By Steve Robinson | April 27, 2014 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BaseballNormal Community West High School and rival Normal Community High School split their two-game baseball showdown at The Corn Crib in north Normal April 22 and 24, while also honoring a former Wildcats player in the process. Normal West needed nine innings to beat the Ironmen in the first game, 6-3. NCHS evened the slate two days later, coming away 2-1 winners.

Both sides in the two contests wore specially-made jerseys, all with the number “19” in honor of Michael Collins, a 2010 graduate of Normal West who lost his life in a car accident on April 2. In addition to each jersey showing Collins’ number, the front and back of each jersey had the Twitter-based hashtag “#MCStong” above the numbers on both sides in tribute to Collins.

NCHS Takes Game Two, 2-1: NCHS finished the two-game set with a 7-7 overall record including a 2-1 mark in the Big 12 Conference following completion of the two games, having beaten West, 2-1, in a game whose start time was moved up two hours in order to complete the game before a forecast rain storm.

After defense had been on display by both sides for the first three innings of the contest, NCHS scored their only runs of the game when a combination of a West wild pitch and a passed ball helped the Ironmen score. Ironmen second baseman John Megles crossed the plate, giving the Ironmen a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Later in the inning, with the bases loaded, West pitcher Reid Burlingmair walked NCHS first baseman Ryan Bouwman, giving NCHS, a 2-0 lead.

Normal WestWest (11-9, 2-1 Big 12 Conference after this game) earned their lone run of the game when junior shortstop Ben Lawyer rounded the bases after having been walked by NCHS sophomore pitcher Mike Shepard. Birlingmair singled after Lawyer, but junior outfielder Evan Mucciolo hit into a double play to end the inning, in effect giving the game its final score.

Shepard (4-1)got the win for NCHS, registering two strikeouts and giving up seven hits. Birlingmair (1-2) got the loss, despite having struck out 6 and walked two.

“That win was big for us,” NCHS head coach Ryan Short said. “You always want to play your best against your rival. I thought West played to their best today and we did, too, especially on the mound and defensively.”

Of Shepard’s effort, Short said, “Mike threw a lot of strikes late in the game, and defensively, we made good plays behind him.”

“Birlingmair got better as the game went on,” explained his coach, West’s Chris Hawkins. “I thought our offense had a lot of chances. We couldn’t do what we needed to do.”

Normal West Wins Game One, 6-3, In 9 Innings: Normal West (11-8, 2-0 Big 12 Conference after this game) got off to a fast start in the first of the two games the two Unit 5 School District teams played on April 22, courtesy of first inning runs scored by senior center fielder Ryan Frye and junior shortstop Birlingmair, both of whom were walked and advanced on a wild pitch. A single by sophomore catcher Mitch Fairfield helped put runs across the plate, putting West (10-9, 1-1 Big 12 Conference after this game) up, 2-0, before NCHS came to bat. Two innings later, Frye hit a double and rounded the bases on outs to up West’s lead, 3-0.

NCHSNCHS (6-7, 1-1 Big 12 Conference after this game) tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, exploding for three runs, as singles by senior left fielder Ben Wylde and senior Chris Perry helped score second baseman Megles, sophomore Alec Trela, and senior designated hitter Luke McCaw, tying the game at 3-3.

From there, pinpoint pitching and tight defense took over for both sides, forcing extra innings. Fairfield led the top of the ninth inning for West with a walk, followed by senior Mitch Thomas who was hit by a pitch. An NCHS fielding error put West senior third baseman Tanner Rutledge on base, and Frye and junior left fielder Reed Rogers scored go-ahead runs, putting West up, 6-3. Sophomores Dane Ruffin and Dave Watson served as pinch runners, crossing the plate for Fairfield and Thomas, respectfully.

On the mound, West’s Rogers registered 8 strikeouts, on walk, and six hits in 8.1 innings of work, boosting his season record to 4-2. Losing pitcher Aaron Armstrong, a junior worked 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight.

Pitch counts were a topic for West’s Hawkins following this game. “Rogers was probably close to 150 pitches, and NCHS probably had close to that, too,” he said. “”For us, it’s not a 160-game season like the big leaguers have. With our players, we have to be more careful.” But, Hawkins added he’s seen “guys throw 140-150 pitches in the rivalry before.”

Of the opposing pitcher, Armstrong, Hawkins said, “His ball moves a lot. It’s hard to bunt. We’re not making excuses in saying that. I thought he did a good job of keeping movement on the ball and made it tough for our bunting game.”

“I didn’t want to go into another half of an inning without a lead and our kids came through,” Hawkins added.

“It was just a good high school game,” NCHS’ Short said afterward. “The sixth, seventh, and eighth innings went so quickly. Both teams’ pitchers threw well. Armstrong and Rogers got stronger as the game went on. Both guys did a nice job. In the ninth, it came apart a little bit for us. We would have liked to have thought we could have gotten another run there.”

By Steve Robinson | April 25, 2014 - 10:38 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonCovering sports sometimes can be a blur. Reporters go from being entrenched in one sport’s season and have another sport’s season begin, and might not remember one player individually from the next. It can sometimes just be a blur. It’s just a circumstance some sportswriters like me live with.

Michael Collins graduated from Normal Community West High School in 2010. From what I have learned from his coaches at both Normal West and Heartland Community College, I gather that, had I ever met him, the blur would have ceased for that moment, giving me the opportunity to pause and recall this young man.

Michael’s head coaches at Normal West and HCC, Chris Hawkins and Nate Metzger, respectfully, remember Michael with fondness. So when Michael’s life was cut short by a car accident on April 2, in which the driver of the car that struck the one Michael was in was legally drunk at the time, Michael being lost to his family and friends is compounded.

Hawkins said Michael played junior high baseball at Parkside Junior High School, moved down Parkside Drive to play under Hawkins at Normal West in his varsity years before moving on to HCC, where he played in the 2011 and 2012 seasons for Metzger.

“Michael’s a passionate kid for a love of the game, and every time he played, he always had a smile on his face,” Hawkins said, keeping the present tense as part of his way of remembering Michael. “When he played for us, it was as though he was playing out there with his buddies in the backyard. He played loose, he played aggressive, and I thought that his attitude became contagious around his teammates.”

Ryan Short, head baseball coach at rival Normal Community High School, got to see Michael as both a good athlete and a budding coach when Michael went to work for his father, Jim, coaching University High baseball. “Michael played the game with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, and a lot of heart,” Short said. “I know he had a good career at Heartland and it was fun to follow him. It was great to see an Intercity kid get into coaching, and that was a natural with his dad.” Michael did serve as an assistant coach for his father, Jim, head coach at University High, for the last year or two, guiding the Pioneers’ players, and relating to them.

Hawkins reminded that the tragedy that took place, took Michael Collins away from family, friends, and people who would never meet him is something “we can’t control. What happened was a grand tragedy that we can do nothing about. What we can do something about is see that this tragedy will lead to something good.”

And in Michael’s honor, people have been doing good deeds and, in doing so, reminding us with a campaign of their own that, at least in spirit, shows Michael is still with us. You may have even seen “#MCStong” (with a hashtag from Twitter in front of it). One of the local hospitals put “#MCStrong” on its electronic marquee sign in a show of support.

“Michael was about good deeds,” Hawkins said of the kid who he remembers as a being a middle infielder when he played for Normal West. “He liked attention and even though he’s not with us on Earth, I’d like to think he’s looking down on us, seeing what’s going on and thinks it’s a good thing.”

Hawkins said Michael Collins’ face lit up smiling as he met someone. He was always laughing, his high school coach added. “And once he knew you – and all it took was one time – he was going to hug you, not shake your hand. That was special.”

At both of the Unit 5 baseball games at The Corn Crib in North Normal on April 22 and 24, NCHS and Normal West players wore the same jersey number – 19 – to honor Michael Collins. On both the front (where the school name usually appeared) and the back of the jerseys (where a player’s last name might appear) was seen the phrase, “#MCStrong.” Those shirts were done by Mike Moore of Select Screen Prints, Inc. in Bloomington.

Moore didn’t want money for the job he had done on the shirts, Hawkins said. In the press box before the first game between the Unit 5 rivals on April 22, I’d heard Moore didn’t even want any public acknowledgement of his being responsible for the shirts. He just wanted to pay it forward with a good deed to honor Michael.

Normal West is establishing a scholarship in Michael’s name, Hawkins said. What money the scholarship awards would go to a future West student to be put toward college, obviously. Hawkins said that scholarship fund already has received $1,500 in donations, thus making the first award to be given next year already possible. The three components the scholarship will be centered on are academics, baseball, and faith. Those were three things of central importance to Michael (even if I may have juggled their rank here).

HCC is establishing a scholarship in Michael’s honor, as well. Metzger, Michael’s HCC Hawks coach, said HCC’s scholarship is for a student entering the community college, and that Michael’s father, Jim, is wanting to begin that scholarship as soon as possible.

“Establishing the scholarship at HCC will keep Michael’s spirit and his memory alive in one more way,” Metzger said of a young man who played second base for the Hawks. The scholarship would go to a student just entering HCC, and thus higher education for the first time.

Metzger said he will always remember Michael as “a guy who had a way of keeping things loose and keeping his teammates loose when they needed to be. He had a quirky, fun-loving personality.” Metzger added, “His parents, Jim and Kelly, raised him right.”

By Steve Robinson | April 24, 2014 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – During their regularly-slated meeting on April 23, members of Normal-based Unit 5 District School Board made preparations to find the district’s next Business Manager. Board members unanimously approved entering into a contract with Highland Park, Ill.-based School Exec Connect, a consulting firm which took in and screened applications for the position vacated by Erik Bush, who resigned in December. Since Bush’s departure, two consultants who have experience in handling school district finances have filled in on the post.

Dr. Gary Niehaus, District Superintendent, told Board members he has gone through the job description for candidates with Dr. Mark Daniel, who will take over as Unit 5 Superintendent on July 1. Niehaus is retiring June 30. Niehaus said candidates for the Business Manager post need to hold either a State Superintendent Certificate or be a Certified Public Accountant to qualify for the position.

“School Exec Connect could get us six or seven candidates,” Niehaus told Board members. Niehaus explained he, Daniel, and Nate Cunningham, assistant superintendent for human resources would be conducting interviews with Business Manager candidates, which would be conducted on May 17. He added the candidate selected for the position would be introduced to Board. Members at their first meeting in June, and would be expected to begin working for the district on July 1.

State Rep. Brady Visits Board: Board members discussed how the State’s finances could continue to impact the district as the district prepares for the conclusion of another school year. State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th) attended the meeting, and told Board members State lawmakers appear to be poised to make a temporary state tax hike a permanent one in order to reduce a $1 billion gap in the State’s budget.

Board Discusses Last Quarter Finances: Marty Hickman, interim Business Manager, explained to Board members the district will close out the 2013-14 school year with a deficit of just over $3.5 million in its education fund. Hickman added the District is looking to expect a deficit of $364,618 in its transportation fund, as well. But, Hickman reported, the district’s operations and maintenance fund should end the school year breaking even.

Board Receives Digital Conversion Update: Board members received an update on the next phase of the district’s digital conversion from Dr. Sandy Wilson, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and Hickman, the district’s director of technology. Wilson and Hickman explained to Board members that the portions of the district’s digital conversion plan to assure that wireless access points were in every elementary school classroom was completed by the technology department in December.

In addition, new Dell computers have been purchased for the coming school year. Hickman explained while the newer laptops are an improvement in terms of features from the previous year’s model, the newer laptops still fall short of the district’s expectations in terms for durability.

To that end, Hickman told Board members, Dell has now redesigned the laptop’s bottom case to improve the durability. He said the district presently has three technicians working to speed up the repair process. Unit 5 is continuing discussions with Dell regarding long term reliability concerns, he added. Unit 5 is also evaluating potential devices for next school year including a new model from Dell, Hickman told Board members.

Wilson and Hickman explained the district has launched a “Parent’s Technology Corner” webpage off of the district’s primary website which provides visitors with several help sheets to support the 1 to 1 initiative that satisfies frequently asked questions and concerns.

Unit 5 mapCedar Ridge Elementary’s “Good News”: Heather Rogers, a second grade teacher at Cedar Ridge Elementary School, had applied for a Classroom of the Month award through Bridgestone Corporation, a multinational auto and truck parts manufacturer, and was awarded $500 to enhance her classroom library. Rogers has been putting time and effort into giving her classroom books of major interest to her students, according to her principal, Karrah Jensen. By doing so, the students in Rogers’ class enjoy their time spent in the “Reader’s Workshop” portion of their school day. Jensen explained Rogers takes an interest in providing texts that are individually appropriate for each student. With the grant award, Rogers will support her classroom library by adding additional nonfiction texts.

Of Rogers, Jensen told Board members, “She’s an impressive teacher.”

Bloomington Area Career Center’s “Good News”: Bloomington Area Career Center, which has 24 Unit 5 students of its 85 students registered there who are learning job skills through BACC’s program, presented a “good news” report centering on students taking part in the State Skills USA competition. The students who took part in the State Skills Competition were: Kendall Bierl, Megan Noonan, Donovan Fournier, Kelsey Moore, Rebecka Colon, and Taylor Barron.

Of this group, Fourier, Noonan, and Bierl were introduced to Board Members by Tom Frazier, BACC Principal. Bierl, a student at Normal Community High School, placed first in the Nursing Assistant Competition. As a result of her top finish, she will compete at the national event in Kansas City. At the State competition, Fournier placed 3rd in his division for conducting a job skills demonstration of how a firefighter’s gear works and how firefighters get into that gear to do their job. Megan Noonan, a senior at Normal Community West High School, placed 2nd at the State Competition in the Cosmetology competition.

In addition, in a team competition involving learning techniques for being able to accomplish the work of crime scene investigators, the BACC team of Kelsey Moore, Rebecka Colon, and Taylor Barron finished the exercise in third place, Frazier informed Board members.

Bridgette Edmonson is BACC SkillsUSA Advisor who prepared competitors through monthly chapter meetings and one-on-one sessions. The instructors are Julie Fritzsche and Linda McVey in Cosmetology, Christi Wingate in Health Occupations/Nurse Assisting, Nick Isaacs in Fire Science, and Greg Patton in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement.

Next Meeting May 7; No May 14 Meeting: The Board’s first meeting in May will be held on Wednesday, May 7 at District headquarters, beginning at 7p.m. As a result of the resignation of Board Member Todd Ferguson, effective Feb. 24, Unit 5 needed to comply with State Education statutes, which gave Board members a certain number of days from the date of Ferguson’s resignation to fill the vacancy. May 7 falls within the prescribed time period. There will be no Board meeting on May 14. The Board’s next meeting after that would be held, as scheduled, on May 28. That meeting will be held at Sugar Creek Elementary School on Towanda Ave.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Owner of the Uptown eatery The Rock Restaurant, Said Saliba, had sought Normal Town Council members’ approval on a couple of improvements relating to the expansion of his business at Monday’s Council session at Normal City Hall. Of the two major things he had on his expansion menu, he got one concerning approval of the location of an outdoor cooler, but Council members declined his request for a waiver for installation of a digital sign.

Since 2010, Saliba has owned the building his restaurant is located in, as well as the neighboring shop which used to house C-Tees Screen Printing, a business that closed in October, all located at 201-203 W. North St. Saliba was seeking to expand into the neighboring closed business to increase the size of his eatery.

Saliba was seeking to make improvements to the building, including installation of awnings and signage which would match that already at the current eatery; and the addition of an outdoor cooler which would be fenced in and placed at the rear of the building.

Council members approved the Town entering into a proposed redevelopment agreement with Saliba where the Town would provide him with $82,000, or roughly 60 percent of the cost of the total project so that a steel deck can be constructed to the back of the building, replacing an aging wooden deck. Saliba will invest an additional $50,000 toward upgrading the building’s exterior.

Council members also unanimously approved Saliba’s request to place an unscreened outdoor walk-in cooler at the rear side of the building’s first floor. This would be located along the Broadway St. end of the building. But with two Council members not present – Chuck Scott and Scott Preston – Council members voted 4-1 to prohibit Saliba from adding a digital sign to the building’s façade along Broadway St. Council Member Sonja Reece cast the lone vote in favor of the sign.

In the discussion that took place prior to the vote, Mayor Chris Koos stated his concerns over digital signs explaining he believes such signs “don’t add anything to the landscape.”

Council Member Cheryl Gaines said she recalled voting against the use of digital signs the last time an Uptown business – Firehouse Pizza at 107 E. Beaufort St. – approached Council members to place one outside their establishment.

Council member Jeff Fritzen said he thought Town Code concerning the use of digital signs needed to be reworked, and suggested the Council decline Saliba’s request temporarily until the Town has a chance to study the matter. After that, Fritzen said, Saliba could bring back another request for a digital sign.

Having electronic signs would be to the Town’s advantage in helping people find businesses, Reece reasoned. “Such signs are today’s way of getting a message across.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said standards for digital signage need to established by the Town. Koos said he “would like for the general business community to weigh in, as well as the Uptown Design Review Committee, concerning use of such signs.

Council Gets Refresher On Community-Wide Sustainability And 2015 Report: Town Planner Mercy Davison gave a brief overview on two of Normal’s long-term projects – Community-Wide Sustainability and the 2015 Report. The Community-Wide Sustainability Task Force was organized in 2009 under Koos’ guidance. Among the goals the task force had was to continue the momentum of the Uptown Project. In the process of doing that the Task Force, Davison explained, brought national attention to the community and connected sustainability with economic development.

She reminded the Town will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Constitution Trail on May 6. To honor that upcoming event and prior to the start of the evening’s meeting, Koos read a proclamation designating the month of May as “Constitution Trail Month.” After announcing the proclamation, Koos gave a copy of it to Dan Steadman, president of the volunteer group, The Friends Of The Constitution Trail.

Harmon Exiting Airport Board; Beth Whisman Given Airport Board Appointment: Former Mayor Paul Harmon, the outgoing chairman of the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority Board of Directors, paid a last call to Council members in that position, as he prepares to step down after being a member of that governing body since 1997. Harmon told Council members he has served in some capacity on one board or committee in some capacity since 1972 when then-Mayor Carol Reitan gave him his first appointment as a member of Normal Planning Commission. He then moved onto the Town Council, and served as Mayor in the early 1990s. Following his time in City Hall, in 1997, he was asked to serve as a member of the Airport Authority Board by then-Mayor Kent Karraker.

“I’m really here to say thank you for appointing me to public offices,” he quipped, as he began his comments filled with appreciation for being able to serve a town he said he was not a native of.

“You don’t know how much we at the Airport Authority appreciated the support of the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington,” Harmon said. He said the Airport Authority continues to work on replacing services that Central Illinois Regional Airport has lost over time, including, he said, the convenience of having AirTran Airways flights, an item that was lost nearly two years ago.

In leading off the comments to Harmon from Council members, Fritzen told him, “It is important for us to thank you for your willingness to serve. Fritzen was a Council member during the early 1990s during Harmon’s term as mayor.

“You’re probably why I am sitting in this chair,” Reece told Harmon, reminding him that a talk he gave the area Chamber of Commerce that she attended inspired her to get involved in terms of serving the community. Reece served on Normal Planning Commission before being elected to her first term as a Council member. She was re-elected for her sixth term as a Council member in 2011.

Harmon’s appointment to the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority Board of Directors expires May 1. Council members unanimously voted to appoint Beth Whisman to serve on that Board for a four-year term ending in April 2018.

Whisman, a Normal resident for nearly 14 years, had spend most of that time working for WJBC Radio as a reporter, talk show host, and the station’s news director. Currently, she is director of development for the McLean County Museum of History. A 1999 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, she is active volunteering with the Child Protection Network, the David Davis Mansion Foundation Board, and as a Girl Scout leader.

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

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Council meeting held April 7, 2014.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 16, 2014.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and purchase a 15-passenger van from Bloomington-based Leman’s Chevrolet in the amount of $33,759.20.

• A motion to accept the low bid and award a contract to Peoria-based Kreiling Roofing for the replacement of the Fairview Family Aquatic Center bath house and concession building roofs in the amount of $48,945.

• A motion to accept a bid and award a contract to Pontiac, Ill.-based H. J. Eppel and Company for asphalt path extension for Ironwood Golf Course in the amount of $69,075.

• A motion to authorize the renewal of the Town’s participation in the MICA Insurance Program for plan year 2014-15 beginning on May 1, 2014.

• A resolution authorizing Town Staff to combine multiple existing elevator service contracts with Peoria-based KONE Inc. into a single three-year contract with that firm.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Police Benevolent and Protective Association (PBPA) Unit 22.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2014 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC.

• A supplemental resolution appropriating $431 of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the U.S. Route 51/I-55 ramp traffic signals improvements project and installation of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units to traffic signals on Veterans Parkway.

• A resolution conditionally approving waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code for 200 Broadway (Hyatt Place Hotel).

• An ordinance conditionally transferring jurisdiction of a portion of Raab Rd. from .20 miles west of County Highway 29 (Towanda-Barnes Road) westerly .35 miles from the Towanda Township Road District to the Town of Normal.

By Steve Robinson | April 18, 2014 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIn 2011 and 2012, the American Cancer Society tried to get an event underway in our area that would be specifically geared for local high school students, enlisting them to join the battle against cancer by raising money and have some fun in the process. The event was called “Teen Relay For Life.”

Over the two years the local Teen Relay For Life event was held At Bloomington High School, it raised $40,000 and involved about 250 kids grouped into 25 teams of between 8-10 teammates. American Cancer Society, or ACS, which oversees all Relay For Life events, wanted to hold the teen version again in 2013, but for varying reasons, it didn’t take place.

Undaunted, ACS has decided to revive their Teen Relay For Life this year, moving it from its previous site at BHS to Normal Community High School. The 12-hour event will be held from Friday, May 9 at 6p.m. until Saturday, May 10 at 6a.m.

NCHS, Normal Community West High School, University High School, and BHS are the area schools signing up to participate this time around.

The results of the first two Teen Relays encouraged ACS, explained Dede Verplaetse, a volunteer organizer for the Teen Relay. She is also one of four co-chairs of the annual Relay For Life of McLean County. That event will be held Friday and Saturday, June 27 and 28 at Normal Community West High School.

“The kids did a really good job on those past events,” Verplaetse said. She added that, although many of the high school students may have already been participating in the annual community Relay event, “They are really looking forward to something of their own. They want their own event and their own time together.”

Verplaetse said organizers aren’t concerned about turnout anticipated due to the teen event’s hiatus in 2013. She spent part of the winter notifying school administrators of the revamp, found kids eager to join the cause, and get teams formed, and then let the kids network as they had before to get teams formed.

“The kids are very excited about having this,” Verplaetse said. She said the Teen Relay is a “lock-in” event. That means the students will be locked in at Ironmen Field, NCHS’ football stadium, from 11p.m. Friday until the end of the event at 6a.m. Saturday.

From the way Verplatse, and Elise Pate, a Relay For Life Specialist at ACS’ Peoria office, explain it, there will be plenty to keep teens busy during the overnight hours. “They will be decorating their campsites, selling things to raise money at their campsites, and taking part in 12 hours of activities,” Verplaetse said.

The young people will find food concessions, live bands, as well as a ceremony to pause and remember a friend, parent, or grandparent who has had cancer or been lost to cancer. Teen survivors of cancer also will be honored. Such honors are done with something called a luminaria ceremony. There will also be plenty of laughs, too, including an entertaining “Miss Relay” contest, featuring high school boys parading in girls’ clothes. There will also be a photo booth, a dunk tank, and the students may even take part in Zumba dancing before the Sun rises.

Pate explained that in order for kids to be able to take part in this “all-nighter,” their parents must sign a waiver, which must be turned in when the kids arrive for the event. Otherwise, they won’t be able to spend the night.

Verplaetse and Pate say the organizers are shooting toward a goal of having 25 teams of kids, numbering 12-15 per team, at this year’s event. The number of participants per team has been increased for teen events by ACS since the last one was held here two years ago, she explained.

“I think we can make it to that number of teams because once the kids get the word out and once the kids get to organizing it, it just sort of has the number of kids getting involved explode from there,” Verplaetse said.

So, okay, Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa, odds are good the kids won’t be seeing this column, but you are. Be sure to show it to them and tell them if they’re interested to get in touch with the kids who are organizing the event for their school. Pate said students wanting to participate in this year’s Teen Relay should make contact with one of the following students from their school by email. Those students (and their email addresses) are: For NCHS, Adam Woodside (adamwoodside@hotmail.com), and Alexys Ogorek (alexys.ogorek@yahoo.com); For BHS, Rachel Flynn (rachelflynn@comcast.net) and Divya Vempati (tennisgirl31@gmail.com); For Normal West, Rachel Smith (rsdance16@gmail.com) or thundercatcher26@gmail.com.

Verplaetse said if adults would like to make donations of items to the event, such as bottled water, for example, she can be contacted by email at ddverbo@juno.com.

Behind all the fun and all the money this event will raise, Verplaetse said, something sobering has gone on here in the last few years when it came to cancer and kids. “In the last few years, we’ve had too many high school students who’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” she explained. “That hits these kids a lot closer to home than what they’re used to, and also gets them very motivated.”

Verplaetse said we should all be comforted by what we’re seeing here, watching young people take charge and responsibility for this event. “People can see their future in who’s organizing this event,” she said. “That should give us comfort that these kids do get involved in community events, and they do get involved in causes, and they can join together and do something really good together.”

We all will be able to see their efforts pay off on May 9. Here’s to hoping this event’s reboot is a success.

On another subject, congratulations to Rebekah Ehresman of El Paso Gridley High School. She has been named one of four athletes whose teams participated in the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament in past years, and who has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship from that tournament’s organizers to be used for her college education. Three other students – another girl and two boys — from Belvidere North High School, St. Thomas More High School in Champaign, and Rock Island High School – also received $1,000 each in scholarship money from the Tournament. Established to recognize and award scholarships to eligible high school seniors who participated in this past year’s tournament, a committee of former educators and scholarship recipients chose the winners based on leadership skills and academic performance. Applicants were also asked to demonstrate their experiences in student activities and community service, as well as submit an essay titled “How My High School Sports Experience helped Prepare Me For Success In Higher Education.”

On another subject, graduation season is upon us again. Here are the dates for graduation ceremonies that will be taking place as part of teens’ first steps toward entering into the real world. University High School and Bloomington Central Catholic will both hold their graduation ceremonies Sunday, May 18; Unit 5’s high schools and Calvary Christian Academy will hold their ceremonies on Saturday, May 24; Cornerstone Christian Academy will hold their ceremony Saturday, May 31, and Bloomington High School will hold its ceremony on Sunday, June 1. Congratulations to all our new graduates!