By Steve Robinson | April 30, 2008 - 2:52 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballESTERO, Fla. – Now that they have re-established themselves in arenafootball2 after their rebirth, the Peoria Pirates will spend the month of May getting reacquainted with some familiar foes.

This month, the opposition won’t just be Midwest Division opponents like Quad City and Green Bay. Head Coach Bruce Cowdrey’s retooled crew, coming off a satisfying 76-32 victory over Tri-Cities last week, will start the month of May in is this community halfway between Naples and Fort Myers on Florida’s west coast at Germain Arena.

The Pirates will meet up for the third time in their history with the Florida Firecats. There is something different about this contest, however. It will be the first regular season matchup between the two.

Peoria PiratesThe Firecats, under fourth season head coach Kevin Bouis, are just one of three af2 undefeated teams left so far, holding a 4-0 record as they await their Pirates rematch. Bouis has been with the Firecats since 2002 and doubles as the team’s defensive coordinator. His playing days were spent with the Mississippi Mud Dogs of the National Indoor Football League in 2000 and 2001.

The Pirates and the Firecats have met twice before, but there was nothing routine about those contests. That is because both of the prior games determined the winner of af2’s ArenaCup Championship.

The first encounter was in the ArenaCup III championship game at Carver Arena on Friday, Aug. 23, 2002 with the Pirates taking their first af2 championship title in front of a crowd of 7,552, beating the Firecats, 65-42.

Florida FirecatsTwo years later, the two met in ArenaCup V on Friday, Aug. 27, 2004, at Germain Arena here, with Florida coming away with a 39-26 victory. The Pirates went 7-2 in their last 9 regular season games, then followed that up by winning three playoff games leading up to the ArenaCup appearance that closed out that season.

When United Indoor Football’s Peoria Rough Riders emerged from a distance in 2005, any hope of seeing the Pirates play again in Peoria disappeared until the talk they would be back this season.

LB Freeman “More Productive”: Prior to Peoria’s game last week against Tri-Cities, Cowdrey had told Pirates linebacker William Freeman he needed to be more productive. “I mean, he did a good job (against Tri-Cities),” Cowdrey said of the 6 foot-3, 260 pound Freeman, a Furman University product.

All it took was a little Cowdrey-style encouragement. “I told him before (the Tri-Cities) game, I said, he needed to be more productive or he’d probably read his name in the paper (this) week and it wouldn’t be positive,” Cowdrey said. “And (Freeman) responded.”

Did he ever. Freeman put 5 unassisted tackles in the record books against the Fever last week, pleasing his coach.

“You don’t always like to challenge them like that, but I get to the point, where, you know, they either play or they go away. And he needed to play.”

AF2Garth Starts His Next 700 Points?: You have until Saturday’s Pirates game against Florida to congratulate Pirates wide receiver Robert Garth for his recent achievement – having scored 700 points in his arena career. By then, the 6 foot-4, 235 pound Garth will be ready to start scoring again against Florida.

But as for last week’s accomplishment, Garth said he was trying not to let it get in the way of his game against Tri-Cities. The stat might not have gotten in his way at first, but Tri-Cities defensive back Ruschard Dodd-Masters did.

“I was trying too hard to get (the 700th point) out of the way, so that’s why I started off kind of slow,” Garth admitted.

Squib Kicks: UIF’s Bloomington Extreme are in first place in their division and are home Saturday to play River City.

By Steve Robinson | - 2:31 pm
Posted in Category: Personal Blog

American Life TVI must be getting old. That is the only explanation I have for loving a particular cable TV network we in town are about to lose.

This network runs old reruns of shows long gone: “Mission:Impossible” before Tom Cruise; “Burke’s Law”, “Lou Grant,” “Combat,” and the old “Jackie Gleason Show”, to name but a few of their off-network offerings from the ’60s and ’70s..

In short, American Life TV caters to baby boomers. And I would guess we appreciate it.

But by the end of the day today, American Life TV will be gone from the current cable system, Comcast Cable, who swallowed up Insight Communications earlier this year, because Comcast has no contract to broadcast American Life TV.

I have talked with a friend of mine, Rell, and we both are sorry to see it go, each for our own reasons.

We each called Comcast and got, from what Rell told me, different reasons for why American Life TV and some other cable nets are leaving our air April 30.

Rell was told by Comcast that it was because American Life TV was going belly up.

I had a hard time buying into that explanation I guess I had a hard time buying that because it seems that anybody can start a cable network in this country and run it for as long a day (24 hours of programming) or as short (filling in what is not planned by the channel originally with infomericials), and make dollars doing it.

ComcastNo, this is about contracts between the network and Insight, according to young man I talked to at Comcast last Saturday when I impressed on him how much we would miss the network. When Comcast originally purchased Insight earlier this year, my guess is that Comcast had to honor Insight’s expiration dates on its contracts with nets like American Life.

There are about a dozen or so nets like American Life TV which will exit the air because of this arrangement. And the reasons callers get for why they are losing their favorite stations are, apparently, as widely varied as the folks at Comcast who answer callers’ complaints.

Like I said, my friend, Rell, got someone at Comcast who said American Life TV was “going dark,” – shutting down anyway — as the broadcasters say. That could only really imply one thing to viewers: That American Life TV was going out of business for lack of viewers which translates, eventually, into a lack of money.

My instincts told me that couldn’t be right.

The man at Comcast I spoke to a couple weeks after that must have had it right, I figured.

That’s because the man from Comcast I talked to told me that, as soon as Comcast negotiates its own agreement with American Life TV and a number of other smaller cable nets, those nets will return. Someday.

So, in the meantime, I will go through a slight withdrawl period of not seeing “Gleason” on Friday nights, but I will get over it, as will Rell not seeing “Burke’s” on the weekends.

We both just hope the withdrawl period doesn’t go on for too long.

Until then, thanks, American Life TV. Hope to see you again soon.

By Steve Robinson | April 27, 2008 - 10:48 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – Peoria Pirates head coach Bruce Cowdrey knew before his now 2-2 team faced Tri-Cities Saturday night that his squad needed someone to help spark his team.

While no actual super hero was available, Cowdrey knew his making a call to the man nicknamed “Superman” – sixth year veteran receiver/linebacker Robert Garth – would do the trick.

The Pirates’ 76-32 arenafootball2 win over the Tri-Cities Fever, with Garth scoring two touchdowns on seven receptions for 111 yards proved Cowdrey to be right.

Peoria PiratesIn addition, signing Garth turned out to be a decision which helped Peoria fans witness a milestone in the University of New Mexico product’s career, too. With a 21-yard reception from quarterback Justin Rascati at the 6:27 mark in the third quarter, putting Peoria up, 56-25, Garth went into af2’s record books for having scored 700 points.

Garth said he received a call from af2’s Chicago office earlier in the week informing him of the impending stat. That news, in itself, he said “had me trying too much” during the contest. Besides, Garth said, “Tri-Cities had great defense on me all night, so I couldn’t shake loose at first.”

But after Tri-Cities opened up the contest with a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard pass from quarterback John Pierce to receiver Phil Goodman at 8:35 in the first quarter, the Pirates, themselves, loosened up.

Pirates running back Doc Gooden took a Rascati pitchout and ran 33 yards for Peoria’s first score at 5:10 in the first quarter, capping a three-play, 48 yard march. That tied the score at 7-all following kicker Nathan Palkovic’s extra point.

FeverJust over a minute later, at 4:07, Peoria defensive back Blake Ferris picked off a pass from Fever quarterback Pierce, and scrambled 40 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that put Peoria up 14-7 after another Palkovic point-after.

Tri Cities (0-4) slugged back, pulling within one, 14-13 on a 34-yard pass from backup passer Jason Campbell, but Fever kicker Kyle Hooper’s missed point-after give the Pirates the one-point edge.

In front of 2,962 enthusiastic fans, Cowdrey’s troops made the most of it, scoring four straight unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter. Rascati started the barrage, running for three yards to cap a 3-play, 30 yard drive, putting Peoria up, 21-13 to start. By the time Tri-Cities’ Thomas scored on a 45-yard pass from Campbell with 19 seconds until halftime, Peoria owned a 49-19 lead, with no signs of losing steam.

Before Garth’s record-setting score, Pierce completed a 25-yard pass to receiver Lamonte’ Jones, but Pierce’s rushing two-point conversion failed, cutting the Pirates’ lead to 49-25.

AF2After Garth’s record-setting score, Pierce ran the ball one yard in the end zone to cut Peoria’s lead to 56-32 following a successful Hooper point-after. Garth finished the night earning Ironman of the Game honors.

Garth would a 19-yard pass reception score at 7:59 in the fourth and Brock would add a 3-yard run with 50 seconds left in the game to round out the scoring. Palkovic would go 1-for-2 in extra points on those last two scores. Brock’s six catches for 93 yards and one score, added to two rushing touchdowns gaining 10 more yards, earned him Offensive Player of the Game honors. Five unassisted tackles by rookie linebacker William Freeman earned him Defensive Player of the Game honors.

While Cowdrey was happy with the end product, and with the performance his defense put forth, he said there is still work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“(The defense) showed up and played a lot better tonight,” Cowdrey said. “Offensively, we are still not very polished. I was happy with how (our players) responded. No question, we couldn’t come out of this less than 2-2.

By Steve Robinson | April 24, 2008 - 1:03 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – After losing by nearly 50 points to Wilkes Barre/Scranton last week in their home opener, the 1-2 Peoria Pirates of arenafootball2 are looking to earn their first home game win against the visiting Tri-Cities Fever.

Peoria PiratesTri-Cities (0-3) and Peoria experienced similar humiliations last weekend, being on the wrong end of scores where each of their opponents scored 74 points on them. Peoria was embarrassed in its home opener by Wilkes Barre-Scranton, 74-26, while Tri-Cities went 0-3 after losing by a 74-28 count at the hands of the Boise Burn.

But while the Fever, under head coach Cedric Walker, have been unable to win on the field, they have managed a victory of sorts from af2’s Chicago-based office for what turned out to be a bungled officials’ call in the Fever’s April 12 game against the Spokane Shock.

FeverDuring that contest, with the Fever ahead of Spokane 30-21, LaRue Burley intercepted a Spokane pass at the Tri-Cities 1-yard line, returning it for a touchdown on the last play of the first half. But after the interception, officials flagged both teams for personal fouls.

Referees sorted the penalties and let the touchdown stand on the off-setting penalties. But just minutes later, the refs took the touchdown away and ended the half.

AF2As a result, the Fever went from having a 36-21 halftime lead to just being up by nine, 30-21. Published reports from Spokane show the league told Walker the touchdown should have counted, and it was unsure which rule the officials used in taking away the touchdown.

Peoria hosts the Fever, starting with tonight’s 7:05p.m. kickoff.

Ditka Visits Bloomington: Legendary player and coach Mike Ditka was in Bloomington on Wednesday, as part of Heartland American Red Cross’ “Evening With The Stars” benefit for that organization.

Prior to the Chicago Bears’ loss to Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI in 2006, Ditka was head coach of the Bears squad that took NFL’s Lombardi Championship Trophy after beating the New England Patriots, 46-10 in Super Bowl XX at New Orleans in 1985.

Having won a Super Bowl as both a player with the Dallas Cowboys and as a coach, and earned league honors, including NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961, Ditka knows a little something about achieving victory.

He has even done it as part owner of a team, having watched his Chicago Rush win Arena Football League’s ArenaBowl XX in Las Vegas in 2006. Peoria head coach Bruce Cowdrey served as special teams coordinator/fullbacks-linebackers coach for the Rush during that championship season.

Ditka told an audience of 180 people at Illinois Wesleyan’s Hansen Center that “AFL is kind of similar to what football was like when I started playing (in the early 1960s). You didn’t make a lot of money or have a lot of benefits either, but you got an opportunity to play a game you loved.”

Ditka, 60, earned Super Bowl wins and rings as both a player with Dallas in Super Bowl III and as a coach in Super Bowl XX with Chicago, said calling AFL and af2 “the minor leagues” isn’t accurate. “I think Arena Football is a great sport on any level,” he said.

Local JFL Enjoys Tailgate: Last week’s game against Wilkes Barre/Scranton may not have ended successfully for the Pirates as a team, but it started with what proved to be a crowd-pleasing tailgate party in the Peoria Civic Center parking lot facing Kumpf Blvd.

Some coaches of Pekin’s Junior Football League and their families took part in the event, munching on burgers, and enjoying a live band. Pekin JFL coach, Jerry Ziegenbein, and his wife, Alee, Pekin, were among three couples with kids, all told about 20 people, who came to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton game last week.

Ziegenbein said he had bought tickets during the Pirates’ previous run from 2001-2004 who came out to see what the current Pirates were all about.

“I love that the Pirates are coming back,” Ziegenbein said. I think it’s great. We enjoyed (the team) being here the last time they were here.” He added it is “great” that Bruce Cowdrey who is back patrolling the Pirates’ sidelines.

As fans entered a covered portion of the parking lot for the tailgate, they were greeted by Brad Grebner, Pekin, who is employed as the mascot of the team. Dressed in full pirate regalia, Grebner shook hands with every person who came through to the tent for the tailgate event – over 600 of them, — thanking them for their support of the team’s return.

“(Pirates’ staffers) called me up and asked if I would come back and help support the team,” Grebner said. “I said, ‘you bet. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.'”

By Steve Robinson | April 21, 2008 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – After some discussion, the Normal Town Council voted 4-3 to reject an ordinance which would give a stay to the issuance of a demolition permit for the University Christian Church building along North St. in Uptown Normal.

Members of the church, as a body, held a last service on April 13. In March, Champaign-based JSM Development, Inc. purchased the building. Church members had set a minimum purchase price of $1.25 million for the property.

By Town Code, Normal’s Historic Preservation Commission must approve demolition of all buildings or structures in the Town of Normal. On April 8, that Commission denied an application for demolition citing “the building’s architectural significance of the property.”

JSM is looking to build a 5-story building on the site, two floors of which would be retail, and would have ground floor parking.

City Manager Mark Peterson told council members that he and Town Development Director Wayne Aldrich met with JSM officials and found that JSM “was on an aggressive timetable” for beginning construction on the new project. He said JSM has filed construction plans with the Town Clerk’s office.

Peterson said JSM had hoped to complete construction by August 2009.

“This ordinance will not help them. (JSM’s) concern is time and money,” Peterson told the council. He said no representatives from JSM planned to attend Monday’s meeting. However, Peterson did pass along a message from JSM that staying demolition would not help them in getting their project completed sooner than was anticipated.

“(This ordinance) creates an issue out of nothing,” Council Member Adam Nielsen said. “I don’t know that there is an issue (here) where one had existed (previously).”

Council Member Jeff Fritzen asked what about JSM’s responsibility would be concerning the property in the event the church is demolished but new construction is delayed. Peterson answered, saying, in the event of construction delays, JSM would be responsible for maintaining, seeding, and keeping the lot clean to prevent erosion.

Voting in favor of rejecting the ordinance were Council Members Nielsen, Fritzen, Jason Chambers, and Sonja Reece. Voting for the ordinance were Mayor Chris Koos, Council Members Chuck Scott and Cheryl Gaines.

Uptown Parking Recommendations Discussed: Council members also heard from members of the Uptown Parking Management Committee who had recommendations to make concerning the College Ave. Parking Deck.

“We went beyond just parking, asking (Uptown businesses) about future needs,” said Brian Simpson, committee member and owner of Babbitt’s Books in Uptown Normal. Simpson said the group also checked with how Peoria-based Heartland Parking, the management company that will oversee the College Ave. Parking Deck, has managed facilities in other communities.

“We are a community with a University attached,” Committee member Stephanie McClellan told Council members. “(The University) had needs that had to be addressed. We also had the Normal Public Library that had some unique features (to address).”

Among the Committee recommendations for the College Ave. Parking Deck were:

• The first hour of parking should be free.

• Any parking fee should be charged in one-hour increments after the first hour.

• Equal enforcement should be applied between streets, parking deck, and surface.

The Committee suggested charging $1 an hour after the first free hour; $6 for an “all day” rate lasting 7-12 hours; and $8 for all day.

Hoose Chess Champs Honored: Members of the Colene Hoose Elementary Chess Team, Kindergarten and First Graders who won their State Championship at the State Scholastic Chess Championship in Glenview last month. Mayor Koos honored the team with a proclamation designating April 22, 2008 as “Colene Hoose Chess Club Appreciation Day.”

The eight-person Hoose team was part of a700 students total that took part in the competition, which took place on March 15-16.

The team is under the direction of coaches Charlie Bates and Paul Parent. Team managers are Dawn Carlson and Becki Brown. Peggy Caslow is the team’s faculty sponsor.

The team members are: Andrew Carlson, Kaashyap Chilakamarri, Julia Herrman, Pujita Julakanti, Rohith Kolli, Thomas Moh, Cassandra Parent, and Ethan Varner.

Uptown Wireless To Improve: The Council also unanimously approved waiving the formal bidding process and conditionally accepting a proposal for wireless mesh network response from Invision Networks in the amount of $116,401 and approval of a recommended budget adjustment.

The Council also unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement with Springfield-based Hansen Information Systems, Inc. for providing technical support for the Uptown Wireless Network in the amount of $18,000.

Omnibus Agenda Approved: Items approved on the Council’s omnibus agenda include:

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting of April 7, 2008.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 16, 2008.

• A motion to authorize Town Staff to develop a Town-wide bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

• A motion to reject bids for a backhoe loader with a pavement breaker for the Water Department.

• A motion to award a bid in the amount of $22,519.19 for a skid steer loarder to Bobcat of Bloomington.

• A motion to award a bid from Bloomington-based Stark Excavating in the amount of $450,776 and award a contract for the Adelaide St. water main replacement project.

• A resolution amending the agreement with Peoria-based Heartland Parking for parking management services in Uptown Normal.

• A resolution replacing the Town’s 2008 Private Activity Bond Cap to Illinois Housing Development Authority for first time homebuyer program. The cap is now at $4,307,885.

• A resolution accepting a dedication of easement and temporary easement grant from Roger and Sherrillyn Taylor behind the properties located at 113-115 W. North St.

• An ordinance to ban parking on both sides of the 700 block of W. Orlando Ave.

• An ordinance declaring property surplus – 415, 419, and 419 ½ W. Vernon Ave.