By Steve Robinson | January 31, 2014 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWith the XXII Olympic Winter Games starting this weekend, it only seemed fitting to shine a spotlight on a member of our own community who is looking to impress in the sport he currently participates in. Eric Reece is trying to make an inroads by competing in Speed Skating, something he has been doing for a few years now.

A junior at Normal Community West High School, Eric has racked up some experience competing at such events in the state and in the Midwest like the Land Of Lincoln Meet in Champaign, and even in Canada at events like the Canadian-American International in Calgary. At Calgary, Eric placed 91st in the 1500 meter event. Out of the dozens of competitors in his age division, his finish put him as close to first place than he has ever been in that event.

Eric, son of Jay and Pamela Reece, began Speed Skating in 2008 while he was a sixth grader. As Eric explains his getting into the sport, “I wasn’t really doing anything before Speed Skating, and I knew I wanted to do some sort of skating sport because I thought it was really fun.

“I went to an open skate at the Pepsi Ice Center in Bloomington with my friend,” Eric said. “We saw a speed skater there and we struck up a conversation with him. He gave us some information about Speed Skating in Peoria.”

From that conversation, Eric joined the group called Peoria Speed Skating. Since then, he has moved to become a member of Champaign Speed Skating Club, which hosts the Land Of Lincoln Meet.

Whereas the club’s members practice together, not all club members go in unison to compete, Eric pointed out. But rather, some individuals go to competitions as representatives of the club, he explained. “The club has skaters who skate recreationally, and also have skaters who skate competitively,” Jay Reece, the former Unit 5 School Board member, explained.

Jay Reece added competitive skaters compete on one of two tracks – either a “short track” on a hockey rink, or a “long track” which is more of a 400 meter oval. Jay Reece said skaters who want to be competitive, like his son, do their skating as a means of getting ready for competition at regional, national, and international events.

You could say Eric’s very first competitive event gave him home ice advantage as it was on the Champaign Speed Skaters Club’s home ice at the Land Of Lincoln Meet. Eric said that experience “was pretty fun.” All of the competing Eric has done over the years has earned him a number of trophies, medals, and ribbons, and his family and friends a great deal of pride in his accomplishments.

For Eric, being on long tracks is a little more competitive and, he said, always a lot of fun. He said he enjoys the sport because he “can go and hang out with my friends, and just to be able to say that I do something that not a lot of people do. It’s a really cool experience.”

When I asked Eric about why he chose Speed Skating over another well-known Olympic sport, Hockey, Eric said he knows that, at 6 foot-2 and 147 pounds, his build is definitely more suited for Speed Skating. And Jay Reece adds, his son is still growing, after all. Eric is also unique in that he is the only competitive Speed Skater the Twin Cities has. Because of that, and not having another Speed Skater around readily, “It is kind of hard to find the motivation to train when there is no one to train with.” But yet, Eric does manage to get the necessary time in on the track to stay as sharp as his skates.

Jay Reece explained that, nationwide, there are probably fewer than 3,000 competitive speed skaters. He then rethought that number and downsized it to being fewer than 2,000 involved in the sport. They compete in different age groups.

“Illinois is very fortunate in that we have a long history that includes a lot of very good, high-caliber speed skaters that have come from this state,” Jay Reece added. A quick bit of research proves him right. As I went looking for names of homegrown speed skaters, the first one to pop up was Bonnie Blair, who was raised in Champaign and was in Olympic competition from 1984-1992. More recently, the Chicago Tribune had an article at the end of December reporting that six of the nine speed skaters on the U. S. Men’s long track team were Illinois natives. At the last Winter Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver, Jay Reece recalled, about the same number of speed skaters, both long track and short track, came from our state.

“That should give you some idea of how the state is competitively,” Jay Reece added. “We have a lot of good skaters that come from here, and the Chicago area has the most.”

Eric is quick to add that, while training alone at times is the most obvious downside to his sport, he perks up at the notion that he can say he is a competitive skater.

While Eric competes, his father has taken an active part behind the scenes, and is currently president of the Amateur Skating Association of Illinois (ASAI). ASAI is the state group that oversees all six speed skating clubs in the state. Regardless of where in the state potential competitive skaters come from, interest in Speed Skating will increase as a result of the Olympics, Jay Reece said.

Jay is also quick to point out that “speed skaters have won the most Olympic medals of any winter sport. Speed skating is the best sport in terms of medal count of any sport,” he added. He said that stat includes medals that came from those athletes competing in both skiing or figure skating.

So does that mean the odds are good Eric Reece and other young people like him will someday be seen traveling to a future Olympics making the USA and their communities proud? Sure sounds like it.

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – A pair of notable outcomes that resulted from the conclusion of the Girls Championship game of the 103rd McLean County/Heart Of Illinois Conference Tournament doesn’t happen very often. First, not just one, but two El Paso Gridley players set new marks for points scored in the game; and second, the seniors on EPG’s squad can boast being on a team that won the Girls’ Championship all four years of their high school careers.

Those outcomes were made possible by Tourney top seed EPG’s 60-48 victory over second seed Tremont Turks at Shirk Center on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus following the game played Saturday, Jan. 25. The milestone stretch allowed EPG to tie the tournament record for four consecutive titles established by Ridgeview High School from 1991-94.

trophy-mctourn.jpgTitans senior guard Rebekah Ehresman and senior forward Codee Schlipf hit back-to-back deuces to open the contest, and Schlipf followed up with a pair of early free throws, giving EPG (17-2) a quick 6-1 lead with 6:31 left in the first quarter. Less than a minute later, Schlipf hit a three, tripling EPG’s lead, 9-3. The closest Tremont would get in the opening quarter would be within two, 9-7, following a pair of free throws by junior forward Wesley Woodard and a deuce by sophomore forward Lauren Hartman. But one trey each by Schlipf and Ehresman would give the Titans some breathing room going into the second quarter, leading 19-11.

Ehresman would complete a three-point play after being fouled just after the second quarter opened, increasing EPG’s lead, 22-13, with 6:36 left. A trey by senior guard Hayley Miller at 6:24 in the quarter touched off a 10-0 run for Tremont (16-3). That run included Hartman and Miller each going 1-for-2 at the free throw line, and Miller and junior guard Jill Runyon each hitting a deuce. That stretch allowed Tremont to take a one-point lead, 23-22, with 3:20 left until halftime. But Schlipf would get two more baskets and Ehresman one more, allowing EPG to take a 28-25 lead into the half.

Schlipf and Runyon would exchange deuces early in the third quarter, resulting in a 30-30 tie before a Woodard foul sent Ehresman to the free throw line, where she sank both shots, followed by an unanswered deuce by Schlipf, giving EPG a 34-30 lead at 3:17 in the third quarter. Woodard cut that lead, 34-32, with a deuce at the 2:57 mark. But sophomore Jen Ehresman responded with a trey for EPG at 2:40 in the quarter, giving the Titans a 37-32 lead. Woodard responded with a deuce and Runyon hit a trey, cutting EPG’s lead, 39-37, with 42 seconds left in the quarter. EPG carried a 41-38 lead into the fourth quarter.

El Paso Gridley Titans Rebekah Ehresman opened the fourth quarter nearly single-handed with a trey followed by an unanswered deuce, pushing EPG up, 46-38, at the 6:23 mark. Woodard cut the lead with a deuce, 46-40 at 5:47. But from there, the older of the two Ehresman sisters and Schlipf used a combined 5-for-6 at the free throw line to give the Titans a 51-42 lead, with 4:19 left in the contest. Woodard hit a deuce but missed a chance at a three-point play after being fouled in the attempt, cutting EPG’s lead, 51-44. After Schlipf hit a deuce giving the Titans a 53-44 lead, EPG went on a 7-0 blitz which included Schlipf, Rebekah Ehresman, and senior forward Anna Gauger going to the free throw line, sinking a combined 7-for-8 from the line en route to the final buzzer.

New scoring records were established – and even exceeded – during this contest, first, when Rebekah Ehresman scored 26 points. In this contest, she was not just high scorer for the game, but she surpassed her own previous high point-count from EPG’s appearance in last year’s girls’ championship where she scored 24. Schlipf also entered the record book, scoring 25. Woodard was Tremont’s high scorer, pocketing 12, followed in double digits by Miller, who had 10.

Tremont Turks Although his team is ranked 8th in Illinois High School Association Class 2A, Titans head coach Kyle Bobbitt characterized his players as “hungry” for a victory in the championship matchup. “They knew about the opportunity. They understand what this tournament means. Around here, this tournament is a big thing. They were part of the group that got our last trophy, and they understand the meaning behind it. Having it means you’re the top dog.” Speaking of his seniors, he added, “They wanted to go out winners here.”

“Tremont is a very tough team,” Bobbitt said. “They knocked down some tough shots. We knew coming in it was going to be a tough matchup for us. Tremont is very deep, they have good shooters, and they have some size. They’re a very good team. Give them some credit. They knocked some tough shots down.”

Turks head coach Justin Wahls said his team felt good about only being behind by three at the half, “but in the second half, we just turned the ball over too many times. We just gave the game to them. We lost it for ourselves, that’s for sure.”

Wahls admitted Rebecca Ehresman and Schlipf “showed up big tonight.” As for his own team, he credited Woodard, saying, “We knew we would need someone on the inside. She pounded it down inside. She’s a great post player.”

There is a possibility these two teams will square off in IHSA Regionals at the end of the regular season, Bobbitt said.

BaseballBLOOMINGTON – In battling for a championship, sometimes it’s fitting that the game gets decided on the very last play before the buzzer sounds. Going into the last minute of the last minute of the Boys Championship at the 103rd McLean County/Heart Of Illinois Conference Tournament, seventh seed Blue Ridge looked to have a three-point lead, 49-46, and time on their side against top seed Ridgeview.

Then Ridgeview freshman guard Tyler McCormick sank a three-point shot with 43 seconds in regulation, tying the game, 49-all. A final one-man daring drive down the court and into the scoring lane by Ridgeview senior guard Christian Fannin resulted in a missed layup as the buzzer sounded in regulation, resulting in overtime. But it was a free throw, followed up by a trey from sophomore guard Lindi Balazi that gave the Knights a 56-54 victory to earn a Championship crown.

By achieving the victory, Blue Ridge (15-5) earned what turned out to be just the second County Championship in school history, the last victory coming in 1988. Going back to when the school was known as Bellflower High School before that, basketball fans had only known of two previous County Tournament Championship teams, in 1914 and 1965.

Just one game after Ridgeview head coach Randy Kellar earned his 500th coaching career win, Blue Ridge handed the Mustangs their first loss on the season, leaving them with an 18-1 mark.

Blue Ridge senior guard Michael Plunk fouled out of the contest just 8 seconds into the four minute extra period, putting Ridgeview senior guard Trey McCormick on the free throw line, where he sank both shots, and then followed it up with a trey to give the Mustangs a 54-49 edge with 2:49 left.

trophy-mctourn.jpg Senior forward Will Duggans landed back-to-back deuces for Blue Ridge, putting the Knights within one, 54-53, with 1:35 left in the extra period. But Blue Ridge senior forward Clint O’Neal fouled sophomore Austin Zielsdorf to the free throw line, where he sank both shots, giving Ridgeview a three-point advantage, 56-53, with 36.2 seconds left.

Ridgeview sophomore forward Luke Ward fouled Belazi with 24.6 seconds left, and Belazi only made one of two free shots, cutting Ridgeview’s lead, 56-54. Belazi quickly followed that up with a layup off the right wing with six seconds left to give Blue Ridge the victory that time over the previous seasons hadn’t.

The game’s first quarter was a see-saw battle, punctuated by threes for Ridgeview from Trey McCormick and Ward, pushing the Mustangs past the Knights, 12-11, with 2:35 left in the first quarter. but back-to-back unanswered deuces by Plunk and sophomore forward Dylan Trent gave Blue Ridge a 15-12 lead, with 49.1 seconds left in the period. Zielsdorf’s two free throws after being fouled closed out the quarter’s scoring, cutting Blue Ridge’s lead to one, 15-14.

Blue Ridge Tigers But during the second quarter, Ridgeview ran into early foul trouble, giving an opening to Blue Ridge. O’Neal and Trent went a combined 3-for-4 at the line to open the second quarter, followed by a deuce from Plunk, putting the Knights on a 5-0 run, giving them a 20-14 lead with 3:59 left in the quarter. At the same time, Ridgeview’s offense stalled, as Tyler McCormick from the floor and Zielsdorf at the free throw line were the only Mustangs players that could provide points midway through the quarter, cutting Blue Ridge’s lead, 22-18 at the 2:32 mark in the quarter. The Knights entered halftime with a 25-19 lead.

Blue Ridge extended its distance to 10 as the third quarter opened, 29-19, on two free throws by Plunk and a deuce by Trent. Fannin’s jumper at 5:37 in the period. Ridgeview’s Tyler McCormick and Blue Ridge’s Plunk exchanged three-pointers in the quarter, giving the Knights a 34-24 lead, with 3:57 remaining. From there, Ridgeview attempted to just keep within range, as Blue Ridge owned a 37-28 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Baskets by Zielsdorf and junior guard William Tinsley, two free throws by Zielsdorf, and a trey by Tyler McCormick energized the Mustangs, pulling within eight, 45-37, with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter. A three-point play, including a free throw by Trey McCormick, cut Blue Ridge’s lead to five, 45-40, and two more free throws by Zielsdorf cut that lead to three, 45-42. A Blue Ridge basket by Duggins put Blue Ridge up, 47-42, with 2:30 left in regulation. Fannin’s basket for Ridgeview cut that lead, 47-44, at 2:21 in the final period of regulation, prompting the Knights to take a timeout.

Ridgeview Mustangs O’Neal’s jumper at 1:12 extended the lead, 49-44, but on the next play, O’Neal fouled Zielsdorf, who promptly sank two free throws, cutting the lead, 49-46, with 59.8 seconds left. McCormick hit a trey with 43 second left, tying the game at 49-all before Fannin’s failed final drive in regulation.

Plunk led all scorers with 18 points. He was followed in double-digits for the Knights by Trent with 11, and Duggins with 10. Zielsdorf led Ridgeview’s scoring effort, with 14 points, followed by Tyler McCormick’s 13, Trey McCormick’s 11, and 10 from Fannin.

“Ridgeview is unbelievably coached,” Blue Ridge head coach Kyle Watson said. “Some shot just went our way. Ridgeview picked up their pressure. There have been times our kids haven’t handled adversity very well, but to the credit of our kids, I think we handled adversity tonight. Especially, with our point-guard, Plunk, fouling out in overtime.”

The win was “a great credit to our kids coming off the bench,” Watson added. “You know, you’re not going to win four games in a week with just your starters. You need your bench players coming in as well. Our bench players showed a lot of guts tonight.”

Ridgeview head coach Rodney Kellar began his post-game comments by saying his kids were “Mustang strong” while battling for the title Saturday. “There was a lot of heart and a lot of pride in our comeback, and so, it’s pretty fitting that the game ended the way Blue Ridge did,” Kellar said. They beat us to rebounds, and they beat us to the ball. It’s kind of fitting that they made the last play. In a game like that, the last play wins and they made the play, and hats off to them.”

BaseballWhen I saw that the Normal CornBelters were hosting an event in the middle of winter to remind us that, yes, after the incredibly harsh winter, there will be spring and a 2014 baseball season, I convinced the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, that an early edition of the baseball column was essential. He agreed.

By the time Groundhog’s Day gets here, winter will be at the halfway mark, which means the idea of talking baseball can only whet the appetites of devoted fans. To that end, the inaugural “Hot Stove Banquet,” held at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott in Uptown Normal appeared to be just the thing baseball fans needed to pull themselves out of a sometimes sub-zero slump.

The first-ever event featured a silent auction, the proceeds from which went to the Washington Recreation Association in Washington, Ill., to help purchase baseball and softball equipment lost during the devastating tornado that struck that community Nov. 17. The CornBelters had even landed Mike Veeck, son of the late two-time owner of the Chicago White Sox, Bill Veeck, to be the featured speaker.

A wide ranging array of items were up for bids at the silent auction, including: Jerseys autographed by CornBelters shortstop Pat McKenna and former White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen; baseballs autographed by Kyuji Fujikawa, Bob Dernier, and Keith Moreland; a batting helmet autographed by former White Sox player Harold Baines; and two action photos autographed by New England Patriots tight end Ron Gronkowski, to name but a few of the famous who contributed. There were also gift baskets and CornBelters-related opportunities to be “Public Address Announcer For A Day,” “Bat Boy For A Day,” and “Radio Game Announcer For A Day” this season available for fans at the dinner to place bids on.

One might think having this event four months out from opening day might not help keep the thought of an upcoming season fresh in baseball fans’ minds. CornBelters General Manager Kyle Kreger disagrees. “Our logic was that we want people to be thinking baseball year-round,” he said. “But when it’s below zero, people aren’t thinking of it. But an event like the Hot Stove Banquet puts baseball at the top of their minds.”

And if the promotions that got the word out didn’t get folks into a baseball frame of mind, listening to Mike Veeck should have. He recounted for the audience of roughly 250 people who attended the dinner the story behind one of the more infamous baseball promotions of our time – “Disco Demolition Night” at old Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979.

Veeck told the gathering that, his father had owned the White Sox in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. By his father’s second try at it on the South side, Mike was working for the team, trying to drum up a promotional idea that would be a sure-fire hit. On July 1, 1979, he explained, he was in his car when he heard the disco smash, “That’s The Way I Like It” by K. C. And The Sunshine Band. That moment, Veeck told the gathering, was when inspiration arrived.

Cornbelters 5th Anniversary In an attempt to rid the world (or at least the South side’s corner of it, anyway) of all disco music, Steve Dahl and Gary Meier, then disc jockeys for Chicago’s WLUP FM, their program director, and the younger Veeck hatched a promotion to blow up a large stack of disco records on the field. But a rescheduled game from May 2 of that year between White Sox and Detroit at Comiskey Park was rained out. American League rules called for the game to be made up at the teams’ next meeting in Chicago. That turned out to be Thursday, July 12, for a single night game, which would also kick off a four-game weekend series, the last series before the All-Star Break. The single game date was switched to a twi-night doubleheader. The proposed demolition was slated, then, to take place between games.

“By 6:30 that night, there were 60,000 fans at the game and 40,000 more on the streets around the ballpark trying to get in,” Veeck told diners. “Ten thousand of them got onto the field.” He said the episode had traffic snarled from Comiskey Park all the way to O’Hare International Airport, roughly 5 miles away.

It was anticipated that 12,000 fans would show for the ceremonial disco demise. But the crowd was closer to 90,000 according to published accounts. The field was so badly torn up by the chaos that followed, that Lee MacPhail, then-American League President, forefeited the night game to the Tigers.

My father was supposed to take in a game at Comiskey the next day, July 13. Obviously, because of the circumstances, he never did.

Although it was Mike Veeck who helped hatch the plan for this now-infamous event, Mike said his father stepped forward to take the blame for its result, but in the end, the White Sox board of directors, which included both of his folks, voted unanimously, 12-0, to fire Mike. He told banquet attendees his father told him afterward, “sometimes, some promotions work too well.”

The fans at the Hot Stove Banquet were informed by Veeck that, in the last five years, The Corn Crib had played host to 200 events, baseball and otherwise. “That’s doing better than my old man did,” the son of the legendary owner admitted. And on this specific night, Washington Recreation Association did well, too, as winning auction bids brought in $3,000.

Prior to the banquet, I sat down with Veeck and Frontier League President Bill Lee to get an update on how one of baseball’s independent leagues fares these days. “The Frontier League has stabilized and become part of the game,” Veeck said. “The player personnel side of Major League Baseball (MLB) has now accepted players coming in through such leagues.”

Veeck added MLB clubs now hire front office personnel who have worked in independent league clubs “at an unprecedented rate. I’ve never seen anything like it in the last five years.”

Frontier LeagueThe relationship between independent leagues and MLB has improved such that independent leagues like the Frontier League and the American Association and the Can-Am League receive listings of players released from teams during the off-season from MLB regularly. “We have a great relationship with the 30 Major League clubs,” Veeck said.

In fact, Lee reminds that 27 players currently in the majors started their careers in the Frontier League.

Another 1,200 players regularly get contracts to join MLB minor league clubs. As far as the CornBelters are looking right now, second-season Manager Brooks Carey tells me he has signed 12 of the players he had on the squad last season. “My one focus, my genuine focus, in being here in Normal, is to bring a championship team to this organization,” Carey said.

He said infielders Mike Schwartz, Aaron Dudley, and McKenna, as well as pitcher Tyler Lavigne, are among the 12 returning players who will do their best to thrill fans at The Corn Crib again this season, alongside new faces which will be found at scouting combines, and will try for spots on the roster come spring training in early May.

In the meantime, from now until April, Carey said, “We’ll be scouring release sheets, looking at the lists of released players who were on teams that don’t have room for them anymore.” He said that listing is another source for finding quality players.

“We’re probably three pitchers and three or four position players away from what we feel we need to contend this season,” Carey said.

That’s nice to hear, and no doubt when scouting combines open up in the next month or so, more talent will become known to the team and some of those guys will be asked to come to spring training. Once the snow clears and the winds die down, the ‘Belters and their fans can get down to the business of trying for their first championship during their fifth year.

Here is hoping the Groundhog doesn’t get the chance to see his shadow this weekend.

By Steve Robinson | January 23, 2014 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – With District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus retiring at the end of the current school year in June, Normal-based Unit 5 School District began the process of seeking his successor last November. At that time, Unit 5 Board of Education members approved the hiring of Highland Park, Ill.-based School Exec Connect, a consulting firm which took in and screened applications for the position.

In a 15-minute work session prior to their regularly-scheduled meeting on Jan. 22, Unit 5 Board members found out the search firm received a total of 36 applications from persons wishing to be the next superintendent.

Dr. Kent F. Johansen, Ed.D., senior associate with School Exec Connect, told Board members that, of the 36, 21 were currently employed as superintendents elsewhere and that 9 applicants held district-level positions such as assistant superintendent or deputy superintendent; 3 were school principals; 1 was a consultant to schools; and 2 others were currently working in fields outside education.

Of the candidate pool, Johansen said 29 of them were from Illinois, and two from Michigan. He added there was one applicant each from Tennessee, Iowa, Colorado, Texas, and Kentucky. Of that initial group, Johansen explained, School Exec Connect narrowed the candidate pool to seven applicants for Unit 5 to interview. Johansen and Olds would not tell media members the specific locations from where each finalist is from, citing confidentiality of the screening process.

Board members were scheduled to begin a week’s worth of first-round interviews with the candidates beginning Jan. 24. The Board’s calendar lists first-round interviews through the end of the month.

Johansen told Board members legislative action specific to Illinois has had some affect on the candidate pool.

Dr. Edward L. Olds III, consultant with School Exec Connect, added the interview process “is a two-way street – you are both trying to build a relationship.” He said once the first round of interviews are completed, Board members would be able to narrow that group down to their two or three finalists for the job.

Regarding that final vote after the top finalists are selected, Johansen stressed to Board members that their vote on their final choice for the Superintendent’s post “must be a consensus. You can’t have a 4-3 or 5-2 vote.”

Two Public Hearings Held: The Board’s regular meeting following the work session began with a pair of public hearings – one concerning waiving observance of five public holidays observed by the State; And one needed prior to beginning repairs at a district school.

The first public hearing concerned Unit 5 waiving five legal holidays from district calendar. Those holidays are: Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, and Casimir Pulaski Day. Dr. Sandy Wilson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the district, told Board members that for every holiday waived, the person or persons honored by that holiday must be recognized in the classroom through instructional activities conducted on that day.

If the holiday falls on a weekend, such recognition would take place on either the last school day before or the first school day after the holiday. No members of the public addressed the public hearing, and Board members voted unanimously to pass the measure to waive the holidays.

The second hearing concerned doing repairs to the track at Normal Community High School. Joe Adelman, Unit 5’s director of operations, told Board members the public hearing for this was needed because the district would be using money utilized for life safety issues to complete the repairs. No members of the public spoke at the public hearing concerning this issue. Board members unanimously approved having the work done, which a local engineering firm estimates will cost $210,000 to complete.

Common Core State Standards Update Given: Wilson updated Board members concerning the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a program of what students are expected to learn so they can have the skills needed for the future. Wilson reminded Board members Common Core, as it is known, is a set of standards and not a curriculum. She said student data during Common Core is gathered by the district to inform instructors and to be shared with parents, but not shared with any parties outside Unit 5. The State of Illinois adopted Common Core in 2010, anticipating it would be implemented by school districts statewide during the 2013-14 school year, replacing the Illinois Learning Standards, which were established in 1997.

Wilson explained Common Core Standards are needed to, among other goals, help bring consistency and uniformity to what students learn at each grade level from one state to another. Currently, Illinois is one of 45 states which have adopted the Common Core Standards to date. Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia are the only states not to have adopted Common Core Standards, to date.

While uniformity is the goal of Common Core, not all citizens agree with the approach, as was expressed during the Public Comments portion of the meeting. Todd C. Miller, Normal, addressed Board members, saying he and his wife were “opposed to Common Core. I want to know what data will be held and collected,” he told Board members. Miller added, “It will be expensive and I wonder where the money for the program will come from.”

Unit 5 mapNCHS’ “Good News”: Five NCHS students who were nominated for the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” Award were recognized by the school in front of Board members at this session as part of three “good news” moments during the meeting. Radiance Campbell, Sanskriti Khurana, Traevon Parnell, Xavier Robinson, and the person selected to receive the award from the Normal Human Relations Commission, Likhita Kalla, were all recognized for the accomplishment.

Normal Community West High’s “Good News”: David Johnson, Principal, Normal Community West High School, introduced Board members to Emily Brown, a senior at the school who has been named one of two high school students nationwide selected to represent the United States at the International German Olympics to be held in Frankfurt am Main, Germany next summer. To get to this point, Emily won a final round competition, held at the Goethe-Institut in Chicago on December 11-12.

Emily’s competition didn’t come from only the United States and Germany, but from students in 50 countries across the globe.

Students went through a challenging two days of competition, with judges assessing their skills in their German listening, reading and speaking, as well as testing their knowledge about Germany.

Consul General Christian Brecht of the German Consulate in Chicago spoke to the students during the award ceremony, congratulating them on their accomplishments and encouraged them to continue with their study of the German language and culture. In all, 12 national finalists from U.S. schools participated. Alicia Henry is Emily’s German teacher at Normal West.

Athletic Directors Deliver Report On Changes To Big 12 Conference: Athletic Directors for Normal’s two high schools made a joint appearance before Board members to update them on coming changes concerning the Big 12 Conference, the conference both NCHS and Normal West belong to.

NCHS’ Andy Turner and Normal West’s Stan Lewis addressed Board members, presenting both a history lesson and an update of what the future holds for a conference that has been undergoing change for over the past decade. Those changes have included seeing the exit from the conference of Stephen Decatur High School in Decatur when it closed in 2001; The departures from the conference of Rantoul (2005), Mattoon (2013); and two Decatur high schools – MacArthur and Eisenhower – at the end of this school year.

Peoria School District 150 approved their three high schools – Peoria Central High School, Richwoods High School, and Manual High School – joining the Big 12, as did the controlling body that oversees Peoria Notre Dame High School. The date for when those four schools would join the Big 12 Conference will be determined in the near future. As agreements currently stand, the Peoria schools are contractually obligated to be members of the Western Big 6 Conference for football in 2014, making 2015 the earliest they could join the Big 12 for football. Turner and Lewis said those schools would be available immediately for all other sports.

Conceal Carry Safety Signs To Go Up At District Facilities: By the end of the month, all Unit 5 facilities, particularly schools, will have 4×6 signs posted indicating that firearms are prohibited by the district. At the beginning of this month, Illinois became the last state in the Union to allow a person to carry a concealed firearm. Curt Richardson, attorney for the district, explained the State’s concealed carry law, after gun owners have applied for and received a permit, allows gun owners to go through training to handle weapons. He said the law has within it “a number of expressly prohibited places where guns may not be present. Those include schools, universities, and other such places like that.”

“We’re going to post these signs at all the entrances to our facilities,” Adelman added. “That includes parking lots, playgrounds, and adding such signs to school doors, as well. Our main goal is to make sure everybody understands, that with conceal carry, that we don’t allow guns on school property.”

As part of the State law, those places where guns are prohibited are required to post signs to that affect. Signs indicating where guns are not prohibited include a picture of a handgun inside a circle with a diagonal slash across the weapon. Under State law, the signs need to be posted at all entrances to school property, as well as at entrances to school buildings, Richardson said.

Richardson further pointed out that if a person comes to a facility with a weapon in their possession, the law requires the gun owner to store the weapon in their vehicle’s trunk or other locked container, such as a glove box. He further stipulated that gun owners must remove ammunition from the weapon before placing it in the locked location.

District Student Population Up By 1: In recent years, Board members have become accustomed to hearing about steady increases in the populations of the district’s schools. But when Cunningham presented the same-day comparison for the last day of December, it was easy to do the math. That’s because, when same-day population figures came out, Unit 5 reported 13,548 students in class at that time – a difference of one more student than they had on the last day of class before the holiday break in 2012.

At the elementary school level, the same-day comparison showed the district had 6,965 students in class on the last day of the fall semester, as opposed to 7,033 students attending on the last day of fall semester a year ago, a drop of 68 students, or just less than one percent. Benjamin Elementary School saw the largest drop among the elementary schools in same-day attendance figures, with 125 fewer students present than there were in 2012, giving them a population of 712 students at the end of 2013. Northpoint Elementary School saw an increase in same-day population on the last day of the semester of 68 students. That gave Northpoint a population of 685 students versus the 617 they had on the same day in 2012.

Three out of four of Unit 5’s junior high schools – Chiddix, George L. Evans, and Kingsley — saw population increases in their same-day attendance numbers on the last day of the year. Only Parkside Junior High School registered a drop in same-day population, with 720 students in class, a deficit of 18 students from the same day in 2012. Among the three junior highs that saw increased populations, CJHS reported the largest increase from last year, 40 students, giving them a population at the end of 2013 of 724 students. Evans had 744 students, an increase of 24 students from the last school day in 2012; and KJHS reported a same-day population of 898 students, up by 14 from the same day in 2012. All four junior highs had a total population of 3,086 students on the last day of 2013, an increase of 60 students from the last school day the year before.

There was also a single-digit change in the total populations at Normal’s two high schools when the same-day count was tallied. NCHS and Normal West registered a combined population of 3,497 students, an increase of just nine students, or .26 percent, from the same-day count taken on the last school day in December 2012. Normal West registered a total of 1,563 students in the same-day tally on the last school day last month, a decrease of 21 students from the last school day in 2012. NCHS had 1,934 students in class on the last school day last month, a jump of 30 students from the same day the year before.