By Steve Robinson | April 30, 2009 - 10:26 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Sports

BasketballNORMAL – With three national titles, 833 total victories, 11 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, and 10 ACC regular season titles, and the honor of coaching Team USA Basketball on his resume, you would think Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski should be able to pass along his wisdom to anyone – whether he is speaking to his players, recruits, or an audience of student athletes he has never met.

At a news conference in Redbird Arena on the Illinois State University campus Thursday, Krzyzewski passed along a little of the wisdom he has picked up in a 35-year coaching career, the last 29 of them spend guiding young men while on and off of a hardwood dedicated “Coach K’s Court” on the Duke campus. Roughly 300 student athletes came to hear “Coach K” speak.

“If you give each other your best,” Krzyzewski said, addressing the ISU student athletes in the audience, “Giving them your best is (what is) best.” He said that philosophy applies for relationships unrelated to sports as well, regardless of who you know.

“Champions do extraordinary things in an ordinary manner, because they do it on a daily basis,” the veteran of 29 Blue Devils seasons said.

On Olympic Basketball: As head coach of Team USA Basketball at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China last year, Krzyzewski had a second “dream team,” headlined by NBA stars Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Jason Kidd.

Having been an assistant to Team USA in 1979, 1984, and 1992, and then having the experience of being the team’s head coach in Beijing, Krzyzewski said he has noticed that the world is catching up to the U. S. in its collective basketball acumen.

“At the turn of the century, it was becoming obvious that (basketball) wasn’t our game,” Krzyzewski said. “It was the world’s game.

“But we were arrogant and said it was our game, and so, we didn’t prepare,” Krzyzewski added. “When you are arrogant, you don’t prepare (because) you think you’re just going to do (what needs to be done).”

Mike KrzyzewskiTo meet the international challenge, Krzyzewski said, Team USA developed a system that would develop a culture which included giving time and respect to their players and to the game. Krzyzewski said doing this allowed players to learn about the nuances of the international version of the game.

He said the international version of the game is different from either the collegiate or NBA game. Differences which he said included a change in the size of the court and the size of the basketball.

Krzyzewski said that, over a three-year period leading up to Beijing, Team USA practiced repeatedly, using foreign officials, and bringing in other NBA players to scrimmage playing the international style of the game to get Team USA ready for what they would face during the Olympics.

In the end, the preparation paid off with Team USA defeating Spain, 118-107 on Aug. 24, to win the gold medal. Dwayne Wade of the NBA’s Miami Heat led Team USA’s charge in toward the gold medal with 27 points.

Coach K On Bobby Knight: Bobby Knight, former Indiana head coach, who retired from coaching after a brief stint at Texas Tech, was head coach at West Point in 1966 when Bobby Knight recruited Krzyzewski to play for West Point.

“I had him as a coach when (Knight) was young…really young,” Krzyzewski said. “What I learned from him was, first of all, the game. You cannot do this alone. You student athletes who think you can do this alone, then, you’re not going to be as good as you can be.

“If you partner with your coach (and) your coaching staff, or in class with your teachers, (that will be better),” Krzyzewski said.

Krzyzewski said he learned about preparation from Knight. He suggested to the student-athletes in attendance that preparation – whether what you are prepping for is on the court or off – is vital to succeeding.

American Red CrossHeadliner For Red Cross Benefit: Krzyzewski was in town to be the featured speaker at the 16th annual “Evening With The Stars” fundraiser benefitting Bloomington-based Heartland Red Cross.

Krzyzewski is the fifth sports figure of this annual event’s previous keynote speakers. Basketball commentator Dick Vitale was the first sports figure to speak at the event, in 2003. Others have (and the years they spoke) included: NBC Sports host Bob Costas (2005), Indianapolis Colts quarterback Payton Manning (2006), and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka (2008).

Other speakers in the event’s 16-year history have included: Actors Tony Randall (1996) and Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) (1998); former Kansas Sen. Robert Dole (1999); astronaut James Lovell (2000), and Scott O’Grady (2001).

A total of 760 people were expected to attend the dinner at which Krzyzewski would be speaking, held at Bloomington’s DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center, with the event expecting to net $160,000 to benefit the Bloomington-based Heartland Red Cross.

Rim Shots: Among the roster of former Duke players Krzyzewski has coached over the years include former Illinois State head coach Bob Bender, Chris Collins, son of former ISU and NBA standout Doug Collins; former ISU head coach Bob Bender, and former Chicago Bulls player Grant Hill.

By Steve Robinson | April 25, 2009 - 7:11 pm
Posted in Category: Personal Blog, Sports

BaseballNORMAL – Voter Fraud!, the headlines screamed. An unflattering nickname submission also found itself in the mix in trying to find a name for Normal’s new Independent baseball team.

So Steve Malliet and those who want to get baseball in Normal off on the right foot in 2010 has revamped both the names to be voted on and the voting procedure.

The team nicknames still include, Coal Bears, still honoring Comedy Central comic and “anchor” of “The Colbert Report”, but now Coal Bears is joined by the CamelBacks (a nod toward a local landmark, the Camelback Bridge); the CornBelters, and the Fellers, giving a nod toward Town history, naming the team after Jesse Fell, the man who founded Normal, help found Illinois State University, and the local daily newspaper, The Pantagraph.

Could Fellers also not be seen as in Normal Fellers, or Fellas who play the game? And, of course, the Nutz (tipping the cap toward Beer Nuts recognition.

The Nighthawks are gone, with the explanation that a nighthawk refers to a specific Ku Klux Klan officer. If memory serves, Unit 5 School District tripped over that little known fact when Normal Community West High School was looking for a mascot before it opened over a decade and a half ago.

Normal Professional BaseballIn the team being formed, Normal will have an Independent baseball franchise that will be associated with the Frontier League, which has teams stretching from Pennsylvania to Michigan to Missouri. They will play in the new baseball/softball complex at Heartland Community College. That complex is slated to open in 2010. The new Frontier League team’s season would run from April through Labor Day.

I will be searching frantically for the location of the news conference where the new team nickname will be announced. All I know right now is that that announcement will be made on May 18.

With the reboot in voting procedures, one now has to give a certain amount of required amount of information – your name, your address, your town and state, your zip code, your email address, and then you have to type in a required code number to verify that you only have voted once.

I kept waiting for a couple other items to be asked for, myself. You know, such things as your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, or even your shoe size. The security did not go that far.

Let’s just hope that this restart will prove a positive and we can forget the unpleasantness of how this balloting started.

And again, after filling in all the blanks, I voted for the Camelbacks. We’ll let you know the results later this month.

Hoping For…: …A return to cover the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II Softball finals, which will be at Champion Fields again this year. I enjoyed covering them twice in the last three years, first for the Kalamazoo (MI) Gazette, covering Kalamazoo Valley Community College in 2005; and then again last year, giving coverage of the team from Copiah Lincoln Community College for the Brookhaven (Mississippi) Daily Leader.

By Steve Robinson | April 24, 2009 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – No dirt has yet been turned over to begin construction on Unit 5’s two new elementary schools and one junior high school, but the district does know who will lead one of the new elementary schools.

At the regular meeting of the Unit 5 School Board on April 22, Marlys Bennington, currently principal at Oakdale Elementary, will become the first principal of the new Benjamin Elementary School. Bennington begins her new duties July 1.

District Board members also found out that Sarah Edwards, currently principal at Towanda Elementary, was introduced as the new principal at Pepper Ridge Elementary School. Edwards takes over for Diana Coombs, who is retiring.

George L. Evans Honored: George L. Evans had numerous roles within Unit 5, including serving as head football coach at Normal Community High School right up to becoming the district superintendent in the 1980s. Unit 5 honored Evans with a reception just prior to its April 22 meeting, with roughly 100 people, including invited former Board members such as Loren Lay, Janet L. Hood, Dave Ashbrook, Mary Caisley, Hank Fall, William Semlak, and retired NCHS Principal and former superintendent Alan Chapman stopping by to visit.

With wife Harriet by his side and surrounded by various family members in the audience just after the night’s Board meeting began, Evans addressed the Board thanking them for the honor and the reception. He received a standing ovation following his remarks by the roughly 60 people gathered for the meeting.

“I really want to thank the former Board members and the citizens of Unit 5 for the honor of serving the community,” Evans said.

Groundbreakings For New Schools: Groundbreaking ceremonies for Unit 5’s two new elementary and one new middle school will take place in the next month. On Saturday, May 2, a groundbreaking ceremony will take place at the site of the new Cedar Ridge Elementary School at 9a.m., followed by the groundbreaking ceremony at George L. Evans Junior High School at 10a.m.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Benjamin Elementary School will take place on Saturday, May 16 at 10a.m.

CAC Reports Update: The Board also heard from Mark Kotte, president of Unit 5’s Citizens Advisory Committee concerning the reports CAC completed over the past year. Kotte said CAC completed reports on six topics, using smaller groups of members on each topic. Kotte said that District administrators came to every meeting and that there was a quorum of CAC members at every meeting.

Among the topics studied by CAC during the school year were: Best Practices, Charter and Magnet Schools, Customer Service, Information Sharing Using The Internet, Being New To A School, and School Safety and Security.

Board members voted unanimously to accept CAC’s 2008-09 reports.

New CAC officers for the 2009-10 school year were announced, as well. Paul Smith will become CAC President, Mike Trask will become vice president, and Frank Iskra will become secretary.

Construction/Renovation Bids Accepted: Board members unanimously approved bids from local contractors for two separate renovation and construction projects needed within the district.

Board members unanimously approved a bid by Bloomington-based Felmley Dickenson Co. for installation of two portable classroom units at Colene Hoose Elementary. Each unit would have two classroom spaces in it, giving the school four temporary classrooms. Felmley Dickenson Co.’s bid for the job of $28,735 was the lowest of the bids submitted by three contractors.

Board members also unanimously approved a bid by Bloomington-based Johnston Contractors, Inc. in the amount of $521,700 for renovation of 21 classrooms and related areas at Fairview Elementary School. Johnston Contractors, Inc. was one of seven companies who bid on the project.

Prairieland Chess Leads “Good News”: Good news seemed to be coming from all directions in the regular “good news” portion of the meeting, as an elementary school chess club, two administrators winning awards, and a new special education initiative courtesy of Special Olympics, were brought to the Board’s attention.

Prairieland Elementary Principal Tim Arnold reported club members recently participated in a national chess tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Bringing back numerous awards. Chad Johnson is the team’s coach, assisted by numerous club members’ parents, including Doug Micklich.

Known as the Prairieland Cougar Chess Team, members participating in the national tournament were: Tanner Gillam, Kyle Johnson, Alyssa Johnson, Trevin Kafer, Tori Kafer, Connor Kennedy, John-Charles Micklich, Katelyn Morley, Drake Nielsen, Rebekah Nielsen, Timmy O’Brien, Justin O’Brien, and Jordan Walker.

The club currently boasts 80 members, Arnold said. That number has gone up from 50 students two years ago, and from 60 members the club had last year.

Unit 5 mapNormal West Special Ed. Teacher Wins Award: Jane Collins, a special education teacher at Normal Community West High School was honored by the Board for winning the 2009 Ivy Dean Cook Teacher of the Year Award, an honor presented by the Council for Exceptional Children. Collins received her award at a conference CEC held in Seattle on April 3.

Collins told Board members receiving the award, and attending the CEC meeting, “truly, was the most incredible experience of my professional life.”

Collins has been with Unit 5 since 1990, and has been directing the vocational program for Normal West’s special education students since the high school opened in 1995.

Collins and her husband, Jeff, have three children: Tristan, a graduate of Normal Community High School, Carter, currently a student at Normal West, and Samantha, currently a student at Kingsley Junior High.

NCHS Athletic Director Wins Honor: Andy Turner, athletic director at NCHS, was featured in the next “good news” report to the Board, for being recognized as one of the Class 3A & Class 4A Division athletic directors of the year, an honor presented by the Illinois Athletic Directors Association. Turner will receive his award at the IADA State Conference on Saturday, May 2 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Springfield. Turner has been athletic director at NCHS since 2005.

Fox Creek Joining New Special Olympics Program: Board members heard about a new sports play program which Special Olympics Illinois started last year called “Young Athletes.” “Young Athletes” is a sports play program designed for children ages 2-7, and will be implemented at Fox Creek Elementary School in the fall.

Program instructor Linda Kitterman and Unit 5 coordinator Kathleen O’Connell were recognized for helping get “Young Athletes” underway at Fox Creek. The program has over 90 pre-kindergarten and early childhood students signed up to participate.

Fox Creek staff members honored included Kitterman, Wendy Fulton, Tammy Cave, and Tony Eckley. Fox Creek Principal Mark Robinson, as well as Unit 5 assistant superintendent John Pye, and the district’s director of special education, Chuck Hartsell, were also recognized for their support of the program.

By Steve Robinson | April 20, 2009 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing the Town to borrow funds from a government entity to help the Town pay for replacement of filters and drains, as well as pay for an air scour backwash cleaning system.

As a result of passing the ordinance, Normal will borrow funds from the Illinois Public Water Supply Loan Program in order to carry out a water filtering rehabilitation project.

The cost of this project to Normal is $2.17 million. Legislation known as the Illinois Public Water Supply Loan Program (PWSLP), which was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will help provide money to help offset the costs of getting the job done.

The Town, through Water Department Director Steve Gerdes, needs to make application to PWSLP. With unanimous Council approval, the Town will be able to apply to borrow funds from PWSLP.

Council members passed an additional resolution authorizing Gerdes to sign application forms and documents for the PWSLP Program.

City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members that the funding for PWSLP was made available through the state Environmental Protection Agency office nationwide.

North St. Improvements OK’d: Council members approved a motion waiving the formal bidding process and authorized Town Staff to execute a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for street and streetscape improvements on North St. from Fell Ave. to Broadway St., in the amount of $621,283.71.

Peterson told Council members it is anticipated the North St. improvements project would be completed by the time the new Marriott Hotel and Conference Center opens, sometime in late Summer or early Fall.

Fire Chief To Retire: Normal Fire Chief Jim Watson was recognized by the Council, having recently announced he will retire in July after 37 years with NFD.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held April 6, 2009.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 15, 2009.

• A motion to waive the formal and customary bid process for the purchase of a replacement ambulance in the amount of $138,851 through the Northwest Municipal Conference Joint Purchasing Program.

• A motion approving the selection of and authorizing Town Staff to negotiate a contract with Chicago-based Cotter Consulting, Inc. for Owner’s representation services for the Normal Multi-Modal Transportation Center Project.

• A resolution conditionally authorizing execution of an agreement with Chicago-based Redbox Workshop, Ltd. For design of the Math In Music And Imagination theater exhibits at the Children’s Discovery Museum in an amount not to exceed $43,500.

• A resolution authorizing a change order with Bloomington-based Felmley Dickerson Co. in the amount of $21,872 for stairwell improvements on 111 W. North St. and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an assignment – Constitution Trail LLC (Raab Rd. acquisition).

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving an amended preliminary development plan for the Shoppes At College Hills planned unit development (Beauty Brands).

• An ordinance establishing one-way directional traffic control on Coles and Douglas Streets in One Normal Plaza.

• An ordinance amending Section 9-3 of Chapter 17 (Misdemeanors) of the Town Municipal Code – Technical Corrections.

By Steve Robinson | - 9:42 pm
Posted in Category: Personal Blog, Sports

BaseballNORMAL – The area will be getting another sports team in 2010 and it is one

Normal can call their own. It is a Class A baseball franchise that will be associated with the Frontier League, which has teams stretching from Pennsylvania to Michigan to Missouri. They will play in the new baseball/softball complex at Heartland Community College. That complex is slated to open in 2010. The new Frontier League team’s season would run from April through Labor Day.

This team will have Normal for a first name, and as with so many teams that are wanting to attach a nickname to the team, the operators, led by Steve Malliet, backed by Mike Veeck, who visited town a number of times trying to drum up local support, are in the midst of the voting in a “Name The Team” contest.

Townsfolk submitted a number of names that Normal could be hitched to. Four finalists are being voted on at the team website, In the running are: The CornBelters, the Nuts (or if you prefer, Nutz, in both a serious nod and/or a comic nod toward the local Beer Nuts outlet), and Nighthawks.

In the interest of full disclosure here, it should be pointed out that Nighthawks is a nod toward HCC seeing as their baseball and softball teams are nicknamed the Hawks, and the reasoning for Nighthawks is that the Frontier League team would play the bulk of their games at night. The full disclosure continues here, as it should be noted that my editor at the Normalite, Ed Pyne, says he submitted the Nighthawks entry.

Those three all make perfect sense, and again in full disclosure, yes, without coercion, I cast my vote for Nighthawks. Normal Nighthawks has a nice ring to it.

But there is a fourth entry in this race that has a 12 percentage point lead on Mr. Pyne’s Nighthawks – an entry submission called the Coal Bears.

Normal Professional BaseballIf you are scratching your head over that one, let me explain: It seems Malliet is looking for some publicity for his team and one submission honors Comedy Central network host, comic Stephen Colbert (Phonetically speaking: Coal-Bear). Malliet has told The Pantagraph he even has a logo sort of figured out already if Coal Bears wins – a bear carrying a pick ax.

I’m sorry, but the idea of doing this is really unsettling. Colbert is a comic who is now playing a Bill O’Reilly-ish or Rush Limbaugh-ish type of commentator on the comedy station’s faux commentary show, and that kind of irreverent humor doesn’t last long on me and I can’t understand why you would do this and think the public would tolerate it.

When I checked earlier tonight, Coal Bears was leading Nighthawks by a 46 percent to 34 percent count. The voting ends at midnight Sunday. I wish I could stuff the ballot box for the Nighthawks, but I only have one computer.

I just think this kind of publicity is a little silly, and if you don’t care anything about Colbert, or don’t “get” his faux news or think we see enough stupidity reported during real newscasts (we aren’t getting any smarter as a country it seems), than this idea will not make sense to those waiting for the first pitch next spring.

Frontier LeagueCos-bees?: I tried in desperation to think other comics a team nickname could be attached to without looking any sillier than Coal Bears.

I came up with two: The Normal Cos-bees (a tip of the baseball cap to Bill Cosby), and the Normal New Hearts (with a slight spelling alteration, after Bob Newhart). Both are a little less logical – maybe! – than Coal Bears, but I just don’t want to see the voting go the way it is and be stuck with this and maybe regret it later.

I will probably go to games, but if Coal Bears wins, I will be hard pressed to say the phrase Coal Bears out loud. If anyone asks, I will tell them I am a fan of Normal Professional Baseball.

I will be honest by doing that, won’t I?