By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2015 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Judging from the enthusiasm and support they received at a season’s-end rally at Redbird Arena Monday night, it would have been tough to convince any stranger in the room that Illinois State University’s football team came in second at the end of the FCS Division I Championship game earlier this month.

Between 250-300 fans, some with signs of support, sat in the east bleachers for a post-season rally. It had been 15 years since ISU last got into the FCS Division I playoffs.

Under the leadership of head coach Brock Spack and his coaching staff, ISU finished with a 13-2 mark, including a regular season perfect 8-0 record at Hancock Stadium, and 5-1 on the road. That record included going 7-1 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play. The team they played for the FCS Division I title, fellow MVFC member North Dakota State, was the only MVFC team that was not on the Redbirds’ 2014 regular season schedule. NDSU defeated ISU in the title contest in Frisco, Texas that had several lead changes before NDSU pulled out a 29-27 victory in the Jan. 10 contest.

In the process, ISU set a new record for single-season wins, and set single season records in 16 individual categories, and winning the MVFC title for the first time.

Named MVFC Coach Of The Year this season, Spack began by thanking ISU Athletic Director Larry Lyons and his executive staff; and former ISU President Dr. C. Al Bowman, who was head of the institution when Spack came here six years ago, for among other things, “giving me an opportunity of a lifetime.”

“The cooperation we get from our academic community is unbelievable,” Spack said. “We have had a truly great partnership with the faculty.” He credited the academic staff with helping his players concentrate on their studies when they weren’t studying their playbooks during the season.

ISU Redbird HelmetHe also thanked his coaching staff, the medical staff, athletic trainers, and equipment staff, among others, for their efforts throughout the season. He also asked the wives and children of his coaching staff to stand and be recognized. “There is a special place in Heaven for a coach’s wife,” he told the gathering. “They have to put up with being second to football a lot of times,” he admitted. He also thanked the local media for their efforts saying they were always fair with him and his players in their coverage of the Redbirds.

When he did address his players, he told them, “You’ve taken a vision and said we can win a national championship. You came close to that. In my mind, you’ll always be champions. You took that vision and made it close to a reality.”

“This team is a special group,” Spack concluded. “They’re very, very, very, very tough. I don’t know too many teams that could have done what they did to get to the finals.”

Dr. Larry Dietz, ISU President, lauded players’ efforts, not just on the field or in the classroom but also by being involved in community events. “We very much appreciate their efforts in the community. Oftentimes, that gets overlooked, but their involvement makes a huge difference to other young people in the community. The impact these players have had in the community has just been terrific, and I just want to say thanks for that.”

Dietz said the team brought “pure joy” to the community as a whole as it watched the Redbirds march forward on their quest for the national championship. “You have lifted the spirit on the this campus to a new height,” Dietz told team members who sat in the East stands facing the makeshift stage on the Redbird Arena floor from where Dietz and others scheduled to speak addressed them from a podium. ”It has just brought out a pride in people. I can’t tell you the number of people who came up to me in Frisco and other places, and the expression on their faces were just priceless.”

Missouri Valley Football Conference“You might not have won on the scoreboard,” Dietz told the players, “But you’ve won all of our hearts. And that’s a big deal.” Dietz’s comments were met with applause from the gathering. “We gather to honor tonight and celebrate coaches; trainers; administrators; cheerleaders; band members; staff members; teachers; faculty who have student athletes in their classes; mentors; alumni; friends; and most of all, fans of all kinds.” He also made sure to give credit to players’ families for the support they give their loved one who was suiting up for the Redbirds.

The one-hour rally began with Lyons thanking players, coaches, in addition to strength and conditioning staffers, as well as staffers from the school’s NCAA Compliance, Financial Aid, and Alumni Services, Residential Life, and Dining Services offices, among others, for their support of the team and their efforts. He also thanked Dietz and the staff of the University President’s Office for their support over the course of the season.

Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th Dist.) read a proclamation from Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois House Of Representatives congratulating Spack and the team for the successes they had during the season. Brady pointed out the football team set a season record off the field with their team Grade Point Average during the fall semester of 2.87 on a 4.0 scale.

Also introduced two members of the University’s governing body, the Board of Trustees, who were in attendance at the rally. They were Betty Kinser and Ellen Schumacher.

Spack told the gathering the fans “set the bar” with the attendance and their enthusiasm, which included involvement using social media. With the momentum this season has provided, Spack told the gathering, fans should be prepared to buy their tickets for next season once those promotions are announced.

Unit 5NORMAL – Understandably, schools, and by extension, school districts, use evaluations to determine how well students are doing in the classroom. The superintendent of Normal-based Unit 5 School District updated members of the school board on how those evaluations were progressing during the governing body’s first meeting of the new calendar year at District headquarters on Jan. 14.

Dr. Mark Daniel told School Board members about a mandate needing to be fulfilled to evaluate the district’s students’ performance. The mandate comes as part of the Federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, Daniel explained.

Every student in Kindergarten through 10th grade was part of the assessment, and need to be able to show growth in their performance in the classroom. This is done through tests the students take in the fall and winter, Daniel explained.

From the results of the tests he has seen so far, Daniel explained to Board members, district officials “are pleased with where we are.” As of the Board’s meeting, “We are now finalizing assessments. By completing this, we are meeting requirements of the law,” Daniel said.

Unit 5 mapBoard Receives District 1:1 Computer Initiative Update: For the past three years, each student in the district in grades 6 through 9 have received an individual laptop computer from the district to use as their own for their homework assignments. Parents pay a $100 rental fee for the laptops. Also over the course of this period, the question was raised about possibly getting to a point to where students could bring their own devices to school to do their work. At this meeting, Marty Hickman, the district’s business manager, informed Board members that that particular idea will become a reality for students beginning this fall.

Under the new program called “Bring Your Own Device,” or “BYOD,” students in fifth grade and above will be allowed to come to class with any device which meets the following criteria: A screen larger than 9.7 inches, measured diagonally; Wireless internet capabilities; support for a web browser; and a keyboard.

Students who choose the BYOD option will also be saving their parents some money because they won’t have to pay a $100 annual fee Unit 5 charges for laptop rental by these students.

Hickman said the district has also recently purchased software known as Web Network from Carmel, Ind.-based Stoneware, Inc. BYOD rules suggested by Unit 5 cover a variety of laptop computers, netbooks and tablets, including the iPad, but are not applicable for smartphones and the iPod touch, which are among the fastest selling and most-commonly-owned devices by Unit 5 students.

Caffey Named Assistant Principal At Normal Community West High: Curt Richardson, Director of Human Relations and Attorney for the District, introduced Board members to Brandon Caffey who will become the new assistant principal at Normal Community West High School effective July 1. Caffey currently is working in Peoria School District 150 as assistant principal at Richwoods High School. He has also had experience as principal of Greeley Alternative High School in that district. He is a graduate of Illinois State University, and he and his family, which includes his wife and three children, live in Normal.

“I’m excited and delighted to join the Unit 5 family,” Caffey told Board members.