By Steve Robinson | November 29, 2010 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWith all eight classes of high school football getting champions this past weekend, attention now turns full throttle to basketball. The Girls Intercity Tournament was held before Thanksgiving. The Boys Intercity Tournament is in progress. With that came the first showdown between Unit 5 rivals Normal Community High and Normal Community West High on Nov. 27.

NCHS won the first battle at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center, beating the Wildcats, 57-50. There were plenty of enthusiastic fans, and I saw a media member or two working the game. But I also saw two young men with video cameras performing a service for each of the teams.

NCHS senior Tom O’Shea and Normal West sophomore Zachary Todd are student managers for their respective schools’ boys basketball teams. They each were at the top level of the Shirk Center with a video camera on a small tripod. They each had orders to tape game action, which of course, would later enable their teams’ respective coaches to get a bird’s-eye view of how their teams did against their opponent.

Eighteen-year-old O’Shea has had job of videographer (the fancier term for this job – feel free to put that on your resume, guys…) for NCHS boys’ basketball since his freshman year. He does this for job for NCHS’ cross-country and baseball teams, too. O’Shea is usually sitting on the team bench for most games, except when his father, James, can’t make games to do the videographer’s task. Then, Tom gets the video assignment.

“I’d like to continue to do sports somehow when I get to college,” Tom O’Shea said. He is thinking in terms of being team manager there, too. When he gets older, “maybe coaching” is something he said he would have an interest in.

This season is the first behind the camera for Normal West’s Todd, who, like O’Shea, is a team manager for the boys’ varsity team. At 16, Todd is doing this without any prior experience as a team manager.

Todd gave a typical job description for a team manager: “I’ve been filming the games. I go to all the practices, and help out with whatever the coaches need for me to do,” Todd said. Todd is one of two managers at West. The other manager is Austin Brinkman.

The instructions to the videographers for each team vary only slightly. “Just follow the ball” were the directions O’Shea said NCHS’ coaching staff, led by Ironmen head coach Dave Witzig, gave him. Todd got similar instructions, but West coaches asked him to film the action a half-court at a time.

“The coaches asked me to follow the ball and get as much of the opponents’ defense,” were the instructions he received from the Wildcats’ coaching staff, led by head coach Brian Cupples.

Going to college is on Todd’s post-high school agenda. “I don’t know if I will pursue basketball, but I am definitely going to go to college, and possibly go into church ministry work.”

Todd did try out to play for West’s freshman team but did not make it. “It’s good to be a part of the team, although I don’t actually get to play,” Todd said. “It’s still good to be a part of the team and help out whenever I can for because I’m really excited to be part of their basketball program.”

On another subject, congratulations to Thespian Troupe 1156 from University High School, for contributing to a good cause. Members of Troupe 1156 participated in this year’s “Trick Or Treat So Kids Can Eat,” also known as TOTS-EAT, sponsored by the International Thespian Society.

Troupe 1156 gathered about 250 pounds of food which was collected for local food charities in the community. U-High joined 319 troupes from 38 states involved in the campaign. U-High’s collection contributed to setting a record for the charity. A total of 348,065 pounds of food was collected from the troupes that participated. That total donated beat the total of 332,700 pounds of food that had been collected for the charity last year.

By Steve Robinson | November 21, 2010 - 6:18 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonSteven Davis and Gerald Pittman play percussion in the Normal Community West High School Band. The two seniors are fully aware that, in an period when schools are tightening their belts, such as Normal’s Unit 5 School District has had to do, every little bit helps. To that end, the two 17-year-olds pitched in during West’s 15th annual Fall Crafts Show. The show was held at the school on Nov. 20.

Ryan Budzinski and Lisa Preston are the band directors at Normal West, but it is Jody Norton, a parent of two former West High music students, who spent the last few months coordinating the exhibitors.

Norton said the money goes to pay for instruments, printed music, instrument repairs, supplies as needed, and support staffing.

Norton said the idea for the craft show began with Janet Schroeder, who started it to raise money for the school’s band program 15 years ago, when NCWHS was just opening. Norton has been at the helm of the craft show for the last five years. Although her kids are now college age, having graduated from West in 2006 and 2008, coordinating the craft show, “is just something I do now to help the band out,” Norton said.

There were 118 exhibitors at this event – just two fewer than the number the event normally averages every year. The exhibitors stretch from the school’s main corridor, and into the small gym, filled with all sorts of crafts imaginable. A pair of trombone players sat at one end of the small gym contributing Christmas music to the event for shoppers to listen to. I suspected there would be a good crowd even before I walked into the building because the parking lot at the front of the building was three-quarters full early on.

Norton has had plenty of experience, exhibiting at craft shows for 32 years, she said. “This was a charity that I could work with that I knew something about,” Norton said about the West music program’s needs.

Each exhibitor pays a $50 booth rental fee to be at the show, and the exhibitors keep what monies they make from the products they sell. Ideally, planning for the show begins in June. But this year, planning for this year’s event got off the ground a little later than scheduled, Norton said. Vendors got notices to renew their spaces in early September. By the end of that month, Norton knew how many exhibitors would be present.

But it worked out in the end from what I saw of the number and kinds of exhibitors on hand.

Students pitch in the day before and the day of the event, helping exhibitors move their wares into their spots and providing any other help, as needed, Norton explained. Some students wander through the halls, playing snippets of Christmas tunes, as well. When the show concludes at the end of the day, the students help vendors haul their packed up wares back to their cars and assist with clean-up.

In addition to the bake sale, young kids could make crafts (with a little adult supervision, of course) for a nominal fee, a raffle, and even Santa joins in, helping parents get pictures of their kids with the man in the red suit.

That is where Jordan Sanders, a West senior who plays trombone in the Jazz Band and tuba in the West Marching Band, comes into this story. He played Santa for the event. His friend, sophomore P. J. Wolfe, who plays trombone in the Marching Band, dressed as an elf, serving as Santa’s helper.

“It’s a lot of fun being Santa,” Sanders said. “We raise a lot of money for the band and it’s a great place for the vendors to come and sell their crafts. With the budget cuts and stuff, we kind of need the money for the music program.”

Unit 5 asked school administrators to slash budgets over the summer. Across the district, Unit 5 looked to cut between $7 million-$10 million. Budzinski confirmed there has been a reduction in the amount of money provided to fund the music program at West. That meant the less money was available to buy new music and repair instruments when this school year started.

Budzinski said he did not think the families involved in the music program at West were surprised at having their funding cut, and “have just worked harder to make the current program happen. I think they believe in the importance of the activities, so, we’ve washed more cars and baked more things for the bake sale, and done a lot of events to offset the budgetary restrictions.”

Budzinski said both the parents and the students “feel strongly enough about the experience of being in the program that they make it happen.”

Between the exhibitors’ fees, the bake sale, and the pictures with Santa, this event raises an average of $10,000 annually, Budzinski said. The money raised goes toward the entire music program for the school, Budzinski said. He said that includes four curricular jazz bands which meet as classes during the school day; three jazz bands; a competitive marching band; a winter color guard; and a pep band for basketball.

“The instruments we play cost a lot of money, so, to be able to help raise the money needed, this is kind of nice,” Steven Davis said, as he and Pittman worked the concessions at the Craft Show, selling homemade baked treats and Gondola sandwiches. He admits, being typical teens, “we could have been doing something else, but instead, we can help our band raise money for new instruments and trips.”

On another subject, congratulations to the girls’ basketball team from Normal West as the basketball season gets underway. West beat Normal Community, 40-26 last Saturday. The Wildcats will meet up with the Lady Ironmen again at NCHS in January.

By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2010 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $1.86 million in General Obligation Bonds, which would be used to help pay for the Multimodal Transportation Center, currently under construction at the north end of the railroad tracks near Beaufort St.

The Town will sell $1.86 million in Recovery Zone Bonds, and the Federal Government will reimburse the Town for 45 percent of each interest payment.

Todd Krzyskowski, managing director for Chicago-based Mesirow Financial, informed Council members the Town’s positive credit rating, as ranked by three credit services, is either at or near the top of each firms system. Fitch Ratings gives Normal a rating of “AAA,” their highest rating. Standard & Poor’s gives Normal that firm’s second-highest rating of “AA+,” and Moody’s gives Normal that organization’s second highest positive ranking of “Aaa.”

“Normal can attract such projects (like the Multimodal Transportation Center) into your community with such credit ratings,” Krzyskowski said. “It is good that Normal is watching its reserves.”

Council Approves 2010 Tax Levy: Council members unanimously approved authorizing the 2010 tax levy. The net property tax levy for 2010 represents a $318,000 increase above last year’s levy, according to a report submitted to Ron Hill, Director of Finance for the Town of Normal.

The $318,000 figure is an increase in the levy, above last year’s levy, of 3.4 percent.

In addition, Council members unanimously approved a motion to authorize an amendment to the fiscal year 2010-11 Social Security and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund budgets.

Council members also approved ordinances authorizing abatement of 2010 Property Taxes for Debt Service.

Melissa Lawless Appointed To Sister Cities Committee: Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Melissa Lawless to the Bloomington-Normal Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee. Lawless’ appointment will fill an existing vacancy and will last through March 31, 2012.

Lawless,1404 Courtland Ave., is employed as a school psychologist for Normal’s Unit 5 School District, and has had been an exchange student living in Sao Paulo, Brazil; London; and Hangzhou, China.

Liquor Commission Fines Operator Of Medici’s: Prior to the Council’s session, Council members, meeting as the Normal Liquor Commission, voted to approve a $250 fine for one establishment for the sale of liquor to minors during a recent Town Liquor Audit. Steinbach, Inc., doing business as Medici’s Restaurant, 120 E. North St., received the fine as the result of sale to minors during an Oct. 21 liquor audit. This was a first offense for Steinbach, Inc.

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

• Approval of minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held Nov. 1, 2010.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov.10, 2010.

• A motion to accepting a proposal from AmerenIP to relocate overhead cables into an underground conduit at the intersection of Mulberry St. and Constitution Blvd. in the amount of $34,000.

• A motion to authorize the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $1,849,625.78 for the Vernon Ave. Bridge Improvement Project.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a contract with Bloomington-based GDS Professional Business Displays for the fabrication of banners for the Uptown Project in the amount of $15,778.40.

• A resolution authorizing the submission of applications to the Illinois Park and Recreation Facility Construction Grant Program (PARC) through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an Intergovernmental Agreement with McLean County for centralized booking services.

• A resolution consenting to a Collateral Assignment of Rights under an Installation Agreement for Warranty Deed – WildCountry.

• An ordinance amending the legal description for the Parking Impact Zone and amending the Zoning Map accordingly.

By Steve Robinson | November 14, 2010 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

VolleyballNORMAL – One could say Redbird Arena on the Illinois State University campus became a hornets’ nest on Saturday.

Both Heyworth, and their opponent for the Illinois High School Association Class 1A Volleyball Championship, Scales Mound, from the northwest corner of the state, use the team nickname, “Hornets.”

Regardless of the team nickname, Heyworth High earned its first championship in any event, winning the Class 1A State Volleyball championship, defeating Scales Mound with scores of 22-25, 25-18, and 26-24.

With Heyworth (33-3) down 24-20 in the last match, the local Lady Hornets began their final attack with a kill by Heyworth’s Dakota Springer, cutting Scales Mounds’ lead, 24-21. With Cassidy Kingery serving for Heyworth, Springer registered another kill, cutting the lead to 24-22. A ball-handling error on Scales Mound outside hitter Ashley Brant put Heyworth within one, 24-23.

Kingery’s next serve ended in an error, with the ball returned by Scales Mound’s Stephanie Jerry falling out of bounds, tying the match at 24-all.

Kingery’s next serve ended with Scales Mounds’ Whitney Kieffer also smacking the ball out past the out-of-bounds line, putting Heyworth up, 25-24, bringing the Heyworth fans in the crowd to their feet, nearly in unison. Scales Mound head coach Angie Winter was quick to call a timeout.

Following the timeout, Kingery’s next serve was, again, mishandled by Jerry, with the ball hitting the hardwood floor, giving Heyworth its first State Championship. Heyworth players hugged and jumped up and down as soon as the match ended.

Loud cheers could be heard from the Heyworth side of the stands as the third game ended, in contrast to numbing silence from those who had come from Scales Mound, all of whom had been vocal in support of their team throughout the three matches.

Scales Mound (38-5) had command of game one, pulling away 21-15 at one point, on their way to an opening game victory. Heyworth regrouped in game two, keeping the lead throughout maintaining a pair of five-point leads, 16-11 and 20-15, on their way to their biggest lead of that game just before their victory, holding a 24-18 edge over their opponents.

Springer registered 18 kills and 14 defensive digs, scoring 18 points for Heyworth. Kingery had 7 kills, two serving aces, 11 digs, and 10 points, and Shaffer had five kills and 11 digs. Heyworth’s Ashley Hoegger registered three service aces on the day.

Heyworth HornetsNicole Winter had two service aces, 17 kills and 8 digs, and a total of 19 points for Scales Mound. She was followed by Kieffer, who had one service ace, 12 kills, and 22 digs, and a total of 15 points.

“Our victory just showed, to me, the maturity in these girls,” said Heyworth head coach Andrea Vogel.

The majority of the seats in the lower bowl of Redbird Arena were filled with Heyworth fans cheering wildly when their team scored those last points in the third and deciding game. “Our fans, as you could see, have been amazingly supportive of the girls, and have just been a wonderful, powerful influence on these girls, and a huge motivator,” Vogel said. “We heard the crowd in that third match and I really think it helped us.

“When you get into the state title game, and you’re playing a team as good as we were playing, we were fighting for every point,” Vogel said. “I just think it came down to these girls staying mentally strong and tough out there. They just came through with it. They were digging up everything, and they didn’t get tired, and they just executed like they needed to.”

“I tried to be confident,” Kingery said about making what turned out to be her final serves of the day. “I knew I could get the ball over (the net). I had done it before, so like, it’s just another serve. No, I just didn’t think about the pressure. We have had pressure serve drills in practice.”

“I knew we were not going to give up,” Springer said. “I looked at everyone’s faces and we were just so confident. I knew that we would pull through and we did. I am so proud of our team.”

Vogel described Scales Mound as “scrappy.” “They were going after everything,” she said. “They had some really tough hitters. Our defense is what kept us in that match.”

Saying she had high expectations of her players, Vogel explained she knew she had “a solid group of girls” from watching them in practice. “They have put in a lot of work and a lot of time to get here,” she said. “But I can’t say that I ever imagined Dakota and Kelli (Shaffer) getting a win in a State championship match on their last senior game. It’s unbelievable. They’re amazing athletes, amazing players, and amazing people.”

“The crowd has been part of this team the whole season,” Shaffer said. “From the very beginning, they have always been there to support us. This was just as important to them as it was to us. They definitely came through it with us.”

“We surpassed a lot of expectations,” explained Scales Mound Coach Winter, as she and some of her team met with reporters after the game.

About Scales Mound’s play in the last moments of the third game, senior outside hitter Nicole Winter, niece of Scales Mound’s head coach, said, “I think we just kind of got pushed back a little bit on our heels, maybe. We were picking things up and getting them in the air to play, but probably not to get ourselves set up well for a good hit.

“Heyworth kept coming back with solid blocking, and kept working hard,” Nicole Winter said. “They just kept coming back with everything we had thrown at them. It was just a good battle.”

By Steve Robinson | November 13, 2010 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIf you visited Heyworth sometime in the three days between Nov. 10 and Nov. 13, you probably noticed many of the folks in the town of 2,400 plus were a little preoccupied during the period. That is because everyone was buzzing about the prospect for one of Heyworth High School’s sports teams to accomplish something that had not been done in nearly 30 years.

The Heyworth High Lady Hornets, under second season head coach Andrea Vogel, became Illinois High School Association Class 1A State Volleyball Champions, beating Scales Mound, 25-22, 18-25, and 26-24. The last game was a thriller, with Heyworth knocking off five unanswered points to come from behind to win.

Arriving early at Redbird Arena to cover the game, I discovered just how excited folks from Heyworth were to see their team make it to the State for the first time since 1981.

Denny and Lisa Ross are the parents of Savannah Ross, the sophomore middle hitter on the team. “The girls are so excited,” Lisa Ross said. “The school has been so supportive, and the whole community has been too, in making the girls feel so special, as though they have accomplished something, which they have.”

“This has become a real big deal in Heyworth,” Denny Ross added.

Lisa Ross added the team chemistry among the Lady Hornets themselves is good. “They’re all friends. There’s no bickering…none of that. There’s no drama,” she added. “It’s all hard work and getting the games won.”

Josh Kessinger is seeing Heyworth make State in the middle of his senior year. “This is a big deal,” the 17-year-old said. “All throughout the high school, everyone’s ready for it. Everyone’s coming to it. Everyone’s excited for it.”

Josh’s older brother, Justin, came back to see his alma mater try to win State. A 2006 Heyworth High grad who played baseball when he was in school, Justin said seeing this happen for Heyworth was “pretty exciting.”

Sierra Jannusch is a HHS freshman who is one of three team managers for the varsity Volleyball team. “This is a pretty big deal because it has been such a long time since Heyworth was here last.”

Heyworth HornetsI suspect the week leading up to last Saturday’s game was not easy for the students, disrupting their concentration on regular schoolwork, anticipating such a big event. Lindsay Anderson, 16, an HHS senior, confirmed that for me while she applied face paint to two of her classmates, fellow senior Clayton Jannusch, 17, and freshman Kyle Schultz, 14.

“It’s been crazy at school all week,” Anderson said. “I haven’t been able to focus. Everyone’s just so pumped for the game. It’s exciting because we haven’t made it this far before. It has been crazy because we have had pep rallies and showing the girls that we support them. We’re so glad that they made it.”

Heyworth High Athletic Director Charlie Lockenour said he had been “the team’s chauffer for the week” leading up last Saturday, driving the team bus to the Illini Bluffs Super-Sectionals in Glasford, and then to Redbird Arena for the team’s return to State. The season, Lockenour said, “has just been a great ride. They’re just a super group of girls, and they earned this.”

I asked Lockenour about the last moments of the final game of the three-game set, when Scales Mound owned a 24-21 lead before the Heyworth’s Lady Hornets surged ahead for good to take the title. I asked him if he was concerned at that point about the outcome. With a laugh, Lockenour said, “What do you think?” Yes, Charlie, I would have been a little concerned, too, just like the fans, Coach Vogel, and the team, if my season championship were on the line.

The scoreboard at Redbird Arena usually puts the nicknames of the teams playing on the scoreboard. Officials couldn’t do that for the game between Heyworth and Scales Mound because both teams use the Hornets nickname.

I’d personally like to thank the scoreboard operator for helping the sportswriters prevent any confusion as a result. One of the other times I have had to double-check my paperwork during situations like that is when the schools’ teams have had similar colors. A few years ago, I covered a basketball game between Normal Community High and Washington High. Both teams wore black and orange, in differing schemes, on their jerseys.

As the teams warmed up for the game, one NCHS student in the stands noticing this yelled to the Washington bench, “nice original colors, Washington!” It made me chuckle.

Fortunately for Heyworth, the Lady Hornets — who dressed in red last Saturday — won the day, giving the whole town, not to mention the fans and the school, something to buzz about.