Amid the preparation for the Normal Community Regional Softball game between Normal West and NCHS last Saturday, I had a chance to talk to Stan Lewis, Normal West’s Athletic Director and just casually ask him a few questions pertaining to sports both in- and out-of-season at the moment.

“We see each other a lot,” Lewis said of the chances the two local Unit 5 schools get to face off come playoff time. Had NCHS not lost to Moline in baseball last week, last Saturday’s activities at both Normal Community High and Illinois Wesleyan University would have stretched some families’ capabilities to catch both teams – and therefore, any offspring participating – in action.

Lewis said the familiarity with which the two sides play in the post-season is not getting old, at least from the perspective of the kids and their coaches. “It’s a big rivalry and it has always been really good in terms of competitive games.”

Lewis theorizes that “I think if you ask any coaches, they would prefer to do things with Regionals and Sectionals with teams north of Interstate 80.” Interstate 80 runs from the Quad Cities east to south of Chicago. It is a primary east–west route for traffic coming and going through the state. It is also a dividing line used by the Illinois High School Association to determine which teams will meet in Regional and Sectional competitions.

As Lewis explains it, if you were a high school team north of I-80, IHSA uses a ‘sectional complex of 16 or 18 or 20 teams so that if you did have a real good season, you would not see a rival, necessarily, at the Regional level. You wouldn’t see each other until the Sectional level.”

“With the 16 schools that are in Class 4A south of I-80, IHSA sets up playoffs by geographic areas,” explained Andy Turner, athletic director at NCHS. “Those schools south of I-80 get set up geographic areas. Those geographic areas are then put into groups of four. Potentially, what you have are Regionals that are loaded.” Turner said that is exactly what fans are witnessing in their IHSA high school baseball brackets this year.

In one Regional, fans were getting to see Rock Island, Moline, East Moline, and both Unit 5 high schools. “That’s a tough Regional right there,” Turner said with a chuckle. “Potentially, four of those teams could play in a Sectional game.”

Every other high school south of that I-80 dividing line is in “true Regionals,” Lewis said. Having the Unit 5 rivalry currently in place at playoff time as it is, Lewis said, “is great for the fans. I think, from a coaching standpoint, when you have two very strong teams, it would be nice to see them in separate Regionals.” He said being able to meet NCHS at a Sectional would be nice. But for now, IHSA has things in place the way they are and there is not much chance of a change coming soon.

I then tapped Lewis and Turner about a potential increase in the number of schools joining the Big 12 Conference (Hold it…wait a minute…I mean the Big 9, at least until the end of the 2013-14 school year). The Big 12 is that in name only, having lost schools in the past, most recently Mattoon, when the Green Wave left the conference after the 2011-12 school year to join the closer to home and smaller Apollo Conference. And after the coming 2013-14 school year, Big 12 will shrink again when Decatur’s two high schools – MacArthur High, known as the Generals, and Decatur Eisenhower, known as the Panthers – bolt for the Central State Eight Conference.

After both Decatur schools exit, that will leave the Big 12 with a dwindling seven – Normal’s two high schools, Bloomington High School, Danville, Urbana, and Champaign’s two high schools, Central and Centennial. Lewis said in terms of school populations, Normal’s two are the largest, with a combined population of 3,445, while Urbana is, at roughly 1,000 kids, the smallest.

Lewis explained that approving a new school to join a conference starts with schools wanting to change conferences usually approaching the conference they want to join. Sometimes, he said, athletic directors get wind of another school wanting to change conferences and receive inquiries from schools wanting to join a conference. He said those inquiries are sent up a chain of command to a school principal. School principals serve on a committee that approves a new school’s membership into a conference.

“We’re open for suggestions,” Turner added about potential new members for the Big 12. “If anybody has any ideas, we’ll listen. We’re looking for input from anybody for different ideas because, the situation that we’re in right now is not a shock to any of the seven schools that are still remaining in the Big 12.”

Being that short on teams will be a major issue on football scheduling when it’s all over with,” Turner said.

For years, there have been rumblings that because Unit 5 is growing so fast that a third high school may be in the community’s future. In fact, Lewis told me ADs of a few of the Big 12 schools have asked him, “’So, how soon before you get that third high school?’”

Lewis said those other ADs aren’t kidding. But if other schools aren’t found to round out – or maybe I should say round upward — the number of schools in the Big 12, scheduling football opponents “is going to be a major issue before it’s all over with,” according to Turner.

The major issue has already started to show itself, if you have seen the football schedules of the three teams Normal has, including Illinois State University’s Lab School, University High. In addition to taking on standard conference opponents, NCHS will host Niles Notre Dame at Ironmen Field on Week 3 (Sept. 13); Normal West will travel to Columbia, Mo. in week 8 of the season (Oct. 19) to play Betal High School; and U-High will travel to Cahokia for their week 9 game (Oct. 26).

On another subject, I covered the NCHS Regional Softball game between the Ironmen and Wildcats last Saturday. While fans are waiting to get in and players are warming up, the teams request certain CDs to be played over the loudspeaker to get their adrenaline going. While that doesn’t normally phase me, I just found that going from listening to country to metal to country to some other form of music back-to-back-to-back this time to be jarring.

Speaking as a one-time former radio announcer, I found it hard to believe the sudden change got to me this time. Usually, I don’t even notice it because I am so busy preparing for the contest I’m covering that I mentally turn the volume down and don’t notice. This time, the sudden change in music formats from one song to the next was very noticeable.

By Steve Robinson | May 25, 2013 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – It may have been a Regional Softball championship contest that Normal Community High School was hosting, but that did not stop Normal Community West High from fighting for that title just the same. Half of the game was played in a misty rain, but Normal West saw their goal clearly enough to beat their hosts, 4-3, on Saturday.

Played at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Softball complex, after three scoreless innings, Normal West (29-3, 12-1 against Big 12 opponents) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth, thanks to a triple to right center field by Megan Holderby with one runner on base. Her hit carried long enough to score third baseman Rebecca Rupard from first base, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Holderby crossed the plate later in the inning on a single by right fielder Kortney Kaisershott, increasing that lead to 2-0.

Later in the fourth, an NCHS fielding error put Wildcats shortstop Casey Jefferson on first base, and base hits by Kaisershot and designated player Ellie Sowetz got Jefferson across home plate, increasing West’s lead, 3-0.

With one out in the top of the fifth inning, Rupard doubled, helping catcher Ashlynne Paul’s pinch-runner Annie Heineman score from first base, increasing West’s lead, 4-0. Paul had reached base on a single earlier in the inning, with one out. Light rain that had begun to fall late in the fourth inning stayed for the rest of the contest.

NCHS’ three runs came from a home run blast to right field by pitcher Ali Domkuski in the bottom of the fifth inning, giving her runs batted in as designated player Tara Lopez and Nicki Lewis pinch-running for catcher Lexi Beach scored. Lopez and Beach both hit singles earlier in the Ironmen’s half of the inning, and cutting West’s lead and resulting in the eventual final score.

Reganne Camp was the winning pitcher for Normal West, striking out eight Ironmen batters. Domkuski took the loss for NCHS, striking out nine West batters, which included twice striking out four Wildcats batters in a row. The Ironmen finish the season with a 23-13, including an 11-2 mark against Big 12 Conference foes.

“I give Reganne credit for staying cool and staying poised, and just focusing one pitch at a time,” said West head coach April Schermann. Giving credit to their opponents, the coach added, “I thought Dumkuski did a great job of mixing her pitches. I thought she threw a great game and our hitters tried to respond.”

Schermann said her team has changed their approach to post-season play, being concerned only with how the Wildcats play without worrying about information concerning or reacting to upcoming opponents. “In years past, I would say we have not done a good job of doing that,” she said. “But this year, we’re definitely just focusing on ourselves and the game, and not focusing on who we’re playing or what happens.”

“Camp had us befuddled there early, and then we kind of figured it out,” explained NCHS head coach Bob Grimes. “Hey, I’m just proud of the way both teams played today. It just wasn’t our day and that’s the way it goes.

“I can’t be more proud of the way we played,” Grimes choked back some emotion in his voice. “We just couldn’t get that tying run across. Give West credit for that. I’m not disappointed at all with the way they played.

“At all,” he repeated. “I’m very proud of them.

By Steve Robinson | May 22, 2013 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District unanimously approved three individual funds transfers to aid the district to stay afloat financially as the school year comes to an end while waiting on the arrival of cash due to it by the State. In recent years, as the district’s fiscal year has started to wind down, money due the district from Springfield has arrived either a day before or on the last day of the current fiscal school year.

To guard against a shortfall while waiting for those funds, the district proposed transferring funds from one account to another. Each of the three transfers desired required a public hearing be held during the Board’s May 22 meeting at District headquarters as part of the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting. In the case of each public hearing concerning the transfers, no member of the public spoke before action was taken.

In a memo to Board members prepared for the Board’s May 1 meeting, District Business Manager Erik Bush explained Unit 5 has normally received an average of $8 million from State and 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 was required, and scheduled for the Board’s May 22 meeting. Board members unanimously approved the transfer of up to $1 million from the district’s operations and maintenance fund to be moved to its transportation fund, effective June 30.

After a second public hearing during which no member of the public spoke, Board members unanimously approved the transfer of $128,361 from the district’s debt service fund to the district’s education fund effective June 30.

Following a third public hearing during which no member of the public spoke, Board members unanimously approved the transfer of $640,647 from the district’s working cash fund to its education fund effective June 30

Hearing Concerning Dissolution Of Mackinaw Valley Special Ed. On 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 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. The June 12 meeting will also have a public hearing concerning the amended budget for the district for School Year 2013-14.

Agreement Between District and Law Enforcement Agencies Forthcoming: Over the next couple of months, Unit 5’s Board will vote on a reciprocal agreement with area police departments. The agreement will allow for the sharing of information between police and the school district to handle a number of different situations or events, explained Curt Richardson, attorney for Unit 5. Richardson said work on the pact had begun well in advance of the Sept. 7 incident at Normal Community High School, where a student brought and fired a gun in class. There were no injuries in that incident.

Originally, the agreement was just between the district and Normal Police Department, but has grown to include McLean County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State University Police, Bloomington Police, Illinois State University Lab Schools, which oversee University High School; and the Regional Office of Education.

Benjamin Elementary School’s “Good News”: Physical education teachers Joellen Myers and Todd Delveaux, two physical education teachers from Benjamin Elementary School, were honored in a “Good News” item by their boss, the school’s principal, Marylys Bennington.

This spring, Myers and Delveaux worked to apply for and learned they had received a $20,000 Project Fit America grant. The grant is funded by OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. Project Fit America’s mission is to support schools in their endeavor to create new opportunities for children to be active, fit, and healthy. PFA’s focus is broad based fitness with a strong emphasis on team-friendly, cross curricular teamwork, as well as on creating leadership skills in students. Bennington said PFA’s goals correlates well with Benjamin Elementary’s Mission Statement “to educate and empower all students to be proactive leaders.”

The Project Fit America grant provides over $20,000 in cardiovascular health and fitness programming equipment. Bennington said the process for applying for the grant was lengthy and time consuming, but Myers and Delveaux put in the time and effort to ensure that the grant was well written, even giving up a portion of their spring break to complete the application.

As part of what they submitted in the grant application, they shared information about our school, pictures of our gym and outside physical education area, and sample lesson plans. The process even included conference calls with the Project Fit America staff, located in California, Bennington said. On May 17, Bennington reported, the school received a call from OSF representatives stating Benjamin Elementary had been chosen to receive the Project Fit America grant. As a result, Project Fit America and OSF will work with us and provide support for the next two years.

“Good News” From Sister Cities Committee: Joe Reid, a member of the Bloomington-Normal Sister Cities Committee, introduced Board members to Sayuki Oka, a junior who came to Normal through the exchange program operated by the Committee. Sayuki is preparing to return to Japan after having spent the past nine months as a student at Normal Community High School. “I wanted to compare Japanese students to American students,” Oka told Board members in a quiet voice. She said she wants to be either a scientist or a teacher when she gets out of college. She said she would like to attend an American college to earn her degree.

“Good News” From Bloomington Area Career Center: Board members heard from Tom Frazier, director of the Bloomington Area Career Center, as he honored three Unit 5 high school students for their accomplishments at the SkillsUSA competition in April. BACC took a total of 51 students to compete in their areas of study – a combined total of 14 of those students were from Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School.

Students who participate in SkillsUSA engage in a variety of competitions which vary, including written and performance competitions. Students who place first in their particular competition advance to the National competition held at the SkillsUSA National Conference in Kansas City, Mo. June 23-29.

Skyleigh Peifer, a senior at Normal Community West High School, competed in the Nurse Assisting competition and earned first place. She has had her clinical experiences in the Emergency Department at OSF St. Joseph’s Medical Center. She will pursue her education in nursing by attending Parkland College.

Taylor Rueger, a senior at NCHS, finished third at the state level in the SkillsUSA Nurse Assisting competition. Taylor’s plans include attending Heartland Community College and then OSF St. Francis College in Peoria to continue studying nursing. She has had clinical experience four days a week at the Family Care Center at OSF St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

Alesha Angsten, a senior from Normal Community West High School, placed third in the Jobs Skills Demonstration Competition. Her competition included both a written and performance exam. Angsten is looking to go into the culinary arts and part of her competition involved being able to give a demonstration of knife skills and the fabricating of a chicken. Alesha is in BACC’s Culinary Arts Program and is continuing her studies at Kendall College in Chicago, where she will major in Culinary Arts.

NORMAL – Under new field manager Brooks Carey, the Normal CornBelters proved they were a good road team, taking 2-of-3 from the Evansville Otters. Until just prior to Tuesday night’s home debut against the Windy City Thunderbolts, fans only had anticipation to fall back on.

The CornBelters’ 7-6 victory over the Thunderbolts at The Corn Crib was the proof that it is possible to win in front of hometown fans, too, not to mention do it in dramatic, come-from-behind situations.

On “School Reading Night,” in front of roughly 2,800 fans most of whom were grade school students, Normal (3-1 after Tuesday’s game) got off to a fast 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, thanks to Runs Batted In by right fielder Steven Felix, whose single helped score first baseman Mike Schwartz and shortstop Pat McKenna.

Normal upped that lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning thanks to Schwartz singling to right field, stealing second and advancing to third on a single by McKenna on a sacrifice bunt try. Schwartz scored on a double play ground ball.

Windy City (1-4 after Tuesday’s game) tied the game, 3-3, in the top of the fifth, with center fielder Lyndon Estill getting a double and being followed by catcher Adam Davis who was hit by CornBelters starting pitcher Drew Provence. Estill advanced to third on a sacrifice, scoring on a base hit by second baseman Mike Torres. The score evened to 3-3 later in the inning when a single by first baseman Doug Joyce scored Torres.

Normal batters produced a go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth inning, with McKenna hitting a triple and then scoring on a sacrifice fly by Felix, putting the CornBelters up, 4-3.

Windy City went up, 6-4, in the top of the sixth inning when Estill’s lead-off single was followed by Davis being walked. Both men scored on a botched throw from the outfield during a sacrifice.

The score stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh inning when CornBelters left fielder Romolo Ruiz smacked a home run out of the park with two on to give Normal a 7-6 lead. The homer gave Ruiz RBIs for having scored teammates Schwartz who walked to begin the inning and Felix who singled.

Mitch Mormann picked up his first win in relief for the CornBelters, joined by Casey Upperman who pitched two scoreless innings to earn his second save. Rich Hawkins took the loss for Windy City.

“You’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of work from this team,” Carey said after the victory. “They have a lot of fight in them.”

That was just one game and there is an entire season for which Carey has a primary goal. “My goal is to get this town a winning team. We need to play hard from the first inning through to the ninth inning, and we’ve got some guys who can do that,” he said.

“Brooksie has been around the game and he has a good group of guys who are hungry,” said Windy City Manager Ron Biga after the game. “This game goes to show his guys play for each other like we have guys who play for each other. This was a good ball game tonight. It was just a good hard-played ballgame.”

The contest was the first of a six-game homestand for Carey’s troops. Windy City would play here Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the CornBelters begin a three-game homestand against the Frontier League’s permanent traveling team, the Frontier Greys. Games Friday and Saturday start at 7p.m., while Sunday’s contest begins at 6p.m.

By Steve Robinson | May 20, 2013 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved an ordinance conditionally annexing property located at 309 E. Northtown Rd. owned by Darrell Andris and Mary Ellen Andris. There home sits on .75 acres of land and the Andrises requested to be able to annex to the Town. They would join a number of other residents who have asked that their homes be annexed over the years, according to a report from Town Staff.

Because this particular annexation is being done without an agreement being signed between the homeowners and the Town, there is no need for a public hearing or involvement by the Normal Planning Commission.

Uptown Partners Makes An Annual Report: Sarah McManus, acting president for Uptown Partners, the organization whose members consist of business owners in the Uptown area, presented an annual report to Council members. Among the items McManus reported was that the business group would like to see more community events in Uptown. UP debuted a new event in the last two weeks – a “Pooch Parade” for residents to bring their dogs out on what turned out to be a cold Saturday.

McManus said it is hoped the “Pooch Parade” will be thought of as one of the Town’s regularly scheduled activities to look forward to, just as The Sugar Creek Arts Festival in July and the Corn And Blues Festival in late August are.

Uptown Partners has “expanded its relationship with Illinois State University greatly,” McManus told Council members, pointing to the joint venture UP and ISU had when they put lights in some of the trees along the Uptown area and near Uptown Circle during the holiday season.

“We’re proud of our town,” McManus said. “People are feeling stronger about Uptown Partners as an advocacy group. She said the group still gets questions concerning parking in Uptown. “We try to put out the word that there are 1,000 spaces. But construction in the area is still a hindrance.”

McManus added UP is businesses that have not joined yet to join the group. When she talks to Uptown business owners, part of what she tells them is “we’re making it imperative for them to become part of our membership.”

In answer to a question from Council Member Scott Preston, McManus, co-owner of The Garlic Press, said UP has “an expanding group of people coming to events” it puts on.

Council Member Sonja Reece asked McManus what was on UP’s wish list. McManus said it would be nice if the Town could expand the hours of the events it has. She cited talking to people who arrived for one of the summer events by late afternoon and witnessing vendors shutting down shortly thereafter. McManus said she would like to see events that could go on into the evening hours, and potentially, add events that would be allowed to sell liquor at those later events.

Redbird Pride Committee Chair Addresses Council: Dovetailing with UP’s report, Mike O’Grady, Chairman of the Redbird Pride Committee, addressed Council members, concerning a plan that committee has to replace nearly 50 current green and white street signs around Uptown and near Illinois State University’s with street signs that would be white letters on red background and have the ISU Redbird logo on them as a way for the community to designate pride in the University.

The new signs would be installed by Town Public Works employees but Redbird Pride Committee would pay for the signs. O’Grady presented a list of 29 intersections and 19 single streets he thought would be ideal locations for the signs. Cost of intersection signs would be $158 and single street signs would run $79. The project’s total cost would be $6,241.

“It’s a great idea,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy told O’Grady. “I like it.”

Council Member Jeff Fritzen asked O’Grady if there were any students on the Redbird Pride Committee, and O’Grady said no. “The further out we can establish that idenity, the better,” Fritzen said of the project. “I like the initiative. It’s tasteful and gives us a good start.

Reece was concerned about a possible signage overlap in the central Uptown area, with the distinctive Uptown signs currently in place. She asked City Manager Mark Peterson if he could think there would be any overlap. Peterson said he didn’t think there would be any. Peterson added it is hoped the new signs would be in place by the start of the 2013 ISU football season.

Barbara Fuller And John Farnsworth Appointed To Uptown Design Review Commission: Council members unanimously approved two appointments to the Uptown Design Review Commission. Barbara “Barbie” Fuller and John Farnsworth will sit on the Commission until the end of March, 2016.

Fuller is vice president and co-owner of Fuller Communications Ltd, and has experience with budget, personnel management and property development. She also designed and co-owns Emack & Bolio’s in Uptown Normal. Her other civic engagements have included serving as activities director, and later vice president, of the Normal Newcomers Club.

Farnsworth is an operations consultant who works with professional services firms, currently working with Champaign-based Henneman Engineering, Inc. He earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Illinois. He served as president of The Farnsworth Group until 2004. He has served on the boards of the American Red Cross and Boy Scouts of America as well as membership in professional engineering societies.

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

• Approval of the inauguration and seating of the President of the Board of Trustees and three Trustees of the Town of Normal of May 6, 2013.

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held May 6, 2013.

• Approval of minutes of a Public Hearing held May 6, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of May 15, 2013.

• A motion to receive and place on file the report of the Joint Review Board regarding the First Amendment to the Main/Osage TIF Redevelopment Plan.

• A resolution authorizing the filing of the Town’s 2013-14 amended annual action plan for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and applicable budget adjustments. A public hearing was held prior to the Council session on the CDBG Program. No members of the public made any comments during that hearing.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a license agreement with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla Motors, Inc. for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in Uptown Normal.

• A resolution waiving certain Town fees for the Community Cancer Center.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of the first addition to Blackstone Trails.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of Garling Heights West Subdivision 7th addition in the Town of Normal (northeast corner of Susan Dr. and Parkway Court).