By Steve Robinson | January 26, 2009 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

Special OlympicsPEKIN – Keeping up with Pekin residents Larry and Barb Needham for the next couple of months might be difficult.

As long-time volunteers with Special Olympics, they are active on a number of committees set up by the organization that provides opportunities to participate in 19 sports to people with developmental disabilities statewide.

But as January makes way for February, the Needhams will be busy with two events – one involving Illinois athletes, the other involving athletes from around the globe.

First, beginning Feb. 3, Larry will be coaching speed skating at the Special Olympics Illinois State Winter Games, held at various venues in Galena and Dubuque, Iowa.

At State Winter Games, Larry will be coaching speed skaters. Local skaters going for gold there include: Speed skaters Drew Hawkins, Marquette Heights; Judith Rich-Smith, Marquette Heights; Philip Widmer, Metamora; Zach Leeper, North Pekin; figure skaters Emily Harms and Rachel Jones, both Pekin.

Then, just days later, the Needhams will travel to Salt Lake City to participate in a send-off ceremony for members of Team USA who will be participating in the Special Olympics International Winter Olympics. Competitions at World Games will take place at various venues in Boise from Feb. 7-13, 2009.

Larry, head coach of the Pekin-based Tri-County Independents Powerlifting team, will be going to Winter Games as a coach for Figure Skating; while Barb, who has coached speed skating at Special Olympics Illinois State Winter Games, will be Team USA’s head coach for Speed Skating at the Boise event.

Larry Needham will be coaching three male and one female athlete, while Barb will coach three female athletes.

The Needhams met face-to-face with their assigned athletes when they attend a three-day training camp in Colorado in December.

The athletes the Needhams will be coaching at World Games come from as far east as North Carolina and as far west from Arizona, each having had a rapport with coaches they know at home. Therefore, Larry Needham said, when coaching athletes he and his wife are unfamiliar with, a different style must be used to ensure the best performance from their new charges.

“What we do is, we see how they are performing, and then work with them on what they have already learned from the local coaches,” Larry Needham said. “From there, we try to enhance it or polish it, if we can in preparation for World Games.”

He said, in the case of figure skaters, for instance, that might mean helping them to get in rhythm with their music they are skating to, either by getting the athlete to speed up or slow down.

Special Olympics Winter 2009Application Process: Both Needhams had to apply to Special Olympics International to become coaches for the Boise event, Larry said.

He said he and his wife each applied to coach speed skating. But, he said, Special Olympics International contacted him and asked if he would switch his coaching specialty to figure skating, due to a lack of male coaches.

Larry said he agreed to switch, considering he coaches young children to figure skate.

The Needhams each have previous experience with international Special Olympics events. Larry was a speed skating coach at the 2001 World Winter Games in Alaska and a speed skating volunteer at the 1997 World Winter Games in Toronto, Canada. Larry was a Powerlifting coach at Special Olympics 2006 National Games in Ames, Iowa. Barbara was a speed skating coach at the 1993, 1997 and 2005 World Winter Games in Reno, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; and Nagano, Japan, respectively.

Up to 3,000 athletes from more than 100 countries will compete in seven Olympic-type sports: Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and speed skating.

As if that sort of schedule wouldn’t keep most people busy just thinking about the pace that sets, Larry Needham has the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament in Bloomington-Normal on his calendar for March 13-15, coaching one of two teams from Pekin Park District’s Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association.

Two Snowshoers Going To State: Two Snowshoeing contestants who advanced in District competition in December will be at State Winter Games, representing their organization, Pekin-based Tri-County Independents, which is headed by Larry Needham. Gail Smith and Bill Wireman are the Snowshoeing coaches for the Independents.

Donald Hrivnak earned a fourth place ribbon in the 100 meter race last month to get to State, while Mark Johnson advanced to the State Winter Games with a gold medal in the 100 meter run.

Area Athlete Going To Winter Games: Chad Gatlin, 34, son of Jay and Carol Manthey, Peoria Heights, an athlete with Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association, will participate in the Winter Games in Speed Skating.

By Steve Robinson | January 25, 2009 - 10:24 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

BasketballPEKIN – While Pekin Park District’s Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association sent two teams into District Competition Sunday in Dunlap, only one team came away with being able to advance to State competition in March.

A team co-coached by Steve Grys and David Daughtery, designated IRVSRA White, started the day with a forfeit win after their scheduled opponents, the Macomb Bulldogs, failed to show up at Dunlap Middle School for the scheduled 10:30a.m. tip-off due to poor driving conditions which greeted the day.

Then, in the afternoon, IRVSRA White earned a hard-fought victory over the Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association Cougars, 56-48.

Although IRVSRA White entered this tournament with a 1-2 mark, the forfeit and the victory put them in the plus column for wins, earning players gold medals. Teams winning gold medals in Dunlap automatically qualify for State competition.

IRVSRA White will be 3-2 when they compete at the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament, slated for March 13-15. That three-day event will be held at both Horton Field House on the Illinois State University campus and the Shirk Center on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus.

“Today was a total team effort,” Grys said Sunday night. “Everybody contributed. Everybody did their jobs. It was really fantastic.

Grys said considering Sunday’s weather started out with subzero temps and snow, a team forfeiture “had to be expected.” But, Grys said, the sudden change of not playing that first game did not affect his athletes at all.

The members of IRVSRA White are: Annette Bartley, Nick Butler, David Campbell, David Dockins, Rick Fryman, Abby Grys, Mike Haskins, Dan Jones, Kathy Jones, Zach Leeper, Dennis Madura, Austin Ray, Kevin Thompson, and James Wireman.

Special OlympicsIRVSRA Black Loses In “Good Experience”: While IRVSRA White experienced a good day at the middle school, their fellow teammates from the team designated IRVSRA Black reached a split decision after two games. In this case, going 1-1 did not earn IRVSRA Black a trip to State.

IRVSRA Black started their day facing the Wildcats of Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA), earning a 57-20 win.

But in their second game of the day, against the “Green” team from Bloomington-based Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR), IRVSRA Black saw their chance for a gold medal and trip to State escape them, as SOAR won, 62-39.

Following District action, IRVSRA Black, co-coached by Larry Needham and Rick Leesman, concludes their season with a 5-3 record.

Members of IRVSRA Black are: Joe Leesman, Bernie Harms, Shilloh King, Curtis Hopkins, Matt Davis, Larry Woods, Ryan Davis, Kevin Kaufman, Chad Broomfield, and Steve Lawson.

Needham said, although he was disappointed with the outcome which resulted in IRVSRA Black ending their season on a losing note, he seemed to indicate that there was a positive in the experience of getting to District play.

“It wasn’t a bad day,” Needham said. “It was a good experience (being at District) for our players.”

Needham said his players, whose ages range from their 20’s to their mid-40’s, learned something all athletes, regardless of playing level have to understand at some point after a discouraging situation like that. “They will listen to their coaches’ (instructions next time they are on the court). When players don’t listen to their coaches, things like this happen.”

Pekin Park District representatives seem proud of their IRVSRA teams, regardless of the day’s outcome.

“The dedication of these coaches is phenomenal,” said Rachel Doan, director of special populations for Pekin Park District. “There was never a moment when our coaches or athletes quit. They don’t always win, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their enthusiasm.”

By Steve Robinson | January 21, 2009 - 8:18 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Special Olympics

BasketballPEKIN – In talking about her son, Joe Leesman, his mother Amy Leesman, Pekin, sums up the 25-year-old’s passion with one line.

“Sports is his life,” Amy Leesman said.

Joe and his buddies from the team from Pekin Park District’s Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association are currently 4-2 on the season and waiting for their chance to play in a District Tournament in Dunlap on Sunday. Teams winning Gold medals at the District tourney will advance to the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament in Bloomington-Normal in March.

Basketball is a family matter for Joe, and Amy and her husband, Rick, who in addition to Joe, have an older son. Rick is a co-coach of IRVSRA Black, alongside Larry Needham.

Besides playing for IRVSRA, since 2003, Joe has served as in the position of administrative assistant for PCHS’ Boys’ Basketball team, coached by Dave Mott. Joe began helping the team as a student manager when Joe Stoller was the Dragons’ head coach.

In response to an e-mail from The Pekin Daily Times, Mott explained that Joe’s “main job is to give moral support to our players. He loves the Pekin team and the game of basketball.

“He keeps everyone from taking life too seriously,” Mott added. “He is always very cheerful, fun-loving, and he always has his sports facts straight.”

Mott explained Joe sits on the bench at both Dragons’ home and away games, and “watches a lot of game film.”

In addition to basketball, Joe’s competitive side extends to two other Special Olympics events – Bowling and Softball.

Joe manages to do this and play for IRVSRA Black while holding down a job at a local pizza restaurant, where he has worked for the last eight years.

Special OlympicsIRVSRA Sending Two Teams To District: Leesman and his fellow players from IRVSRA Black are ready for the Special Olympics Illinois District Tournament in Dunlap on Sunday. They will take on two opponents at Dunlap High School.

First, IRVSRA Black will face the Wildcats of Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA) at 8:30a.m. IRVSRA’s second game will be against the “Green” team from Bloomington-based Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR), starting with an 11:45a.m. tip-off.

IRVSRA Black is carrying a 4-2 record into District action.

Members of IRVSRA Black are: Joe Leesman, Bernie Harms, Shilloh King, Curtis Hopkins, Matt Davis, Ryan Davis, Kevin Kaufman, Chad Broomfield, and Steve Lawson.

IRVSRA’s other team entering District competition, known as IRVSRA White, is co-coached by Steve Grys and David Daughtery. IRVSRA White has a 1-2 record going into District action.

IRVSRA White’s games will be in the gym of Dunlap Middle School. IRVSRA White will face the Macomb Bulldogs in their first game of the day at 10:30a.m.

Depending on the outcome of the game against Macomb, IRVSRA White will play a second game against either Warren Special Olympics or Peoria-based HISRA Cougars in the afternoon.

Members of IRVSRA White are: Annette Bartley, Nick Butler, David Campbell, David Dockins, Rick Fryman, Abby Grys, Mike Haskins, Dan Jones, Kathy Jones, Zach Leeper, Dennis Madura, Austin Ray, Kevin Thompson, and James Wireman.

Teams winning Gold medals at District will compete in Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament. That three-day event will be held at both Horton Field House on the Illinois State University campus and the Shirk Center on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus from March 13-15.

By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2009 - 10:57 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted 4-1 to table until next month discussion concerning a resolution terminating the Town’s redevelopment agreement with developers of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located at Normal’s north end.

The Town is giving the hotel’s developer, Normal Hospitality, LLC, almost a month to produce updated records relating to the developer’s payment of prevailing wages to workers involved with the project.

The Town has given Normal Hospitality, LLC until the close of business Feb. 11 to produce documentation concerning payment of prevailing wages with regard to the project.

As part of its agreement with the Town, Normal Hospitality, LLC agreed to pay prevailing wages to workers involved with the project.

Passed by the Illinois Legislature in the 1940’s, the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act requires contractors and subcontractors to pay laborers, workers and mechanics employed on public works projects in Illinois no less than the general prevailing rate of wages, consisting of hourly cash wages plus fringe benefits, for work of similar character in the locality, in this case, the county, where the work is performed.

In October, the Town notified Normal Hospitality of problems regarding documentation concerning payment of prevailing wages. Problems continued, forcing the Town to send a second letter to Normal Hospitality on Nov. 18.

By December 15, Normal Hospitality submitted payroll reports concerning the various contractors working on the project, but after reviewing the reports, Town staff had numerous concerns, including contracts that did not contain language that spoke of payment of the prevailing wage.

Town staff also found incomplete time reporting forms for workers; and workers having told Town staff that they were paid in cash with no proper payroll or subcontractor documentation.

City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members the Town has not spent any money on this project to date. He said that once the project is completed, Tax Increment Financing money would be contributed to the project by the Town.

Normal Hospitality, LLC has a target date to open the five-story hotel of early April.

“Unfortunately,” Peterson said, “We have reached a point of frustration because (there are) records we have not been able to obtain.

Peterson said the documentation issue is “disappointing” because the hotel would succeed in the community.

“I’m really dismayed it has come to this point,” said Council member Cheryl Gaines. “It’s frustrating because (where the hotel is situated) is an entryway into the community. We put some faith and trust in the developers to make this happen.”

Council member Chuck Scott said the developer “needs an education on prevailing wage.”

“We’ve given (the developer) time to get this done,” Scott said. “And the time has passed.”

Fred Rottermund, representing Normal Hospitality, LLC, told Council members his organization intends to provide prevailing wage information, but that they are dealing with separate sub-contractors, one of whom has not provided the information needed.

Rottermund said that particular sub-contractor will not be allowed back onto the job site until the wage information is provided to Normal Hospitality, LLC.

“We want to see this project completed,” Mayor Pro Tem Sonja Reece told Rottermund. “There are citizens hoping this (project) will be done and done right.

Council Approves Licensing Agreement: Council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the execution of a license agreement with Heartland Community College and Normal Professional Baseball, LLC. The Town formed an ad hoc committee in April 2007 to study the feasibility of getting a minor league baseball team, while at the same time, HCC was looking to construct a new baseball/softball stadium.

Last June, Council members approved a memorandum of understanding, agreed upon by both HCC and Normal Professional Baseball, which would have the baseball group construct, own, and operate the stadium. The stadium is slated to be open by the 2010 college baseball season.

Normal will have a Class A minor league team in the Frontier League starting in 2010, with the season running from May-Labor Day.

The agreement calls for the Town to contribute a maximum of $1.5 million in public improvements, principally a 1,000 slot parking lot for the ballpark. The agreement also calls on HCC to provide a 20-year lease divided into two 10-year segments to Normal Professional Baseball and to contribute $3.5 million to the project.

“We wanted to thank you,” Steve Malliet, representing Normal Professional Baseball, LLC, told Council members. “We are going to bring one of the finest organizations to you. (Working with the Town) has been a pleasure. To come to City Hall and be welcomed is a pleasure.”

Malliet said Normal Professional Baseball is 4-6 weeks away from opening a local office here. He said ticket sales will begin in the Spring.

Reece presided over the session, sitting in for Mayor Chris Koos, who was attending the annual Winter meeting of the U. S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D. C. Council member Jeff Fritzen was also absent from the meeting, but with five members present, there were enough Council members for a quorum.

Liquor License: Normal’s Liquor Commission met prior to the Council session, and unanimously recommended for approval a license application submitted by Express Mart, Inc., doing business as Express Mart, 108 N. Linden St. The business has recently changed owners and license that was looking to be approved replaces one held by the business’ previous owner.

Koos, as head of the Liquor Commission, is expected to formally approve the Commission’s recommendation when he returns from his trip.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the minutes of three previous Commission meetings – one regular meeting held Oct. 20, 2008, and two special meetings held Nov. 3 and Nov. 17, 2008.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held Jan. 5, 2009.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 14, 2009.

• A motion to amend the budget in the additional amount of $89,000 and authorize the supplemental purchase of road salt and Liquid Calcium Chloride.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and authorize the purchase of street furnishings in conjunction with the Uptown Renewal Project in the amount of $182,985.

• A resolution adopting a revised flexible spending benefit plan document.

• A resolution requesting temporary closures of State Right-Of-Way for annual community events.

• A resolution accepting audit report #71 from the Illinois Department of Transportation pertaining to the receipt and disbursement of funds from the Town’s Motor Fuel Tax Fund for the period of Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2007.

• A resolution re-approving a final plat for the Bradford-Raab subdivision Lot 1.

• A resolution partially and conditionally approving a final developing plan for the Evergreen Village Subdivision PUD.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving the final plat for the Evergreen Village PUD Subdivision.

• An ordinance imposing weight restrictions for vehicles operating on certain rural type roads under the Town’s jurisdiction. The roads in question are: Northtown Rd. from Linden St. to Towanda Ave.; Hershey Rd. from Shepard Rd. to Raab Rd.; and Hershey Rd. to Airport Rd.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2009 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

BaseballNORMAL – Central Illinois may currently be in the midst of basketball season, but on Sunday, during Illinois State’s men’s basketball game against Missouri State, baseball fans got the chance to think of the upcoming baseball season, getting the chance to meet with members of the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals Caravan at Redbird Arena.

The Caravan had fans, young and old lined up to meet with a small group of current players, including pitchers Chris Perez and Josh Kinney, outfielders Brandon Ryan and Nick Stavinoha.

The current players were joined by four former players who had distinguished careers while in Cards jerseys. Pitchers John Tudor, Danny Cox, Tom Lawless, as well as former pitcher-turned Cardinals TV commentator Al Hrabosky signed autographs and chatted with fans.

St. Louis, under Manager Tony LaRussa, finished the 2008 campaign in 4th place in the National League’s Central Division with a 86-76 record, 11 1/2 games behind division winner and their regional nemesis, the Chicago Cubs.

“We have the pieces in place to win games,” said Stavinoha, who played 29 games with St. Louis last season, coming from Triple-A Memphis.

Stavinoha explained that he thought, “not everybody understands that once you go into Spring Training, you really have to go in with the thought of winning a job.

“Whenever you go into Spring Training, you hope that you are given the opportunity just to play in Spring Training. (From there,) you try to play as well as you can, as hard as you can, and hopefully, get a chance with the club,” Stavinoha explained.

Stavinoha played 29 games with LaRussa’s team last year, having been called up after 112 games at Memphis. In those 29 games, Stavinoha accumulated 4 runs, 11 hits including one double, in 57 at bats.

“I think I need to take what I did last year and build on it a little bit,” Stavinoha said. “I want to try to improve and become a little more consistent at the plate.”

Pitcher Josh Kinney is trying for a return with St. Louis, having spent the 2008 season recovering from what is commonly known as “Tommy John” elbow surgery in 2007.

Kinney last played in 2006, playing 51 games in Memphis where he finished with a 2-2 record and an earned run average of 1.52, and 21 games for St. Louis where he had a 3.24 ERA and no record.

“It’s a tough injury, but, luckily, with today’s modern medicine, and good doctors, thank God, a lot of guys get through it, and it helps them out in their careers,” the right-handed Kinney said.

Cardinal Alums Join The Tour: Former players Tudor, Cox, Lawless, and Hrabosky joined the tour, Tudor for the first time.

Cox was an 18-game winner in 1985 with St. Louis, part of a six-year stint he spent with the team from 1983-1988, part of an 11-season career. Fans’ most memorable moment regarding Cox is likely to be his pitching a shutout in the 1987 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.

St Louis CardinalsCox will be a pitching instructor with the Springfield Sliders, members of the Central Illinois Collegiate League. He will be joining a Sliders staff whose head coach is Jack Clark, a former major leaguer with five teams, including the Cardinals, San Francisco, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, and Boston Red Sox.

Cox said the big league moment he remembers most is his first at-bat against Philadelphia in 1983.

“I think the game has changed to a certain point, but I don’t know that the players are any different,” said Tudor, who spent five of his 12 years in the Majors with St. Louis, from 1985-1988 and 1990. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting in 1985, after winning 21 games while maintaining a 1.93 ERA. Tudor has 117 career wins and 988 career strikeouts to his credit.

Hrabosky’s Outlook: Al Hrabosky spent 13 seasons in the Majors as a pitcher for the Cardinals, Kansas City, and Atlanta before retiring after the 1982season and will enter his 24th season in the broadcast booth this Spring.

“People are still looking to see what the final roster is going to be,” the former pitcher-turned-broadcaster said. “There are so many free agents that are still out there, and a lot of attractive players (to consider) that either because of the economy or they misread the market, will not get offers they were expecting to get.

“I know the team is still looking for starters,” Hrabosky said. “They are still looking for a closer. Maybe if we get into Spring Training, a couple of the guys who were injured like outfielders Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan prove that they are healthy, we might be able to acquire a talented, young starting pitcher from another organization.

“There are a lot of things that are still in flux, but pretty much, the line-up is what we’re going to see, but you’re always looking for more pitching depth.”

Hrabosky reminded that LaRussa is in his last year in his current contract, and that, it will be a judgment call for him as to whether he will extend that contract or exit the Cards organization.

The 2009 season will be LaRussa’s 14th as Cardinals manager. He currently is third on the all-time wins list as a manager with 2,461 victories, having been skipper for the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, and the Cardinals in a managerial career that has lasted over 30 seasons.

“(LaRussa) wants to be with a winner,” he said.

“I expect Tony will have this team competitive once again,” Hrabosky said. “Our ownership has always shown that if the team has a legitimate chance to win, they’re willing to go out there and make the extra effort to acquire a player to get that done.”

Hrabosky said that over the past 23 years behind the mike, he has been “blessed with a pretty competitive ballclub, and I expect it to be that way again this year.

“The Cardinals have had phenomenal success during that time, and it’s so much easier to be talking about winning baseball than to be talking about a team that’s out of it by the end of May,” he concluded.