By Steve Robinson | September 30, 2011 - 6:28 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – From the perspective of its superintendent, the busing system for Normal-based Unit 5 School District was in need of an update.

To achieve this, District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus announced to School Board members, at their Sept. 28 meeting at district headquarters, that a number of changes are going to be made immediately to how the district handles the transportation part of its business. Niehaus spoke of a meeting he attended of the district’s Transportation Committee on Sept. 24.

“We need drivers immediately,” Niehaus said of the need for folks behind the wheel. He said the district needed more drivers and need better quality training of those drivers. Last year, the district hired 22 drivers but dismissed 19 drivers who either quit or were fired for poor job performance.

To fill in some of the gaps in staffing behind the wheel, Niehaus said the district was looking into rehiring about 11 people who had driven for the district before and exited the driver job for other reasons other than having been terminated. He said there were 11 people on that list, and that the district has made contact with four of them to date.

If the district cannot find enough drivers that way, Niehaus said, it may look into obtaining drivers from First Student, a private bus company.

The district has a total of roughly 160 drivers on its payroll, according to Joe Adelman, Unit 5’s director of operations.

Niehaus said the district also needs to get Global Positioning Systems installed on all of its 155 buses. Adelman said “just about half” of the district’s buses have Zonar System GPS currently. Adelman added GPS needs to be added to older buses, but that newer buses already have the system.

Niehaus said there also needs to be faster turnaround on responding to parents’ calls and complaints. Such “open ticket” calls, as the district refers to them, must be settled within 24 hours.

He added drivers will be put on a time clock, as well, being asked to clock in and out when their shifts start and end. Doing that, Niehaus said, will result in “more accountability” for the drivers and the district.

District To Receive Gates Foundation Grant: Niehaus announced that Unit 5 will be part of a state pilot program being funded by The Gates Foundation. Illinois is one of five states The Gates Foundation selected to look at the Illini Data Tracking system, being used by both Unit 5 and Bloomington School District 87.

The Illini Data Tracking system gives teachers direct access to 29 different kinds of data about a student. That data, in this case, includes individual student’s name and health and contact information.

The two districts will now participate in helping the state make a pilot program for all of Illinois.

Board Approves ’11-’12 Budget: Board members unanimously approved the district’s $137 million budget for the new school year, which was presented to them by the district’s Business Manager, Erik Bush. He indicated that achieving a balanced budget next year “will be tougher than this year.”

Bush laid out a proposed budget for the 2011-2012 school year at the Board’s Aug. 24 meeting. Under the proposed budget, the district has $87 million in its Education fund; $10.9 million in its Operations and Maintenance fund; $7.7 million in its Transportation fund.

There are increases in every fund from when the budget was first proposed, Bush said. The district’s Education budget has been increased between $2.5-$3 million; the district’s Operations and Maintenance budget has been increased by $1 million; and the district’s Transportation budget has been increased by $1 million, as well.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2011 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

The way the members of University High’s football team see things, their 34-8 win over Bloomington Central Catholic at the Annual Intercity Football Game earlier this month was only the beginning.

As Carson Schumacher, Pioneers junior defensive end, explained it to me, “The teams of University High have decided to sweep Central Catholic in every sport this year.”

He said it seems as though BCC has dominated U-High long enough that, in the life of these high school kids, has seemed to last, in Schumacher’s words, “forever…”

Forever can seem like, well…, forever, when you are a teenager.

The quest for a perfect season against another school ended quickly though for the Pioneers, as the Saints beat U-High in the opening round of the Intercity Volleyball Tournament, held Saturday at Normal Community West High School. The Saints victory over the Pioneers with scores of 25-15 and 25-21 brought a quick end to what looked like the beginning of Pioneer dominance which had begun with U-High winning their football showdown.

The loss behind them, the Pioneers Volleyball squad won their match against their very next opponent at Intercity, Normal Community High, 26-24, 23-25, and 25-18.

Jake Phelan, Pioneers senior right guard, said he thinks the string of 62 wins the Pioneers Volleyball team has had this season prior to losing to BCC Saturday “is pretty impressive.” He said members of the football and volleyball squads did spend a little time talking about the streak.

Both guys said the Pioneers netters took their loss to Central Catholic a little hard, from what they saw. So now, it looks like the stated goal from the Pioneers’ point-of-view is to make sure those two losses to the Saints are the only ones U-High fans will have to bring up by the time the school year ends next May.

Maggie Hayes, a BCC senior, was the only Saints student I could find as the tournament wound down into its last matches. She reminded me there has always been a rivalry between her school and U-High.

“We grew up with each other through elementary school,” Hayes said of the familiarity with kids who became Pioneers. “We just want to beat each other. I think it’s just always been that way between the two schools.

“Our losing the football game was a huge ordeal for us,” Hayes said about U-High’s Intercity Game victory. “Our guys wanted a rematch afterward because they had such a bad game.”

The Saints will have to wait until next September for that specific rematch. In the meantime, there is an entire school year of sports events just waiting to be played to see if U-High can carry out the vow the football players mentioned to me, or if, in contrast, the Saints will earn a few more wins in other sports as they did Saturday at the nets.

Time — and final scores — will tell.

On another subject, Friday night is the annual “Chili Bowl” between Unit 5 football rivals Normal Community High and Normal Community West High. This year’s 7p.m. game is at NCHS. NCHS holds a commanding 13-3 lead in the series going into Friday’s contest at Ironmen Stadium.

With the Ironmen and Wildcats both undefeated, but in different classes in football (NCHS is Class 7A; West in Class 6A), it is almost a shame to have to see one of these two programs lose this game. Last year, West earned a 17-0 shutout victory in the game played at Wildcat Field. It was the fourth time in the series, which began in 1995 when Normal West opened, that the game ended in a shutout. It was West’s first time winning in one.

We may get a little in-depth TV coverage from the big “Chili Bowl” event. In addition to radio and newspapers covering it, Peoria’s WMBD-TV, Channel 31, has had this game on their website since the season started as their game-of-the-week. I’m sure that the WEEK-TV/WHOI-TV combo will give the game a little attention, as well.

Finally, congratulations to Bloomington’s Holy Trinity Junior High on their 3rd place finish at the Illinois Elementary School Association Class A Softball Championship Tournament at Champion Fields on Saturday. Holy Trinity claimed that position by finishing their season 25-3 after a commanding 14-0 win in five innings against Buffalo Tri-City.

NORMAL–High school students who have emotional disturbances face a 1-out-of-2 risk ofnot finishing to the 12th grade to get their diploma. Without thatdiploma, finding work and thus, contributing to society, could be difficult.

But three teachers at NormalCommunity High School who specialize in dealing with students who haveemotional and behavioral disorders believe they have hit upon a plan to helptheir students to learn a skill while, at the same time, aid the school to earna little extra income down the road.

NCHS Student Support Staff membersHilary Ruyle, Carrie Leonard, and Molly Stolfa, joined by Unit 5 Horticultureteacher Dr. Kevin Enderlin, have won the second annual $10,000 “Beyond The Box”Grant, sponsored by the Beyond The Books Educational Foundation. The grantproject is a joint venture between NCHS’ Special Education and Agriculturedepartments.

In the project, titled “HorticultureTherapy,” teachers will use the greenhouse behind the high school as theirclassroom for these students, operating it as a business. The students involvedin the project will own an equal share of the business.

Amongthe skills the students will learn as part of the project are:

• Landscape design and installation: Studentswill design and install landscape around the outside of the greenhouse.

• Managing of public relations for theproject, including activities which will draw parent, staff, and communitysupport for the project.

• Teachers involved in the project willcoordinate with Master Gardeners, local nurseries, and local companies as guestspeakers and expert resources. This aspect of the project would include fieldtrips to horticulture-related businesses in the community.

• Students will begin planting andtransplanting vegetable and flower bedding plants in the greenhouse. They willcare for the plants until May. By May, the students will offer the plants forsale to parents, staff, and the community-at-large. Any flowers not sold willbe planted by the students into a school landscape.

Studentsin this project will plant tomato and pepper plants from seeds at the start ofthe spring semester, Enderlin said.

Threestudents involved in the project are Tyler Teste, 16, a sophomore; MichaelJackson, 15, a sophomore; and Jacob Rodgers, 14, a freshman. Jackson said heknew there was a similar program for horticulture at Normal Community WestHigh, the school he transferred to NCHS from.

“Ithink the whole aspect of what the teachers put together had aspects we hadseen before, but with agriculture being the subject, everybody is trying to gogreen,” said Gail Ann Briggs, a member of the Beyond The Books Foundation Boardand a Unit 5 School Board member.

“Itwas a highly ranked project for us,” Briggs said about the Beyond The Books grantcommittee in their deliberations over which project should get the $10,000grant. “It’s for a population that needs more of their needs met.”

“Theway Dr. Enderlin had collaborated and cooperated with other agencies to securefunding from other groups” showed the committee awarding the grant promise thatthe project would be a project that would see continued use and growth into thefuture, Briggs explauined. For Briggs, that was one of the selling points ofthe project.

“Ilook at staying power,” Briggs said about one of the criteria that helped herdecide to award the grant to this project. She added this project has a lot ofsubstance and equipment needed for growing plants. She said students wouldlearn the business aspect of this activity, giving them a chance to earn incomefor the school from the products they sold.

“I’mreally pleased that the NCHS Ag department will be a working facility,” Briggssaid. “This project is just really outstanding.

By Steve Robinson | September 10, 2011 - 10:31 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – A passing rain shower just before Normal West took the field against Big 12 foe Champaign Central on Sept. 9 made the field muddy and a little treacherous for both sides. But Normal West weathered the conditions and their opponents, defeating the Maroons, 61-21, en route to their third straight win on the season at Wildcat Field.

Junior quarterback Alex Jefferson scored the first of two touchdowns on the night for West (3-0 and 3-0 in Big 12) from a yard out with 14:22 left in the first quarter, capping a 6 play 35 yard drive, putting West up, 6-0. The extra point try by senior kicker Geoffrey Kohlhase was no good. It turned out to be the only points by either side in the first quarter.

An interception of Central senior quarterback Mitchell Baker by West senior defensive back Johnathon Maebane stopped a Champaign Central drive and gave West the ball at their own 17-yard line at 1:47 left in the first quarter. Seven plays later, Jefferson dashed nearly untouched 58 yards for West’s second touchdown of the night. Senior running back Cory Ortiz’s successful two-point conversion run increased West’s lead to 14-0 with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.

An interception of Baker by West senior defensive lineman Nicholas Bell became a 35-yard defensive touchdown for the Wildcats at 10:51 in the second quarter, increasing West’s lead, 21-0, following a successful extra point by sophomore kicker Zach Breen.

Champaign Central (1-2, 1-2 Big 12) would get their first points of the night when, first, it started their next series of downs from the West 4 yard line. Three plays later, senior running back Brad Wright would go into the end zone from two yards out, followed by a successful extra point by junior kicker Cameron Miller. That cut West’s lead to 21-7, with 9:04 in the second quarter.

Champaign would get the ball back four plays later picking off a Jefferson pass, starting a drive from West’s 35 yard line. Two plays later, Maroons senior tight end Noah Lessaris, as part of a trick to fool Wildcat defenders, connected on a 40-yard pass to senior receiver Jamir Stovall for a score with 7:08 left in the first half. The successful extra point by Miller would cut West’s lead to seven, 21-14.

West would increase its lead to 28-14 in one play – a 58 yard pass from Jefferson to Maebane at 6:52 in the quarter, upping the Wildcats’ lead, following an extra point by Kohlhase.

A 32-yard field goal by Breen at 3:07 in the second quarter capped a 9 play, 54 yard drive which Champaign Central had applied pressure against, forcing the Wildcats to kick. The field goal, however, increased West’s lead, 31-14.

The ensuing next drive by Champaign resulted in a fumble, recovered by West at the Maroons’ 22 yard line. Two plays later, senior running back Cory Ortiz took the ball into the end zone from 6 yards out. That was followed by another Kohlhase extra point, pushing West ahead, 38-14, at1:53 in the quarter, a score West would own going into halftime.

West opted to defer receiving the ball after winning the coin toss before the game started, thus getting the ball when the second half opened, and they wasted no time scoring on the Maroons again with a 37 yard field goal by Breen, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 41-14, at 8:07 left in the third quarter.

As if the damp conditions weren’t enough, right after Kohlhase kicked the field goal, the sprinkler system at Wildcat Field came on briefly, wetting the field a little more. Play resumed quickly a few minutes after the sprinklers were turned off.

Lessaris, who had thrown a pass earlier, caught a 30 yard pass from Baker for a touchdown at 5:44 in the third quarter. That was followed by another successful Miller extra point, cutting West’s lead, 41-21. But it was also the last points of the night Champaign Central would get past West’s defense to score.

Jefferson connected with junior receiver Matt Hunsaker on a 22 yard touchdown strike, completing an 8 play, 27 yard march, giving West a 47-21 lead following a missed extra point.

West senior running back Braxton Moore cut loose for a one-play score from midfield with 1:27 left in the third quarter, increasing West’s advantage, 54-21, following another Breen extra point.

The Wildcats last score of the night came on a 13-yard pass from Jefferson to junior wide receiver Terrance Fisher, capping a 7 play, 65 yard march, with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter. The score was topped off by another Kohlhase extra point, leading to what was the final score. Because that touchdown gave West a 40-point margin over their opponents, game officials employed the use of the IHSA Mercy Rule, using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for team timeouts or injury timeouts.

Because of the damp condition of the field, West head coach Darren Hess said he knew “we were going to have to run the ball a little bit more. That’s something we haven’t had to do the first two weeks.”

“I was proud of our offensive line, and our backs ran hard,” Hess said. “I thought Alex Jefferson did a nice job of running the offense again. Central pushed us. They’re fighters, and we finally had a game where we had to respond to that.

“We tried to put some pressure on their offense,” Hess said, talking about his team’s defensive play against the Maroons, who committed at least four turnovers, in effect, handing the Wildcats four chances for putting more points on the board.

By Steve Robinson | September 7, 2011 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Usually high school sports columns get devoted to people – players, coaches, fans, parents – and become the object of everything from pride to curiosity depending on the reader.

This might not be a first, but I am going to give it a try. I want to devote this column to Normal Community West High getting its new scoreboard at their football home, Wildcat Field.

In July, the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board approved purchasing the $79,000 scoreboard, and awarded a $56,000 contract to Bloomington-based Weber Electric to do the installation. The new scoreboard is in the northwest corner of the stadium.

But its being there is not because Unit 5 was being generous for generosity’s sake. The district put up its money once the Normal West football boosters, known as The Gridiron Club, raised and donated an additional $54,000 for the project.

The new board has a video screen which can be used to advertise local products and services – for which said advertisers would pay for the ad space – thus generating a little revenue for West and giving the advertisers another potential venue to make themselves known to the public. More than likely, the advertisers are hoping for a long football season for the Wildcats beyond the nine-week regular season, pushing into the playoffs, giving the advertisers a few extra weeks – at least – of recognition.

Those extra weeks would also be giving Normal West a few extra weeks – they are hoping – to show what this new board can do.

School groups could also use the board for promotional purposes, Normal West High Athletic Director Stan Lewis said. He gave the example of if band members knew of a business interested in buying an ad, the group could sell the ad to the business. Sounds to me like you would be teaching business skills to the kids as a result of having this new board.

It won’t just be advertisers who might take a turn on the board, Lewis said. “Our other groups at school are going to be able to use it as well.”

“The Gridiron Club was interested in using it to create revenue from some potential advertisers,” explained Lewis. “That’s how we got into the video board aspect of it.”

Lewis said the school district worked out a lease arrangement with one of the local banks, and the school will be paying on the lease over time.

The old scoreboard has been around for 16 years, since Normal West came into being, and needing to be replaced, Lewis said.

“The old board has pretty much given its useful life,” Lewis explained.

The old board used light bulbs. The new one uses LED technology, Lewis points out. “Between getting kicked with extra points and field goals because it was directly behind the goal post, added to the fact that that type of technology is outdated,” Lewis said, the time probably had come to replace the old board.

And as with all new technology, at least a few extra sets of hands are needed to help operate it. Lewis said it took two people to operate the old scoreboard. He said the new board’s video aspect will require two additional people to help with it; and because there is a 25-second play clock at each end of the field now, a third person will be monitoring those.

Those three extra people join two other people who will run the part of the board that deals with what those of us in the stands and press box check out most during games: The game clock, score, time outs, downs, and yards-to-go.

You may recall a picture of Normal West teacher Dan Higby in The Normalite, a couple weeks ago or so, showing him working one part of the new board. That picture took a little effort because I did not want to get in the way of the folks operating the board.

While Wildcats players are exerting energy trying to beat their opponents, the school will be saving money on energy using this new technology, Lewis said.

“A lot of the credit for moving this project along goes to our Gridiron Club officers,” Lewis said.

Finally, I still have the Football Intercity Doubleheader bouncing around in my brain (probably because it kept me out past my bedtime, spending most of that time wondering if I would ever cool down from being the heat for that long, and because it was so hot — even at that late hour).

I would like to hear the thoughts of readers about this year’s game, and how, if at all, pushing the start time back two hours affected you, your family, and friends. If you are a parent or grandparent of a player, let me know. Please send me an email to let me know what your thoughts were. I would like to hear and print some of your thoughts. I’ll do that in the coming weeks. Send them to me at, and put the words “Intercity Doubleheader” in the subject line of your email. I look forward to hearing from you.