FootballNORMAL – All football teams do some sort of “re-evaluation” of what their coaching staffs refer to as their team’s playing “system.” Sometimes, that re-evaluation comes before the season or a playoff to make adjustments. Then, there are some times where that re-evaluation comes in the middle of a game situation, and most likely, it’s a losing game situation.

Normal Community West High found themselves faced with the need for such a re-evaluation mid-way through their Big 12 Conference regular season finale against Champaign Centennial at Wildcat Field on Oct. 25. It was a re-evaluation that helped the Wildcats pull out a 41-32 victory in front of roughly 700 fans.

The contest started out on the right note almost from the start for West (7-1, 6-1 Big 12) as senior running back Dominique Stevenson sprinted 79 yards on the game’s second play from scrimmage, going in for the Wildcats first score, followed by senior kicker Zach Breen’s extra point, giving West a quick 7-0. It turned out to be the only score of the quarter.

Champaign Centennial (4-5, 3-5 Big 12) struck back at 9:29 in the second quarter on an 8 yard pass from junior quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald to senior wide receiver Ryan Grizzard on a 34 yard touchdown pass. That cut West’s lead, 7-6, but when the Crusaders went for two, West’s defensive front line stopped them.

The Crusaders defense took advantage of a Wildcats mistake to earn their next points. Following the ensuing kickoff, with West starting their next drive from their own 18 yard line, Crusaders junior defensive lineman Kylan Dubose scooped up a West fumble and ran it back into the end zone for a touchdown. That was followed by a successful two-point conversion from Fitzgerald to junior wide receiver Kyree Sago, increasing Centennial’s lead, 14-7, with 9:13 left in the quarter.

Normal West Football Two Champaign possessions later, a blocked Centennial punt gave West the ball on Champaign’s 14 yard line. Senior running back Darin Bethke dashed past defenders to get into the end zone, followed by Breen’s next extra point, tying the game at 14-all, with 3:07 left until halftime.

But scores came quickly for both sides in the span of the remaining 2:50 until the halftime gun would sound, starting with the ensuing kickoff after West’s score. Junior running back Jeremiah Peoples took the return 99 yards for a touchdown, stunning and silencing the home crowd, and although the Crusaders botched the two-point conversion, they led, 20-14.

West scored on a 12 yard pass from sophomore quarterback Mitch Fairfield to junior running back Genia Fuss, at the 1:20 mark, putting West on top, 21-20, following Breen’s extra point. The centerpiece of the 4 play, 75 yard drive to that score was a 47 yard pass from Fairfield to senior receiver Philip Yuncker.

The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback putting the ball on Centennial’s 20 yard line. The Crusaders responded to West’s score with an 80-yard pass from Fitzgerald to junior wide receiver Steven Lee, giving the guests a 26-21 lead following another failed two-point conversion try.

West began their next drive after the ensuing kickoff at their own 30, and aided by a 32 yard run by Fuss, and a 26 yard pass from Fairfield to Yuncker, were able to get only to get close enough for a successful 31 yard field goal by Breen. That kick cut Centennial’s lead, 26-24, by the time the half ended.

“At half, we did a re-evaluation,” explained West head coach Darren Hess. “We needed to identify with something – either running or whatever. We told the team we had to have the right mindset going into the second half.”

Champaign Centennial FootballCentennial received the ball following halftime, but West senior defensive back Cole Bumpus picked off a Fitzgerald pass and helped the Wildcats begin their first scoring drive of the second half from the Crusaders’ 30 yard line. A first play lost six yards for West, but senior running back Marquett Suggs ran 36 yards into the end zone on the drive’s second play, giving West a 31-26 lead following Breen’s next extra point.

Centennial and West, respectively, would each get another set of downs ending in a punt, but with West at their own 13, Breen’s punt to Centennial would fly high but not long, landing at West’s 42. One play later, Fitzgerald would connect for a touchdown pass with junior receiver Dominic Stampley, pushing the Crusaders in front again, 32-31, at the quarter’s 6:11 mark. Following a failed two-pass from Fitzgerald to junior receiver Christian Wade, that one-point lead, it turned out, would be the last one the guests would have as the fourth quarter opened.

West opted to keep the ball on the ground in the fourth quarter, handing the ball off to either Stevenson or Bethke during an 8 play, 80 yard march toward their next score – Bethke’s seven yard run into the end zone with 6:03 remaining in the contest, followed by Breen’s extra point. That allowed West to recapture the lead, 38-32.

Centennial’s next possession ended at their own 20, but the punt went high and not far, with West taking over at the guest’s 36. West rushers could only manage getting back to the 20 before opting for Breen to kick a 38 yard field goal, resulting in the final score.

Breen was 2-for-3 in field goal attempts on the night and was quick to pass success around to senior lineman Matt Rapp and his holder, senior receiver Ryan Frye. Breen said he had no concerns regarding his kicks because Rapp and Frye “both have done a great job all season of protecting and helping me.” He said the cold weather experienced at the game, with temps sliding into the mid-30s, forces him to kick the ball a little harder, giving it an extra push.

Hess said his team “did not have a good week of practice” but would not let either rain that limited it or working around having parent-teacher conferences during the week serve as excuses for how the team’s first half went.

“We knew this game was going to be back-and-forth,” said Champaign Centennial head coach Mike McDonnell. “It was one of those games where who has the ball last wins. It was just good old fashioned ‘here-we-come’ back and forth football.”

Steve RobinsonJust as high school sports have an opening week or event to begin their year, so, too, do non-athletic activities. For students involved in music in Unit 5 School District, that event is the Unit 5 Music Parents’ Spaghetti Dinner.

The Unit 5 Music Parents’ group, made up of parents whose junior high and high school-aged students are involved in that aspect of the arts hold this event over the course of two consecutive Monday nights to give parents, siblings, friends, and the community a sample of what music students are so passionate about.

Tara Barth and Judy Jiles who are parents who have kids that age active in the music programs, serve as co-chairs for the event. The first dinner is on Monday, Nov. 4 at Normal Community West High School, and the second dinner is on Monday, Nov. 11 at Normal Community High School. Both events run from 5p.m.-8p.m., with dinner being served until 7:30p.m. each night.

On Nov. 4, there will be performances from Normal West’s Band, Orchestra, and choirs; as well as from those same entities from Parkside Junior High School, and Kingsley Junior High School. On Nov. 11, audiences will be treated to music from bands, orchestras, and choirs from NCHS; Chiddix Junior High School; and Evans Junior High School.

Barth said the Unit 5 Music Parents’ Spaghetti Dinner has been held over two straight Monday nights for “at least” the last five years. All of the schools involved sell tickets in advance and, of course, at the door both nights. Tickets are $8 at the door. Barth said money raised from the event will be given to each of the schools involved to be used for each of the schools’ Band, Orchestra, and Choir Programs.

The event is completely run by volunteers, Barth said, who are family members who have students involved in the district’s music programs at the high schools and junior highs. Your money gets you a plate of Avanti’s spaghetti, salad, bread, beverage, and a cookie. Something new this year Barth points out about the dinner itself is that both meat sauce and marinara sauce will be offered to diners this year. Barth said organizers make sure to schedule volunteers so that those parents can get away from the kitchen in time to see their children perform.

Whether parents of students involved in music in the district realized it or not, they automatically belong to the Unit 5 Music Parents organization. Unit 5 Music Parents has a Facebook page to keep parents informed, and is looking at developing a website which should debut in the near future, Barth explained.

The group holds regular meetings every third Monday of the month at Kingsley Junior High School, starting at 7p.m. Any parent of a music student may attend those meetings. Barth said that means it’s likely the group has around 1,500 members.

One of my nephews, Henry Robinson, is a member of Parkside Junior High School’s Band. I have a slight history with this event myself, although it has been years since I attended one. I have a friend, now living on the east coast, Laurel, who lived here in the 1990s and one of her five kids, a daughter, Sharon, was active in music in junior high and high school. My friend worked nights and attended school, but Sharon really wanted to see a friendly face or two in addition to those of her friends’ parents.

I remember my folks making time for these school events, and approached Laurel about attending this event and some other music programs Sharon was in on her behalf. She agreed. I learned a lot from the experience, and made some new and interesting friends in the process. Sharon stayed in the choir from seventh grade until Laurel and her family moved away after Sharon’s junior year at NCHS. I attended a lot of concerts and ate plenty of spaghetti as a result. It led to an interesting and memorable experience for me, as I know seeing a familiar face was for Sharon.

On another subject, high school post season is here, and local and area fans will get a taste of local matchups to start things off. In Class 6A, NCHS, at 8-1 and ranked fourth in the state and seeded second, will square off against seventh seed Bloomington High School in a rematch of teams who faced each other in week two resulting in a 33-20 Ironmen victory.

Normal West (8-1) is seeded third and will host East St. Louis (6-3). Depending on how things shake out after this weekend, there is a possibility of a second round showdown between NCHS and Normal West next weekend.

For the second straight year, Dusty Burk, head coach at University High has his team undefeated at 9-0 and will host Class 5A first round opponent Decatur MacArthur (5-4), who is seeded 14th. In Class 3A, Bloomington Central Catholic (6-3) is seeded 12th and will square off against fifth seed Stillman Valley (7-2). In Class 1A, Heyworth Hornets fans are gearing up an opening round playoff appearance, too. The Hornets (5-4) are seeded 14th and will face Camp Point Central/Augusta S. E. (9-0).

As if that wasn’t enough to keep fans and families busy, high school volleyball teams are gearing up for their post-season, which will conclude with state championships at Redbird Arena Nov. 15 and 16.

BasketballNORMAL – When a new player comes into a basketball program – be it either from high school or junior college level – they learn in a hurry that standards at the division level Illinois State University plays at are higher.

By Media Day on Oct. 23, Redbirds head coach Dan Muller had already had 18 days to get his players – including four genuine freshmen – prepped for the 2013-14 season, both on and off the court.

The first thing for any new player to adjust to is how rigorous practices are and how tough academics are, explained the second season head coach. “The players also need to learn the standards you have as a coach so they learn to do things the right way and not ‘kinda’ the right way.”

That also meant finding the right way to “compete for a championship every year,” Muller said. “That’s the standard we want to have here.”

Muller said his former college coach and coaching mentor, Kevin Stallings, taught him “the best coaches can get their team as close to their potential as possible.” But in the next breath, Muller admitted about his own ISU squad at this point, “I honestly don’t know what our potential is yet. We’ve got to earn a lot of things before I say how good we’re going to be.”

ISU RedbirdIf there are players showing traits of leadership, Muller singled out 5 foot-10, 190 pound transfer guard Bobby Hunter, who transferred to ISU from Santa Fe College; And six foot-4, 185 redshirt sophomore guard Nick Zeisloft. “They have been pretty consistent leaders on and off the court,” Muller said. He added he has also seen leadership coming forward from junior forward John Jones and junior guard Daishon Knight.

“To this point, Bobby and Nick have given us the most consistent toughness and leadership in everything we’ve done from conditioning to weights, and on the court,” Muller said. “I think we’re going to have good leadership this year.”

As Muller sees things: “Leadership comes down to do the players do what the coaches want? Can they make the tough plays? Can they hold each other accountable? I think we’re working toward that.”

Muller will be asking his players to step up in an effort to help the Redbirds improve on their 18-15 record from last season, which included an 8-10 tally in Missouri Valley Conference play.

No doubt he is hoping four freshmen will pick up their game individually to help the Redbirds along this season. Those players are: Deontae Hawkins, a 6 foot-8, 215 pound forward from Dayton, Ohio; Paris Lee, a 5 foot-11, 165 pound guard from Proviso East High School; Reggie Lynch, a 6 foot-10, 230 pound center from Edina, Minn.; and Tony Wills, a 6 foot-3, 185 pound guard from Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School.

As a group, those young men “embody what I want in a program,” Muller said. “They care about their academics. They’re good kids. They were raised the right way. They’re great teammates.”

Missouri Valley ConferenceWhere they differ, Muller said, is in the strengths each one is bringing into the program, playing at their different positions. “To be honest, to be a freshman and a kid that size, we’re lucky to have Lynch. Lucky…blessed….call it what you will, I’m glad he’s here,” Muller said.

“Wills is a left-handed wing that can really guard,” Muller said. “Lee is good with the ball. He’s got great quickness. He shoots it well. He’s a wonderful teammate. Muller hinted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start a freshman, early or late.” He added he wanted his players thinking about defense “almost more so than offense.”

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDARS: ISU’s season begins with an exhibition contest against Quincy on Sunday, Nov. 3, starting at 4:35p.m. They start the season in earnest against Drexel on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Redbird Arena at 7p.m. The Redbirds open MVC season on the road at Missouri State on Thursday, Jan. 2 at 7:05p.m. The Redbirds will visit Bradley University in Peoria on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7p.m., with the Braves visiting Redbird Arena for the second round of the games deemed “War On 74” scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15 at 6:05p.m.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Going into their regular meeting at Normal City Hall Monday, Normal Town Council members knew they were going to discuss the possibility of an increase in the Town’s 2013 tax levy, payable next year, and attempt to address costs related to the Town’s Police Pension and Fire Pension funds.

By the time the nearly two-hour session concluded, Council members agreed to ask Town Staff to research and report back on options for that would conceivably lower the Town’s needing a proposed 11 percent jump in Normal’s portion of area property taxes.. Town Staff are charged with reporting those results by the Council’s next meeting Nov. 4.

Under the proposed levy, in a presentation given to Council members by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn and City Manager Mark Peterson, the proposed tax levy would be increased by $1.1 million bringing it to $10.9 million. That would mean an increase of $61 in the property tax bill of a person owning a $150,000 home, Huhn explained.

Because the proposed tax levy is higher than five percent, a notice for a Truth In Taxation hearing must be posted and hearing held. The Town has scheduled that hearing to be part of the Council’s scheduled meeting on Nov. 18. The approved tax rate would need to be reported to the McLean County Clerk’s Office by Dec. 31.

The Town would put back into its general fund $459,000 it held back from last year’s levy. The Town used that cash to make numerous street and road repair throughout the community, addressing a pressing concern for the Town at the time.

A total of $533,000 would be used to continue funding Police and Fire pensions at a rate that is above a State-required minimum at a responsible investment assumption, Huhn told Council members. He said the amount being asked for in the tax levy also keeps the Normal Public Library working at a “fiscally responsible level,” as well.

“I would like to see an increase in the tax levy without an increase in spending,” Council Member Scott Preston told the gathering. He added he was not interested in making “drastic cuts” in areas involving Normal’s general fund.

Council Member Jeff Fritzen said he had no objection to looking into areas where the Town could make cuts in order to reduce the levy, citing a water rate study the Town paid for in 2009. Fritzen said he would like to see what options the Council has in terms of possible cuts that could be made.

The governing body voted to ask Town Staff to seek options where reductions could be made.

On the matter of police and fire pensions, Peterson said the Town is “trying to follow best practices with these pension funds. We don’t want to put off hard decisions which would be left to a future Town Council.”

Under Illinois Law, pensions for police and fire employees in the state must be 90 percent funded by their respective communities by 2040. Peterson said he liked the idea of Normal having those pensions funded 100 percent by the deadline, adding, “and if we’re asked for 90 percent, we’ll have a cushion.”

Liquor Commission Meets: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission met briefly. Commission members heard and accepted a report that seven of the Town’s 59 liquor sales businesses had completed paying the second installment of their license fee to the Town. The establishments were not named in the report. Commissioners also unanimously approved minutes from their regularly scheduled meeting from July 15.

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

• Approval of minutes of Public Hearing held Oct. 9, 2013.

• Approval of minutes of Public Hearing held Oct. 9, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 16, 2013.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a contract with Normal-based Prairie Signs, Inc. in an amount not to exceed $40,835.50 for sign modifications at Uptown Station and approval of a budget adjustment in the amount of $30,835.50.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a Contingent Fee Professional Services Agreement with Chicago-based Azavar Audit Solutions.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a contract not to exceed $227,000 with Brodhead, Wis.-based Applied Ecological Services for the design/build services for the restoration of the shorelines at the Three Ponds located on the Ironwood Golf Course.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington, McLean County, and the Ecology Action Center for solid waste management services.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with the Towanda Fire Protection District.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of Trails On Sunset Lake Subdivision 1st Addition.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the final plat of Trails On Sunset Lake Subdivision 2nd Addition.

• An ordinance amending Sections 6.4-1 and 6-4.16 of the Town Municipal Code – adopting the most recent version of the fire code.

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2013 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Normal Community High School celebrated homecoming by putting up big number on the scoreboard at Ironmen Field, defeating Danville, in a Big 12 Conference contest, 60-20. Sophomore running back Alec Bozarth, in contributing to his team’s victory, added a significant number for himself: Six, as in the number of touchdowns he contributed to the victory.

In total, Bozarth’s yardage for the night – 184 on 15 carries – led the Ironmen’s charge to victory in front of 2,200 fans, including alumni. In fact, Bozarth scored the Ironmen’s first two touchdowns on the night. The Vikings received the opening kickoff, but turned over the ball on the first play from scrimmage as a result of a fumble by Danville senior quarterback Trent Sherfield at the Vikings’ own 22 yard line.

Bozarth’s first score for NCHS (7-1 overall and 7-0 Big 12) came on a three yard run, capping a 4 play, 21 yard drive, followed by an extra point by senior kicker Grant Donath, giving NCHS a fast 7-0 lead at 10:43 in the opening quarter.

After a Danville punt, Bozarth scored again from capping a 7 play, 43 yard drive with 6:55 left in the quarter, from 19 yards out. But the Ironmen opted to go for two points following the score but failed. Despite that miscue, NCHS led, 13-0.

Sherfield kept the ball in the air during a 10-play 50 yard drive that concluded with a 24 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Chris Collier at 3:25 in the quarter, but NCHS’ front line blocked senior kicker Gracson Torres’ extra point. Despite that, Danville had managed to cut NCHS’ lead, 13-6.

An interception of a Sherfield pass by Ironmen senior linebacker D. J. Frank gave the Ironmen the ball on Danville’s 37 for their next possession. Three plays later, senior quarterback Colin Olsen connected with senior wide receiver Kyle Lantman for an 18 yard touchdown, followed by Donath’s extra point, giving NCHS a 20-6 lead they carried into the second quarter.

Bozarth quickly helped increase that lead to 26-6 with 10:56 left in the second quarter, on an 8 yard dash into the end zone, but the Ironmen tried for but failed on a second-and-last 2-point conversion try on the night.

Danville cut NCHS’ lead in half, 26-13, on a 34 yard pass from Sherfield to junior receiver Tavion Boyd at the 6:18 mark in the quarter, followed by Torres’ successful extra point. The score concluded an 8 play, 45 yard drive for the Vikings.

But NCHS gave the ball to Bozarth for another run into the end zone, from four yards out with 11 seconds until halftime, capping a 9 play, 80 yard drive, but although Donath missed his extra point try, the Ironmen went into halftime with a 32-13 lead, and would receive the kickoff to begin the second half.

NCHS Football Bozarth got the scoring for the second half off to a fast start, as on the second play from scrimmage, the 5 foot-10, 185 pound running back outpaced defenders during a 49 yard run into the end zone at 11:10 in the third quarter. Adding Donath’s extra point to that put NCHS up, 39-13.

Danville’s ensuing set of downs ended in a punt which NCHS senior Easton Schaber took in and dodged Vikings tacklers on his way to an 80 yard touchdown with 5:43 left in the quarter. Donath’s extra point increased NCHS’ lead, 46-13. The Ironmen did kickoff to Danville, but the Vikings lost the ball on the first play from scrimmage, giving the ball back to the Ironmen at Danville’s 27 yard line. Two plays later, senior running back Jerry Patton III scored from one yard out, followed by another Donath extra point, giving NCHS a 53-13 lead with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

Patton’s score also provided the 40-point margin necessary for game officials to employ the Illinois High School Association “Mercy Rule,” using a continuously running clock, stopping it only for team timeouts or injury timeouts. Danville cut the lead, 53-20, when Sherfield connected with Collier for the second time on the night for the Vikings’ third and last score of the night, with 5:12 left in the third quarter. The touchdown was followed up by Torres’ extra point.

Bozarth not only started the evening’s scoring, he ended it, too, with a 41 yard touchdown dash at 2:27 in the third quarter, followed by Donath’s last extra point on the night, resulting in the final score.

The victory helped to give the Ironmen at least a share of the Big 12 Conference title with one game left, an away game at Champaign Central on Oct. 25, starting at 7p.m. “The games are about us at this point in time now and we will be playing an awfully good Champaign Central team next week, and you couldn’t ask to be in a better position,” explained Ironmen head coach Wes Temples. “We welcome the opportunity that’s at hand right now.”

“We had some good things offensively and I thought we made some nice plays defensively,” Temples said. “We have some things that we have continue working on both sides of the ball. And once again, our special teams were able to score.”

But for Temples, it’s not just the winning, it’s the fact his players are enjoying themselves playing their sport. “As you could tell from watching, our kids are having fun,” Temples said. “That’s what this is about. You gotta have fun when you play this game, and they are, and now they’re in a position they want to be in.” He added he was proud of his players for their effort and focus on the contest in the week leading up to the game considering all the potential distractions that high school homecomings tend to bring students during the period.

“I thought we came out and we played as hard as we could, and we were a little outmanned tonight by a very good team,” was the closing assessment from Danville head coach B. J. Luke. “In football, that’s usually what happens. The team that’s a little bit better wins. NCHS was a little bit better than us.”