinson | June 17, 2007 - 8:52 am
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

Special OlympicsNORMAL – From the first time it came into being nearly two decades ago, the Powerlifting competition at the Special Olympics Illinois State Games had contestants and spectators jammed into one of two ends of 45-year-old Horton Field House.

In doing so, contestants and spectators alike contended with reverberating noise, heat, and crammed conditions.

But as of last Friday, those circumstances are a thing of the past, as the competition moves this year to the comforts of Stroud Auditorium at University High School, an air-conditioned, 900-seat facility, complete with a stage and sound system.

U-High is just one block north of Horton Field House.

“(The move) was inspired by (being at) Special Olympics National Games (last July),” explained Katie Herriott, area director for Area 6 Heartland Special Olympics, which includes Pekin, along with Tazewell, Mason, and McLean Counties.

Special Olympics’ National Games were held on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa last July. The Powerlifting competition took place in an auditorium setting there, prompting this first try at Stroud Auditorium.

“We’re going to try to copy (what we saw at National Games),” Herriott said. “We’re going to try to copy (that model) a little bit, to make it bigger and better.

“Moving it will give them their own stage, there will be screens (to see results). I was there a couple of days ago,” Herriott said. “It looked really nice. It will be a good set-up.”

Julie Smith, director of sports and competition for SOI, added that it was not just National Games, but seeing how Powerlifting was handled at World Games events conducted by Special Olympics, and hoping such a change would work if used at State Games.

Smith said she was able to make contact with those in charge of organizing the Powerlifting set-up at last year’s National Games, and got plenty of counsel as to how to proceed with the change.

“With all of our events, we are always looking to find ways to improve the quality of the event,” Smith said. “The most important thing in our minds is the opportunity that the athletes have and the quality of that opportunity.

“Anytime we have the chance to make a competition or a venue better, we’re going to do that,” Smith said.

Friday, female contestants in both the bench press and powerlifting competition got to try the new digs first.

On Saturday, the two-man tandem in Bill Hopkins and Aaron Schaumleffel, both Pekin, along with head coach Larry Needham, will got their chance to experience the new surroundings.

And they made the most of the new opportunity, beginning with the bench press competition, in which Schaumleffel scored on weights of 140 and 155 pounds but could not press 160 pounds. But having already beat his previous best of 130 pounds, earning a bronze medal did not bother him.

“I think the change, coming (to Stroud Auditorium) gives competitors the feel of what it’s like at (Special Olympics’) International Games or World Games,” said Larry Needham, head coach of the Powerlifting team for Tri-County Independents.

When it came to deadlifting, Schaumleffel was able to earn a gold medal as roughly 300 people sat in the auditorium clapping and cheering. He lifted weights of 280 and 330 pounds on his first two tries, and equaled a personal best of 340 pounds on his last try, thus earning a gold medal there, as well.

Hopkins pressed weights of 225, 240, and 255 pounds, earning a gold medal. And although he has a previous personal best of deadlifting 500 pounds, on Saturday, he managed to deadlift weights of 300 and 350 pounds, before failing to hoist 400 pounds. He also came away with a gold medal in his division.

To get to State, Hopkins dead-lifted 300 pounds, while Schaumleffel dead-lifted 40 pounds more than that in an Area competition.

Special OlympicsNORMAL – One of the two track teams from Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association took to the track in the 4 x 100 meter relay for the first time Sunday at the Illinois Special Olympics State Games.

For a first time out, earning fifth place wasn’t so bad for team members Ryan Cole, Mike Haskins, Quinn Inman, and Josh Holford, all Pekin.

Gail Smith, the head track coach for Pekin IRVSRA, said afterward that, from earning fifth place the boys, who range in age from 8-13, can only improve from there after this first time together.

Ryan Cole, age 8 and the lead-off runner on the boys’ team, said he enjoys the chance to run fast in that event, and to have the chance to hand the baton off to the next man.

The fans cheering for IRVSRA’s boys team in their first try had reason to cheer at the first hand-off, too: Ryan was leading the race at that point.

Maybe extra help could be chimed in by four ladies who know a little something about medaling in the same event – namely IRVSRA’s girls’ relay team.

The members of that team – Jessica Pribble, Abagail Grys, Judith Rich-Smith, and Kayla Rogers – demonstrated enough expertise to earn their third gold medal in three straight years in the event, to prove the point.

“They work good as a team,” Smith said of the girls’ accomplishment. “(And) the boys can only go up from there, too, (because) they are like lightning.”

Of course, coaching, like what the relay team has been getting from Smith’s assistants, Steve Grys and Bill Wireman, made the boys’ good start and girls’ three-peat possible, too.

“I think this is awesome,” said Kayla Rogers’ mother, Connie, Pekin, of the triumph. “They have worked so hard for this and they were ready. They’ve been getting ready for a long time.

As winter turns to spring, IRVSRA begins its work with its relay teams.

In addition to the parents and grandparents of the team members being present, two of the siblings of one runner made signs and wore T-shirts cheering on the girls’ team.

“She’s doing great,” said Jim Dieg, Glasford, one of Jessica Pribble’s two grandfathers who joined the family to cheer her and her teammates on.

Jessica’s father, Russ, said his daughter is learning teamwork, which he said helps her.

Simple Math: For Pekin District 108’s lone athlete at the Illinois Special Olympics State Games, the math is pretty simple:

One athlete — Kayla Mortensen, Pekin – multiplied by two events to compete in, plus a few family members, including her father/coach along, equals two gold medals and one happy athlete and family.

Kayla, 11, who attends Wilson School, began her day earning a gold medal in the 50 meter dash with a time of 9.72 seconds.

Kayla’s softball toss of 14.44 meters earned her the second gold medal in her other event, the Softball Throw.

Kayla is District 108’s only gold medalist from the Area 6 Area Games last month in Bloomington who represented the district Saturday. In May, Kayla, daughter of Bill and Dawn Mortensen, Pekin, took gold medals in the Softball Throw and the 50 meter run.

While District 108 puts together a team during the school year, but in the summer, it is up to the athlete’s family to be responsible for the athlete’s participation when school is not in session.

Bill Mortensen said he became his daughter’s coach because “I found out that the school was not going to take their athletes to State Games,” he said.

“(Because of that), I just decided that, if Kayla wanted to go, I would step up and bring her.”

For Mortensen, that meant attending a coaches’ meeting at the state office of Special Olympics Illinois in Normal and completing some paperwork.

“We went through the process and she’s here,” Mortensen said. “That’s what counts.”

It must count. As Kayla put it, “it felt kinda good” to win the first medal to get her day off to the right start.

Swimming Makes Her Stronger: For Tammy Denning, swimming as part of the Pekin YWCA team plus summer equals a fun time. To prove her point, Tammy began her Friday competing in both the 25 meter freestyle and 25 meter backstroke.

Tammy’s parents, Sophie and Max Denning, Pekin, have been part of the crew, both assistant coaches and volunteers, who help head coach Carol Wells during the team’s down time between events.

“Swimming gives Tammy something to do,” Sophie Denning said. “Anything she does helps her to make her mind stronger.”

Wells’ team will not field a relay team this year, although they were scheduled to, due to an illness to one of the members of the relay team, Wells said.

Flames Take Fourth: The Soccer team from Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, whose lone soccer team is nicknamed the Flames, earned gold in their first try at soccer last year.

This year, unfortunately for them, the opponents found ways to extinguish the Flames.

The Flames lost the first of two division games they needed to shoot for gold, falling to Chicago-based Harrison Hawks, 6-3 on Friday.

Saturday, the Flames lost the second game they needed for a medal, to Kankakee-based Shapiro Stars, 3-2, on the turf of Hancock Stadium Saturday. The loss earned ribbons for the members of the IRVSRA team.

When the Flames take up soccer again next spring, they will be doing it for another coach. That is because Wolf is entering a Master’s degree program in Teaching and Leadership through Chicago-based St. Xavier University this fall.

Although enrolled at St. Xavier, the classes will be close to home during the 18-month stretch, as they will be held at Georgetown Middle School in North Pekin.

By The Numbers: A total of 56 athletes, joined by their coaches representing six agencies from Pekin, Morton, and Tazewell County, will participate in the 39th annual Special Olympics Illinois State Games, to be held on the Illinois State University campus this weekend. Nearly 3,600 athletes will be joined by 1,700 coaches and 2,500 volunteers in carrying out the event.

Area 6 Heartland brought a contingent, via various agencies like Pekin IRVSRA and Pekin YWCA, of 199 athletes, Herriott said.

Roughly 2,000 family members will join in cheering on their athletes as they compete in Aquatics, Athletics (track & field), Bocce, Gymnastics, Powerlifting and Soccer.

Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit organization offering year-round training and competition in 19 sports for 20,000 athletes ages 8 years and older with intellectual disabilities.

Athletes competed at District and Area levels in their events attempting to get to the State Games. Those athletes getting Gold medals in the Area competition in April advanced to be here this weekend.

By Steve Robinson | June 14, 2007 - 8:39 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal’s Unit 5 School Board voted to add funds to its operating fund, and to thank the outgoing superintendent for the work he did for the past three years at the group’s final session of the 2006-07 school year at the board office on June 13.

Chief among the items unanimously approved by the board was a transfer of $2.6 million from the district’s Transportation fund into its Operations and Maintenance fund.

All board members, with the exception of John Puzauskas, were present for the meeting.

Thanks to the transfer, the district will start the 2007-08 year with just over $141,000 in the Operations and Maintenance account.

The transfer won’t seriously injure the Transportation fund, as it will still have over $1.7 million available for the district’s use.

The board meeting opened with a public hearing to hear comments from residents concerning the transfer. No residents stepped forward.

The board also unanimously approved a three-year lease/purchase agreement for computers and wireless equipment with Commerce Bank.

Commerce Bank was one of three groups who sought to help the district with the financing.

Under the arrangement, Unit 5 will spend $476,560 to purchase:

• A total of 210 laptop computers at a cost of $615 each;

• A total of 565 desktop computers at a cost of $430 each;

• Wireless equipment only for Carlock, Fox Creek, Hudson, and Towanda Elementary schools at a cost of $110,610.

The board also voted unanimously to alter school code to increase its driver’s education waiver from $50 to $200 for the next five years.

Unit 5 mapSame-Day Enrollment Figures: Unit 5’s same-day attendance figures from this year compared to last year show a 9 percent increase in total enrollment within the district.

The tally, taken on May 31 and compared with figures from the same day last year, show that Unit 5 had 12,083 enrolled versus 11,249 at the same time last year, explained John Pye, assistant superintendent for operations and human resources for the district.

Pye said the average number of students per classroom is coming down from past years at the elementary level. He said the average elementary class in the district now has 22 students.

“The district isn’t experiencing the range (of class sizes) as in the past (of) between 18 to 28 students per class,” Pye said.

Assistant Superintendent Wins Award: Pye was featured in the lone “good news” item at the meeting. Retiring superintendent Alan Chapman honored Pye by reporting on Pye’s being nominated for and receiving the Jim Collie Vocational Service Award, given by the Normal Rotary Club, named after the late ISU men’s basketball coach, whose 13-season sideline tenure ran from 1957-70.

Holidays Approved: The board also approved the holiday schedule for the coming school year. The holidays when school will not be in session include: Labor Day (Sept. 3), Columbus Day (Oct. 8); Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22), Christmas Day (Dec. 25), New Year’s Day (Jan. 1); Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (to be observed Jan. 21); Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12), Caismir Pulaski Day (to be observed March 3), Good Friday (March 21), March 24-28 (Spring Break); Memorial Day (to be observed May 27), and July 4.

Retiring Again: The meeting was the final one overseen by Alan Chapman as district superintendent, with his scheduled July 1 retirement.

“Unit 5 will continue to be close to our heart,” Chapman said in his closing remarks to the board. He said he and his wife, Kathy, will continue to be “interested observers” in the goings-on in the district, what with having two children and a daughter-in-law who teach in the district.

Dr. Gary Niehaus steps in as Unit 5’s new superintendent on July 1.

Chapman passed along his thanks to out-going chief financial officer Tod Altenburg, who is leaving the district later this month to take a job in the Lombard School District.

Following the meeting, Chapman said he has encouraged Niehaus to “maintain strong relationships with organizations, with local government, citizens in the community, and with staff.

“Having success all hinges on good relationships, and I’ve encouraged (Niehaus) to do that, and I believe he will,” Chapman said.

Chapman said his return to retirement will include taking trips, being with his family and grandchildren, and he is scheduled to become campaign chair for the United Way campaign in 2008, which begins its planning phase in January.

By Steve Robinson | June 12, 2007 - 12:53 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

Special OlympicsPEKIN – A total of 56 athletes, joined by their coaches representing six agencies from Pekin, Morton, and Tazewell County, will participate in the 39th annual Special Olympics Illinois State Games, to be held on the Illinois State University campus this weekend. Nearly 3,600 athletes will be joined by 1,700 coaches and 2,500 volunteers in carrying out the event.

Roughly 2,000 family members will join in cheering on their athletes as they compete in Aquatics, Athletics (track & field), Bocce, Gymnastics, Powerlifting and Soccer.

Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit organization offering year-round training and competition in 19 sports for 20,000 athletes ages 8 years and older with intellectual disabilities.

Competition begins Friday morning, with an opening ceremony Friday night at 8p.m. at Hancock Stadium on the ISU campus. The competition will wrap by noon Sunday. Admission to all events is free to the public.

Athletes competed at District and Area levels in their events attempting to get to the State Games. Those athletes getting Gold medals in the Area competition in April advanced to be here this weekend.

Six agencies from the area with the responsibility of helping people with mental disabilities will participate in Aquatics, Soccer, and Track and Field events beginning Friday.

The agencies Pekin and Tazewell and Mason Counties area residents will be cheering for include: Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, based in Pekin; Apostolic Christian Home Timber Ridge, based in Morton; Pekin School District #108; Pekin YWCA; Tri-County Independents; and Washington Special Olympics.

Apostolic Christian Home Timber Ridge (ACTR), Morton: ACTR is bringing 10 athletes to State Games, accompanied by seven coaches. Among the events ACTR’s athletes will compete in are the Motorized Wheelchair slalom, Tennis Ball Throw, Softball Throw, and Standing Long Jump.

With Heidi Nichols in her sixth year as head coach, ACTR’s athletes may be mostly in wheelchairs, but that does not keep deter them from their enthusiasm for twice-weekly practices which the team takes part in from March right up to before the Summer Games.

ACTR’s athletes range in age from 25 to mid-60s. Nichols said the oldest person going to State Games for ACTR is 53.

The athletes love going to State, Nichols said, but there is an added reason for that, which every athlete has the chance to experience. It is because, over the years of competition, the athletes have developed relationships with their fellow athletes from other agencies, so the opportunity to renew and hone in on spending time with old friends is just as important as competing.

ACTR provides a different aspect to the Games than do most of the other agencies from the Times-area, Nichols said, because over half of her athletes are in wheelchairs.

Pekin School District #108: While a team from Pekin School District #108 does not formally come to the Games, individually, it is anticipated that athletes who won gold medals at the Area level in May will participate.

Such is the case with Kayla Mortensen, Pekin. Kayla, 11, daughter of Bill and Dawn Mortensen, Pekin, won a gold medal in the Softball Throw competition at Area 6 Area Games at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington last month. She is District #108’s lone gold medal winner from Area Games.

Kayla is a student at Wilson School and has been active in Special Olympics for two years.

District 108 is under the direction of head coach Michelle Hancock, assisted by Megan Jensen.

Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association: With 23 athletes, accompanied by 10 coaches, Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association (IRVSRA), Pekin, continues to bring the largest delegation from the area to this year’s event.

IRVSRA’s athletes will participate in Track and Field events, such as runs of 50, 100, 200, and 400 meters, 100 meter walk, 1,500 meter run, running long jump, standing long jump, shotput, softball throw, and 4 x 100 meter relay.

IRVSRA’s Track and Field head coach is Gail Smith, assisted by Steve Grys and Bill Wireman, will be bringing 23 competitors to State Games.

Last year, IRVSRA returned to the Soccer field for the first time in two years, fielding one team, coached by Sarah Wolf, a Special Education teacher at Pekin’s Schramm School. Wolf’s assistant coach is Denise Fountain.

IRVSRA’s Soccer team, nicknamed the Flames, lost both of the regional qualifying games they played in April. Winning those games would have allowed them to compete this weekend.

But fate, and rules established by Special Olympics Illinois saved the Flames’ Soccer season from being extinguished.

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.

IRVSRA Flames are looking forward to have a chance to earn some more medals to add to the gold medal the team won last year.

“For the athletes, getting to State means recognition,” said Rachel Doan, director of special populations for Pekin IRVSRA.

Pekin YWCA: It could be said that there are waves of change for the swim team from the Pekin YWCA, coached by Carol Wells, and her assistant coaches, Angie Martiens and Bethany Thompson.

Wells’ team, numbering seven in total, range in age from 10 to 45.

They will be competing in events such as backstrokes of 25 and 50 meters, 25 meter freestyle, 50 meter freestyle, and a 4 x 25 meter relay.

Members of the team include: Marta Degelman, Brimfield; Tammy Denning, Sebastian Fuller, Roxanne Schlobohm, Nate Thies, Heidi Keyes and John DeFord, all Pekin.

Some of the swimmers who have been on the team in past years, like Carol Ann Benjamin, Pekin, could not participate due to other commitments, causing Wells to train some new athletes for the team.

Wells said having a shuffle in her line-up will not be much of a problem because swimmers start out by learning how to swim the length of a regulation pool, either on their back or on their front, before even talking about swimming competitively.

“They’re all very enthusiastic, I’ll say that for them,” Wells said of her team, as they prepare to go into State competition.

Tri-County Independents: Tri-County Independents, whose head coach is Larry Needham, Pekin, is bringing the second-smallest number of athletes to this year’s competition – a two-man tandem in Bill Hopkins and Aaron Schaumleffel, both Pekin.

To get to State, Hopkins dead-lifted 300 pounds, while Schaumleffel dead-lifted 40 pounds more than that in an Area competition.

Washington Special Olympics: Under the direction of head coach Scott Deatherage, Washington Special Olympics’ four athletes will be found honing their skills for both individual and team Track and Field events. Thomas Christ and Hayden Davis will be participating in the 100 meter run. Jeremy Aldag will go for gold in the running long jump. Then, Christ, Davis, and Aldag will be joined by teammate Kellen Ehrenhardt for the 4 x 400 meter relay.

Local Residents Competing With HISRA: Five residents from the Times-area are listed as participating with other agencies from outside of Pekin.

The five will be competing as members of Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association.

They are: Luke Eisele, Pekin; Kevin Labbe, East Peoria; Bethany Hohenstein, Washington; Alexander E. Tucker, East Peoria; Elizabeth Rice, Morton.

Hohenstein, Tucker, and Rice are all on HISRA’s swim team. Hohenstein and Tucker will compete in the 25 meter backstroke, while Rice competes in the 25 meter freestyle.

On land, Labbe will compete in the 200 meter run.

An “Extreme” Start: On Friday, members of the Bloomington Extreme of the United Indoor Football League, will give a demonstration and run some plays as part Opening Ceremonies.

In addition, for the second straight year, the Extreme will again show its support by hosting Special Olympics Illinois Night at their game against the Rock River Raptors on Saturday, June 16 at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, 101 S. Madison Street, Bloomington. Kickoff is at 7:05p.m.

All Special Olympics Illinois supporters in attendance will be recognized at halftime. Extreme players will be wearing Special Olympic Illinois jerseys that night to be auctioned off following the game. The auction proceeds also will benefit Special Olympics Illinois.

If athletes would prefer socializing rather than football Saturday night, the annual dance social for the athletes will be held at Horton Field House on the ISU campus.