BLOOMINGTON– Todd Peterson probably never dreamed that, after playing basketball in Europefor the past couple years, that his first minor league assignment would put himless than 30 minutes away from his native Pekin.

And yet, thanks to a phone call fromA. J. Guyton, the one-time point guard and shooting guard with the ChicagoBulls in the early 2000s and now is head coach of the expansion CentralIllinois Drive of the Premier Basketball League, being just that close to homeand having family and friends come see him play is a reality.

Playing power forward for the Drive,an expansion team which debuted in the Premier Basketball League when PBL’sseason started earlier this month, Peterson said he is charged by his coachwith bringing “a defensive presence” on the court at the Drive’s home arena,U.S. Cellular Coliseum, as well as on the road.

“It’s my job to help create mistakes(made by the opposition),” Peterson explained.

A 2002 graduate of Pekin CommunityHigh School, before joining the Drive, Peterson last played basketball inBloomington-Normal at the Illinois High School Association Super-Sectionals,when the Dragons squared off against Springfield Lamphier High School.

Peterson spent the last two-and-a-half years playing the game in France and Switzerland.He started getting calls from and having conversations with Guyton and formerBradley University star and now teammate Daniel Ruffin, encouraging him to tryout for the Drive. Now that he is here, Peterson and Ruffin are helping draw infans. They are doing it not just by scoring, but by making personal connectionswith fans.

As of Jan. 29, the Drive is a perfect 6-0, and Peterson is tied for 30thin the league in scoring with 82 points, including 11 treys. The man he is tiedwith is former Illinois State University standout and current Chicago Muscleveteran Rico Hill. Defensively, Peterson’s

6 foot 8 inch frame has allowed him to be close to the top in blocks in theleague with 5 in six games, putting him 9th overall in the league inthat category.

Peterson said being able to earn his keep so close to home has been fun. “I’ve been outof the country for a long time, so (my family) couldn’t see a lot of my gamesunless they got on a plane, so, this is nice because they are right in thePekin-Peoria area, and all they have to do is get on (Interstate) 74. It’s justgreat news for them.”

Peterson’sbeing here has been great news for the Drive and their fans, too. His coachGuyton, is glad he was able to land the big forward, as well.

PBL is one of nearly a dozen minor leagues in basketball today. Even so, Petersonsaid playing in Bloomington with a PBL team can help get players noticed and movingfrom PBL to a league like the National Basketball Developmental League, thedevelopmental wing of NBA. For some, being in Bloomington could lead to playingin European leagues, too.

“Todd is definitely a leader,” Guyton said. “With his experience and where he’s beenin his career and how hard he works, and his I. Q. for the game, you have nochoice but to follow a guy like Todd and guys like (Ruffin)…guys who have donethis before.”

Even Peterson’s opponents are impressed with what he has shown so far. Hill, aforward and center for the Chicago Muscle, the team posing the closest threatto the Drive in the division, noted contributions Peterson was making on thecourt.

“He helped spread the floor,” Hill said after a season-opening loss here earlierthis month. “He’s probably their best shooter.”

Rim Shots: Headquartered in Chicago, PBL has nine teams playing in twodivisions….The cities PBL teams play in stretch from Rochester, N. Y. to St.Louis…..PBL plays a quick 20-game regular season followed by playoffs…….TheRochester Razorsharks are PBL’s current champions, having won the league titlefor three straight years….The Drive is owned by Bloomington businessman JimMorris, whose business ventures include operating two Sonic Drive-Inrestaurants in the Twin Cities….Morris recently purchased Bloomington’s IndoorFootball League franchise from developer Ed Brady. That franchise, the BloomingtonExtreme, which had existed from 2006-2011, will play in IFL under Morris’ownership with a new name starting in 2012: The Bloomington Edge.

By Steve Robinson | January 29, 2012 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – With both sides in the game wearing jerseys of different shades of pink, the annual charity game between Unit 5’s two high schools’ girls teams may have had a different color tone, even if the tone of each team’s intensity in this rivalry did not change. After all, the teams themselves were not looking for charity, but for victory for themselves.

In the process, Normal Community West rolled to a 58-42 victory, running their record to 12-7 overall, and 9-1 in the Big 12 Conference.

The contest started out close, with West owning a slim 12-10 lead after one quarter, but West went on a quick 6-2 run in the second quarter which featured baskets by junior guard Rachel Weber and freshman guard Keely Theobald. Theobald fouled NCHS senior guard Sara Freed, who sank 1-of-2 free throws, cutting West’s lead to 18-13 with 5:21 left in the quarter. West would own a 27-20 halftime lead.

Junior guard Abby Bender would open the third quarter with two of her 11 points on the night for NCHS (4-9, 2-8 in Big 12), cutting West’s lead to 27-22 at 6:47 of the third quarter. The only other player in double figures for West would be junior guard Luci Weis with 12 points.

But after that, West reeled off 10 unanswered points, including three straight baskets before senior forward Kayla Koenig dropped 1-of-2 free throws and a deuce in the basket, halting West’s march at 37-25 with 2:04 in the quarter. Although sophomore guard Brittany Turner’s three in the closing moments of the quarter narrowed the gap for the Ironmen, they still trailed West going into the fourth quarter, 41-28.

West jumped out to a 53-36 lead with 3:43 left in the game, aided by two baskets by junior guard Kennola Thomas, and a deuce by Theobald. Weis’ layup with 2:40 left cut West’s lead to 53-40, and senior guard Kayla Carstens’ deuce at 1:49 brought the Ironmen within 14, 56-42, forcing West to take a timeout to regroup. West junior guard Rachel Weber would be fouled twice by NCHS inside the last minute of the contest, and would subsequently go 2-for-4 from the charity stripe, resulting in the final score.

“Normal Community made a run and they got within eight, and what I told our girls in the locker room afterward was that I think it was a sign of our team maturing…our juniors (thinking like) seniors, our sophomores (thinking like) juniors, and our freshmen (thinking like) sophomores out on the court,” Normal West head coach Angie Codron said afterward. Normal West has no seniors on this year’s squad.

“It was nice to see our girls mature and handle that little run of NCHS that they made to get it within eight,” Codron said. “Our team has been in a lot of close situations where teams have made runs on us and we let them come back into games. That is something that we’ve talked about, so it was kind of nice to see them handle that run without my having to call a time out to help them adjust.”

“You’ve got to be real proud of our kids,” said interim NCHS head coach Andy Turner. “We have nine turnovers on the day, we created some ball pressure and some turnovers that they didn’t anticipate making. With four minutes left in the game, you still weren’t sure who was going to win it.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Turner added. “They did exactly what it takes to be competitive at that level. Nobody asked why. They just got after it and it what they had to do.”

By Steve Robinson | January 28, 2012 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – For a third straight meeting, Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board continued hearing public comments at their Jan. 25 meeting about their decision in December to unanimously to seek bids for a contractor for its busing operations, over the objections of drivers currently employed by the district.

As at two previous Board meetings, some of those public comments came during this meeting from current drivers employed by the district who had objections to the district seeking outside assistance.

Jeanne Calhoon, 106 E. Logan Dr., a driver with Unit 5 since 1990, told Board members that outsourcing services was comparable to putting duct tape on a leaky tire.” In effect, she said, it is only a temporary solution. She called financial compensation for the current Unit 5 drivers’ jobs “inadequate and non-competitive pay.”

Kristin Starks, 1316 Schroeder Dr., told Board members that fear, not anger over hiring third party drivers, brought her to the session. “It is a fear of losing that personal touch” that parents receive from drivers they regularly come in contact with on their children’s bus route. Having two of her three children who ride Unit 5 buses and have special needs, Starks said Unit 5 drivers know about how to communicate with her sons.

After hearing from those speakers, Board members unanimously voted to approve a resolution to authorize and direct District Superintendent Gary Niehaus to contract with a third party for the purpose of augmenting the current transportation workforce in an emergency situation. One of the companies the district used in November to assist in its transportation needs was Channahon, Ill.-based Illinois Central Bus Co. for services the company performed in transporting students in November.

That resolution is only a temporary solution for a limited amount of time. Board members will vote on a company for outsourcing of bus services for a longer stretch after receiving bids at their lone meeting in March.

District Spending To-Date Reviewed: Board members received a review of the district’s spending to date in the 2011-12 School year. District Business Manager Erik Bush told Board members the district’s Operations & Maintenance Budget “is trending to balance revenues and expenditures by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.” In addition, Bush said the district’s Transportation budget is on course to balance revenues and expenditures by the end of the fiscal year, as well.

Bush explained Unit 5 has spent $245,000 to pay for services from Illinois Central Bus Company, which has had drivers supporting some district routes. In addition, Bush said Unit 5 has budgeted for receiving three transportation payments from the State of Illinois, of which two have been received.

Bush said given continuing concern about state finances, district spending will continue to be tight through the end of the third quarter. He added that much like last year, Unit 5 should find itself with a positive balance come the end of the fiscal year.

Glenn Elementary’s “Good News”: Julia Schoonover, principal of Glenn Elementary School, introduced Board members to two of her teaching staff who have added technology into their classrooms. She explained that first grade teacher Cristie Koechle and fourth grade teacher Denise Holmes, currently serve as members of a technology task force for Unit 5. Schoonover explained that Koechle and Holmes” have taken the initiative to incorporate technology into the curriculum. This endeavor is one that requires creativity and focus as well as hours of planning outside the regular school day.

“These individuals are not only dedicated, but also, courageous in their Classrooms,” Schoonover wrote in a memo to Board members. According to their principal, “Within 24 hours of receiving the new technology at Glenn Elementary, the students in these two classrooms had the devices in their hands and were engaged in activities planned by their teacher.

“They are fearless with the technology,” Schoonover told Board members. “They’ve taken it on with full force.”

Schoonover explained that “learning by trial and error is commonplace in these classrooms and provides the children with real-world experiences. As a result, these students are highly engaged, active learners who have taken a new ownership of their learning.”

One example of that, Schoonover said was a lesson on reading in Koechle’s classroom where students, in teams of two, used video cameras, with one student reading as the second student videotaped their partner. The students who read could then see where they needed to improve their reading skills, as a result of what was on the tape. The next class period, the student who read would videotape their partner as they read.

After having done this exercise, Schnoover said, “Koechle brings back to our whole staff what she accomplished with the kids, and it gives other people the motivation and the confidence to try it in their classrooms.”

Holmes has been enlisting the help of a retired teacher, whom Schoonover did not name, who has been helping students with reading skills. It has gone so well that the students communicate with the retired teacher, even when the teacher is traveling on vacation, in order to make sure they are understanding their lessons.

By Steve Robinson | January 27, 2012 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

I decided to do a little research on thesubject of the duties of a high school athletic director after seeing NormalCommunity High School AD Andy Turner add one more to his own duties last week .Butmore about him shortly.

I just wanted to look at the matter in generalterms. Usually, the contact I have with our area athletic directors has to dowith making sure The Normalite has a spot handy for our staff (that would beme, and our photographer) at football and basketball games.

According to About.com, ADs “are responsible for preparing a budget, allocating spending onitems like coach’s salaries, team travel, equipment purchases, and facilityupkeep.” If you have been to football games, and you know any of our athleticdirectors, you may have seen them making last minute preparations to thefacilities.

About.com also explains that at the high school level, “Athletic directors work with coachesto determine scheduling of games and practices. They also work with conferencesand leagues on scheduling and other issues, like post-season play. Within aprogram, decisions may have to be made on how to allocate time for a field,court, or weight room. In addition, ADs often provide guidance for coaches.

ADs work with coaches to plan trips. They also coordinate officials and umpires at games andbudget for their pay. ADs file status reports on each team, including successesand noting areas where improvement is needed. They may mediate any disputesbetween athletes and coaches or between coaches.

That thumbnail sketch satisfied my curiosity about an AD position under normal circumstances. Butsince the beginning of the year, Turner has been adding another unexpected dutyto his list at NCHS: Interim Head girls’ basketball coach. He said that althoughhe does not teach classes, he said he “coaches every day.”

Turner has been on the frontlines of the Ironmen’s girls’ basketball program, serving as interim head coachof both the junior varsity and varsity squads after placing head coach MeganSchwefel and her assistants on administrative leave.

On Jan. 26, Turner was on thesidelines for one of the bigger games of the season, at rival Normal CommunityWest High School, with proceeds at the front gate of this game going to TheSusan G. Komen Foundation, which helps fight breast cancer. It’s an annualevent dubbed “the Pink game,” because both sides don pink jerseys for thecontest.

Turner was at the helm forboth the JV and varsity contests, and deflected entirely any questions abouthow he felt about being on the sidelines by saying, “the kids have done a greatjob. They have been absolutely fabulous. They’ve done a great job.”

And try as they might, theLady Ironmen did their best but could not overcome West, as the Wildcatsadvanced on to a 58-42 victory on their home court.

Turner said it has been “fiveor six years” since he was a head coach of a team. He did not, from what Iwitnessed from press row, seem ill at ease on the sidelines. But he was alsovery quick to take the spotlight off of himself or the current situation behindthe scenes, which anyone would understand.

“The kids have done everythingto make it enjoyable,” Turner told me following the loss. “They’ve done thingsto make it our games competitive and fun.

“They’ve done all the rightthings,” he said. “That’s the fun of it, right there. You’ve got to give allthe credit to the kids. They’ve done all the things that make it fun and makeit right.”

It also doesn’t hurt to havean AD who can take charge and do it calmly in the most stressful ofcircumstances. All of our high school ADs in this area have that gift from whatI have seen, and players, parents, and fans should all be grateful for that.That gift just got a little more noticeable given the situation at NCHS.

On a related note, concerningthe money raised at the “Pink” game, fans’ generosity needs to be noted, as theevent raised $544.69 for the Komen Foundation. And there is another charitygame yet to come between the boys’ high school teams that represent Unit 5 on Friday,Feb. 3, at Normal Community West High, starting with a 7:30p.m. tip. Donationswill be taken at the door with those proceeds going to the American HeartAssociation. Before the varsity tilt starts, the JV teams from these schoolswill play a 6p.m. game.

On another subject, I attendeda high school competition of a different kind on Thursday, Jan. 26, theIntercity Scholastic Bowl. Teams of five high school students from the areaschools competing in a knowledge test. Both Varsity and junior varsity wererepresented by all five schools. Bloomington High School was a perfect 4-0 inVarsity, with University High placing second going 3-1; Bloomington CentralCatholic placed third at 2-2; Normal West placed fourth at 1-3; and NCHS was0-4, placing fifth.

In the JV standings, thingswere a little different although BHS placed first with a 4-0 mark. But NCHScame in second at 3-1; Central Catholic placed third at 2-2; University Highplaced fourth at 1-3; and Normal West placed fifth at 0-4.

Whether varsity or junior varsity, all the teams from these schools are to be congratulated for theirefforts. In a future column, I will tell you more about this scholastic event.

Finally, best wishes go out to Rex Sligar. You may not know the name but if you spent any time getting snacksat Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center at either the Bloomington-NormalState Farm Holiday Tournament, or the McLean County/Heart of IllinoisConference Tournament, you probably can place his smiling face. He’s thebespectacled gentleman who runs the concession stand at IWU games and the highschool tourneys that come through there.

Rex has been recovering from arecent illness since late December, forcing him to miss part of the HolidayTourney and all of the County Tournament. Those of us who have seen Rexregularly over the years at these events wish him well and hope to see him backat the Shirk Center soon.

By Steve Robinson | January 22, 2012 - 10:11 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

There are a number of important lessons for kids in the story of Bodee Schlipf.

Schlipf is a 6 foot-4 junior guard on El Paso Gridley’s boys basketball team. Before the 101st McLean County/Heart of Illinois Basketball Tournament got underway, on Friday, Jan. 13, Schlipf spent that day as he was anticipating starting every school day of the new semester, in first hour Shop class. But by the end of the day, Bodee would make it to his team’s anticipated showdown against rival Fieldcrest.

But Bodee wouldn’t play.

That’s because he had a mishap in Shop – while operating a band saw, Bodee accidently cut tendons in his index and middle fingers on his left hand, severing them 90 percent. After the incident, he was rushed to a doctor who performed surgery to repair the tendons. “I got out of the hospital in time to watch the game against Fieldcrest,” Bodee said. “That’s the biggest game of the year. I made it back to watch, but I couldn’t play.”

The surgery required that his fingers be kept straight, and not bend. His coach, Nathaniel Meiss, said he understood it could be as long as six weeks before Bodee would be completely healed from the surgery.

But Bodee wanted to play, or at least try to play, even with the hand tightly wrapped. Prior to the Titans’ opening round game of the McLean County/HOI Tourney against Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Meiss made sure his fingers stayed protected by using, of all things, a kneepad used by baseball catchers, as a brace. Meiss then tightly wrapped tape around Bodee’s whole hand to keep him from inflicting any other injury to it. Of course, it was thought there might be limited use of his hand altogether as a result.

The start of this tale shows there are two lessons for high school kids to consider: First, be prepared for anything. Bodee was in a learning situation in his class and experienced something that was easily repaired by surgery.

The second lesson here is there will be other games. The one game Bodee missed – the one considered the team’s greatest challenge against their biggest rival on Jan. 13, Fieldcrest – was one game he had no choice but to pass on because of the day’s events. And as things turned out later in the week, Bodee would make up for missing that game, as you will see.

Bodee said he actually had time after the accident to go to Meiss, showing his coach the injury before going to the doctor for surgery. Although concerned about the young man’s health, Meiss said he and his players worked on a backup plan for that night without one of their key soldiers on the floor.

“It was not fun sitting out and watching the Fieldcrest game,” Bodee said of watching the game that night. He did play a little for the first time, with his tightly-wrapped hand, against Deer Creek-Mackinaw in a County/HOI Tourney quarterfinal game on Jan. 17. With some rest and a little team practice (not to mention getting used to the bandage), Bodee played in the semifinal contest three days later, which EPG lost to Downs Tri-Valley. That loss put Bodee and his teammates in the third place game against Ridgeview on Jan. 21.

Meiss said Bodee was “a little timid” in his play against Deer Creek-Mackinaw, not wanting to re-injure it. The only thing he and his teammates managed to injure, it appears, was Ridgeview’s pride, beating the Mustangs, 69-65, to claim third place in the Boys’ tournament. And Bodee, with a hand so tightly wrapped that his teammates had to tie his sneakers for him during games and practices through all this, turned out to be the high scorer of the third place contest, with a personal best 28 points.

One wouldn’t believe the recovery he is making, or at least leaving people thinking about recovery, having made shots, being able to dribble the ball, and passing. The only real problem he had during play was not being able to extend his wrist on shots.

Bodee said he comes from a competitive family, and he knew playing against Fieldcrest the night of the mishap wasn’t an option, but, “I just wanted to get back to playing as soon as I could.”

Here is lesson number 3, from Bodee himself to kids who might, someday, find themselves in this sort of spot: “Just try to make the best of it and play with the cards you’re dealt.”

If you were at the third place game, you know Bodee did just that, playing in grand fashion. Many times, stories like this take a long time to reach a conclusion, with the weeks passing waiting for a player to get back on the court while they recover.

It looks as though Bodee’s recovery phase is off to a grand start.