NORMAL – Morton High School head football coach Jason Thiry said he knew going into his team’s game against University High that his team would have to score at least four times to earn the victory against the Pioneers.

The Potters encountered two blocked punts by their hosts and came up one score short of their goal, as U-High defeated Morton, 35-21, at Hancock Stadium on Saturday.

U-High (1-0) marched 80 yards on 13 plays to earn the first score of the game, a two-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Arion Worthman to junior wide receiver Kane Wildermuth with 7:58 left in the first quarter. Junior kicker Luke Otto’s extra point put the Pioneers up, 7-0.

Morton (0-1) tied the score, 7-all, on a 25-yard touchdown pass when senior quarterback David Rossi connected with senior wide receiver Chase Taphorn with 1:57 left in the quarter. Senior kicker Connor Kindred’s extra point tied the score.

The Potters took a 14-7 lead when Rossi used a keeper play, rushing for 3 yards for a score with 3:10 left in the second quarter, followed by Kindred’s next extra point.

U-High closed the gap to 14-13 as Worthman connected for a second time with Wildermuth on a 45 yard touchdown score. But, to the surprise of the fans, Otto’s extra point strayed, smacking the goalpost’s right upright. It was a lead Morton owned going into halftime.

The Pioneers retook the lead early in the third quarter on a 12 yard run by junior running back Joe Johnson with 9:16 left in the third quarter, giving U-High a 20-14 lead after another successful Otto kick.

U-High’s first blocked Morton punt of the day came courtesy of senior defensive back Zach Zook with 8:04 in the third quarter. The block resulted in the Pioneers starting on their next possession on the Morton 5 yard line. Two plays later, Worthman dashed past defenders for a 1-yard touchdown. The Pioneers used a two-point conversion run by senior wide receiver Troy McBride to increase their lead, 28-14.

Morton’s final score came when Rossi connected with Taphorn a second time, for a 25- yard touchdown strike with 7:50 left in the contest, followed by another Kindred extra point.

U-High’s final score came into play thanks to defensive back Wildermuth and senior defensive back Dylan Farney blocking another Morton punt. Worthman would score shortly after that on a one-yard run. Otto’s extra point would lead to the eventual final score.

“We were happy to get out with a win because Morton is a really good football team,” U-High head coach Dusty Burk said afterward. “Obviously, special teams stepped up for us and played a key part in the game. Those two punt blocks were turning points in the football game.

“We’re happy with how our kids came out and attacked in the third quarter,” Burk continued. “I thought, overall that offense, defense, and special teams did a lot of good things. Obviously, being week one, we need to go watch film and find out about the things we need to improve upon, but, I’m certainly happy with the kids’ effort.”

“The style of offense U-High plays told us we were going to have to score at least four times to beat them today,” explained Thiry. “They beat us up front today and that was the big thing. They blocked two punts. When you get beat on the line on both sides of the ball and you give up special team plays like that, you’re not going to win football games.”

Morton players Chase Taphorn and Drew Taphorn are the sons of former Illinois State University basketball player Matt Taphorn.

Bloomington Central Catholic will host University High Friday at 7p.m. as part of the Intercity Doubleheader. NCHS will host Bloomington High School Friday at 7p.m. at Ironmen Field as part of that event. The games are being held in separate locations this year because of the renovations taking place during the week at the traditional site for the two-game event, Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University.

Also as a result of the renovation, U-High will play football on Saturdays for the next two seasons.

By Steve Robinson | August 26, 2012 - 10:37 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Jowonis Edwards’ senior season playing for Normal Community High School got of to a triple-threat start on Aug. 24, as the 5 foot-10, 170 pound running back scored three touchdowns, leading the Ironmen to a 21-12 season-opening win over Urbana at Ironmen Field.

After a scoreless first quarter, Urbana (0-1) turned over their first series of the second quarter on downs, giving the Ironmen the ball on NCHS’ 37 yard line. Following a short run by senior running back Tony Delgado-Conner and an incomplete pass, junior quarterback Colin Olson handed off the ball on third down to Edwards. Edwards burst through Urbana’s defensive line for a 53-yard score, with 9:39 left in the quarter. Junior kicker Grant Donath’s extra point gave NCHS’ “Senior Night” game a boost, with the Ironmen leading, 7-0.

Urbana senior running back Anterio Jones capped a 7-play, 97-yard drive with a 52-yard touchdown dash of his own, with 3:36 left until halftime. The Tigers attempted a two-point conversion which failed, cutting NCHS’ lead, 7-6.

Edwards’ next score came on a 70-yard dash with 51 seconds left until halftime, followed by another Donath extra-point, giving the Ironmen a 14-6 lead.

An interception by NCHS junior defensive back Easton Schaber of Urbana senior quarterback Cameron Mammen led to NCHS’ last score of the night, giving the Ironmen a start at their own 40-yard line. Eight plays later, Edwards had the ball again once he and teammates reached the Urbana 23. From there, NCHS’ front line held defenders back again, allowing Edwards to score. Donath’s extra point gave the Ironmen a 21-6 lead.

Mammen took matters into his own hands to get the Tigers last score of the night, with a five-yard touchdown run, capping a 10-play, 58 yard drive, with 6:46 left in the game. But the extra point by senior kicker Sam Weatherhead was no good, resulting in the final score.

Edwards led NCHS’ rushing corps with 192 yards on 15 carries. Mammen was Urbana’s leading rusher with 18 carries for 83 yards. The approach to the game by both teams is striking when you look at the passing yards, as Mammen was 15-for-34 for 189 yards and one interception, while Olson was 7-for-16 for 76 yards and no interceptions.

“Our front line held up and allowed me to get through,” Edwards said, quick to give credit to NCHS’ line-of-scrimmage players who kept defenders at bay, allowing him to move up-field. “They were doing their job and I did mine.

“When they say that pride is on the line, that’s true,” Edwards said. “We have a huge line, guys six foot and over, that’s a big help.”

“I have said from day one, our team will go as far as our offensive line will go,” said NCHS head coach Wes Temples. “It’s a veteran group. It’s a good group. They’re just going to continue to get better.”

Members of the front line Temples credited with making the night go well for the Ironmen included seniors Aarron Lebow, Matt Sheehan, Randy Heideman, and Chris Ford; junior Brandon Nuckolls; and sophomore Jake Rothwell.

“It was a hard-fought game,” said Urbana head coach Nathan Watson afterward. “NCHS had a couple big plays that ended up costing us in the end, but it was a pretty even game for both sides. We made mistakes tonight and Edwards made us pay for it. My hat’s off to Normal. We may have driven the ball well between the 20-yard lines, but that doesn’t count for anything.”

NCHS will host Bloomington High School Friday at 7p.m. at Ironmen Field as part of the Intercity Doubleheader. Bloomington Central Catholic will host University High as part of that event. The games are being held in separate locations this year because of the renovations taking place during the week at the traditional site for the two-game event, Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University.

NORMAL – Normal CornBelters first baseman Steven Felix knows he’s lucky to be playing baseball for a living. He said he is fortunate to be earning his keep that way.

But, even at the independent league level, Felix said, “It’s a hard job. You have to do it every day. It’s just very stressful, but, it’s also very rewarding. And that’s how I take it when I am on the diamond.

“When you get to the minor leagues, everybody’s good,” explained the 24-year-old Long Island, N. Y. resident. His experience in the minors with the Milwaukee Brewers system taught him that. “In the minor leagues, where I was at, it’s not just one person who’s good. So you have to be on point all the time; you have to work hard all the time to play at this level.

Felix’s parents were in town recently from their home in Panama City, Fla., and by that time, he had not seen them for about eight months. “It is hard being away from family and friends,” Felix said of such sacrifices players make at this level. “You’re gone around seven-to-eight months when you’re in the minors.”

“It’s almost a 12-month job,” Felix said. “But that’s one of the sacrifices you have to make to play the game you love to play. Some things have to be done.”

This season with the ‘Belters, last Sunday’s games, Felix has been in 87 games and had 324 at-bats, and a batting average of .269; he has produced 87 hits, including 11 home runs, 13 doubles, and two triples; he has scored 39 runs and driven in 47. He has been walked 28 times.

“My family always encouraged me,” Felix said. “Looking back, they’re the ones who are always going to encourage you because they’re the ones who are always going to be there for you.”

Felix described the CornBelters’ season as being something of a rollercoaster. He said the team has had it rough, with injuries keeping some key players from contributing this year. “We have other guys behind me who have not broken out of their shell yet,” Felix said. “But, we’re starting to do that now, and here lately the past three weeks, we’re starting to hit the ball here pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll keep that going.”

Felix said he hopes that turnaround will run right through the end of the season and begin anew when the 2013 season begins next May.

Felix and CornBelters outfielder Ernie Banks, Jr. bat back-to-back, typically in the middle of the order, with Felix the left-hander batting before right-hander Banks. Felix said he thinks he sees better pitches at times because opposing pitchers tend not to want to pitch to Banks. “I wind up seeing all the pitches they have, anyway, but if I see something I think he should know about, I’ll tell him. Banks is a veteran in this league and he usually does try to help us out.”

“We work hard,” Felix said of himself and his teammates. “We just want to keep going out there and grinding it out for the fans and have fun with these last games of the season.”

“Steven has been a constant for us,” CornBelters Manager Chad Parker said. “He comes to play every day; he’s got a great attitude, really good in the clubhouse, and he’s been a very positive player for us. He has run down a lot of balls for us in the outfield; he has played third base; he has played first base; and played center field. He’s just a very good player.

On another subject, the last week of the regular season for the Frontier League has Normal in the basement of the Western Division, but Parker said despite his team’s situation, the talks he has with his players “are the same ones I had with them on the very first day. That means I have been telling them ‘come out and do your job’”

He tells his players they have a lot to prove, individually as well as collectively as a team. And although it is going by fast, there is still time to prove some things.

“But the bottom line is, they’re getting paid to play to the best of their ability,” Parker reminds. “They need to come out every day and play the best they can.”

Beyond the specific speech, Parker said the only thing he’s asking of his players for these last few games is to keep themselves in the games mentally as well as physically.

As for an assessment of the 2012 season, Parker admits they “got off to a bad start” losing games as the season opened in May and were not able to rebound from it. “That happens,” Parker said. He added injuries often kept their lineup shuffled and that made it hard for his team to keep up against opponents.

“Not once from opening night have we played at full strength,” Parker admitted. A veteran minor league manager, Parker said 2012 was the first time he’s ever had that happen to a team he was piloting. “I can’t explain why now. It just feels like, all year, we’ve been playing uphill and going into a brick wall.”

Parker said years like that make managers concentrate on the positives the team has experienced in spite of how the standings indicate the season has gone for the team. “What we did was focus on the young guys learning some things about the game,” he said.

Among those positives, Parker can point to pitcher Rich Mascheri being signed by the New York Yankees; Pitcher Mitch Mormann being signed by San Francisco; and getting in more experience for young players like outfielder Tyler Wiesemeyer, who has seen action regularly during the season.

It has been a tough year for Normal at the ol’ ball park this season, to be sure. But one constant I kept hearing from the players I interviewed this summer was how they appreciated the support of the fans who came to games this season during this tough slog. That was good to hear. And like you folks, I hate to “wait until next year,” too. Here’s hoping the 2013 season – for many of the reasons it might not have seemed kind this year – will be better for Normal next year.

After Monday’s day off, the Florence Freedom will have been in town at The Corn Crib Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 28-30. The Joliet Slammers will close out the year for Normal on Friday, Aug. 31, and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1 & 2.

With the CornBelters’ season ending, sadly, much too soon for those of us who enjoy a warm night with friends and family, and baseball, I go back on the high school beat with my “High School Highlights” column. But trust me when I say that next May, I will be writing about them again when another season will dawn for the ‘Belters.

By Steve Robinson | August 22, 2012 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School Board voted unanimously to approve a proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year totaling $138.5 million. The budget includes an operating budget of $117.4 million; with $3.5 million for use for construction and capital; and $17.6 million in debt service

Employee costs account for 78.8 percent of the district’s Operating budget, which is the median of school districts statewide. The district has a mix of revenue sources, which include local sources, accounting for 77.2 percent of what the district takes in; 19.66 percent from the state; and Federal funding accounting for 3.14 percent.

Erik Bush, Unit 5’s Business Manager, told Board members the amount of funding the district received from the state shrank by 4/10 of one percent, from $21.7 million down to $20.8 million. But Bush added Springfield has paid Unit 5 some additional money it owes the district, specifically, $1.5 million. However, the state still owes the district $2.8 million — $1.5 million would go to the district’s education fund, and $1.3 million into Unit 5’s transportation fund. Bush said the district will be getting the remainder of what is owed by the state by the end of October.

Bush said the costs of having certified staffing increases daily, with new class sections having been added at Benjamin; Cedar Ridge; Fox Creek; Glenn; Grove; Colene Hoose; Hudson; Oakdale; Parkside; Pepper Ridge; and Sugar Creek Elementary Schools. He added three schools had class section reductions while two others had no change from the previous school year. He added the cost of basic student fees did not change.

“By and large, it’s a responsible budget,” Bush said.

Prairieland Elementary’s “Good News”: For an act of heroism, Ryan Rice, now 9-years-old, was honored by his principal, Prairieland Elementary School’s Carmen Bergmann; and his third grade teacher, Amy Lucas, for helping save the life of his father, David.

The early evening of May 19 became one neither 48-year-old David Rice of Normal, or his then 8-year-old son, Ryan, are likely to ever forget. And David has young Ryan to thank for that. That’s because that is the day the boy saved his father’s life by calling for help after David Rice suffered a stroke.

While Ryan, who was 8-years-old at the time, was with his father, the two had been at a local pool most of the day, and were preparing to go swimming again but went home to eat first. But David Rice became ill, falling to the floor, hitting his head.

Alarmed, young Ryan first called his mother, Cheryl, for help. But she was in Chicago. She instructed her son to hang up and dial 9-1-1.

His father was having difficulty moving after the stroke began, but Ryan was able to help roll his father’s body over and get him some water. Cheryl Rice talked the boy through how to dial 9-1-1. Although the boy was still hesitant, she reminded her son that he had been taught about how to use 9-1-1 both during class at Prairieland Elementary and through lessons he had in Cub Scouts.

Ryan made the call and relayed questions-and-answers between the 9-1-1 dispatcher and his father, aiding the emergency workers to know what the situation at Rice’s house would be once they arrived.

As Bergmann explained it, “Perfect examples of Ryan’s concern for others included, during the 9-1-1 call, asking his dad how his was feeling rather than answering for him; and asking his dad if he should move his dad’s shoes for the Emergency Medical Technicians. “He always cares about others first,” Bergmann said of Ryan.

About Ryan, Bergmann added, “He’s truly a remarkable person who is extremely brave and caring in taking care of his father. I’m so very, very proud of him.” Bergmann and Lucas presented Ryan with a certificate and a ribbon for his accomplishment.

District’s “Good News”: Dayna Brown, assistant to the superintendent, introduced Debbie Yeazle, who served as a volunteer who helped with recent “Back-To-School Party,” which was responsible for the gathering of donations of school supplies which were recently given to area students in need. A total of 2,000 backpacks, filled with school supplies, were recently given out at the event, held at U. S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington. Yeazle’s efforts with that event were recognized to the Board at the meeting. Students in need from both Unit 5 and Bloomington’s District #87 were able to participate in receiving the supplies.

“I’m so grateful to her employers at Country Financial, that they’ve allowed her to do this,” Brown said, “Because this has literally been a full-time job for her.”

“When we were worried about backpacks, she had already thought about how to handle that,” Brown said. “When we were worried about crowd control, she already had that taken care of. Volunteers need a great leader, and Debbie has been that leader.”

District Sixth Graders Receive Netbooks: On Aug. 20 and Aug. 21, each of the district’s 1,100 sixth graders began receiving an individual netbook laptop computer. Students and their parents were required to attend training sessions to learn how to operate and care for the devices. Those training sessions took place at each of the district’s four junior high schools. While students received the devices for free, the district spent a total of $800,000 to acquire them. For students and their parents who were unable to attend on either one of the first two dates, a make-up training session was held on Aug. 23 at Kingsley Junior High School.

Dr. Sandy Wilson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction told Board members what the district was trying to accomplish was “trying to build sustainability and accessibility” with the devices, getting them in the hands of students.

Board President John Puzauskas asked Wilson if substitute teachers an advanced knowledge to be able to conduct classes where students are using the netbooks. Wilson said a class that has students using netbooks will either have to have a substitute teacher with some knowledge in doing activities that involve their use, or otherwise supervise the class in activities that do not involve using the equipment.

Puzauskas told Wilson getting the netbooks into the students’ hands to start the school year was “a great way to start the year.”

Hickman Hired As Interim Technology Director: Unit 5 has hired Marty Hickman, the former executive director of the Illinois High School Association as interim director of technology. “Marty has done a great job, and that was the kind of job he was doing when he worked over at Caterpillar in Peoria,” explained Dr. Gary Niehaus, district superintendent. “I’m getting nothing but rave, positive review about how he’s doing. I’m really happy with his performance and where he’s going.” Hickman replaces Loren Baele, who is now working with the East Peoria School District.

By Steve Robinson | August 20, 2012 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – During Monday’s Normal Town Council meeting, Council members held a discussion concerning the prospects for allowing mobile food vendors to operate within the Town limits. No action was taken on the subject by the Council but there was plenty of discussion.

What Council members were told was that the Town had two options to consider at this early stage: Allowing mobile food vendors on any commercially zoned property, that is private property, with numerous provisions; or not to allow mobile food vendors.

Currently, the only times mobile food vendors are allowed in Normal is with special permission for the Town’s two primary Summer events: Sugar Creek Arts Festival annually in July; and the Sweetcorn Blues Festival. This year’s Sweetcorn Blues Festival will be held this weekend.

In recent months, Town Staff had been approached by numerous individuals desiring to set up a mobile food operation. The requests have ranged from an individual with a trailer and grill to two men using a double-decker style bus.

Because of these requests, Town staff has been researching the subject. Current Town Code prohibits most forms of mobile food vending, but property and business owners are allowed by code to hire someone as a caterer to provide free food on-site for the public.

In a report to Council members prepared by Town Planner Mercy Davison, among the concerns about having mobile food vendors on a regular basis, from Town Staff’s perspective were: The rolling vendors would take business away from established brick-and-mortar restaurants; The potential for mess and debris left behind by mobile vendors or their patrons; The potential of mobile food vendors to obstruct public rights-of-way.

Davison’s report outlined what regulations other communities in central Illinois impose on mobile food vendors. Town Staff researched the rules in Bloomington, Peoria, Decatur, Champaign, and Urbana. Those cities allow mobile vendors on private property. Some of those towns mandate that the vendors can only operate during spring, summer, and fall months; the vendors are only allowed on private property; and the communities require the vendors to be licensed.

Although there were about 30 people in Council chambers – some there for other items other than the subject of mobile vendors – Mayor Chris Koos said this was only at the discussion stage and that public input would be sought by the Council in the future “if the Council decides to move forward on some sort of ordinance.”

Council member Sonja Reece said she wants “an equal footing” in terms of the vendors paying taxes the way stationary eateries have to. Davison and City Manager Mark Peterson responded that while established restaurants do not pay any kind of merchant fee, a mobile merchant fee may need to be imposed on the mobile vendors, if the Town, at some point, permits them.

“Folks who have businesses in Uptown Normal put a lot of skin in the game, so to speak,” Council member Cheryl Gaines said. “But mobile vendors don’t have that. The reason Uptown is so important is because taxes stay level because businesses pay property tax.” She added that trying to collect sales tax funds from mobile vendors might be tougher for the Town.

“The Uptown’s parking spaces should not be used for the use of mobile vendors since they do not pay local property taxes,” Gaines added. She added any fees imposed on mobile vendors will need “to be hefty.”

Council member Jeff Fritzen said were he a mobile food vendor, he would be prone to go to Illinois State University property to earn income. He wanted to know if ISU had any policies concerning mobile food vendors. Fellow Council member Chuck Scott, who is executive director of the Office of Work Management at ISU, told Fritzen the University tries to stay within the bounds of local ordinances established by the Town. He added while there are vendors who sell rugs and posters to students for dorm rooms, “mobile food vending is something you just don’t see.”

Koos brought the discussion to a conclusion when he said, “This is a tough issue and will require some education on our part before we make a decision.” He admitted there had been some examples of rhetoric displayed in some of the items he has seen on the matter. He said that needs “to tone down a little bit.”

“Bike BloNo” Members Address Council: Representatives from Bike BloNo, a group of 250 members advocating more bike paths and increasing bike usage in the community addressed Council members. Mike McCurdy, a representative for the group told Council members biking in the community is having a significant effect on the health of those who do pedal throughout the community. He cited car use by 16-to-34-year-olds within the community is decreasing.

“We think this is a substantial sea-change,” McCurdy told Council members. He added members of Bike BloNo are asking for the Town to create an east-west biking master plan. In addition, McCurdy added his group must expand its community outreach by reaching out to the ISU community. At the present time, in addition to having a website and Facebook page, the group does try to promote “a loose calendar of events.”

“We are seeing more bikes nowadays being used than we used to,” Council member Gaines said. “It’s important to watch for bicyclists and be aware of them.”

Koos said Town Staff will be asked to implement funding for more bike routes to be created. “Staff highly agrees with this project,” he said.

Electorate To Vote On Electricity Consortium – Again: Voters will get another chance to vote on whether or not they want to vote for a proposed energy aggregation proposal — for the second time – this November. Council members unanimously agreed to put the issue to a vote in March. At that time, voters in Normal defeated the proposal by a 10 percent margin, 55 percent to 45 percent. Bloomington voters also rejected the measure. Normal Town Staff reported they believed the previous measure was confusing for voters and that voters may not have completely understood the implications of what they were voting on.

Council member Adam Nielsen, who recently announced he would not seek a fourth term on the Council, was not present for the session.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Aug. 6, 2012.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Aug. 15, 2012.

• A motion to award the bid for a backhoe loader for the Water Department to Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Altorfer, Inc. at a total cost of $36,615 with trade plus and additional $18,740 to replace a pavement breaker.

• A motion to approve a semi-annual salary schedule adjustment for classified employees.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a license agreement with Ecology Action Center – 202 W. College Ave.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a lease agreement with The Illinois House of Representatives by its agent, Illinois State Rep. Dan Brady.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an Intergovernmental Agreement with Illinois State University for the Agronomic disposal of landscape waste.

• A resolution conditionally approving a preliminary development plan for the Healing Stone Apartments Planned Unit Development (1295 Healing Stone Ct. and 3385 E. Raab Rd.).