By Steve Robinson | January 30, 2011 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonNormal Community West High School junior DeAndre Albright had to try to make a bit of a tough sell to his buddies outside the gym at his school on Thursday, Jan. 27.

But that didn’t stop him from trying.

He was helping to sell bake goods to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure, an annual event to raise money to cure breast cancer. In the last couple of years, Normal Community High has had a bake sale to raise money to earn funds to fight the disease and the regular-season girls’ basketball game between Unit 5 rivals NCHS and Normal West seemed the most likely event during which to have the sale.

But it wasn’t just baked goodies being sold. There were pink T-Shirts that mentioned the Komen Foundation for sale, too. Being a guy and trying to hawk those to encourage other guys to buy them can be a little tougher. But that didn’t stop Albright.

He tried to cajole his friends into buying because they have female relatives to whom breast cancer can or should be a concern. His pitch was a noble effort, but his pals put him off. But that has not put Albright off on being dedicated to the cause.

Albright said he knows getting guys to contribute to this cause is a bit of a tough sell, but explains that he continues trying, because, “like most men, those guys don’t believe being affected by breast cancer will happen to them. But, it can happen to anyone.”

He has been helping sell the shirts during his lunch hour, sitting alongside his sister, Lady Ironmen sophomore guard Kennola Thomas.

Kennetta LaSha Thomas is the manager of NCHS’ varsity basketball team, and explained the effort the team put into making this happen. “We stayed together after practice Wednesday, and baked and cooked and put everything together,” she said.

This game was the first year NCHS donned pink uniforms for the game, explained NCHS junior guard Sara Freed.

“We’re just happy to be able to do this, and follow the precedents that the NCAA and the Illinois High School Association have set up to do this,” said NCHS head coach Megan Schwefel. “We were just very fortunate last year to have a great crowd and helped us to sell over 400 T-Shirts.

“Our kids are fantastic kids on our teams who come from great families, and any time they can contribute to a great cause and help other people out, they’re very willing,” Schwefel said. Pitching in in this case meant doing some baking the night before the game so that they could have the bake sale along with selling the T-shirts.

Although Normal West donned white jerseys and played NCHS’ girls, who wore pink, Normal West head coach Angie Codron said her team was also supportive of the effort being made on behalf of the Komen Foundation.

“I think events like this are highly important,” said Codron. “I think it helps the players realize that there is more in life than just basketball. But this also shows how playing in athletics can spread and do good things for other people, so I just think it’s a good experience for them.”

In addition to raising money for breast cancer awareness through the Komen Foundation, the proceeds from the tickets sold to the game to a memorial fund named after Ryken Bailey, Codron’s nephew. Ryken Bailey passed away from a rare brain cancer at age 2 on Jan. 13. A memorial fund has been started in his memory. That fund will provide educational scholarships to qualified applicants. Coach Codron and her family have my condolences.

I was unable to find out how much money the two fundraisers raised on the night, but I will bring that information to you in a future column.

That’s another girls’ intercity showdown in the books for the season. We will have to see how well West’s Boys’ squad does on the court when they visit NCHS this Friday, starting with the 7:30p.m. tipoff.

By Steve Robinson | January 29, 2011 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – The word “race” seemed an appropriate theme for the Big 12 Conference girls’ basketball game between Normal Community West High and host Normal Community High on Jan. 28. Both sides raced to an exciting finish, which pleased the crowd, and Normal Community’s team wore pink jerseys and helped raise money for the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure.

In the end though, it was Normal West who won the game, 58-44.

NCHS (6-17, 3-6 in Big 12) got off to a quick 5-0 jumpstart, with a bucket by sophomore guard Abigail Bender two minutes into the game, followed by a three by junior guard Sara Freed at the 5:04 mark.

But a 7-0 run by West, starting with a trey by senior forward Anna Ruffin at 4:50 in the first quarter gave West a 7-5 advantage.

Normal WestBender tied the game at 7-all on a jumper a minute later. But a basket by Wildcats junior forward Jaimee Wiseman with 3:40 in the opening period put West up, 9-7, and on their way to holding the lead for the remainder of the contest. The Wildcats held a 14-10 lead as the first quarter ended, a 35-15 advantage at halftime, and opened the fourth quarter with a 47-24 lead.

By the latter half of the fourth quarter, though, with West ahead, 58-36, NCHS staged a comeback of sorts, scoring eight unanswered points. First, Freed sank a trey with 1:10 left in the contest, reducing West’s lead to 58-39. Sophomore guard Kennola Thomas was fouled with 48 seconds left in the game and sank two free throws, cutting the lead to 58-41. Freed swiped the ball in the closing seconds, racing to the basket, sinking another three for what would be the final score.

With the victory, Normal West improved to 12-6 and an untouched 9-0 in Big 12 play. Senior guard Alexia Taylor led all scorers with 15 points, followed by senior guard Jerrica Brooks’ 11, and 10 from sophomore forward Jamie Loving.

Senior guard Hailey Varner was the lone NCHS player in double-figures with 13 points.

“We like our defense to create an offense, and I think that’s exactly what they did,” said Wildcats head coach Angie Codron. She said once West stopped pressing the Lady Ironmen in the fourth quarter, going to using a half-court defense, they didn’t put as many points on the board.

NCHS“I don’t think we were communicating on the floor when we weren’t pressing,” Codron added. “And I think that gave NCHS some open looks at the basket, including a couple threes.”

“I think our turnovers in the first half hurt us,” assessed Lady Ironmen head coach Megan Schwefel after the game. “West is a very good team. They have some ball handlers who are very athletic. Our kids are very young.”

Schwefel said her team is “still trying to figure things out” on the court, and didn’t give up at the end of the game, so, if her squad can put the first part of their game together with the better end of this game, that will indicate further improvement.

“I told them afterward that there were going to be waves,” Schwefel said. “I told them there’s going to be up, there’s going to be downs and we just have to hold on a little bit. I told them if we continue to play together and get better, we’ll be able to handle that pressure.”

In the junior varsity matchup played earlier in the evening, NCHS beat West, 37-24.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:18 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously approved to establish a Foundation, which would be able to accept donations.

District Superintendent Gary Niehaus credited two residents with bringing the idea to his attention. Niehaus said the Foundation would, when up and running, be a separate entity from the school board, with separate bylaws and separate officers on it.

“We don’t have a pre-cooked formula for the board,” Niehaus said, in discussing its creation. “We’re gathering information on how other foundations operate.”

Having such a foundation would help because the public could contribute donations to it to help fund programs that have been affected by budget cuts.

Board member Mark Pritchett wanted to know how many people were needed to serve on the Foundation’s board. Board member Jay Reece answered Pritchett by explaining most boards have a range in the number of people on them, anywhere from either 5 to 9, or 6 to 10.

Board Approves Additional Payment To Auditors: Board members voted 5-1 to pay an additional $18,000 above the previously agreed-to amount to Peoria-based auditing firm Clifton Gunderson for their first audit of Unit 5. Originally, the district contracted with Clifton Gunderson for services at an agreed-upon price of $35,100.

“Clifton Gunderson found there was more to do here than they thought,” Erik Bush, Unit 5’s Business Manager, told Board members. “They found they put in twice as much time than they thought they would.”

Bush explained the additional amount to be charged was agreed upon in negotiations between the district and the auditors.

In explaining settling the final bill with the auditors, Bush told Board members, “What we’ve agreed to is to split the additional cost. The pricing structure of the contract will be resumed in year two of the contract.”

It was an agreement that was an uneasy matter for Board Member Pritchett. He said Clifton Gunderson was basing their work hours spent on the audit on information available from work done by previous auditors.

“I’m not comfortable paying extra for 149 additional hours worked to get out an audit report,” Pritchett told Board members.

“I hold myself, and the Board can hold me accountable” for Clifton Gunderson needing more time to do their job, said Niehaus, in response to Pritchett.

“It’s absolutely critical that we have a quality audit,” added Board member Wendy Maulson.

Pritchett said he was not denying the value of the service Clifton Gunderson was providing. He said he was just bothered by the price.

Pritchett cast the lone opposing vote on the matter. Board member Scott Lay was absent.

Unit 5 mapDistrict To Borrow Money: Bush told Board members that although the District has $1.1 million left over from the $96.7 million used to build two new elementary schools and a junior high school, and an additional $400,000 in interest, the district will, likely, have to borrow about $14.5 million this spring until it receives its anticipated property tax payment. Unit 5 had to borrow money from the State last year for the same reason.

Kingsley Junior High’s “Good News”: Board members recognized the 7th grade girls’ basketball team from Kingsley Junior High School for having won the Illinois Elementary School Association 7th grade Class 4A championship in December. KJHS defeated Edwardsville Lincoln Junior High, 27-12, to take the division crown on Dec. 9. KJHS held an all-school assembly to celebrate the team’s accomplishment on Dec. 14.

Members of the girls’ basketball team are: Kali Meier, Bailey Larsen, Corinne Monroe, Emily Hamm, Raven Hughes, Caley Oltman, Emma Brown, Chante Stonewall, Rachel Zimmerman, Nia Gilbert, Amber Nanni, Julie Lemke, Claire Weber, and Kendall Sosa.

“Good News” About New National Board Certified Teachers Recognized: A total of 15 teachers from nine district schools were honored for having achieved the designation as National Board Certified Teachers. The group was honored with a reception prior to the school board meeting, as well as being honored at the meeting.

Rep. Dan Brady (R-88th Dist.), briefly attended the meeting, and personally handed certificates to the new Board Certified teachers while Jim Braksick, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, introduced the teachers to Board members.

The teachers receiving the honor (and the schools they represent) are: Elizabeth Beckman and Karen Bohl (Parkside Junior High School); Tracey Boyer (Cedar Ridge Elementary); Stacy Brobston, Benjamin Luginbuhl, Erin Sanders, Kevin Suess, and Laura Thomas (Normal Community High School); Rebecca Franks, Vicki Kafer, and April Schermann (Normal Community West High School); Traci Freitag (Oakdale Elementary School); Nicole Gallier (Kingsley Junior High School); Brandy Hedrick (Pepper Ridge Elementary School); and Melissa Smith (Fox Creek Elementary School).

In 1997, Illinois’ state legislature passed the Illinois Teaching Excellence Act, stipulating the only way for teachers to receive the Illinois Master Teaching Certificate was to achieve National Board Certification. To date, 57 Unit 5 teachers have received this honor. Nationally, there are 82,000 teachers and counselors certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“Good News” From NCHS & Normal West: Dr. Jeanette Nuckolls, Principal of NCHS, and Tom Eder, Principal of Normal West, jointly informed Board members that staffers from the English departments of the two schools have been working recently to revamp their curriculum at the two schools. Led by NCHS’ Nicole Maurer and West’s Remy Garard, the two schools have been working to revise the entire high school English curriculum in order to align it with the newly adopted Common Core State Standards.

During the first semester of the school year, the English departments received grants from the Kroger Company and State Farm Insurance to support the purchase of new texts as a means of getting the process started.

Additionally, State Farm has awarded the English departments a Systemic Improvement in Education grant in the amount of $1,500. That money will help the departments purchase a variety of novels for the Literature Circle unit which is part of the new 9th grade English I curriculum.

Relay For LifeBloomington, Illinois – January 27, 2011 – Relay For Life of McLean County is pleased to introduce its Honored Male, Honored Female, Honored Youth Survivor, and Honored Caregiver for its 2011 Relay. The following individuals were introduced at a “Kick-off” dinner for this year’s Relay, held at the DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center, Bloomington, on Jan. 22.

Meet Our Honored Female Survivor…Marla Behrends: Marla, Bloomington, was diagnosed with Acute Myologenous Leukemia, or AML Leukemia in July 2010 and recently finished her chemotherapy treatments. Her doctors have told her bone marrow is growing very nicely and is in remission. Marla has been a Farm broadcaster for 25 years for Radio Stations WKAN AM in Kankakee and WJBC AM in Bloomington. Currently, Marla is the Industry Image Relations Manager for Illinois for Midwest Dairy Association. Marla, and her husband Randy live in Carlock, and have two grown children, and one granddaughter.

Meet Our Honored Male Survivor…Steve Brienen: Steve, Danvers, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at in 1989. He had a reoccurrence in 2004 with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His current status is long term remission. Steve has been married to his wife, Lucerne for 45 years. They have three grown children: Shaun, Erin, and Mark. Steve served as McLean County Sheriff from 1978 until he retired in 1998. Following his time in the Sheriff’s Office, Steve served as a Labor Management Consultant at Illinois Sheriffs’ Association for ten years, helping local communities. He is semi-retired now, working part time behind a mic as a Radio talk show host at Bloomington radio station WJBC AM.

Meet Our Honored Youth Survivor…Alex Scott: Alex, Heyworth, was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic Wilms’ Tumor, a form of Kidney Cancer, on April 26, 2004. It metastasized to Alex’s right lung. He was 7 years old and enjoying 1st grade at the time. He has successfully survived five years post treatment as of November 16, 2009. Alex is now considered cured, having passed the five-year mark. His parents are Jeff and Jen Scott. He has a sister, Stephanie, 17, and younger brother, Carson, 9. Alex and his friend, James Welander (who was our Honored Youth in 2009) carried the Heyworth Band banner during the survivor lap at our Relay in 2010.

Meet Our Honored Caregiver…Tracey Vincent: Tracey Vincent, Normal, became the caregiver for her daughter Rachel. Rachel attended Normal Community High School and was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue Sarcoma in the fall of 2007. Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer in January of 2009. In 2010, Tracey and a group of Rachel’s friends formed a Relay team in Rachel’s memory. They plan on continuing the tradition this year. Tracy has worked for State Farm in Bloomington for over 18 years and is currently an Analyst in the Agency Department at Corporate. Her son, Jason, 22, is a senior at the University or Illinois majoring in Nuclear Engineering. Jason participates in Relay at the U of I with his fraternity.

The American Cancer Society defines a caregiver “as a family member, friend, loved one, or other support person who lends physical, emotional, or other support to someone at any time during the cancer journey and continues to do so for those who have lost a loved one to cancer.”

Relay For Life of McLean County hopes to raise $630,000 in 2011 and have at least 145 teams and 500 survivors at their annual Relay. Relay For Life of McLean County will be held from noon to noon June 24-25, 2011, at Normal Community West High School.

Recently, our local event was honored by being named the #10 Relay For Life Event in the World and previously #1 in the State of Illinois by the American Cancer Society for money raised at their 2010 Relay For Life Event. Since it began in McLean County in 1994, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $5.5 Million to fight cancer. If you would like to start a team, become a Corporate Sponsor or if you are a Survivor, please visit our website at to see how you can become a part of this wonderful community event to fight cancer

More information may be obtained by contacting either of our Event Co-chairs, Fran Massie at 309-664-1612 or Dede Verplaetse (VER-plates) at 309-662-4890.

By Steve Robinson | January 24, 2011 - 8:51 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe 100th Annual McLean County Tournament has come and gone, leaving many who attended with more great memories. By now, when people think back on this year’s event, it will have the feeling similar to what people feel after leaving a great party. In this case, you saw old friends, talked of old memories, and saw exhibits recounting previous tourneys. From what I saw, young and old alike were impressed.

Don Harden enjoyed looking over all the displays that were on hand in the Shirk Center, just outside its arena. Harden coached basketball for two schools in the tournament: Bellflower, from 1960-1986, and at Blue Ridge from 1986 to 1992.

“I coached for 31 years but only coached 30 county tournament teams,” the 77-year-old Harden is quick to point out. “That’s because, my first year at Blue Ridge, they didn’t get the schedule right so we could play here.”

If Harden started in 1960, that meant he started his coaching career on the sidelines of McLean County Tournament games when they were held at McCormick Hall on Illinois State University’s campus.

“At that time, playing in McCormick was a wonderful opportunity,” Harden said. “We did not about stadiums such as you have today. You know, all we knew was, ‘we’re going onto a college floor to play.’

“We didn’t realize it wasn’t the biggest floor in the world,” Harden said. He recalls the gym not being big enough, really, to separate the teams at halftime, causing the coaches and their teams to seek neutral corners of the building for their halftime pep talk. “It was a great experience. At that time, it was a great floor and we enjoyed it.”

When the tourney moved to McCormick Hall to Horton Field House, Harden said, “That was a different ball game because you were in a great big arena.” Imagine Harden saying the words “great big” with a bit of a stretch in his voice. “But it was a good experience to play in a big arena and the crowds were very good.”

Chet Eyer was in attendance and very proud to show me a picture of him and his teammates from the 1946-47 Anchor High School Aces team. Eyer said there are just two team members of the team’s original five who still live in Anchor. The rest have found sunnier climes in which to live.

But the one thing about the Aces Eyer points out is that, although he and his teammates went 19-3 that year, the Aces never won the county tournament, which they played at McCormick Hall. Eyer and his teammates have the distinction of beating Normal Community High School, 44-42, at the County Tourney that year, but later lost in Regionals to University High, 42-36.

“We had a good year,” Eyer said simply. One could say Anchor kept a light burning the longer they were on the court. That’s because he remembers there being a large county map with all the schools on it and a light on the board representing each school.

Back in those days, the tourney was a single elimination event. “Once you lost, your school’s light on that map went out,” Eyer remembers.

trophy-mctourn.jpgFormer Lexington High School head coach Don Eiker coached the Minutemen from 1969-1990, allowing himself and his players to see the tournament literally change field houses — from the one named for “Pop” Horton to the one named for Fred Young. He said going from one field house to another required players to make some adjustments.

He said when his kids took to the court, the rectangular backboards that hung from the ceiling “looked like postage stamps” if a player was at the other end of the floor. “If you shot 20 percent that first night, you were probably doing pretty well,” he said.

“Fred Young had more of the atmosphere of a small school,” Eiker said, contrasting the IWU venue to ISU’s Horton.

Chuck Barekman played for Saybrook-Arrowsmith’s championship team in 1983, outlasting Gridley, 62-60 for the county title. He said remembers the concrete wall that was at one end of the building as you entered Fred Young Fieldhouse, home of the tournament from 1971 until 1994, the predecessor to Shirk Center.

“As soon as you entered Fred Young, there was a big concrete wall there,” Barekman, a local truck driver, remembers. “You had to walk around the wall to see the gym, so there’s a little bit of nostalgia for me about that gym.”

Barekman struck me as being a bit of a purist concerning the tournament when he told me, that, as far as he is concerned this McLean County Tournament is not the McLean County Tournament he grew up on and played in. To him, just having a handful of county teams surrounded by teams from Tazewell, Champaign, and Woodford Counties, as I explained in an earlier column, does not seem the same.

“When they stopped playing the tournament at Fred Young…,” Barekman said, trying to finish his thought, “…It’s not the same.”

Jeff Hinman, who, in addition to being principal of Tremont High School, is also head of the Heart of Illinois Conference, said HOIC Bylaws prevent the name of the tournament from being changed.

Barekman’s response to that: “It’s still not the McLean County Tournament. There is only one county school in the tournament now, and that’s Blue Ridge. It’s just not the McLean County Tournament anymore.

“It’s great that they kept the county tournament going, you know,” Barekman concluded. “But, being a player from those days, for me, it’s not just the same.”

Eiker responds to Barekman’s lament by saying adding teams from outside the county became a necessity in later years. “When I first started coaching and we played at Horton, I think there were 13 teams,” Eiker recalled. “At that time, we began play on Saturday and played all week.

“But once consolidation of school districts happened, the number of schools dropped. That meant you were going to have to bring in some outside teams, anyway,” Eiker said. “It was inevitable.”

When Harden attended the tournament this year, he admitted this year was his 50th year of attending the annual event. “I hated like heck to miss the first 50,” he said with a chuckle.

This event does its part to keep winter blahs at bay, at least for a week, anyway. I turned 50 last October. I would like to be able to say I will see the next 50 of this tournament, myself. I probably will not make that many, but we all should be glad that this event will be around for future generations to enjoy.