By Steve Robinson | March 27, 2008 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – Nearly 2 1/2 years have passed since the Peoria Pirates disappeared from the River City’s sports teams’ roster.

It has also been that long since the man who coached that last appearance, Pirates head coach Bruce Cowdrey, worked in town, as he took part in winning a championship, as an assistant, with the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League two seasons ago, in the meantime.

Last season, he was an assistant with the Austin Wranglers, who belonged to Arena Football League last year, but that team downsized in the off-season to join af2 this year.

It is that Austin connection that die-hard Pirates fans have to thank for their team’s return. The new owner of the Pirates is Doug MacGregor, President of af2’s Wranglers franchise. The Wranglers were part of AFL from 2004-07.

Last season, under head coach Brian Partlow, the Wranglers finished the 2007 season 4-10. Because of decreasing attendance, MacGregor opted to downsize his club and compete in af2.

Peoria PiratesPeoria is one of a number of af2 teams MacGregor owns. In addition to Austin and Peoria, he also owns the Amarillo (Texas) Dusters.

Although af2 opens its ninth season of play tonight, the Pirates have a bye week this week in preparation for their rebirth on the road against the former United Indoor Football League member Lexington Horsemen on Saturday, April 5.

The Pirates will have another away game against the Albany Conquest on April 13 before their first home game at Carver Arena on April 19 hosting the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Pioneers.

Battling Familiar Foes: Cowdrey and his team return to af2’s as part of the league’s American Conference Midwest Division. Their opponents almost don’t need any introduction to those who followed every Pirates game previously during their previous af2 lifetime from 2001-2004. Joining Peoria in the division are: The Louisville Fire, Green Bay Blizzard, Iowa Barnstormers, Lexington (Ky.) Horsemen, and in-state archrival Quad City Steamwheelers.

Af2 is Lexington’s third league in five seasons. They began as members of the National Indoor Football League in 2003, and, like the storied Pirates, played in and won championships in different leagues. The return of the Iowa Barnstormers to af2 comes after being absent since finishing the 2001 season 9-7, good enough for third place in the National Conference’s Midwest Division.

AF250-Yard Game Refresher: Peoria had a team in the United Indoor Football League in 2005 and 2006, the Peoria Rough Riders, before team owner, local banker Pat Ward, folded the team. In their two-year history, under Cowdrey in 2005 and successor Chuck Goodwin in 2006, the Rough Riders rode out of town voluntarily having compiled a 6-24 record.

As a result, having not had af2-style football in Peoria for four years, a refresher on the game might be needed. Some things to keep in are about af2:

• The game is played on an indoor padded surface 85 feet wide and 50 yards long with eight-yard end zones.

• Goal posts are nine feet wide with a crossbar height of 15 feet (NFL goal posts are 18-1/2 feet wide with the crossbar at 10 feet).

• The goal-side rebound nets are 30 feet wide by 32 feet high. The bottoms of the nets are eight feet above the ground.

• Sideline barriers are 48 inches high and made of high-density foam rubber.

• Eight players on the field; 20-man active roster; four-man inactive roster.

• Players may play both offense and defense.

• Substitutions can be made by coaches at will.

• Kickoffs are from the goal line. Kickers may use a one-inch tee.

• Punting is illegal. On fourth down, a team may go for a first down, touchdown or field goal.

• The receiving team may field any kickoff or missed field goal that rebounds off the net.

• Any untouched kickoff, which is out of bounds, will be placed at the 20-yard line or the place where it went out-of-bounds, whichever is more advantageous to the receiving team.

Squib Kicks: Ed Hammond and John Ventura will be at the mic for the Pirates season starting next week at Lexington. Games can be heard on WMBD AM 1470….An ownership group that includes former University of Wisconsin star Joe Panos has reached an agreement to bring an af2 franchise to Milwaukee in 2009…As of 8:45a.m. Thursday morning, a total of 1,200 season tickets have been sold for the Pirates first home game against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Pioneers on April 19, the night the Pirates are promoting as “Pack The Place Night.”

By Steve Robinson | March 18, 2008 - 10:33 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Roughly a dozen residents of a north Normal neighborhood slated to be changed by construction of a new Walgreen’s drug store sat in council chambers Monday night, holding signs that read, “No Rezoning of Bradford Lane” while Normal Town Council members discussed whether an area containing three houses in the neighborhood should be rezoned B-1 General Business.

But even with those people with such objections staring at them, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to change the zoning that portion of the neighborhood, a first step toward making way for a new Walgreen’s store which also would sit on the property currently where the recently-closed Sooo Convenient convenience store stands.

The three houses — located at 501 W. Raab Rd., 1617 Bradford Lane, and 1619 Bradford Lane — would be demolished to make room for the new project.

A smaller convenience store, Sooo Convenient, sat on part of the property to be cleared for the new Walgreen’s for over three decades, but closed in December.

Council member Jeff Fritzen said the situation was “difficult to sort out because of the age of the neighborhood. It’s nearly 50 years old. It’s a viable neighborhood.”

He said, if the neighborhood stays the way it is, “it would face a cloudy future for future development.”

Council member Cheryl Gaines wondered if the new development would not be considered an “encroachment” on the neighborhood.

Council member Adam Nielsen pointed out that property values in the area in question have appreciated. “I’m not going to argue with the emotional element here, but (this development) is a logical step.”

As one unidentified woman among the group of residents got up to leave following the vote, she could be heard asking the council, “how do you sleep at night?”

Mayor Chris Koos said he felt the new development “actually strengthens the neighborhood.” It was a comment that produced verbal scoffing from a few members of the neighborhood in attendance.

As they exited the meeting, a couple of the residents from the neighborhood spoke with reporters about the council’s decision.

“This neighborhood is primarily elderly folk who walk their dogs in the street,” said Kim Higgins, a resident of nearby Alden Street. “This will change the entire flavor of the neighborhood.

“(The Town) never talked about knocking down one house to save Sooo Convenient,” Higgins continued. “But now, suddenly, they will knock down three houses for Walgreen’s?”

Koos said he felt Walgreen’s would be a “good neighbor” for the residents, which Higgins disputed.

“It’s a heated issue, and (these residents were here) out of concern for their neighborhood,” Koos admitted following the meeting. “I understood that, and we made our decision out of concern for the neighborhood. I know there are a lot of people who don’t agree about that, and I hope to be able to prove them wrong.”

Firefighters’ Holiday Pay Issue: A resolution authorizing the execution of a Collective Bargaining Agreement with International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 2442, the union that represents Normal firefighters, and the Town, won’t appear on the council’s agenda until the council’s April 21 meeting, City Manager Mark Peterson said.

The Town and the Union are seeking the assistance of an arbitrator over a matter surrounding holiday pay, Peterson explained. He said an additional holiday – the Federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday the third Monday in January — was built into the newest contract.

But that holiday came and went this year before the contract could be approved by both the firefighters’ Local and the council. Peterson said firefighters felt they were entitled to the holiday pay although the council had not yet approved the contract. Town officials disagreed.

The arbitrator will settle the matter in the next month. Peterson said giving the extra pay now would cost the Town $15,000.

Bowman Reappointed To Museum Board: Council members unanimously voted to reappoint Linda Bowman to the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board. She is the wife of Illinois State University President C. Al Bowman.

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

— The minutes of a public hearing, and of the minutes of the regular meeting, both held on March 3, 2008.

— Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 12, 2008

— A motion to award the bid for water main and service materials to Bloomington-based Water Products, Co.

— A motion to waive the formal bidding process and to accept a quote from Lockport, Ill.-based Maxcor, Inc. to paint the ISU logo on the Water Department’s West Reservoir at a cost of $17,300.

— A resolution accepting a warranty deed — Twin City Developers, LLC.

— A resolution conditionally approving a preliminary planned unit development plan for Constitution Trail Centre Phase II.

— A resolution conditionally and partially approving the final plat of the Wildwood Industries Subdivision by expedited process.

Commission Approves License For Ironwood: Prior to the council session, the Normal Liquor Commission unanimously approved a liquor license for Town-operated Ironwood Golf Course. The license only allows Ironwood to sell beer and wine within the clubhouse and on the course.

By Steve Robinson | March 16, 2008 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

BasketballNORMAL – The three basketball teams representing Pekin-based Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association each finished the two-day Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball tournament Sunday returning home with medals and trophies, but due to comparatively different results.

IRVSRA’s two men’s teams, IRVSRA White and IRVSRA Black, designated so by the color of their jerseys, and all nicknamed the Flames, did well, taking first and second place, respectfully, bringing home gold and silver medals for their players, in their individual divisions.

IRVSRA Red, the organization’s girls’ team, took home bronze medals for finishing third in their division.

IRVSRA White, coached by Steve Grys, assisted by David Daugherty, began Sunday with a first round game against Freeport-based Ridge Terrace Tornadoes, beating them, 52-32, to advance to the medal round of their division.

That victory put Grys’ Flames White team against the Chicago-based Mann Park agency, where IRVSRA dealt easily with their opponents, winning 50-16, earning gold medals for the second straight year. IRVSRA led 10-4 after one period, 20-6 at halftime, and 38-10 going into the third quarter.

The win earned Grys’ squad a second gold medal in as many seasons with a team that finished the season with a 5-2 mark.

IRVSRA Black head coach Larry Needham’s troops found themselves facing taller, faster players than themselves – between 6 foot-2 and 6 foot-4 – going into their championship showdown with the Rockets of Gurnee-based Warren Special Recreation Association, in Gym A of Horton Field House on the Illinois State University campus.

IRVSRA Black was able to keep pace with Warren SRA for one half, at least, trailing 16-12 after one quarter and 29-22, at halftime, before Warren SRA’s bigger players began gradually pulling further away, leading 42-30 after three quarters.

To get to the divisional championship, IRVSRA Black handily defeated the Jaguars of Joliet-based Cornerstone Service, Inc., 56-17 in the only game any IRVSRA squad had on Saturday’s game schedule, to get to their divisional championship match with the Rockets.

The loss earned Needham’s team a Silver medal. Needham’s team ends their season at 5-1.

Special OlympicsIRVSRA Girls Are Rebuilding: IRVSRA Red, the girls’ team coached by Gail Smith, find themselves in a position every team – whether the players have disabilities or not – often find themselves after a few successful seasons, with having to rebuild a team because players have moved on to other events in their lives. Smith lost five players and had to reformulate the team.

And for one of the new players, Kathy Jones, Mapleton, returning to playing on a team was a goal she has been working on for over a year and a half, having been sidelined by seizures, and slowly getting back into the game by participating in Special Olympics Illinois’ Basketball Skills Competition at the State Basketball Tournament here last year.

Having proven that she could proficiently handle simple basketball skills, the next test for 41-year-old Jones, Smith said, was readjusting to going from being a single competitor in the sport to being part of a team again. Jones once played basketball for another Special Olympics team in the area until illnesses had sidelined her from playing on a team for about a decade.

“We had to introduce her to the team game,” Smith said.

IRVSRA’s Girls’ team began their day seemingly keeping pace with Quincy-based Adams County Special Olympics, coming from a 7-2 deficit following the first quarter, to find themselves down by just one, 7-6, at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, they were down by three, 13-10, keeping Adams County close. But a 14-0 run by Adams County in the fourth quarter stalled that effort, sending IRVSRA Red out with a 27-10 loss and needing to win their second game in the round robin division they were in to finish with at least a silver medal by the end of the day.

But, in their final game of the day, the Flames were outpaced by the Lady Pacers of Proviso Area for Exceptional Children, based in Maywood. PAEC held IRVSRA Red to 7 points in the first half, leading 21-7, on their way to a 41-19 win and a silver medal, while IRVSRA Red finished the day claiming the bronze.

Teamwork Off The Basketball Court: While Jones is getting reacquainted with working on the basketball court, 22-year-old Greg Isenberg, Deer Creek, is about to become part of the work force at Pekin-based Tazewell County Resource Center, explained his father, Earl, of Chillicothe. Greg’s mother, Donna Beasley, Deer Creek, could be heard cheering as her son had the ball and was moving with the ball on a drive to the basket with his back to a defender – albeit very cautiously and steadily.

Isenberg and Beasley said it is a hardwood maneuver their son has been working on for a couple weeks. Sitting in the upper level seats of Horton Field House to see Greg pull it off successfully, resulting in a basket for IRVSRA, mother, father, and Greg’s grandmother, Dorothy Isenberg, Morton, all cheered.

Beasley said her son is scheduled to meet with counselors from Tazewell County Resource Center in an effort to find work within the community.

Clothes Make The Team: Pekin IRVSRA always expects its teams to get to State competition, explained Rachel Doan, special populations coordinator for IRVSRA.

“We’re really excited because everybody got gold medals (at district competition),” Doan said. “We’re always happy to get to go (to State), but we always expect to go. When we get all three (basketball teams here), all the better. It’s phenomenal when all three get to go.”

And for the first time at State Basketball, IRVSRA’s teams got to show the rest of the state agencies present the new jerseys the three teams received over the Christmas holiday.

For years, IRVSRA basketball teams played in T-shirts and gym shorts. But Doan said she always wanted to try to get genuine basketball uniforms for the teams. But finding the cash for the expense kept it from happening – until last year.

Doan said three things happened to allow money in the budget for the uniforms to be found. First, Pekin School District 108 no longer charges gym rental at a local school for IRVSRA’s use for team practices. Second, IRVSRA received donated money from local residents, and third, IRVSRA received money through community-wide fundraisers which are athlete-driven.

In total, IRVSRA was able to raise $1,800 for the jerseys for the three teams. She said the jerseys were presented around Christmastime last year to a their very delighted athletes.

“We’ve always wanted them,” Doan said about the basketball uniforms. “It just so happens we have the money to buy them this year.

“So now, in addition to playing like athletes, we look like athletes, too,” she said.

“We always expect our athletes to perform like athletes and do their best,” Doan said. “But when you’re playing in a uniform, we’ve seen that it just adds a whole other dimension to the way they play.

“Our athletes now look like athletes,” Doan said. “They feel like athletes, and they’re very proud of that.”

Needham agrees having the jerseys is a good idea, for physical reasons, too. “T-shirts don’t allow you too much range of motion,” he said. “They restrict you. But jerseys allow you to get your arms up. (Our players) like them. I think it looks better, too. Now, they look more like a basketball team.”

By Steve Robinson | March 14, 2008 - 1:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – A financial advisor working with Normal’s Unit 5 School Board told board members, at their regular meeting on Wednesday, March 12, that concern over interest rates would give the board an incentive to issue the bonds needed to pay for the district’s $96.7 million construction projects sooner, including construction of a new middle school.

Bob Lewis, of PMA Securities Inc., advised board members to consider selling the bonds sooner than the board had planned to, in hopes of doing so at a time when interest rates would be more favorable.

In a memo to the board, district Chief Financial Officer Jim Gillmeister advised the board to pass what is known as a “parameters bond resolution.” A Parameters Bond Resolution authorizes the board president, delegates of the board, and the superintendent to approve the sale of the bonds subject to meeting pre-established parameters.

For Unit 5 the parameters consist of the bond size of $85 million; maximum annual principal amount of $20.5 million; maximum debt levy of $22 million; maximum coupon rate of 6 percent; and maximum underwriter’s discount of .5 percent.

Board members voted unanimously to adopt the parameters bond resolution.

Lewis said this kind of arrangement has been done in other school districts, citing Glen Ellen’s school district as an example.

Renovation Bids Approved: Board members approved bids for renovation work to be done at Towanda, Fairview, Glenn, and Oakdale Elementary Schools.

At Oakdale, work done by Stelle Construction Co. will include new lighting installation, wall repairs, and painting in nine child restrooms adjacent to classrooms, at a total cost of $561,225.

At Glenn, work done Johnston Contractors, Inc. will include wall repairs and painting four child restrooms adjacent to classrooms, at a cost of $308,300.

At Towanda and Fairview Elementary Schools, Felmley-Dickerson Co. will do various renovation work at a cost of $160,750.

Unit 5 mapGPS For Bus Fleet Approved: As a means to upgrade safety and security for students to and from school, board members approved unanimously spending $8,559 for GPS cell phone service for the district’s school bus fleet. The district will purchase the service and equipment from Sprint Nextel.

District Superintendent Gary Niehaus said he had consulted with district superintendents in Tuscola and Gibson City about the systems those districts were using as part of his researching the cost.

Unit 5 has a fleet of 150 buses.

Kingsley Junior High’s “Good News”: A Kingsley Junior High Language Arts teacher was recognized in the lone “good news” report to the board at the meeting. Rexie Lanier, was honored by KJHS Principal Lynette Mehall at the board meeting for the recent publication of her new book, “Developing An Independent reading Program,” published by Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc., based in Norwood, Mass.

Same Day Enrollment: In the year between the last day of February 2007 and the last day of February 2008, Unit 5’s student population grew nearly three percent, according to figures presented to the board by John Pye, District Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Human Resources.

Unit 5 had a total of 12,464 students in class on Feb. 29, as opposed to 12,105 students on Feb. 28, 2007.

At the elementary school level, three of the district’s grade schools lost a total of 86 students from the year before with rest of the grade school populations increasing. Grove Elementary saw the highest number of new students on the one day compared to last year – 72 new students.

A total of 76 students swelled the ranks of the district’s three junior high schools, with 2,854 students in class, a 2.74 percent increase for the junior highs alone.

Normal Community West High School was the only high school that saw numbers change from the same time last year, with 63 new students attending, as opposed to last year at the same time – an increase of 1.92 percent.

District-wide, it has been no secret that Unit 5’s kindergarten population – now at 1,010 students – is contributing to the district’s need to expand facilities. But other grade levels are fast approaching the 1,000-mark, too. There are 990 first graders divided into 44 sections; 961 second graders in 44 sections; 942 third graders in 42 sections; and 933 fifth graders in 41 sections.

Class sizes range from 21.8 students per second grade class to 23 students per kindergarten class.

Enjoy Spring Break: With Unit 5 students and teachers observing Spring Break the week of March 24-28, there will be no school board meeting on March 26. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 9.

By Steve Robinson | March 5, 2008 - 10:30 am
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – The roller coaster Normal Community High’s boys basketball team has called a season came to a complete stop Tuesday night on the hardwood at U. S. Cellular Coliseum.

Despite a fourth quarter 9-0 run that helped pull the Ironmen close in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, O’Fallon defeated the Ironmen, 57-43, to advance to the IHSA State Finals in Peoria this weekend.

Three-pointers by seniors Kenny Leverette and Cameron Meyer boosted O’Fallon’s scoring in the first quarter, while the Panthers’ defense forced NCHS into taking outside shots, not letting the Ironmen anywhere in the paint.

Two deuces by sophomore center Nathan Haynes and one by junior forward Tate Musselman helped the Ironmen keep pace, but O’Fallon entered the second quarter with a 10-6 lead.

But NCHS (14-17) adjusted to the pressure and fought back with nine points in the second quarter, five of them from Haynes. The contest moved at a quick pace from there as baskets for O’Fallon by Leverette and seniors Keith Burton and Jared Woolfolk, aided by a trey by senior Brock Conley gave the Panthers a 20-15 lead at halftime.

Each team went on a scoring tear to open the third quarter. NCHS senior Chris Lawson exploded for three threes as the third period opened, the first one coming at 7:31 in the quarter, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 20-18.

The third quarter stayed close between the two sides, with Lawson’s last three pulling NCHS within three, 27-24, with 5:22 left in the period.

But baskets by Leverette, seniors John Pilackas and Burton became part of a 9-0 run the Panthers had to close out the quarter, giving O’Fallon a 41-26 lead.

NCHSNCHS began the fourth quarter with a 9-0 stretch of their own, on baskets by sophomore center Kyle Dierkes, junior guard Kedric Williams, senior guard Kennedy Freeman, and Haynes, startling O’Fallon, as the Ironmen pulled within six, 41-35 with six minutes to go in the contest.

But O’Fallon (28-3) had a scoring run of their own in the last four minutes of the contest, scoring 10 unanswered points on the strength of buckets by Burton, Woolfolk, Conley, and Meyer, closing out any hope for NCHS to catch up and advance their season.

NCHS head coach Dave Witzig admitted his team had been on a roller coaster as far as its win-loss record was concerned throughout the season.

“I thought (this game’s) first half was a great tempo for us,” Witzig said. “O’Fallon is an explosive, offensive team, and that was the pace (of the game) we needed to have.

“I thought tonight was similar to a lot of the games we had this year,” Witzig said.

“To (NCHS’) credit, they’re a good team,” said O’Fallon head coach Rick Gibson. “They played us as hard defensively as most teams we see, and we got a little stretch in the third quarter where we got aggressive, and that was the key.”