By Steve Robinson | October 31, 2015 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – The last item Normal Community High School head coach Wes Temples mentioned to his players following their victory over Schaumburg on Friday, Oct. 30 was there would be practice on Monday. That brought something you might not expect from teen boys upon hearing such news – loud cheers.

The cheering had continued throughout the contest, as NCHS, ranked 6th in Class 7A, defeated Schaumburg, 34-28 to advance to the second round. They will play a home game this weekend against Park Ridge-based Maine South High School this weekend. Maine South sent Plainfield North exiting from the playoffs with a 35-20 victory Oct. 30.

NCHS FootballThe Ironmen had mounted a 19-7 lead in the third quarter and then had to hold on despite three costly turnovers which gave Schaumburg the ball back inside NCHS territory. But as the Class 7A contest began before 1,500 fans at Ironmen Field, NCHS got off to a fast start in the first quarter thanks to a 1 yard run by senior running back Alec Bozarth, capping a 6 play, 46 yard drive at 8:32 in the first quarter. Junior kicker Nate Kelly’s extra point gave the home team a fast 7-0 lead.

NCHS (9-1) scored a second time in the opening quarter, as senior quarterback Grant Price picked up defenders and dodged Schaumburg’s secondary for a 31 yard rushing touchdown at 2:12 in the opening quarter. But Kelly’s next extra point kick sailed wide left, increasing the Ironmen’s advantage, 13-0, going into the second quarter.

NCHS’ first fumble handed the ball over to Schaumburg (5-5) on the Ironmen’s 17 yard line at 4:20 in the second quarter. Roughly a minute earlier, the Ironmen defense had halted Schaumburg’s advance thanks to a turnover on downs. But the Saxons got the ball back due to the fumble on NCHS’ 17 yard line.

Four plays later, junior quarterback Justin Perez connected with senior tight end Ryan Michels for a 10 yard scoring pass with 2:34 until halftime, followed by junior kicker Mason Laramie’s extra point, cutting NCHS’ lead, 13-7.

The Ironmen received the second half kickoff at their own 20 thanks to a touchback and went right to work trying to increase their lead. Bozarth, junior receiver Brady Lay, and junior wide receiver Steven Towns each made contributions to the drive, which concluded with senior wide receiver Christian Wey catching a 17 yard scoring pass from Price with 8:38 left in the third quarter. NCHS opted for a 2-point conversion, but Saxons defenders broke it up, as the Ironmen owned a 19-7 lead.

Schaumburg footballEach team would have an unsuccessful series of downs ending in punts before Schaumburg would score on a 37 yard pass from Perez to junior wide receiver Duke Gray with 3:06 left in the third quarter. Laramie’s next extra point would cut NCHS’ lead, 19-14, as a result.

On NCHS’ ensuing drive which began at NCHS’ own 20, the Ironmen marched into Saxons’ territory before Bozarth fumbled, turning over the ball at Schaumburg’s 33. The Saxons began their drive with 1:33 in the third quarter, marching 67 yards in five plays, concluding when sophomore running back Jordan Salgado scored from one yard out, putting Schaumburg up for the first time, 22-19, following a two-point conversion pass from Perez to junior running back Olijah Sally, with 11:57 in the fourth quarter.

NCHS responded by marching 65 yards on six plays, the score coming when Ironmen sophomore running back Varshaun Dixon found he had to stretch across a tightly-defended goal line to put the home team up, 26-22, following Kelly’s extra point.

Another NCHS fumble would give Schaumburg the ball at their own 36 with just over seven minutes left in the contest. Six plays later, Perez would throw a touchdown strike to senior tight end Bernard Payne, putting the visitors up, 28-26 after Laramie’s extra point try sailed wide right at the game’s 4:48 mark.

Dixon would score again, rushing from 26 yards out, with 3:36 left in the contest. The Ironmen opted to try for two points, as Wey caught Price’s pass which had been tipped by a Schaumburg defender.

“We’ve got a special group of kids, and if you’re gonna keep practicing, that means you’re going to keep playing,” Temples said. “I’m not sure anyone’s ready to hang it up yet.

IHSA“Offensively, early, we played really well,” Temples said. “Then we kind of struggled for about four series of downs, where we put our defense in some bad situations. But when we needed a play in the second half, our offense made some great plays. There’s always concern when you’re no winning in the playoffs because there’s no tomorrow. Our kids battled hard and they found a way.”

NCHS is “a heck of a football team,” according to Schaumburg head coach Mark Stilling in his postgame comments. “They’ve got a great program and a great tradition here. I’m proud of our kids for their toughness.” Stilling had praise for four NCHS players in the way they played this game – Bozarth, Price, senior tigh end Riley Rahuba, and junior wide receiver Steven Towns.

“Three weeks ago, we got out tails kicked at Conant, and our season could have gone in any direction.” Since that loss, Stilling said, his players have resolved to improve.

By Steve Robinson | October 29, 2015 - 11:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Mike Trask, member of Normal-based Unit 5 School District, admitted to his fellow Board members during the Board member comments section of the group’s regularly-scheduled session at District Headquarters on Oct. 28 that what he was about to tell them would likely be a regular occurrence at meetings until the State’s budget impasse is resolved.

Trask quoted State Rep. Dan Brady (R – 105th District) from comments Brady made the day of the meeting to WJBC Radio. Trask reported that Brady said the State’s current budget situation “Probably won’t reach the point of outrage unless the government shuts down entirely.”

Trask picked up the thought from there with his own comments. “Folks, we need to be outraged before the government shuts down entirely,” Trask said. “Unit 5’s mission for students is to educate them to achieve personal excellence. But right now, due to budget restraints, we’re not able to achieve that mission.”

Trask’s next comment was a rallying cry for all Unit 5 constituents – regardless of political affiliation – “to get your voice out there asking Springfield to get a budget passed.”

Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, added his voice to Trask’s. “Help us families, help us business leaders, to get a message of passing a budget to our legislators.”

“We’ve been prorated on getting our general State aid,” Trask said after the session ended. “We’ve been delayed in getting transportation and special education payments each year. So, we set up a budget and we’re supposed to receive money that is supposed to be allocated to us.

“Some of that money we don’t necessarily get, or it’s delayed,” Trask said, reminding that, last April, 2 percent of the 89 percent General State Aid money Unit 5 was entitled to receive from Springfield was taken back by the State. Trask said Unit 5 had budgeted uses for that withdrawn money.

“We need to share with elected representatives our thoughts and concerns as a group,” Trask said, adding he’s hoping voters will contact their legislators concerning the situation. He said Unit 5’s website would have links to legislators’ and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s contact information so as to provide voters with one-stop access to their contact information.

District Support Staff Receive New Contract: Board members unanimously approved a new contract with employees represented by Unit Five Support Professionals Association. District staff represented by this group includes teacher’s aides and administrative assistants.

The contract lasts for one year and included a 2 percent base salary increase and a slight decrease in health insurance costs for the employees. That decrease lowers that group’s health insurance tab from $500 to $470 for the 2015-16 school year.

Unit 5 mapAnnual Audit of District Ends Positively: Board members received a final update on an annual audit of the district conducted by Champaign-based firm of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. A Principal with that firm, Hope Wheeler, reviewed the audit results with Board members. There were no significant findings, only minor journal entry items needing reclassifying, Wheeler explained. Board members voted unanimously to accept the report.

Pitch To Join CIBRN Made: Board members heard a brief address concerning the Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIBRN) from its executive director, Mark DeKeersgieter. CIBRN, DeKeersgieter explained, provides high-speed Internet and Intranet service to 19 communities throughout McLean and Livingston Counties. CIBRN was created through funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

DeKeersgieter made a pitch for the district to become part of CIBRN. CIBRN “is focused on getting equal opportunities for kids in rural areas so they can have internet access in order to do their studies from home rather than need to spend time elsewhere to complete assignments, he explained.

Should Unit 5 join CIBRN, it would have one staff member who would serve on CIBRN’s Board. Currently, the Town of Normal, City of Bloomington, Illinois State University, Heartland Community College, and some smaller communities in the area such as Mahomet, are members of CIBRN. DeKeersgieter explained all Unit 5 websites used by affinity groups would be placed on CIBRN so as to be available by users.

District Starts Year With Slight Student Increase: Unit 5 is beginning the school year with a slight increase in its student population than it had at this time a year ago. When the final student tally came out earlier this month, the district had 13,613 students in class. By comparison, the district had 52 total fewer students in class at this time last year, explained Curt Richardson, Unit 5’s director of human resources and attorney.

District’s “Good News”: On an annual basis, the “Those Who Excel” Awards Program annually recognizes and honors people and groups who have made outstanding contributions to public and non-public elementary and secondary education.

Unit 5 was recognized with seven award winners in this annual statewide program. The teachers and categories for which they were honored are: Valentine Walker, Normal Community West High School, Award of Merit; Karrah Jensen, Cedar Ridge Elementary School, School Administrator Award of Excellence; Robert Bosquez, Benjamin Elementary School, Award of Excellence — Educational Service Personnel (non-certificated); Rexie Lanier, Evans Junior High School, Award of Excellence/Student Support Personnel (certificated); Taunia Leffler, School Board Member/Community Volunteer — Districtwide Award of Excellence; Michael Jennings, Evans Junior High School, Early Career Educator Award of Recognition; and the team Award of Excellence was presented to the Child Parent Center at Sugar Creek Elementary School.

By Steve Robinson | October 25, 2015 - 10:24 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

Steve RobinsonI hope you readers will pardon me if this column is a little brief. Not as brief as, say, the ones produced by the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, mind you. But brief. You see, I need to catch my breath. I need to recover from the 2015 high school regular season just concluded, and prepare myself for the upcoming playoffs.

Just as the players and coaches try to do, writers, reporters, and photographers need to roll with the punches and prepare for the sport’s “second season” – the primary reason high schools participate in sports the first place (or so it seems at times). Just before I began writing this piece, I finished my game story on the Normal West game at Bloomington. I took a brief 30 second break to refresh myself. It wasn’t enough. We all know what we’re in for.

Mind you, this isn’t really a complaint. Having done this kind of thing for as long as I have, it has become something of an occupational routine by this time of year. But for those of us who don’t have kids, we have a tendency to forget the second season means parents and grandparents and other players’ family members are continuing to watch schedules to see if some part of their weekend, if not all of it, will be spent on the road, or maybe completely at home in preparation for the next game.

I, like the players, coaches, and parents, spent Saturday night watching the Illinois High School Association Football Post-Season Show waiting to see which teams in town would play in town (meaning I would be on my way again to a press box near you) to cover our local athletes as they vie for a championship. Congratulations to LeRoy (6-3), seeded 9th in Class 1A. The Panthers, who I started this season by covering, will be on the road to take on 8th seed Greenfield Northwestern Co-Op (6-3). That game kicks off Saturday at 1:30p.m.

In Class 2A, El Paso Gridley, at 6-3, is seeded 12th and will travel to 5th seed 7-2 Mendon Unity Coop, beginning with Saturday’s 2p.m. kickoff. In Class 3A, Bloomington Central Catholic, at 8-1, is seeded fifth, and will host 12th seed DuQuoin Saturday at 2p.m. We skip to Class 5A, where University High (6-3) is seeded 14th and will travel to take on third seed Peoria High, who finished the year at 8-1. That game will be played Friday night at 7p.m. In Class 6A, Normal Community West High School, who finished the season 6-3, is seeded 10th and will get a rematch again 7th seed Peoria Notre Dame, which is 8-1. The two sides met earlier this month with PND coming away with a 56-52 victory. Their rematch is set for Saturday at 2:30p.m.

In Class 7A and 8A, the seeding is a little deeper. That could be a problem for most schools, in this case, namely 27th seed Schaumburg (5-4), who will visit Normal Community High School, seeded 6th in Class 7A.

One more thing parents, grandparents, family, and friends will have to throw into the mix concerns if you have a high school family member who plays volleyball. The teams around here get as hot as the football players. We will have to see how that shakes out by the middle of next month, too.

On another football note, during the post-game interview I did after Normal West High’s 52-34 win over Bloomington High on Oct. 23, Wildcats head coach Darren Hess explained BHS’ players “left the game on the field” after the final horn sounded at what was BHS head coach Rigo Schmelzer’s final game before retirement.

That behavior on the part of BHS’ players “is a tribute to Rigo and how much he has done for that football program,” Hess said. “He’s been like a mentor to me. This game was a very sad way to end that career, but I’m very humbled I got to coach against him.” Many of Schmelzer’s former players were invited to attend a reception following the game in the school.

But before he came off the field one last time, Schmelzer told reporters he still had some last little chores to do before he could say his job was done, including collecting uniforms and equipment, and still having meetings with players on end-of-season matters. Before he can finally exit as coach, ”My time now, is, unfortunately, dealing now with wrapping up the end of a season that we felt is, unfortunately, too short,” Schmelzer explained. The realization for him that the season is, indeed, really over, may not come for another two or three weeks, he said.

His last thought to reporters that he expressed before he left Fred Carlton Field for the last time: “The kids gave. They did everything we asked of them. We couldn’t get the stops we needed in this game, and we’ll all live tomorrow.”

You get the feeling part of that quote could have been speaking of just about anything, not just about coaching and playing high school football.

By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2015 - 10:30 pm

FootballBLOOMINGTON – Weather and seven lead changes added drama to the final regular season game between visiting Normal Community West High School when they took on Bloomington High School at Fred Carlton Field on Oct. 23. That was on top of the game being the career finale for BHS head coach Rigo Smelzer.

Add to that mix four touchdowns by Normal West senior running back Dajour Forrest plus two more rushing scores from senior quarterback Mitch Fairfield for the Wildcats en route to a 52-34 Big 12 Conference victory for head coach Darren Hess’ crew to close out the regular season with a 6-3 mark. As a result, the Wildcats were seeded 10th in Illinois High School Association Class 6A will visit 7th seed Peoria Notre Dame this weekend.

That will be a rematch of a game in Peoria on Oct. 2, where PND edged out the Wildcats, 56-52.

As a result of this victory against BHS, Normal West and PND will share the Big 12 Conference title for the season.

Normal West (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) scored first on their opening drive when Forrest ran for a three yard score, capping a 9 play, 70 yard drive, at 8:41 in the first quarter, followed by senior kicker Tim O’Brien’s extra point, putting the Wildcats up, 7-0. BHS (2-7, 2-4 Big 12) replied on the ensuing kickoff, thanks to 74 yard kickoff return touchdown by junior running back Cary Lockhart, followed by an extra point from senior kicker Drew Humprey, knotting the game quickly at 7-7.

A 28 yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Tyler Stewart to senior wide receiver Brent Finley put BHS in front, 14-7, following another Humprey extra point at the 5:36 mark in the opening quarter. West’s next drive began at their own 42 but was halted by BHS defenders after the Wildcats had marched to the Purple Raiders’ 8 yard line, prompting West to call in O’Brien for a successful 25 yard field goal. That cut BHS’ lead, 14-10 at the 3:06 mark.

Normal West FootballBoth teams entered into the second quarter with that score before Fairfield would connect with Forrest on a 36 yard touchdown pass at the 9:11 mark, putting West up, 17-14, following O’Brien’s extra point. BHS responded on their very next possession using a little deception with a 51 yard scoring pass from senior running back Telly Arrington, who threw to senior receiver Michael Buob at 9:20 in the quarter. Humprey’s next extra point, would push BHS back in front, 21-17, at halftime, and BHS would get the ball at the start of the third quarter.

Keeping the ball, however, was another matter for the Purple Raiders, who had to punt after five downs following the kickoff, only getting 18 yards, to midfield. But the punt attempt was botched by a bad snap, sending the ball rolling deep into Bloomington territory, allowing West to begin their first series of downs in the second half from the Purple Raiders’ 21 yard line. Three plays later, Fairfield connected with senior wide receiver Jack Coakley from 24 yards out for the Wildcats’ next score, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point, sending the visitors back in the lead, 24-21.

Each team would have the ball for a series of downs each with no result before senior running back Jaylen Hayes would score from one yard out, capping a 9 play, 57 yard drive for BHS, pushing the Purple Raiders in front, 28-24, at 4:14 in the third quarter following another Humprey extra point. Following the ensuing kickoff, West would begin from midfield and six plays later, Forrest would score from 13 yards out with 1:09 left in the quarter, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point, pushing the Wildcats back in front, 31-28.

BHS responded in their ensuing drive, scoring in four plays, topped by a 52 yard touchdown run from junior running back Domeneik Criddell, followed by Humprey’s extra point. That pushed BHS back in front, 34-31, closing out the third quarter.

But when the fourth quarter started, no one knew Criddell would have scored for the last time this season. West went on a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter, starting with a 1-yard touchdown run by Fairfield with 11:14 left in the contest, followed by O’Brien’s next extra point. That capped a 7 play, 71 yard drive, putting West back in front, 38-34.

BHS FootballBHS would get the ball back on the ensuing kickoff and would start at their own 35, but a fumbled handoff would give the Wildcats back the ball back at BHS’ 29 with 10:29 left in the game. Three plays later, Fairfield would rush in for his second touchdown of the night, from five yards out, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 45-34, following O’Brien’s extra point.

Forrest would star in a second 13 yard touchdown run play, capping a 6 play, 50 yard drive by West, followed by another O’Brien extra point, extending West’s advantage, 52-34. Forest would also score from 61 yards out at the 5:01 mark in the quarter, followed by O’Brien’s last extra point of the night, resulting in the final score.

West senior wide receiver Dante Ruffin was injured during the contest’s second half and did not return. Hess had praise for Forrest, who stepped in to fill that gap. “Dajour was definitely ready for the challenge in that second half,” Hess said, adding he had spent the week leading up to the game informing his players about BHS’ football tradition, to give them some perspective on the contest.

“We were in for a war for about three quarters until we decided it,” Hess said. “I felt like we played like we practiced this week. I’m really proud of our kids and how they responded.”

“We felt that, with a push in the line, we could have an opportunity to move the ball,” Smelzer said. “I’m disappointed in not being able to get Normal West backed off.”

Forrest had 27 carries for 285 yards, leading all rushers, while Fairfield had 11 carries for 106 yards for West. Fairfield was 10-for-20 passing for 154 yards. Senior tight end Mace Julian caught 4 passes for 29 yards, while Ruffin caught two passes for 48 yards.

Stewart only threw two passes totaling 15 yards, and the team’s leading rusher was Buob with 51 yards.

By Steve Robinson | October 20, 2015 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL –Normal Town Council members unanimously approved waiving the formal bid process to award a bid for purchase of carbon monoxide, for use in the process of producing drinking water, to a Countryside, Ill. company when members of the governing body met in their regular session in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station on Oct. 19.

The company, Air Liquide, has made an offer to the Town to supply it with liquid carbon monoxide, used for the production of drinking water, at a cost of $116 per ton. In their report to Council members, Town Staff explained the Town would receive some savings with this purchase as the prior supplier, Decatur-based Continental Carbonic, charged the Town $190 per ton. The Town Staff report explained the Town had been looking for a supplier of carbon monoxide since the summer, hoping to head off a shortage.

Council members approved chemical bids for the Town’s water treatment plant at their Oct. 5 meeting. Those bids would last from November 2015 through October 2016. Continental Carbonic was the only bid for liquid carbon dioxide the Town received, and therefore, was awarded the bid for carbon dioxide. But just four days later, on Oct. 9, Continental Carbonic notified the Town it was discontinuing liquid carbon dioxide sales and were, as a result, withdrawing their bid submission.

Contract For Sanitary Sewer Project Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution approving a continuing service agreement with Crawford, Murphy, and Tilly, Inc (CMT) for engineering services relating to preparation of a sanitary sewer master plan in the amount of $150,000, along with the approval of an associated budget adjustment.

A Sanitary Sewer Condition Assessment and Rate Review is part of the Town Council’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2015-2016, as well as part of a Sanitary Sewer Master Plan for the Town. This assessment’s goal includes looking at the Town’s entire sanitary sewer system and developing a procedure to identify and prioritize repair projects and maintenance activities. The assessment will also develop a program for capital improvements, maintenance repairs and inspection activities. Once that is completed, the Town can identify costs involved for a proposed rate study.

The proposed approach for developing this Master Plan is to review a portion of the available collection system, manholes and pump station data. The Town’s Finance Department will review the current rate structure to determine if a rate adjustment will be necessary to implement the plan.

The Town of Normal has worked with CMT previously on a concrete pavement rating project, and is currently working on a Town water project. In addition to the proposed project here, CMT is currently under contract with the City of Peoria, the Greater Peoria Sanitary Sewer District, and the City of Springfield working on their sewer program plans.

Liquor Commission Approves Fine: Council members, meeting before the regular session as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, heard of and approved a fine for a business which sold liquor to a person under 21. Los Potrillos, Inc. furnished alcohol to an underage person on Sept. 24. The Town received a guilty plea from the business and reached a settlement which included a $250 fine. The fine has been paid. Mayor Chris Koos reported to Commissioners that Amigo’s Express, 616 W. Raab Rd., has decided to no longer sell liquor, and therefore, turned in their liquor license to the Town.

Also during this meeting, Liquor Commissioners were updated on a report concerning businesses which had paid second installments of their license payments to the Town. Commissioners also unanimously approved minutes of two previous meetings – a regularly scheduled meeting July 20, and a special meeting called Aug. 17.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Oct. 5, 2015.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 14, 2015.

• A resolution accepting proposals and authorizing the purchase of a playground unit from Chillicothe, Ill.-based Cunningham Recreation, Inc. in the amount of $24,011.

• A conditional resolution partially approving the ninth addition to Vineyards Subdivision.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement with Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to use $1,485,000 in Federal Urban Surface Transportation (STU) Program funds for the improvement of Raab Rd. from Normal Community High School to just west of Towanda Barnes Rd.

• A supplemental resolution to appropriate an additional $130,000 of the Town’s allotment of Motor Fuel Tax funds for the improvement of Raab Rd. from 3,560 feet east of Airport Rd. (NCHS) to 175 feet west of Towanda Barnes Rd.