By Steve Robinson | August 29, 2014 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – Fans of University High School football probably wondered how the season would start now that the Pioneers have both a new head coach and new starting quarterback. Judging from the Pioneers’ 27-12 non-onference win over Urbana on Aug. 28, the answer appears to be pretty well.

U-High (1-0), got fans cheering early as senior quarterback Nick Phelan connected with senior wide receiver Sam Arvik on a 15 yard score at the 7:45 mark for what would be the only points scored in the first quarter, giving the Pioneers a 7-0 start following a successful extra point by junior Brett Drake.

A fumble by Urbana at the start of the second quarter got picked up by U-High junior defensive lineman Skylar Bunton and positioned the Pioneers for their next successful scoring drive starting at their own 44 yard line. Eight plays later, junior running back JoJo Hughes rushed into the end zone from two yards out, capping an 8-play, 56 yard march, giving U-High a 14-0 lead following Drake’s next extra point.

U-High Football The Pioneers held a commanding 21-0 lead as a result of their next score, which came courtesy of Phelan and Patkunas connecting a second time, with 48 seconds left until halftime, on an 8-yard pass. Drake provided the extra point.

Urbana (0-1) got on the scoreboard at 7:36 in the third quarter, as junior quarterback Alex Beckman connected on a 14 yard pass to senior wide receiver Malik Harris. The Tigers tried for a 2-point conversion following the score, but it was foiled by Pioneers defenders. Urbana’s score cut U-High’s lead, 21-6.

Weather radar at halftime indicated rain which arrived midway through the third quarter. Urbana’s began the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Beckman to senior wide receiver Jeff Trask, Jr., which was followed by a failed two-point conversion play. That score cut U-High’s lead, 21-12.

But U-High punctuated the victory with a second Phelan-to-Patkunas score from six yards out in the closing moments of the game, followed by a failed two-point pass play, resulting in a final score.

Town of NormalNORMAL –Normal Town Council members voted 5-2 to execute an agreement with Chicago-based Farr Associates to create an update to the community’s current Uptown Plan. The original plan was conceived by Farr Associates in 1999, resulting in numerous developments including construction of Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center (which now bears the name of the late former Mayor Carol A. Reitan), and Uptown Station.

The Town had $50,000 budgeted for the project and will transfer $243,500 in Tax Increment Financing dollars into the Town’s General Fund to make the project financially possible. Farr Associates had wanted to budget $323,500, partly so the process of updating the plan could be documented on videotape. That extra money was removed from the new plan.

Farr Associates proposed extending the plan to include improvements that could be made to the Town by extending their study area from Uptown to Willow St. to the north, Vernon Ave. to the south, Walnut St. to the east, and Main St. to the west. When the vote was taken, Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Cheryl Gaines, Chuck Scott, Sonja Reece, and Kevin McCarthy voted in favor of the expenditure. Council Members Jeff Fritzen and Scott Preston voted against it.

Council Member Chuck Scott said, from his perspective, the new plan is based on the previous “master plan” which was conceived in 1999. “It’s very appropriate for this community to address. I fully support it.”

Asking for expanding the “master plan,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members, “is looking beyond the confines of Uptown Normal to see what opportunities exist.” He pointed out the 1999 plan “served as a catalyst in $240 million to $250 million in development for the community.”

But Fritzen voiced concerns about delving into spending money on such a plan. He said going into areas beyond Uptown in this plan concerned him. He said he wondered what the study’s end result would be. He added he was not opposed to the development of a new plan, however, he was not willing to spend the money for it.

Referring to the price asked by Farr Associates, Koos said he “knows there is sticker shock, but the Town has had other plans that have cost money.”

The Townspeople will ultimately have the last word as far as Scott was concerned. “This is a plan and a process to help give future Councils an option,” he said. “We don’t know what is deliverable, but what is deliverable will be driven by the community. It’s not a case of something we have to do. It’s an option.”

“Friends Forever” Participants Visit Council: Prior to the beginning of the meeting, Council members were introduced to 10 members of Friends Forever – five Israeli and five Arab students, age 16 and older – who had been spending the past couple of weeks in the Twin Cities participating in a number of bonding activities, including speaking to local groups. Two teen girls, Samah and Dapna, who didn’t give their last names, each addressed Council members

Together, the girls, both Israelis, told Council members they “found a second family” as they stayed with the new friends they had made through the program. This year marks the second year the Town of Normal has participated in this program.

Moment Of Silence For NFD’s Whitfield: As the meeting opened, Koos asked for a moment of silence to honor Nick Whitfield, who served Normal Fire Department as both an engineer and an investigator. Whitfield, 48, died Aug. 11 as a result of heart disease.

Parks & Rec Recognizes Fritzen: Gary Little, director of Normal Parks And Recreation, and Cary Frey, supervisor of adult sports for that department, honored Fritzen with a plaque, acknowledging his 30 years of involvement with the program by serving in numerous capacities including player and manager in numerous softball leagues organized by the Town.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Aug. 4, 2014.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Aug.13, 2014.

• A motion to reject bids for the 2014 PCC pavement patching project.

• A motion authorizing Phase 2 of the ISU Redbird Street Sign Program in conjuction with the Redbird Pride Committee.

• A motion approving the annual renewal of the employee group insurance program.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Chesterfield, Mo.-based Insituform Technologies USA, LLC in the amount of $231,638 for the Cured In-Place Pipe (CIPP) sanitary sewer lining project.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement between the Board of Trustees of Illinois State University and the Town of Normal for classroom use of the Normal Theater.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a real estate sale contract – 105 W. Poplar St.

By Steve Robinson | August 16, 2014 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: Olympia HS, Pekin Daily Times

FootballSTANFORD – As Stanford Olympia High School head coach Mike Rathbun sees things going into his fourth year leading the Spartans for another season, he said he’s “more confident this year than I’ve been in a lot of years.”

That would because of front line players on both sides of the ball coming in this season led offensively by junior quarterback Collin Miller, who has been calling signals since halfway through the Spartans game at Normal University High last year. “We’ve got a great group of first string players,” Rathbun explained. But he said, his team lacks an experienced second string squad.

Oly lost four starters on offense and five on defense, but Rathbun said he isn’t worried particularly about that because of what he sees in terms of the attitude his players have thus far displayed in practice. “They come to practice with an attitude of ‘we can do this’,” Rathbun explained. “The group I’ve got right now has a never-say-die attitude. With that, I think we can go a long way.”

In practices, Rathbun said, “everything I have thrown at them, they’ve accepted with no compunction,” Rathbun said.

Miller was asked to take up the task of leading the Spartans and from that point on, Miller “understood the offense and what was required of him, and did as good a job as a sophomore,” his coach explained. Olympia has 12 juniors and Miller spent time in the offseason working to increase his speed.

Miller will be throwing to a receiving corps that doubles as a brother act – Tyler Bruner and Austin Bruner, both juniors. They will be joined by junior Justin Slager

Slager “started out as a utility player,” Rathbun said. “We can put him anywhere on the field and he will find a way to get the job done.”

Stanford-Olympia SpartansRathbun said his team will continue rotating running backs at varsity level. That group includes Slager, senior Wyatt Crump, and junior Tristan Ballinger. “With that group, we’re considerably faster than we were last year and years past,” Rathbun quickly noted.

While offense is pretty much mapped out, Rathbun admits getting a defensive unit assembled could be a work in progress in came in time for Oly’s Aug. 29 season opener at home against non-conference opponent Champaign St. Thomas More.

“We graduated all our linebackers, and we’re a smaller, faster team than what we’ve had in the past,” Rathbun admits. “We’ll need to adjust our defense to accept smaller kids into a more athletic position.”

Crump, a free safety last season, is going to be one of the new linebackers this season, his coach said. There are three players fighting for a linebacker position, Rathbun said. Slager will continue to serve as the Spartans’ kicker, he added.

Squib Kicks: Olympia’s first Corn Belt Conference opponent will be Sept. 5 on the road at Prairie Central for a 7:30p.m. start…..The Spartans will face Conference newcomer Chillicothe IVC for the first time in a home game on Oct. 17….Oly only has 5 seniors on this year’s squad….Rathbun’s coaching record after three seasons is 6-21….In the 2013 season, Rathbun said Oly only faced 1 “running clock” situation in a game in 2013.

By Steve Robinson | August 15, 2014 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, The Normalite

FootballBLOOMINGTON – Most of us probably wouldn’t relish being considered the underdog in any situation. But Illinois Wesleyan University senior defensive lineman Jeff Jerome rather welcomes the challenge presented by being put in that position.

In a poll of Collegiate College of Illinois and Wisconsin football coaches, IWU, who finished last season 9-2 overall which included a 6-1 conference mark. For Jerome, dating back to his days at Normal Community West High School, being underestimated was something he nearly became accustomed to, he said. During his time with the Wildcats, he explained, Normal West was seemingly always below Unit 5 rival Normal Community High School, and another Big 12 nemesis, Bloomington High School. “Back then, we always had to fight our way to the top,” Jerome said. “It looks like it’s the same situation with CCIW.”

West Alum Jerome Wants To See IWU Win D-3 Crown: The 6 foot-1, 245 pound Jerome will begin his senior season on head coach Norm Eash’s squad “loving the idea of being the underdog and it gives all of us motivation and determination to get to the top of CCIW.”

“Being a senior, I can’t wait to get back on the field again this year,” Jerome said. As for personal goals, he explained, “I’m just looking at IWU winning the Division III Championship,” Jerome said. When he graduates, he is looking to take his career path toward doing something in the field of accounting.

Lexington Alum Laible Picking Up On Reading D: Lexington High School alum Donavan Laible played on IWU’s junior varsity team last season during his freshman year. Now a sophomore, he will rejoin the JV team as the season begins. A quarterback, he explained six guys split time under center on that squad and saw parts of or an entire quarter of action during JV contests.

“It’s definitely a lot different,” the 6 foot-1, 190 pounder said. “It was just good to get out there for live competition,” he said of his experience so far as a Titan. “There are a lot more decisions to make concerning recognizing coverages, and you have to make those faster,” he said explaining what he found was the biggest difference between playing college and high school games. He said most high school teams present the same defensive scheme on a regular basis.

Assessing his freshman season, Laible said, “I did alright, but I’ve got a lot of improving to do. I did alright.”

Illinois Wesleyan FootballBHS Alum Rudicil Makes Switch From Wrestling To Football: Stephon Rudicil played football last at Bloomington High School in his senior year two years ago. He switched to Wrestling when he attended Lincoln Community College, and now is back on the gridiron trying for a linebacker spot with the Titans. “The fundamentals from high school are still there,” Rudicil admitted. “There are still some things I need to pick up quick, and I’m working hard to do that. I’m not worried about it.”

Eash Says Preseason Polls “Don’t Mean Anything”: “Preseason polls are interesting to look at, but they mean nothing,” Eash said. “Preseason polls are based on how you finished the year before.” He said last year’s preseason poll had IWU ranked second. “Looks like it’s our job to get back some respect from the conference,” said the veteran coach who used Media Day at Tucci Field at Wesleyan Stadium to begin his 28th season at the helm. “But the burden of proof is on us.”

IWU has 16 seniors on the squad. That’s exactly half the number they had last season. “We’re going to be a different team,” Eash said. “We’re going to have some veterans in there, seven All-Americans, and some newcomers who were on the field last season but weren’t starters, and then we’ll probably have some youth out there.”

Circle Your Calendars: The year 2014 will mark IWU’s 125th season of football, and the Titans will open at home on Saturday, Sept. 6, facing Franklin College in a 1p.m. kickoff. Their next two games will be on the road to Albion College in Michigan (Sept. 13), then to Simpson College in Iowa (Sept. 20) before facing their first CCIW opponent, Carthage College, at Tucci Stadium on Sept. 27 in a 6p.m. contest.

BaseballRight-handed pitcher Mike Devine sat down with me with just over an hour to go before he was scheduled to pitch the first game of a doubleheader for the Normal CornBelters against Gateway Grizzlies at The Corn Crib. Although he only had rough 60 minutes before he needed to put himself in game mode, he was calm and measured in how he answered my questions.

From that, I gathered that was how he approached his opponents while delivering strike pitches from the mound. Like his fellow CornBelters, he is looking to get into affiliated ball from here. He had been with Traverse City Beach Bums for 2 ½ seasons before they released him and he caught on with Normal in June. Even in Independent ball, guys get cut loose and have to look for a new ball park and town to call home.

Having graduated from Virginia Military Academy in 2012, Devine was picked up by Traverse City. At Traverse City, his jersey may have read “Beach Bums,” but his numbers showed he was anything but one in his time there, playing five games in his first season there and posting a 6-2 record last season which came with a 3.95 Earned Run Average. He struck out 65 batters in 86 innings, allowed 80 hits, and 41 runs. Having only been here since June, and as of Sunday, Devine currently has posted 1-1 record after seven starts, with a 5.45 ERA.

A call from CornBelters hitting coach Vinny Ganz, who got wind of Devine’s release was about all it took, followed by approval from Manager Brooks Carey to get the Cheswick, Pa. native signed up. “You just call guys and you offer them an opportunity to pitch,” Ganz explained. “When you hear good things about your manager, they want to come here.”

Cornbelters 5th AnniversaryEntering The Corn Crib as a member of Normal’s roster as opposed to being a member of the opposition still showed he was entering “a great atmosphere to play in,” Devine said. He added he has no preference as to which team picks him up, but being a native of suburban Pittsburgh, he considers himself a Pirates fan. In fact, in his freshman and junior years of high school, he was positioned as either a pitcher or a shortstop and was able to play in a charity tournament held at the Pirates’ home field, PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh.

“As a 16- or 17-year-old kid, getting to play there is all you ever think about,” Devine said of what most young ball players living that close could have on their minds.” But now, at age 24, Devine knows this team he’s on now is fighting to remain in the playoff hunt, with the number of games left getting shorter.

“We’re in the middle of a playoff hunt with our backs against it right now,” Devine said. “So anything I can do to give ourselves a chance is my goal.”

The CornBelters’ chances at making the playoffs suffered a difficult blow earlier this month by going 1-5 on a six-game road trip to Gateway and Florence, Carey said. “We’d have to win a lot of games in a row now to work our way back into the playoffs, and other teams would have to falter.”

Having to rely on the other guy “is not always a position you want to find yourself in,” Carey said. He may be disappointed in where his team finds itself in the standings at this juncture, but he said he is not disappointed in the effort nor the enthusiasm his players show by going out and giving their all every day, he explained.

“We’re going to play every game as hard as we possibly can,” Carey said. “Wherever we wind up will be because I will ask for 100 percent effort from our guys. I’m going to try to end this season on a high note, not a low note,” Carey said, having an understanding that time and circumstance are also the opponent at this point in the season.

Frontier League“And the fact is, some of these guys are also playing for next year’s contracts and they know that,” Carey said. “I’m going to be watching very carefully to see who continues to play hard to the end of this season. I think all of them will.”

He said he believes that last comment because the players “want to have their best possible season personally, too, because there are no guarantees for next year.”

“Until the final out of the last game of this season, Carey said, “Whoever is still healthy and still here, we’re going to play to the best of our ability.”

Having had Monday off, Normal gears for the Schaumburg Boomers having arrived in town Tuesday for three games. That will be followed by a three-game home series against Traverse City Friday through Sunday, Aug. 22-24. The league takes Monday, Aug. 25 off, and when action resumes Tuesday, Aug. 26, the Lake Erie Crushers will be at The Corn Crib for the start of a three-game series.