By Steve Robinson | February 26, 2014 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Two Unit 5 teachers were honored by the district for having achieved the designation as National Board Certified Teachers. Jason Klokkenga, a Social Studies teacher at Normal Community West High School; and Chelsie Campbell, a Special Education Resource teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School. Klokkenga and Campbell earned this recognition in 2013.

In recognizing what Klokkenga and Campbell had achieved, Dr. Sandy Wilson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Unit 5, told Board members, “It takes self-dedication and initiative on the part of those who earn this.”

Board President John Puzauskas congratulated Klokkenga and Campbell for “a job well done.”

The mission of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPT) is to advance the quality of teaching and learning. NBPT indicates that is accomplished by maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, providing a national voluntary system for certifying teachers who meet these standards, and advocating education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education.

In 1997, the legislature of the State of Illinois passed the Illinois Teaching Excellence Act stipulating the only means to the Illinois Master Teaching Certificate is by achieving National Board Certification Nationwide less than 100,000 teachers and counselors are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To date, more than 100 McLean County Unit 5 teachers have received this designation.

Unit 5 mapIncrease In Student Population Charted: District Superintendent Dr.Gary Niehaus gave a handout to media members which charted student population growth and corresponding staff increases over a 10-year period beginning with the 2003-04 school year. Enrollment figures were based on student population numbers taken on the last school day in September of each of the years in the time span.

Unit 5 currently had 13,565 students enrolled in its 17 elementary schools, four junior highs, and two high schools. In 2003-04 on that same day, there were 10,935 students enrolled in the district. That is an increase of 2,630 students in the decade-long period. In 2003-04, in addition to two high schools, there were 15 elementary schools and three junior highs.

Total staff in classrooms went up as well as a result of the increases. During the 2003-04 school year, Unit 5 had a total staff of 1,635 people and 803 ½ new teachers. Currently, Unit 5 has a total staff of 1,648 people, an increase of 26 employees. The district also has 1,001 teachers currently, a jump of 198 people, or slightly over 13.25 percent.

Niehaus pointed out the only time frame where there was a reduction in numbers of students was during the period when the country experienced a recession during 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Steve RobinsonIn early January 2011, the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, and I were sitting in a local restaurant having a coffee break with Gene Jontry, a history buff when it comes to the subject of the annual McLean Couinty/Heart Of Illinois Tournament.

At that meeting, Jontry, who had done a little of everything at various points in his life as far as the Tournament was concerned – player, coach, school administrator, and Tournament organizing committee member – was helping us with a series of articles we were preparing in time for the 100th edition of the Tournament.

As a result, he had plenty of stats, data, trivia, and informational tidbits to help us prepare articles. His collection of information also included rosters from many teams that had played in the tournament over the years. One of those rosters provided absolute proof – both statistical and photographic – that, yes, indeed, Mr. Pyne did play on the Lexington Minutemen varsity team his senior year in 1964.

But, so, too, did guys like Jim Dady, Fred Hardman, Dennis Garrett, Gary Yeagle, and Ed Brucker – all molded into manhood through sports, as athletes usually are, in this case by their head coach, E. W. “Duke” Towner.

When Jontry completed his history lesson, I mentally filed the Lexington details away in my brain for future reference and hoped for an opportunity to use them later down the road. With the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Basketball Tournaments upon us, beginning with the Girls’ Class 1A-2A Tourney this weekend at Redbird Arena, this seemed the ideal time to let the players of the previous era give us an opportunity to help them – and those of us who were not here then – remember when.

Towner’s troops finished the 1963-64 season 24-3 which included winning the 53rd McLean County Tournament that year by beating Octavia, 47-36, at what was at the time a reasonably brand new facility – Horton Field House on the Illinois State University campus. With 7,000 seats, compared to the Tourney’s previous home at that time – McCormick Hall Gym on ISU’s campus – it must have seemed palatial. Dady, Hardman, Brucker, Pyne, and Mark Young were Towner’s starting five that season.

Two of the Minutemen’s three losses came as bookends that season, by Octavia’s Rockets team, although Towner’s Minutemen did get a measure of revenge beating the Rockets in the County Tourney title game, 47-36. “In those days, Octavia was pretty dominant in the area,” explained Gary Yeagle, who was playing guard that season, and now is retired from his job as an attorney for State Farm Insurance.

Yeagle said he has no problem ranking Lexington’s 1964 team right behind their brethren from the 1974 Minutemen squad that went to State in Basketball. “We probably could have held our own against the ’74 team,” Yeagle joked.

For Dennis Garrett, he remembers the last minute of the County Championship for a basket he made. “We were down to the final minute, and we were just trying to protect the lead, and I just happened to get an open shot from around 10 or 12 feet,” Garrett recalled. “I just went ahead and took it, and luckily, made it.”

But it wasn’t done without consequence. Garrett, at that time a senior forward, said that’s because he “got severely chewed out” by Towner for taking the shot, in spite of getting points from it. Garrett admits the Minutemen coach at that point in the game was “just wanting the players to hold onto the ball and let the time run out.”

Jim Dady said the championship victory in the County Tournament over Octavia has never exited his mind. “It was one of the highlights of that season,” said Dady, who retired from banking. “One of the takeaways of my high school playing career was to say I played in the last County Tournament played in McCormick and the first County tournament played at Horton Field House.”

Dady said Lexington entered the County title game with a 7-2 mark. “Entering that game was a big deal for us because Octavia had beaten Lexington seven straight times before that County Championship game. Because of that, we really wanted to beat those guys, and we played pretty well,” Dady said. The County Championship for the Minutemen turned out to be a first loss of that season for the Rockets.

When the 1963-64 season began winding down and Regional play began at Fairbury, the large number of schools that vied for the title included larger Twin City schools like Normal Community High and Bloomington High; ISU’s Lab School, University High; as well as the smaller schools like Lexington and Octavia. In that Regional, the Minutemen faced U-High, and Octavia squared off against the Ironmen.

By the time those playoffs arrived, Lexington found itself facing U-High, who were coached by Bob Metcalf. Now 87, Metcalf said when IHSA overseers did the seeding for the Regionals, they opted for something Metcalf believes should not have happened. And yet, it did, but certainly wouldn’t today. IHSA representatives chose the seedings for the teams at the Regional by drawing numbers out of a hat for each team, Metcalf explained.

“Going into the Regional, the teams were seeded 1 through 6,” Metcalf began. “Lexington and U-High played each other in the Regional’s first game. But, those two teams had the best records, so they really should have played in the Regional’s last game.”

“For some unknown reason, IHSA used a blind draw,” Metcalf said. “We beat Lexington. They were out and done for the season.” U-High, under Metcalf, would get as far as the Super-Sectional where they would lose to Gibson City.

“Winning the championship of the Regional was quite pleasing, getting that little bit of payback or revenge on Lexington, who had beaten us just the month before in the County Tournament,” said Dennis Kagel, now owner of Dennis Kagel Financial Services in Normal. As the 1963-64 season was winding down, Kagel was a junior at Octavia. But the Rockets’ turn for celebration turned out to be short-lived as they were beaten in the next round by Stephen Decatur High School, ironically in a quarterfinal game played at Horton Field House.

These kids-now-mostly retirees hold many a memory about playing some of the first games at Horton Field House in the McLean County Tournament. Not to mention playing in State playoff there, too. A word I heard a lot during interviews was “big.” After all, these kids played in what were, by today’s standards, small gyms.

“It was a big deal to play at Horton Field House, and to win at the County Tournament there was a really big deal,” Gary Yeagle said. “It was really special.”

Playing at Horton was “pretty much a culture shock walking in there,” Dennis Garrett said. “Especially when you walk out on that floor for the first time when you’ve been used to playing in a gym that holds 500 people, if you’re lucky. It was definitely a different world. McCormick Gym was bigger, but it was similar to a high school gym.”

“People came and basically stayed for the game you were playing in, and the gym for that game was full,” Garrett added. Garrett calls winning the County title at Horton his most memorable personal basketball memory. Today, he said, the current home of the present-day McLean County/Heart Of Illinois Conference Tournament, Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center, “feels more like Horton.”

“When we stepped on the court at Horton for the County Tournament, we’d never seen anything that big,” Jim Dady added. He recalled the Lexington-Octavia championship showdown drawing roughly 3,000 fans. “We’d never played before crowds larger than 300 at McCormick.”

“Playing at Horton was really a special thing because, not only was the County Tournament a big deal in those days, but I would guess, at that time, there were 14 or 15 schools involved,” said Dennis Kagel. “It was a week-long extravaganza for basketball fans.”

The current extravaganza now involves girls and boys teams, lasts four weeks, covering four classes of teams, taking about a month and a half to complete. One does not stop to think in those terms during the playoffs. We just look at the seasons, mostly the way coaches teach their players to – one game at a time. Well, starting Friday, that game-at-a-time process starts to wind down toward crowning State champions. And we will all be watching. And cheering for, rooting for, and hoping for a positive outcome for our favorite teams. Is it any wonder it is referred to as madness? It may not have been called that when these men played, but the feeling certainly sounds the same.

By Steve Robinson | February 23, 2014 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Water GlassNORMAL – The thought of toxic waste being dumped near a local drinking water source used by a majority of central Illinois residents brought between 150-180 people to the Normal Town Council chambers and nearby meeting rooms on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Saturday.

The operators of the Clinton Landfill, Peoria-based Area Disposal Co. (ADC), is seeking permission from State and Federal authorities to add a location to be used for the disposal of toxic waste, including Polychlorinated Biphenyl, better known as PCB. ADC is required by law to seek permission of U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for what they are seeking to do.

The Mahomet Aquifer is a large lake located underground which provides drinking water to 850,000 people in central Illinois. ADC’s plan is opposed by area residents because of fears of potential leaks of toxins getting into the aquifer, contaminating it.

Public officials from at least 15 communities in McLean, DeWitt, and Champaign Counties, attended the session. Officials from the Town of Normal; City of Bloomington; McLean County Board; and DeWitt County Board also attended the day-long summit. Steve Carter, retired City Manager for the City of Champaign, served as moderator, explaining the aquifer’s role in providing water to people throughout the region.

Carter further explained the governing bodies of the cities of Champaign, Urbana, and Bloomington; Town of Normal, Village of Savoy; Champaign and Piatt Counties; and the Mahomet Valley Water Authority were banding together to share the legal expenses resulting from trying to prevent ADC’s plan from succeeding.

Allen Wehrmann, project engineer for Champaign-based Layne Hydro, a water management company, told Summit participants he is preparing a report to USEPA in which he explains, in part, areas affected by actions taken by the disposal company would not leave communities near the Mackinaw River or Lake Vermillion “with viable backups for drinking water” because they contain a limited supply.

Wehrmann said ADC’s application to store the waste would receive a review from USEPA in order to try to receive Federal funding. But he added, “such funding can’t be used for any project that presents a health risk.”

Wehrmann said the State EPA, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), has stricter requirements concerning landfills placed over Sole Source Aquifers, or SSAs. To be classified as an SSA, 50 percent of an area’s drinking water must come from the aquifer. Wehrmann said Bloomington-Normal alone uses 53.1 million gallons provided by the Mahomet Aquifer. Another 3.9 gallons the Twin Cities gets comes from private sources.

The communities involved in the effort to prevent ADC from accomplishing what it is seeking to do at the Clinton Landfill have filed a “Citizen’s Complaint” with Illinois Pollution Control Board, according to Joe Hooker, assistant city attorney for the City of Champaign, when he addressed Summit participants.

Hooker explained the complaint states ADC is violating State law by wanting to place toxic waste at the Clinton Landfill. He added Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has said she agrees with groups that have formed to oppose ADC’s actions, adding that such actions are a violation of State law.

Hooker added IEPA “expressly prohibited” disposal of PCB waste at landfills in 2007. He said if ADC gets their way, the Clinton Landfill would be the second PCB waste site for six states, including Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

“I pledge to you my support to work together with you on this issue, and to work with the Illinois Congressional delegation on this,” said State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th Dist.), who began a series of brief remarks from local officials whose communities are involved in addressing this issue. “I thank you for your advocacy.”

“If the Mahomet Aquifer is breached and becomes contaminated with PCBs, it would be ‘game over,’” Normal Mayor Chris Koos told Summit attendees. “That’s because there is no other source for water for a lot of these communities. That’s the end. People will leave the area. As a result, central Illinois will be farmland and that’ll be about it. All the work we have done to improve our communities is in jeopardy by this very project.”

The aquifer is a “long-term water supply even though Bloomington has not tapped into it,” Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner told the gathering. “We will do anything we can do to help put a little pressure on ADC. Common sense and decency need to prevail.”

“Even though the communities of Bloomington and Normal aren’t a primary source for water, you realize how important this resource is for central Illinois,” said State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-52nd Dist.), also a current candidate for State Treasurer.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard encouraged the younger members of the Summit audience to get the word out about the issue through their current social media avenues such as Facebook and Twitter.

Urbana, as a city, was more concerned about running out of water more so than it becoming contaminated, explained that city’s Mayor, Laurel Prussing, to the gathering. She said this situation “has gotten different divisions of USEPA which don’t normally talk to each other actually talking to each other.” She suggested congregations from area churches could begin discussing the aquifer issue to help spread knowledge of the situation. She said churches could take the approach that to do so would “be a form of protecting one of God’s creations.”

A public service announcement has been produced, Carter added. The spot, featuring Koos; Normal City Manager Mark Peterson; Gerard; and Prussing was produced to make people more aware of the situation. Peterson said people can look up “Mahomet Aquifer PSA” on an internet search engine to access it.

John Marlin, a representative from Champaign-based Prairie Rivers Network, a group that promotes conservation, told Summit attendees they should remember the proponents for a certain cause sometimes have money or election issues to weigh when they try to get the public to see their point of view. Marlin also gave attendees a lesson on how to gain supporters for their cause.

Steve Bridges, a member of the Mahomet Aquifer Protection Alliance, encouraged attendees to write letters to local government leaders, newspapers, and State agencies, as well as to “evaluate your own trash hauler’s operations.” Bridges also encouraged attendees to use social media to enlist help in making their communities aware of the situation.

To begin the Summit’s closing remarks, Peterson conducted a demonstration, pulling a glass of water from a container as he began to speak. It was a glass of water produced by the aquifer. “I’m angry about this,” Peterson told the gathering. Then, pointing to the liquid in the glass, he added, “This is more precious than a Saudi oil well.” It was a line that generated applause from those attending the afternoon session.

Peterson made note of the fact that while Rep. Brady and State Sen. Frerichs came to the Summit, but wondered aloud why none of the local members of the U. S. House of Representatives who were invited attended or sent representatives on their behalf. He was referring to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-13th Dist.); Rep. John Shimkis (R-15th Dist.); and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-18th Dist.), all of whom were issued invitations but did not respond.

By Steve Robinson | February 18, 2014 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – In the contest between the two high schools that represent the Normal-based Unit 5 School District, you had two teams going in opposite directions. One team, Normal Community West, has struggled all season and was looking to slow the game’s pace on their cross-town rivals, Normal Community High, who has been on a tear all season against Big 12 Conference opponents.

But a jumper by Normal West sophomore guard Josh Robinson with 1.5 seconds left in the game sent the Wildcats fans in the crowd cheering as the ball breezed through the net, earning a hard-fought come-from behind 34-32 win, increasing their season record to 9-17 overall, including a 5-9 conference mark.

Normal West got off to a quick 3-0 start in the game, off a basket and free throw from Robinson. A basket by NCHS junior guard David Boyd at 3:56 in the opening quarter cut that lead, 3-2. West senior center Phil Yuncker’s deuce at 2:09 put his team in a 5-2 lead. But a trey by NCHS junior forward Tyler Seibring tied the game, 5-all, with 40 seconds left. West owned a 7-5 lead going into the second quarter thanks to senior guard Zach Breen’s deuce as the horn sounded ending the quarter.

Normal West Junior guard Duane Farrington tied the game, 7-all, as the second quarter opened, but back-to-back baskets by Yuncker pushed West up, 11-7 with 4:44 left. NCHS (16-8, 7-5 Big 12) cut West’s lead to one, 15-14 on a trey by junior forward Alex Peacock at the 2:03 mark. With one minute to go until the half, Seibring’s jumper gave the Ironmen a 17-16 lead. West senior guard Hayden Maurice’s deuce with five seconds left put the Wildcats ahead at the half, 17-16.

Yuncker opened the third quarter with a deuce, giving West a 19-16 lead, but senior guard Alex Prus’ trey at the 6:28 mark pulled NCHS into a 19-all tie. Each team would score two baskets apiece to finish the quarter, putting the contest in a tie at 23-all to open the fourth quarter.

In that last quarter, the Wildcats spent half of it giving chase, down 32-28 at the3:37 mark, thanks to a trey by NCHS junior guard Zac Thompson. But a pair of Ironmen fouls sent Robinson and Yuncker to the free throw line, where they scored a combined 4-for-4 from the line. That allowed the Wildcats to tie the score at 32-all, with 5.6 seconds left on the clock. After West took a time out at that point, the Wildcats had possession of the ball in-bounding to Robinson who caught the ball, took one step and tossed a jumper that went through the net, giving the Wildcats the victory.

NCHS Yuncker and Robinson led the Wildcats’ scoring, with 14 points, and 12 points, respectfully. Seibring was the only Ironmen player in double-figures, pocketing 13, including a trey.

Of Robinson’s winning basket, his head coach, Normal West’s Brian Cupples, said, “We just wanted to give Josh some space. Doing that helped him because he scored. We competed well against the glass.”

Cupples added the Wildcats were hoping for a low-scoring affair “because of our pace and NCHS’ struggles this season. When NCHS was ahead 32-28, our kids showed a lot of character converting at the offensive end.”

“Give all the credit to Normal West,” NCHS head coach Dave Witzig said afterward. “Their zone play was great and Robinson played a great game. We missed shots we normally would make.”

Steve RobinsonDo Chess and Hockey have anything in common? That might depend upon who you ask. If one thinks about it, one realizes both activities require an ability to look ahead to make the right move that will help advance to a potential successful victory. Both have timing issues to consider, not to mention whether you are a skater or a chess player, being in the right position to make a move that will confound and defeat an opponent.

This weekend, at two separate events, a local high school student and a junior high school student, the former at the chess board and the latter a student of and player on the ice, talked to me about their respective activities.

First, Benjamin Nielsen, a junior at Normal Community West High School, placed third overall at the Illinois High School Association State Chess Tournament, held at the Peoria Civic Center last weekend. In high school chess, players go seven rounds to a final finish, each round potentially earning a player 1 point, or a perfect score of seven points when all games are completed. Nielsen, son of Adam Nielsen and Dayna Brown of Normal, won all seven of his games, earning 7 points. He placed third overall at the State Chess event.

Normal West got into the State Chess Tournament as a result of Bloomington High School having to withdraw from the prerequisite regional competition held Jan. 25 because they did not have enough players for a full team. BHS’ misfortune turned out to be a positive for Normal West

“When you are in a very, very close game, your heart starts pounding,” explained Benjamin Nielsen. “When I start to feel that, I try tapping my foot on the floor. It calms me down.”

Benjamin’s Normal West teammate, Noah Pearson, found himself bunched in a four-way tie for first in his division. Of 138 teams that competed in this event, head coach Vicki Kafer’s Normal West team finished 38th. BHS did still have a team at State, finishing 13th; Normal Community High School finished 33rd; and Heyworth High finished 74th.

Meanwhile, while Nielsen was scoring perfectly at Chess, Konnor Halsey was trying to score the autograph of a Chicago Blackhawks legend who was in town last Friday. About 70 hockey fans stood in line for an autographed picture from Chicago Blackhawks’ legendary goalie Tony Esposito when he visited the Twin Cities Friday. That was the number of people I saw in line while Esposito was signing before the Bloomington Thunder’s Southern Professional Hockey League contest against the Mississippi RiverKings. Esposito also signed autographs during an intermission.

Konnor, a 12-year-old seventh grader who attends Parkside Junior High School, was in line with his parents waiting to get Esposito’s autograph, while at the same time, carrying out the continuation of a dream, some would say.

That’s because Konnor aspires to play hockey as a pro like Esposito, which for a person his age, could happen in the next 6-8 years from now when Konnor will be of the age most young men get involved in the sport at the professional level. Esposito played 16 seasons in NHL, 15 of them in Chicago after starting his career in and spending his rookie season with Montreal. Now 70, Esposito retired with the Blackhawks at the end of the 1983-84 season.

“It’s kind of cool,” Konnor said about seeing and getting an autographed picture of Esposito in his Blackhawks sweater standing in front of the net looking braced for action. Konnor was pretty low key about the idea, but I was surprised to learn Esposito wasn’t the only Blackhawks player, past or present, from whom he has gotten an autograph. The lad has a budding collection which includes signed photos from Brian Noonan, Brent Sopple, and Dennis Savard.

“I like meeting Blackhawks,” Konnor said. “It’s kind of cool.” The seventh grader said he, someday, wants to join the ranks of professional hockey players. Right now, he’s in a youth league playing center for Bloomington Thunder Youth Hockey’s Peewee Division team at the Pepsi Ice Center, adjacent to U. S. Cellular Coliseum.

Konnor has tried other sports before since he was in first grade, his parents, Kevin and Kelli Halsey explained, including basketball, baseball, and soccer, but didn’t care much for any of those three. But in the last couple of years, since finding hockey, “I tried it and I liked it,” Konnor said. “It’s fun, mainly because I’ve been to games.”

“We were excited about Konnor playing hockey because my brother played it when he was young,” Kelli Halsey recalled. “So it was definitely a family thing. We were excited because it was a game we would all get into.”

Kelli isn’t kidding about that aspect of how the Halsey family is into the game. Her husband, Kevin, said he saw how much fun his son has been having, and that he was inspired to take up the game himself recently. Now Kevin plays the game in a league sponsored by Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department.

“I’ve skated before but I didn’t decide to play hockey until after seeing Konnor take it up,” Kevin Halsey admitted.

Konnor said among the things he enjoys most about playing hockey “are shooting and getting to embarrass the goalie when I score.”

It looks as though both Benjamin and Konnor have found their niche. Both games are demanding in different ways for different reasons, but both still require skills and smarts. Here’s hoping these two young men find that the skills and smarts they possess will continue carrying them a long way in life, too.