By Steve Robinson | September 29, 2012 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Fans of University High football have had to adjust their schedules and their mindsets about when their team played games this season. Because of the $25 million renovation being done to 50-year-old Hancock Stadium, Pioneers fans have watched Saturday games this season.

The need to move games to Saturdays was not just sprung on the Pioneers. The Hancock revamp was approved by Illinois State University’s Board of Trustees in February, so there was time to prepare.

Wendy Smith, U-High’s Athletic Director, told me over the summer she thought “the core group of fans will still be there.” From what I saw at games I’ve covered this season, I say she was right about that – there were a good number of fans in the stands – especially for the Pioneers’ Homecoming a couple weeks ago.

Smith said the change to Saturday games would impact students who were involved in marching band competitions (regularly held on Saturdays). Those kids would not be at football games on competition dates, she explained.

It also meant juggling sophomore football games to early in the next week after the varsity had played, Smith said. At the time, she thought those games would be moved to Mondays because, typically, Monday is an off-day for the primary residents of Hancock Stadium – the ISU Redbirds football team.

The only other big change is that the Pioneers will play their game against Rantoul this Friday at Tucci Stadium on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus. Game time is slated for 7p.m.

Smith said scheduling games with opponents wasn’t a problem under the current circumstances. “Visiting teams knew our situation and no one said anything negative to me,” she said.

As it turns out, U-High was not the only local team playing on Saturdays this year. Bloomington High School recently hosted Chicago St. Patrick High School for an early Saturday matchup a couple weeks ago. In the region of central Illinois, two schools – Peoria Heights High School and Metamora High School – normally have Saturday games on their schedules.

I belong to a sportswriters’ bulletin board website and posed the question of where else were regular season Saturday games played as a rule, not the exception. I discovered the game is a Saturday staple from Massachusetts to Hawaii and everywhere in-between.

The sportswriters who frequent this bulletin board, for the most part, use nicknames or handles to identify themselves (a “names changed to protect the not-so-innocent,” — in this case — if you’re familiar with sportswriters).

“In Georgia,” one respondent wrote, “Private and military schools have had their stadiums without lights, so their home games were on Saturdays, usually in the afternoon.”

On the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, games were moved to Saturdays, one respondent wrote, “because the football lights confused endangered birds in the area, who would get lost and dive into the water…” The New York Times, it turns out, even did an article about that, I later saw.

Another writer reported to me that Michigan “has 80% games on Friday nights with a handful on Saturdays.” This respondent said schools without lights at their fields also play on Friday afternoons. Lack of lights also forces small high schools to play day games on Saturdays in parts of the Albany, N.Y. area, another fellow scribe informed me.

It was interesting to read the some 70-plus replies my inquiry produced. It also sounds as though everyone looks forward to playing Saturdays, too – particularly from what I saw at the U-High games I attended this season.

I also would not have thought about teams who do not play under the lights regularly. The replies I got were eye-opening and informative.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2012 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – As part of the meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board on Sept. 26, held at district headquarters, a public hearing was held prior to Board members approving the proposed budget of $141.6 million for the district for the 2012-2013 school year.

At the public hearing, no members of the general public spoke, but District Business Manager Erik Bush informed Board members of some details of the budget prior to their taking a vote. Bush explained the State of Illinois has cut its funding to the district by 4 percent. He said that cut translates into Unit 5 not receiving roughly $1.6 million it should have received based on Illinois’ General State Aid formula.

With the Mackinaw Valley Special Education Association being dissolved this year, Bush said, expenses related to Mackinaw Valley will be absorbed by the district during fiscal year 2013. Taking in monies used to run Mackinaw Valley Education Association will increase the amount of money in Unit 5’s Education Fund. The amount Unit 5 will receive is roughly 6 percent, increasing the amount of money in that fund from $88.6 million to $94.2 million. After Mackinaw Valley Education Association is completely disbanded, its members, including El Paso Gridley School District will become responsible for funding special education needs.

Bush said classroom sizes have increased, with the district adding 500 students to classrooms over a period of the last two school years. Those 500 students, Bush said, account for a 3.8 percent growth in student population. But, while student numbers have increased, he explained, hiring for the classroom has been limited during the same time period – to 2 percent – due to limited resources.

Normal West High School’s “Good News”: Normal West senior Justin Hetherington was honored for his actions on Tuesday, August 28 during his 6th period class. A student unexpectedly passed out in instructor Jason Klokkenga’s class and began going into a seizure. Hetherington had recently taken a class at the Area Career Center at Bloomington High School. Hetherington instructed other students to move desks out of the way as he was helping the student during her seizure.

As the nurse and other school personnel arrived to help, Klokkenga took his students from the class, but Hetherington asked to stay behind and help the nurse until other paramedics were on the scene.

Hetherington’s service to the school was not only noticed by School Principal Dave Johnson and Klokkenga, but by Officer Mike Chiesi, Normal West’s School Resource Officer and the paramedics that responded to the call.

Johnson also announced that Klokkenga has been selected to receive the 2012 Fred Drake Alumni Award by the Illinois State University History Department and History-Social Sciences Education program. Each year, the ISU History Department recognizes a History or Social Sciences Teacher who is an outstanding alumnus of the program. Klokkenga started teaching at Normal Community West High School in the 1999-2000 school year, and played a role in starting the FMP program at Normal West and continues to build its strength through his role as an advisory director.

Normal Community High School’s “Good News”: Normal Community High School Principal David Bollman recognized Carley Williams, an NCHS sophomore for her recent achievement, as in April, Carley competed with other area youths at ISU in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, known as ACT-SO. NAACP Bloomington-Normal Branch hosts students from Bloomington and Normal who compete in the local competition, which is cosponsored by State Farm Insurance, YWCA, and ISU.

In the local competition, Williams won a gold medal for her original essay, which qualified her for the national competition held on July 6 in Houston, Texas. At the national level, Williams won a bronze medal. As a medalist, she won an iPad, laptop computer, and check for $1,000.

As part of a second “good news” item from NCHS, Bollman recognized the school’s Student Council and their president, senior Cayla Cardamore, as well as one of their faculty sponsors, Addie Ince.

In July, State Farm offered to coordinate an “Intercity Food Fight” to benefit the food pantry of the Western Avenue Community Center. Bins were placed in five local grocery stores were decorated by Student Council members from both NCHS and Bloomington High School in a competition to see which school could raise the most donations. The schools promoted the event through radio interviews, community groups, and using other means throughout each school. Food was collected throughout the week and weighed outside Ironmen stadium at NCHS on the night of the annual football game between our two schools.

The drive restocked the food pantry with over 7,000 pounds of food at a time when donations are scarce, Bollman explained. Of the 7,000 pounds of food, 4,959 pounds of it was raised by NCHS, giving the Ironmen the victory in the friendly competition, while BHS raised 2,674 pounds of food.

By Steve Robinson | September 24, 2012 - 10:49 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Already ranked 6th in Class 6A, Normal Community West High School reached a milestone of sorts in their victory over rival Normal Community High School at Wildcat Field on Friday, Sept. 21. The Wildcats’ 35-23 win marked the third consecutive victory Normal West has registered against the Ironmen in the last three years.

But the victory, no matter how warm to the hearts of Wildcats fans, nor the taste of the chili they had earned could make up for losing junior quarterback Alex Jefferson to an ankle injury with 4:21 left in the second quarter.

The contest opened with a kickoff return by NCHS taking the opening kickoff down to West’s 3 yard line. One play later, senior wide receiver Jowonis Edwards marched into the end zone for the Ironmen’s opening score, followed by an extra point by junior kicker Grant Donath. That gave NCHS (2-3, 2-2 Big 12) a fast 7-0 lead.

West (5-0 overall and Big 12) knotted the score on their subsequent first series, with junior running back Dominique Stevenson running into the end zone from 8 yards out followed by junior kicker Zach Breen’s extra point to tie the game at 7-7, with 8:52 left in the opening quarter.

NCHS wasted no time going in front, as their next drive lasted two plays, highlighted by Edwards scrambling for 64 yards to put the Ironmen up, 14-7, after another successful Donath kick with 7:52 left in the opening quarter. The Ironmen would hold onto that lead going into the second quarter.

West would open the second quarter with a seven play, 68 yard drive ending in a one yard touchdown run by Stevenson with 8:45 left in the second quarter. Breen’s extra point tied the game at 14-14. But NCHS special teams would fumble the ball after receiving the ensuing kickoff, handing the ball right back to the Wildcats. Stevenson took advantage of the error, scoring on a 6-yard run, increasing West’s lead, 21-14, with 8:25 left in the second quarter.

Jefferson sustained his injury with 4:21 to go in the second quarter and was helped off the field. His night ended by completing 10-of-16 passes for 158 yards, and 12 rushes for 31 yards. With Jefferson out of action and the Wildcats holding the ball at their own 23, junior quarterback Greg Hiltbrand took the controls. He finished out the remaining drive’s three plays, which ended in a fumble, putting the ball in the Ironmen’s hands at the West 41 yard line. Nine plays later, Donath booted a 35-yard field goal, slicing West’s lead, 21-17, with 18.3 seconds left until halftime.

“I just knew I had to step up for my team,” Hiltbrand said about stepping into the quarterback slot following Jefferson’s departure. “I wasn’t going to let them down. I was nervous at first, but my team helped me push through it. They gave me the confidence to keep going and keep trying to get the win.”

West increased that lead, 28-17, when Hiltbrand connected with senior wide receiver Terrance Fisher on an 11 yard touchdown strike, followed by another Breen point after. That increased the Wildcats’ advantage to 28-17, with 7:50 in the third quarter.

NCHS used the longest drive of the night to get to their next score, going 82 yards on 13 plays, ending in Edwards going 8 yards for his third score of the night, coming at 11:54 in the fourth quarter. The Ironmen tried to call timeout before a two-point conversion try, but were not able to accomplish that, and Wildcat defenders broke up the two-point attempt. The result was West holding a 28-23 lead.

Stevenson gathered his fourth touchdown of the night, dashing 76 yards, followed by another Breen extra point, leading to the eventual final score. Stevenson led all Wildcats rushers with 180 yards on 18 carries. Edwards led NCHS’ rushing efforts, carrying the ball 26 times for 158 yards.

Hiltbrand’s first night under center ended in going 5-for-7 passing for 96 yards. NCHS senior quarterback Austin Jones was 9-for-17 passing for 70 yards and one interception.

Just after the final horn sounded, the game’s post-event tradition continued, as while West head coach Darren Hess was doing a post-game interview, he was presented with a pot of chili by WJBC Radio statistician Gary Walter.

“I really commend Greg Hiltbrand and the rest of our guys,” West head coach Darren Hess said. “Greg stepped up like he had played all year, and that’s what you need. That’s what great football teams do. You prepare every week and you know he’s in every meeting.

“I tell our kids, ‘when you get your chance, to make the most of it,’” Hess added. “Our kids played with passion. We came out and we did what we had to do to win the game.” He added his players responded well to the adversity of losing Jefferson during the contest.

Hess said Hiltbrand did not need much pepping up before he stepped onto the field in the critical situation.

NCHS head coach Wes Temples said he was “sick about the loss.”

“I felt good about this at half, but things got away from us,” Temples said. “I wish I had an answer, but I don’t know. We’ve got to get back to work. I thought we played hard. We expect to win this game, and for whatever reason, we didn’t get it done. We’ve got to go back and re-evaluate everything.”

Temples said that re-evaluation includes “whether we’ve got the right people on the field; our coaching; whether we are doing the right things scheme-wise, and you know, find a way to win some of these games.”

The Ironmen hold an overall record of 13-5 in the history of the “Chili Bowl.”

By Steve Robinson | September 23, 2012 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High celebrated Homecoming in dominating fashion over Eureka High School Saturday to the point that the visiting Hornets managed to get to the 50-yard line only twice during the contest, but never crossed into Pioneers territory. It was a dominance that led U-High to a 47-0 shutout at Hancock Stadium.

A crowd of roughly 1,900 fans watched as junior running back Joe Johnson scored the Pioneers’ first points of the day in the Corn Belt Conference contest on a 62 yard punt return at the 3:50 mark in the first quarter. Freshman kicker Alex Galindo added the extra point, giving U-High a 7-0 lead. It would be the first of two scores Johnson would have on the day.

U-High (5-0, 4-0 Corn Belt), ranked 6th in Class 5A, would go up 13-0 on a play in which the ball was directly snapped to junior running back Brian Sengsay, while the Pioneers were on Eureka’s 25 yard line. Sengsay ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown with 48 seconds left in the opening quarter. The score capped a 3-play 36-yard drive. The play caught Hornets defenders off guard while Sengsay dashed into the end zone for the score. But although Eureka defensive back Kolton Merritt blocked Galindo’s extra point, U-High owned a 13-0 lead.

Pioneers senior defensive back Gary Arvik’s interception of a pass by Eureka quarterback Merritt as the first quarter came to a close was the starting point for the Pioneers’ next scoring opportunity. Starting at Eureka’s 16 yard line, it took U-High just two plays to score again, as sophomore quarterback Arion Worthman scored from five yards out with 11:34 left in the quarter, increasing U-High’s lead to 19-0, following Galindo’s extra point try, which sailed wide right of the uprights.

A fumble ended Eureka’s next possession at the Hornets’ 34-yard line after three plays, with U-High senior linebacker Jeff Larsen recovering the ball. Four plays later, Worthman connected with Larsen playing receiver for the Pioneers’ next touchdown, followed by another Galindo extra point. That increased U-High’s lead, 26-0.

The ensuing drive for Eureka (1-4, 1-3 Corn Belt) resulted in a punt, giving U-High a starting point at their own 31-yard line. Worthman wasted no time, connecting with junior wide receiver Kane Wildermuth for a touchdown pass with 5:57 left until halftime. Galindo’s extra point increased the Pioneers lead to 33-0.

Worthman connected with Larsen for a second time in the contest, with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter on a 7-yard pass, increasing the Pioneers’ advantage to 40-0 after another successful Galindo point-after. At that point, with U-High holding a 40-point margin over their opponents, game officials employed the use of the Illinois High School Association Mercy Rule, using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for team timeouts or injury timeouts at the start of the third quarter.

Johnson’s second score of the game came with 8:15 left in the third quarter, running 32 yards into the end zone, followed by a final successful point-after by Galindo.

Johnson led all rushers with 77 yards on 10 carries.

“We wanted to come out and do well and work on finishing the game,” explained U-High head coach Dusty Burk. “We wanted to establish ourselves early and often. We talk about that every week, and we thought we could have done a better job the first couple of drives.

“But after Johnson’s touchdown, we really kind of got going, and got our blood flowing, and I thought we executed much better after that,” Burk added. “Anytime you get a shutout, it’s well-earned. Our team did a nice job. Our coaches prepared them well this week.”

Burk said his players played “hard and they played smart. We were excited about that.”

“We knew coming into this one that U-High is very athletic,” explained Eureka High head coach Brian Johnson. “Containing their athleticism would be very tough, and we didn’t do a very good job of it. But U-High is a Class 5A ranked football team and they proved it today.

“We’ve got good kids,” Johnson said. “We’ve got good, positive kids and good leaders, too. Yeah, it’s hard to stay positive when you’re not having success in getting yardage and first downs with stuff like that. But I think our kids still continue to play hard and that’s something our teams have always done.”

By the time you read this, Normal Community West High School student Brittany Ross will be a little more than seven days out from joining most of the rest of the world in getting behind the wheel.

She’ll be 16.

It’s a responsibility she said she has been talked to about now for a while: From the Driver’s Education instructor; and of course, by her parents, Mike and Sheri Ross.

In a way, her driving time in Driver’s Ed. – learning behind the wheel – began earlier, as a passenger in the Ross family car while her two brothers, now both in their early 20s, were getting their hours in for their driver’s ed. experience. Brittany said she believes she picked up a few pointers from that, and held onto them for her time behind the wheel now.

Plus, there was her dad Mike’s taking her to an old field in their hometown of Carlock that served as an introductory session for once she got in and buckled up.

“I had Driver’s Ed. here toward the end of being 15,” Brittany explained. ”So, my dad took me around and taught me the rules of the road and everything, and Driver’s Ed just kind of smoothed that information over for me.”

In addition to all the rules Brittany and other students need to be aware of, there are the numerous distractions all drivers – particularly young drivers – need to avoid. The biggest one for kids her age to avoid is texting while driving.

To that end, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, recently joined in the efforts of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Municipal League, and mayors in 40 other Illinois communities in a state-wide campaign assembled by AT&T called “It Can Wait” and tying it in with Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2012 being recognized as national “No Text On Board Pledge Day.”

To solidify the message, Koos has issued a proclamation to recognize the day. The proclamation reads: “WHEREAS The Town Of Normal holds the health and safety of its young adults as a chief concern; and

“WHEREAS text messaging is the main mode of communication for most American teenagers with half of all teens sending between 21 and 70 texts a day; and

“WHEREAS 90% of American teenagers expect a reply to a text message within five minutes; and

“WHEREAS texting takes one’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds; and

“WHEREAS In an AT&T survey, 43% of American teenagers admitted to texting while driving even though 97.5 percent know it’s dangerous; and

“WHEREAS a recent study showed those who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to crash; and

“WHEREAS a driver that sends a text message while driving not only jeopardizes his or her safety, but also the safety of passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers;

“NOW THEREFORE, I, Christopher Koos, Mayor of The Town of Normal, do hereby proclaim September 19, 2012 as “No Text On Board — Pledge Day” and encourage all drivers to take the pledge to never text and drive again.”

Brittany said she thinks issuing the proclamation “was really smart. I think texting while driving is really stupid,” she explained. “It’s just a bad idea and people shouldn’t do it.” She said she thinks the proclamation will help to keep kids from doing it.

But currently, Brittany keeps an eye on her parents’ bad habits behind the wheel (when they occur), and sometimes reminds them about not doing those things they don’t want her doing behind the wheel, either.

“I think she takes driving seriously,” Sheri Ross said. “Being a new driver, I think she’s just concerned about only driving, at this point, because she is a new driver.”

“We’ve stressed keeping the radio turned down; paying attention to what’s in front of her; and we try to lead by example by paying attention to what we’re doing as were driving,” Mike Ross added.

“We stress things every day,” Mike Ross said.

“I’ve stressed the same thing to her that I did with her brothers,” Sheri Ross said. “This is a 2,000-pound weapon; If you hit someone with it, they will not win.”

But in talking to both Brittney and her folks, I get the sense that while they both say it’s time for her to experience that next step toward independence, both sides are ready for it – complete with the customary jitters, understandably.

At the same time though, you do sense confidence on both sides, too. Her parents have confidence Brittany is ready for the responsibility; and Brittany demonstrating the confidence in herself to begin that part of her life. Here’s wishing Brittany “good luck, and happy and safe travels.”

On another subject, congratulations to University High School’s football team for their homecoming victory over Eureka High School this past weekend, blanking the Hornets, 47-0. Normal Community High School will be the last school to celebrate homecoming this year, on Oct. 5, hosting Decatur MacArthur High School.

On another subject, Normal West hit a milestone last Friday when they defeated Normal Community High School for bragging rights from the annual “Chili Bowl” Game. NCHS holds a 13-5 advantage in the history of the game, but Normal West has now won the annual meeting for the third consecutive year. Last week, West beat NCHS, 35-23 at Wildcat Field. The previous victories in this current march to a three-peat were by scores of 17-0 in 2010, and 35-17 last year.

Lastly, and staying with the U-High homecoming for a moment, congratulations to E. J. Newble and Rachel Weaver, who were named as Homecoming King and Queen.