NORMAL – The latest meeting on the softball diamond between Big 12 Conference and Unit 5 rivals Normal Community High and Normal Community West High proved the intensity for a high spot come playoff time burns early, and crisp pitching and adept fielding always helps.

But the two sides required extra innings to settle their first meeting of the season, with a two-run homer by NCHS third baseman Renee Ariola with a runner at first base in the top of the ninth inning being the difference, as the Ironmen beat West, 7-4, at Champion Fields on April 30.

Ariola showed her skills off early for NCHS (12-6, 5-0 in Big 12) in the game, blasting a triple in the top of the third inning, driving in center fielder Brittany Turner and shortstop Kaitlyn Crossen, giving the Ironmen a 2-0 lead. Turner had hit a single and Crossen was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning to get to the basepaths. Later in that same inning, the Ironmen increased their lead to 4-0 on a two-run home run by pitcher Ali Domkuski.

A single by West shortstop Casey Jefferson scored pitcher Rebecca Rupard from second, cutting the Ironmen’s advantage down to 4-1.

Those who came to the plate for West (15-2) produced a 3-run inning in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to singles by center fielder Annie Heineman, catcher Ashlynne Paul, and Rupard. A single each from third baseman Sara Whiteley and Jefferson after that produced three more runs, pulling West even, 4-4, through four innngs.

Pitching and defense took command after that, leading to extra innings. Ariola smacked a homer run with one runner on in the top of the ninth, pulling the Ironmen in front, 6-4. The Ironmen reached the eventual final score when Domkuski doubled home catcher Lexi Beach who singled with one out just before her.

West’s attempt to tie the game in the last of the ninth began with a Rupard single, but she was only able to advance to second as Domkuski struck out West first baseman Megan Holderby and Ironmen fielders’ put-outs took care of Whiteley and Jefferson.

On the mound, Domkuski took the win for NCHS, upping her record to 7-3, striking out 10. Rupard’s record drops to 9-2, having struck out 12.

The length of the contest didn’t seem to faze NCHS, Ariola said afterward. “Our team’s really competitive,” she said. “We wanted this one really bad, so we were just going to battle to the end, no matter how long it took. I had two strikes on me in the ninth, so I wasn’t trying to get a home run. Off the bat, though, it felt good.”

“I had a gut feeling West would come back because that’s the type of team they are,” NCHS head coach Bob Grimes said. “I was just proud of the way our girls didn’t fold when West came back. Sometimes, teams do that. Our girls showed a lot of guts by just continuing to do what we normally do.”

“This loss either puts us either in or tied for second in the conference,” explained Normal West head coach April Schermann following the game. She said the loss could give the Wildcats a lower seeding in their regional – the same regional NCHS would also be part of. “But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one game. We’ve got the rest of the season to play out.”

For the last two years, high school students who were interested in raising money for the charity known as Relay For Life, the 24-hour event where participants walk around a track raising money to fight cancer, had held an annual teen-only event at Bloomington High School.

For the last 18 years, Relay For Life of McLean County has held their annual event in mid-June at various local high schools, Normal Community West High School continuing to be the current home of the event for the past few years.

But when the third annual Teen Relay For Life debuts this summer, it will have a new home and a new date, beginning this year, explained Dede Verplaetse, spokeswoman for Relay For Life of McLean County. Beginning this year, Verplaetse explained, the Teen Relay will take part simultaneously with the larger county event on Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22, from 12 noon-12 noon. The larger Relay For Life event will be celebrating its 19th year in 2013.

Last year’s teen event gathered 20 teams of between 9-12 people and raised $20,000 for the fight against cancer, explained Laura Verplaetse, Dede’s daughter, and one of the founding organizers for the teen event at her school, Bloomington High School, where she is a senior.

Although the two events for teens and the community will go on at the same time at the same location, Dede Verplaetse said the teen event and the annual larger county event will be considered separate functions sharing the same facility.

“The idea is to continue to get more youth involved so our event can continue to grow,” Dede Verplaetse explained about folding the teen event in as part of the larger traditionally-recognized event. Laura and her mother are looking for teens interested in forming teams to contact them.

Adding the separate Teen Relay event gives high school students more things to do and be active when they aren’t circling the track for the 24 hours the event is taking place, Dede Verplaetse said. Whatever money gets raised by the teen event will be tacked onto the grand total of the larger 19th annual event, she explained. She added that pooling the funds in this way is not unusual for Relay For Life when two separate Relay events take place at the same location. She said it helps organizers keep track of how much money is raised.

Speaking of money raised in previous years, the larger county-wide event – the one many people in the county are familiar with – had 130 teams of between 12-15 people each, and brought in over $500,000 in 2012.

Dede Verplaetse said three local high schools – Normal Community, Normal Community West, and BHS –have been involved in the Teen Relay, with kids forming teams. She said she and her daughter look forward to hearing from anyone at any of the other county high schools who would be interested in forming teams and joining in helping the cause. Dede Verplaetse can be contacted by email at, or reached by phone at 309-662-4890.

Laura Verplaetse said forming a team is really easy for her generation – all they need to do is get on one of the more popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and the kids’ organizational skills do the rest. And that means it gets done really quickly. “It’s just fun to get together with friends,” Laura Verplaetse said. “If your family has not really been affected by cancer, I’m pretty sure you can find somebody in your social group that has. No teenager would say no to being supportive of and having fun with them for a good cause for 24 hours.”

The previous two teen events were “awesome,” Laura Verplaetse said, even if the 2011 event was held indoors at BHS due to wet weather.

Dede Verplaetse said another reason for combining the two relays is because each relay is required to have a staff member from the Peoria office of the American Cancer Society present to oversee it. She said reorganization taking place at ACS’ Peoria office created a shortage of staff available to be at both the Teen and the County Relays.

“It just made sense to pool the two events together,” Dede Verplaetse said.

Some of the entertainment at the teen event will include performances by garage bands teens in the area have formed. “We want these kids to have their place, their own stage, and other activities that will be just for the high school youth in the area.”

“We try to get the high school youth involved because many of them will take what they’ve learned at our relay events, go to college and try starting up relay events in college,” Dede Verplaetse said. From there, she explained, some of those same kids – once they are out of college and on their own, and armed with the knowledge they’ve gotten dating back to their youth – becoming the next generation that help operate future Relay For Life events.

Dede Verplaetse said that kind of paying back hasn’t yet happened for the organizers of the larger Relay For Life of McLean County. But were that to happen, she said, “that would be fabulous.”

Fabulous, indeed. In full disclosure, I am on the Mission Committee for Relay For Life of McLean County and make contact with and send press releases to our smaller media outlets in the county like all the weekly newspapers owned by The Normalite. I know there are a lot of kids out there, and Laura Verplaetse’s point about teens knowing at least one person who has been touched by cancer means there’s hope this new arrangement placing the two events into the same location can only be a positive for all concerned.

By Steve Robinson | April 24, 2013 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Two incumbent and one new member of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board were sworn in for four year terms to start May 1’s meeting of that governing body at district headquarters. Incumbents Meta Mickens-Baker and John Puzauskas, and newcomer Todd Ferguson took their seats following the swearing-in ceremony during which fellow Board Member Gail Ann Briggs administered the oath of office to the trio.

Following the oath, three Board members were elected by acclamation to the serve in key posts. Puzauskas was elected president; Mickens-Baker was elected vice-president; and Board Member Mike Trask was elected secretary. The proceedings were witnessed by roughly 25-30 people, including Ferguson’s wife, Denise, and two of his four children. Ferguson has three adult children, and a daughter who will start kindergarten this fall.

But while it was a time of transition, it was also a time to look back for out-going Board Member Jay Reece, who had served on the Board for two terms and had decided not to run for a third as early as last fall. Reece’s wife, Pam, and daughter, Ali, were at the meeting. Board members expressed gratitude to Reece for his service to the Board.

“Enthusiastically, I want to thank Jay for his effort,” Board Member Wendy Maulson said. “It’s very difficult to see a friend go. Thank you for your service.”

“It’s been a pleasure to work with you,” Mickens-Baker said.

“It’s been a joy, and thank you for your service, and godspeed,” Board Member Mark Pritchett told Reece.

“You have been in a position to put us in a positive position,” Trask told Reece. Then, turning to Ferguson, Trask said, “You will have big shoes to fill.”

“You’re constantly keeping us on task with your observations,” Board Member Gail Ann Briggs said to Reece. She added the time Reece spent on the Board was “a fun and challenging period.”

Puzauskas noted that Reece traveled to North Carolina to observe digital conversion in an effort to improve students’ experiences in the classroom.

In his closing remarks, Reece said he “has enjoyed working with some great people. We have had our share of challenges, but we’ve always been able to meet those challenges.”

Although he won’t be a Board member any longer, Reece said he “would still be watching” what the Board does going forward. In fact, he got a jump on that by staying for the remainder of the meeting, seated behind the media.

To his now former fellow Board members, Reece said to them, “I love these guys and it’s been a great, great time.”

Reece’s colleagues sent him off from his final meeting as a with picture frame as a token of appreciation.

May 1’s meeting took place in order for the Board to comply with Illinois election statutes. By law, April 30 was the last day for the McLean County Clerk’s office to canvass the election returns and report the results of the April 9 election to the Board secretary. The Board was required to reorganize, seat new members, and elect officers by May 7. Because of the possibility Unit 5 may not have the election canvass until April 30, the Board needed to schedule a special meeting sometime between May 1 to May 7. Rather than hold three meetings in May, the Board made the decision to move the May 8 meeting to May 1.

Board Approves Fee Increases: Some parents who have students active in various activities will see increases in the costs in the coming school year. Parents of middle school students – grades 6, 7, and 8 — will see a jump in their fees for their children’s activities, going from $85 to $110. Junior high parents will also be paying a technology fee of $25. District officials anticipate the new technology fee will pour roughly $235,000 into district coffers, which will go primarily toward the costs associated with leasing such products as Netbooks.

Parents of high school students will see a $20 increase in fees from last year – from $120 to $140 — if their child takes six classes. Parents of high school kids taking seven classes are already paying and will continue to pay $140. There will be no additional fees associated with driver’s education, explained District Business Manager Erik Bush, to Board members. He said he and his staff researched, going back as far as eight years and could not find any fee increases.

Sports coaches will no longer be responsible for collecting team fees, either, Bush told Board members. That change “is an effort toward internal controls – keeping teachers from touching money.” He was quick to say trust of teachers was not the issue here, but rather, the district trying to get a handle on a matter of financial control.

District Staff Changes Announced: It wasn’t just Board membership and tributes to Reece that received attention at the session. Two longtime Unit 5 employees will step into new jobs effective July 1.Laura O’Donnell has been named director of secondary education for the district, replacing Tom Eder, who took early retirement. An 18-year education veteran, O’Donnell is currently principal at George L. Evans Junior High School. Prior to her arrival at EJHS, she was employed in the Olympia School District. Married and mother of three boys, O’Donnell has a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Illinois State University, and had previously worked in Unit 5 as a teacher and an assistant principal at Normal Community West High School before going to Olympia.

There will also be a new principal at Cedar Ridge Elementary School starting July 1. Karrah Jensen, currently principal at Towanda Elementary School, will take over from Mike Clark, who has been principal at Towanda since January after Geoff Schoonover exited for the job of superintendent in the Windsor Community Unit School District. Jensen has been employed in Unit 5 for 14 years, having spent nine years as a teacher at Colene Hoose and Northpoint Elementary Schools, teaching second and fourth grades. She has also served as district science curriculum chair and was director of the district’s elementary summer school program. Jensen is married and has a 7-year-old daughter in the Unit 5 school district and a 2-year-old son.

While recognizing those changes, Dr. Gary Niehaus, Unit 5’s superintendent, also announced he will be retiring in June 2015. Until then, he told the gathering, “We’ll continue to move on because we’ve got work to do.” Puzauskas used that moment to thank Niehaus for the work Niehaus had done for the district. Niehaus has been superintendent of Unit 5 since July 2007.

Public Hearings Set For May and June Meetings: During the Board’s next two meetings, public hearings will be held on a variety of subjects. During the Board’s May 22 meeting, a pair of public hearings will be held dealing with the subject of the transfer of operating funds and the transfer of operating funds.

Bush informed Board members that as part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal delivered to State lawmakers in March, the Governor recommended funding school transportation reimbursement at a proration rate of 18 percent. That means Unit 5’s transportation funding would be cut by 82 percent. In terms of dollars, that means instead of receiving a reimbursement of $2 million, Unit 5 would only receive a reimbursement of around $50,000.

In a memo to Board members, Bush explained Unit 5 has normally received an average of $8 million from State local sources, and transportation and special education reimbursements from Springfield. He explained the district’s expenses for contracted transportation run around $7 million. To brace for the coming changes in this area, Bush recommended borrowing money from the district’s Operations and Maintenance account to put into the district’s transportation account. But before that can be done, a public hearing is required, and has been scheduled for the Board’s May 22 meeting.

Another item requiring a public hearing is the district’s desire to transfer interest monies available in two district accounts for use in the district’s education fund. The amounts the district wants to transfer are $128,361 from its debt service account to and $540,647 from its working cash fund. The public hearing on that matter will also be held at the Board’s May 22 meeting.

One of the last steps mandated by the State for the dissolution of Mackinaw Valley Special Education will take place at the Board’s June 12 meeting with a public hearing. Part of the dissolution requires, because of its size, for Unit 5 to request a waiver of the administrative cost per pupil cap. Under State law, school districts are required to limit services growth of expenses to five percent over a fiscal year. Adding Mackinaw Valley has the Unit’s special area administration cost jumping 9,169 percent from last year. It’s anticipated Mackinaw Valley Special Education’s dissolution will be completed by June. The June 12 meeting will also have a public hearing concerning the amended budget for the district for School Year 2013-14.

NORMAL – Cedar Ridge fourth grader Ximena Castaneda is a very conscientious young lady, concerned not just about the community immediately around her, but also, it appears about others she has never even met. But she has seen what can happen when bad things can happen to other people and she wrote a letter recently to express her concerns.

She did not write the local newspapers. She took her concerns, in writing, to President Barack Obama. She received a reply from the President, thanking her for her letter. The reply came on official White House Stationery, with the Presidential Seal on the stationery raised. Obama’s letter even came included with a picture of himself, and a picture of the Obama family dog, Bo, a male Portuguese Water Dog.

Ximena, daughter of Julio Castaneda Orozco and Margarita Perez Castaneda, is in Lauren Heckelman’s fourth grade class at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. In her letter, Ximena expressed concern for children undergoing treatment at St. Jude Children’s Hospital as well as for the families of children touched by the tragedy in December at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ximena’s 2nd grade teacher, Marisanta Hidrogo, alerted school administrators to what Ximena had done, which led to her being honored at the Board meeting.

“I never imagined receiving a letter from our president,” Ximena told Board members. “I wanted to tell him that I wanted to help the children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.” She said she is able to do that now, with help from Cedar Ridge Elementary.

“She really impressed us all and told us she had written a letter to the President,” Heckelman said, recounting the moment for Board members. “We were really excited that she brought it to school to share it with us. In her letter, I am proud to say she shows real compassion for her fellow students. We were all inspired by her, and we hope that by sharing her news that other students are inspired to do what she did.”

Repair Jobs Approved: Board members approved a trio of repair jobs to three schools, awarding the work to separate contractors for each job. First, a contract for work on masonry and door repairs around athletic facilities at Normal Community High School was awarded to Morton-based Otto Baum Co., Inc., which submitted a base bid of $104,795. Including the winning contractor, a total of three bids were submitted for the project.

Board members approved a bid submitted by Peoria-based Kreiling Roofing Co. for work to be done to NCHS’ athletic buildings. Kreiling submitted a bid of $119,353, and was one of four companies which submitted bids for the project.

Board members approved a bid submitted by Chenoa-based Union Roofing, Co., Inc. for a partial reroof job needed at Fairview Elementary School. Union Roofing, Co., Inc. submitted a bid of $211,000 for the job and was one of three companies that submitted bids submitted for the project.

Public Hearing On Dissolution Of Mackinaw Valley Special Ed. Set For June 12: One of the last steps mandated by the State for the dissolution of Mackinaw Valley Special Education will take place at the Board’s June 12 meeting. Part of the dissolution requires, because of its size, for Unit 5 to request a waiver of the administrative cost per pupil cap. Under State law, school districts are required to limit services growth of expenses to five percent over a fiscal year. Adding Mackinaw Valley has the Unit’s special area administration cost jumping 9,169 percent from last year. It’s anticipated Mackinaw Valley Special Education’s dissolution will be completed by June.

Next Meeting May 1; No May 8 Meeting: The next meeting of Unit 5’s Board was originally scheduled for Wednesday, May 8 according to the annual meeting calendar. However, this meeting date has been moved up to Wednesday May 1 at 7:00 p.m. due to Illinois election statutes. By law, April 30 is the last day for the McLean County Clerk’s office to canvass the election returns and report the results of the April 9 election to the Board secretary. The Board is required to reorganize, seat new members, and elect officers by May 7. Because of the possibility Unit 5 may not have the election canvass until April 30, the Board needed to schedule a special meeting sometime between May 1 to May 7. Rather than hold three meetings in May, the Board made the decision to move the May 8 meeting to May 1.

By Steve Robinson | April 15, 2013 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – By a 4-3 vote, Normal Council members voted to amend a section of the Town’s Municipal Code, allowing for liquor at events at Gateway Plaza with a catering license provided the event is either a Town-sponsored event, or an event which directly benefits a Town program or activity. The amended portion of the Town Code is similar to a current Town Code requirement associated with serving of liquor at the Children’s Discovery Museum.

Mayor Chris Koos was joined by Council Members Adam Nielsen, Kevin McCarthy, and Chuck Scott in approving the measure. Council Members Jeff Fritzen, Sonja Reece, and Cheryl Gaines voted against it.

In their report to Council members, Town Staff noted that, since 2004, a number of groups have rented the Museum for private functions during which caterers were hired in order to serve both food and liquor to guests.

There is to be a function benefiting the Children’s Discovery Museum in June which will use both the Museum and the adjacent Gateway Plaza. While the beneficiaries of the event are not in question, some Council members had questions and registered objections to the proposed amendment.

During discussed prior to the vote, Gaines asked, concerning the June event, “if there would be a bar, or what….?” She was told by City Manager Mark Peterson that the event at the Museum would be done in conjunction with the Town of Normal, and that no children would be present at the gathering.

Peterson added there would be “control points” regarding liquor during the event and the location of the liquor would be approved by Koos, who also serves as the Town’s Liquor Commissioner.

“We anticipate serving and consumption of liquor will be secondary to such an event, such as one where we are thanking benefactors,” Peterson said.

Reece questioned why it would be all right for the Town to have liquor at an event but not permissible for events sponsored by other community entities.

McCarthy said when such events are in progress, he wants to make sure users of Constitution Trail are given access to the Trail while being able to go around the event. Peterson responded to that concern, saying signs would be posted for such occurrences.

Fritzen said he wondered “what would be next” for the Town if the ordinance were to be passed. He told Council members he would not support passage of the ordinance.

Town Facilities Management Staff Honored: Prior to the beginning of the Council session, the Town’s 10-member Facility Management staff were recognized for having completed a “Custodial Technician Basic Program” training session, presented by the Cleaning Management Institute. The multi-session program the Town employees participated in took part in was done during December, January, and February.

Cleaning Management Institute is a professional society dedicated to education, training, and career improvement for people in the facility maintenance industry. Town staffers completed 21 hours of training, and were presented with certificates of completion by Koos for their efforts.

Members of the Town’s Facilities Management staff are: Gwen DeWispelaere; Galen Engel; Ladeen Finley; Preston Hill; Randy Hoover; Randall Koch; Thomas Lentz; Alif Portree; Joseph Spicer; and Building Maintenance Supervisor John Schoenbrun.

KJHS Volleyball Receives Recognition, Appreciation: Members of the Kingsley Junior High School 8-4A Volleyball Team were also recognized prior to the meeting, with Koos issuing a proclamation which designated Monday, April 15 as “Kingsley Junior High Girls Volleyball Appreciation Day.” The team recently won a State Championship on their home court. All of the team members, joined by their coaches, were honored with the proclamation prior to the beginning of the Council session.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting held on April 1, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 10, 2013.

• A motion to award the bid and approve a contract for Well #19 Division A to Aurora, Ill.-based Layne Christensen, Inc. and Division B to Bloomington-based Mid-Illinois Mechanical, Inc.

• A motion to authorize the renewal of the Town’s participation in the MICA Insurance Program for plan year 2013-14 beginning on May 1, 2013.

• A resolution to appropriate $1,747,700 of the Town’s allotment of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the University Street Bridge replacement and street improvement project, from Virginia Ave. to Division St.

• A resolution ceding the Town’s 2013 private bond allocation to Eastern Illinois Economic Development Authority.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal shelter services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for animal warden services.

• A resolution accepting easement grant from Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District – Main Street.

• A resolution accepting a bid from West Chicago, Ill.-based Mineral Masters and authorizing execution of a one-year contract with Mineral Masters to supply Sodium Hypochlorite and Hydrochloric Acid for Fairview Pool and Anderson Pool.

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

• An ordinance setting the public hearing for the first amendments to the Town of Normal Tax Increment Main/Osage Redevelopment Plan and the Town of Normal Main/Osage Tax Increment Redevelopment Project area.