By Steve Robinson | December 31, 2015 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonTwin brothers Luke and Brett Hanson are an unmistakable one-two punch for one of the basketball team from Special Opportunities Available in Recreation, or SOAR, the team that participates in numerous Special Olympics competitions, and is jointly funded by the Parks and Recreation Departments of the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington.

The 14-year-old twins are students at Evans Junior High School and are part of the SOAR Supermen team, coached by Miranda Henson and Spencer Reed. The guys and their teammates had their hands full when they participated in the Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout at Shirk Center at Illinois Wesleyan University on Dec. 31.

The Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout is a two-day event woven into the annual State Farm Bloomington-Normal “Classic” Holiday Tournament. When he died after battling cancer in the fall of 2005, Knisley served as Director of Sports and Competition at Special Olympics Illinois, headquartered in Normal. He also was a 10-year member of the committee that helped put together the Bloomington-Normal State Farm Holiday Tournament. As the planning for the “Classic” grew, Knisley gave his fellow committee members something to consider: A tournament within the tournament, consisting of Special Olympics basketball teams. It was embraced whole-heartily Knisley’s fellow committee members.

The Hanson brothers have been active in Special Olympics for seven years, including being part of SOAR’s basketball program, explained their parents, Greg and Lori Hanson, Bloomington, where the boys attend George L. Evans Junior High School.

With individual personal trademarks clearly visible to the crowd that came to see teams compete – Luke’s red socks and Brett’s blue bandana – the brothers clearly want opponents to know they will have a battle on their hands on the court. And even off the court, the 14-year-olds have come a long way, their parents say.

The eighth grade duo don’t just participate in Special Olympics, but were also part of EJHS’ Cross Country team, running two miles. “Our teacher lets us leave school early so we can go to meets,” Luke said. The boys even get a little running time in as members of EJHS’ “Run Club” in the summer, he added.

They both enjoy basketball and trying to keep their team in a game. But, with an average height of 5 feet, against the Pink Panthers from Pekin Park District-managed Illinois River Valley Special Recreation Association, a team with players averaging 6 foot or taller, the Hanson brothers and their teammates had their hands full, losing the opening game of the day, 38-12, in a valiant effort.

Greg and Lori Hanson wanted their sons to make more than a valiant effort as far as their lives are concerned, especially after they turned 6 and each of the boys had been diagnosed by doctors with Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome, or CFC, a rare genetic condition that typically affects the heart, facial features, and skin. It affects 1 in every 810,000 births, Lori Hanson told me.

Born prematurely and not meeting all the little milestones of growing children, doctors weren’t real positive when giving an outlook to the Hansons for the boys, Lori Hanson explained. Despite that, Greg Hanson said, “We didn’t treat the boys like a syndrome.”

“They’ve always had high energy, and Special Olympics and basketball is a good outlet for that energy,” Lori Hanson explained.

“We play a lot of basketball together,” Greg Hanson added. “We work on shooting and passing.”

When they aren’t playing basketball or active in Track and Field at EJHS, the boys bike, something Brett said he enjoys. In fact, they’ve been known to do 25 miles going north to south along Constitution Trail. But they have to bike five miles from their home to reach an artery of the Trail to do that, Greg Hanson said. So, they get a workout in to be sure.

In fact, all the biking the boys get in gave Greg Hanson an idea. He would like to have his family enter this year’s Ragbrai event in Iowa in July. Ragbrai, or Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is a non-competitive bicycle ride organized by The Des Moines Register, going across our neighboring state from west to east. Along that proposed journey, Hanson said, he would like to try to educate folks about CFC.

The Hansons’ hopes for their boys’ futures are to see them take courses in high school and move on to college. Doing that will make Luke and Brett able to join the rest of the world’s productive adults when that time comes, their parents believe.

Lori Hanson said, “We want to see our boys treated as anyone else would be.” She said she and her husband don’t want the boys to grow up feeling they need special treatment due to their medical circumstances.

That means the Hansons want their sons to be granted a chance to be treated like everybody else in this life. That all any parent with a child with a disability wants. And from what I learned from the Hansons, it’s a chance guys like Brett and Luke, and girls, too, all deserve.

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – Rockton-Hononegah boys’ head basketball coach Mike Miller admitted following his team’s opening round game at the Bloomington-Normal State Farm Holiday Classic that his team has had a tendency to not shoulder adversity well, even after pulling out at the start of a contest looking confident.

Fourth seed University High shined a spotlight on that particular weakness of the 13th seeded Indians’ game while earning a 70-51 opening round win to advance to the second round in the Large School Boys’ Bracket on Monday.

The contest, held at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus started out as a 3-point exhibition with the Indians’ Kameron Kolberg, Kyle Damon, and Josh Donaldson exchanging threes with Pioneers players Alex Morris and Keondre Schumacher. By the time those fireworks ended, Rockton-Hononegah (4-6) owned a 9-8 lead with 5:17 left in the first quarter. Back-to-back unanswered buckets by Max Miller and Donaldson increased that lead, 13-10, at 3:46 in the quarter before a 6-0 run by the Pioneers featuring two free throws by Jack Martin and buckets by Morris and Schumacher pushed U-High in front to start the second quarter, 16-13.

The Pioneers opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run thanks to threes by Nate Robinson and Martin, a free throw by Logan Wolf, and a steal leading to a deuce from Morris, pushing the Pioneers in front, 25-13 with 6:25 until halftime. A basket and free throw by Miller, and two free throws by Spencer Murdoch helped the Indians close the gap within nine, 27-18, and after a Perry Lim bucket pushed U-High up, 29-18, Rockton-Hononegah went on a 7-0 run. That scoring spurt included a deuce and trey by Donaldson and a bucket by Miller. That push cut U-High’s lead, 29-25, prompting U-High head coach Bob Fitzgerald to call for a timeout.

Coming out of that timeout, the Pioneers took advantage of back-to-back Indians’ fouls with Morris and Lim sinking two free throws each, giving U-High a 33-25 lead with 1:27 until halftime. Martin and Schumacher hit a deuce and trey, respectfully, to close out the half, with U-High owning a 38-25 advantage.

State Farm Holiday ClassicU-High (9-1) began the third quarter with a 9-0 run, starting with a trey from Robinson, followed by a free throw by Wolf, and a steal-converting layup from Morris, to put U-High up, 25-13 at 6:25 in the third quarter. A bucket and foul shot by the Indians’ Miller helped reduce that to 42-29 at 6:09 in the quarter. Martin would hit back-to-back unanswered deuces, followed by another Schumacher deuce to give U-High a 53-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.

U-High spent most of the fourth quarter at the free throw line, due to the Indians’ getting into foul trouble. Over the course of the quarter, Lim, Robinson, Martin, Morris, Heffner, and Aldridge would all step up to the line, going a collective 11-for-13 to increase the distance for the Pioneers en route to victory.

Martin led U-High in scoring with 14 points, followed by 12 each from Schumacher and Morris, and 11 from Lim. Miller led Rockton-Hononegah’s charge with 13, followed by 10 from Donaldson.

“We just totally disregarded Rockton’s record going into this game because we know who they play, and we know the caliber of teams up there around the Rockford and Rockton area,” U-High head coach Bob Fitzgerald said. “At the start of this tournament, everybody starts with a zero-and-zero record. All it takes is a bad game, so we just told the kids to remain focused the way we were in late November and early December.”

“Right now, we’re struggling with confidence, struggling with ball-handling, struggling with our energy,” Rockton-Hononegah’s Coach Miller said. “We’re struggling in a lot of ways. Obviously, U-High is playing well. They’re off to a great start, with guys that can shoot it, and they kind of exposed some of our weaknesses right now.”

By Steve Robinson | December 22, 2015 - 10:53 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved an ordinance amending the Town’s franchise agreement with Corn Belt Energy Company. The Town has had an agreement with the energy provider for electricity since 2005 and needed to renew the agreement which was set to expire at the end of 2015.

Under the continued agreement, Corn Belt Energy will be given by the Town the right to install, erect, construct, operate, and maintain all necessary poles, conductors, wires, cables, conduits, and equipment within the Town. The renewed agreement will expire at the end of December 2025.

Under the new agreement, for accounting reasons, the calculation of the fee has

been changed, but the amount of the fee the Town will pay is expected to remain the same. As a result, instead of one percent of residential receipts and an amount equal to 50 percent of the street lighting receipts, the new rate is 3 percent of residential receipts. This change, Corn Belt Electric anticipates, will generate the same fee amount that had been paid before under the old contract.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Dec. 7, 2015.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Dec. 16, 2015.

• A motion extending participation in the Diabetes Management Program for one year.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement for the police shooting range facility with the City of Bloomington.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an energy consulting service agreement with The Stone River Group.

• A resolution authorizing Town Staff to execute an agreement with Pontiac, Ill.-based B&K Technology Solutions doing business as Electronics Recycling Services.

• An ordinance authorizing the acquisition of Town property located at the northeast corner of Fell Ave. and the Union Pacific Railroad by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in the sum of $17,600.

• An ordinance authorizing the acquisition of Town property located at the southwest corner of Broadway Ave. and the Union Pacific Railroad by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in the sum of $46,800.

By Steve Robinson | December 14, 2015 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe Christmas shopping – both for gifts and meals – has been done by now, I am hoping, for most of us. We will all spend time with family Christmas day and share in the joy of the special day that comes but once a year and means much to many because of what it symbolizes. And usually, in past years, The Classic, which does not hold games on Sundays, has been divided by the weekly day of rest. But this year, tourney organizers opted to give it four days running, and will tip it off on Monday, Dec. 28.

On opening day of the Tourney, in the Small School Boys Bracket, El Paso Gridley is seeded 8th and will take on the 9th seed Kewanee at Normal West at 1p.m. 5th seed Bloomington Central Catholic will tangle with 12th seed Peoria Christian at Normal West in a 6p.m. game.

The Large School Boys Bracket has Normal Community High School and University High School in the same bracket with the prospect of facing one another by the semifinals. But to get there, both teams face some tough opponents. The Ironmen are seeded 9th and will face 8th seed South Holland Thornwood Monday night at 6p.m. at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. Earlier in the day at Shirk, U-High, seeded 4th, will square off by taking on 13th seed Rockton-Hononegah in a 4:30p.m. contest.

In the Small School Girls Bracket, LeRoy is seeded 13th and will open the Tournament facing 4th seed Peoria Notre Dame, a game that will take place opening day at 6p.m. at U. S. Cellular Coliseum in Downtown Bloomington. Also at that venue, earlier in the day, El Paso Gridley will find itself in an unenviable position of being seeded 15th and facing 2nd seed Rockford Lutheran in a game at that same venue Monday starting at 11:30a.m. BCC finds itself seeded 6th and will face 11th seed Rock Falls. That game tips off at 2:30p.m.

All opening round games in the Large School Girls Bracket on day one of the tourney will be at NCHS. University High is seeded 4th and will face 13th seed Plainfield South in a 9p.m. contest on the opening night. Normal West is seeded 15th and will face 2nd seed Rock Island in a 2p.m. showdown on opening day. NCHS is seeded 7th and will take on 10th seed Mahomet Seymour in a 1p.m. game. Bloomington High School is seeded 14th and will face third seed Springfield High.

B-N Schools Participate In Other Tournaments: While The Classic Tournament bills itself as “The Best Basketball This Side Of March,” it isn’t the only tourney in the area that area schools are taking part in. Normal West Boys’ team will be in Pekin again this year, participating in the 51st Annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, where only the top four teams are seeded. The Wildcats will take on Rockford Boylan on Monday in one of the last games played in central Illinois on that first night, as their tipoff time is slated for 9:30p.m. It will be played at Hawkins Gym at Pekin Community High School.

Normal West last earned prominence at this tournament by finishing 2nd to Chicago Westinghouse in 2000.

Bloomington High School will take on Bloom Township Monday in the opening round of the 85th Annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament. That game is slated to tip off at 1p.m.

Knisley Memorial Tourney To See New Teams: The 14th annual Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout, part of The Classic Tournament, added a second day of games to its schedule last year. This year, the competition will be from other parts of region, as well. In addition to four teams from Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR), jointly funded by the Parks and Recreation Departments of the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington, other competitors will come from organizations both in-state and out-of-state.

The roster of teams joining SOAR on the Knisley Tourney’s first day, Dec. 30, are: Peoria-based Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA) Thunder; Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Mustangs; Frankfurt, Ill.-based Lincolnway High School Hawks; Jacksonville Special Olympics Wolverines; Marion, Ill.-based Southern Illinois Lightning Bolts; Vincennes, Ind.-based Porter County Hoosiers; and Fenton, Mo.-based Neuwohner Tigers.

The roster of teams joining three separate SOAR squads and HISRA on the Knisley Tourney’s second day, Dec. 31, are: Pekin Park District Flames; Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Lady Mustangs; Pekin Park District Pink Panthers; and Jacksonville Special Olympics Cougars.

As in past years, there will be eight-minute exhibitions put on by some of these Special Olympics teams at halftime of the Championship games on the tourney’s last day. It is something to see because the skill these athletes show Shirk’s big stage keeps the fans in their seats well past when people normally take a break a halftime. The skill these athletes show always receives appreciation from the crowds they play in front of. This year, that won’t change.

You’ll excuse me now, as I take a break to be with family before the high school basketball season shifts into first gear for me. See you at the Tourney. If you see me, and you think you have a good story idea for this column, stop me and let me hear about it. I am always looking for information regarding area high school personalities and events.

By Steve Robinson | December 10, 2015 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Members of the school board overseeing Normal-based Unit 5 School District voted unanimously to approve a tax levy for 2015, which will be paid through residents’ 2016 property taxes next spring. District officials expect the tax rate to stay at the current $5.03 per $100 assessed valuation. If a district resident owns a $165,000 home, their tax should cost slightly over $2,700.

The amount of property tax was figured based on all taxable property, including corporate properties with a sum total of $88,165,501. Unit 5 has until Dec. 29 to file the tax levy information with the McLean County Clerk’s Office.

In addition to approving the tax levy, Board members were informed by Marty Hickman, the district’s business manager, that the annual fee for students to take drivers’ education in the district will be increased to $450 per student for a five year span. Hickman cited the need to increase the cost on monies it’s not getting through the State currently. State regulations hold the cost of Drivers’ Ed at $250 per student. Hickman justified the added cost, in part, by explaining the money would be well spent because 90 percent of Unit 5 students who take the course receive a grade of B or better in the course.

“Good News” Related To High School Safe Driving Campaign Presented: Both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School students participated in a campaign called Celebrate My Drive. State Farm Insurance’s Celebrate My Drive contest was open and offered to legal residents of the 50 United States and District of Columbia, who are at least 18 years of age or older or the age of majority, whichever is older, as of October 12, 2015 and are employed as an administrator or teacher of a public, private or charter high school.

NCHS students Shubhang Desai, Ryan Greene, Emily Schramm, and Henry Wong played roles in their school’s Celebrate My Drive campaign this year as members the school’s Android Club. The quartet created a mobile app call Iron Drive which restricts the settings on a person’s cell phone, preventing distracted driving. Once they completed the prototype of the app, these students filmed a video highlighting Iron Drive that was submitted for the Celebrate My Drive application.

At Normal Community West High School, students in the process including making the video, radio interviews, passing out fliers for voting, making posters, and our social media campaign. Normal West Associate Principal Wendy Davis publicly recognized the following students for their efforts during the campaign: Frankie Riley; Riley Nichols; Sophia Downes; Emily Bauman; Sara Verda; Shannon Doherty, and Carlos Torres. Davis reminded the group attending the meeting the school had, tragically, lost students to driving accidents in the last two school years “so this program emphasizes the seriousness of texting and driving.”

Parkside Elementary Honored By State Ed. Board: Another piece of good news was delivered by Parkside Elementary School Principal Staci Mandros, explaining to Board members the school had been honored by Illinois State Board of Education as a National Title I Distinguished School.

Representatives for the school will receive public recognition for the accomplishment at two meetings early next year. First, Parkside Elementary will be recognized at the 2016 No Child Left Behind Conference in Chicago, held Feb 22-24. Then the school will be recognized at the 2016 National Title I Conference held Jan. 28-31 in Houston, Texas. The National Title I Distinguished School honor is based on exceptional performance for closing the achievement gap between student groups.

Unit 5 mapEnglish Second Language Program Update Presented: Board members received an update concerning students involved in the district’s English as a Second Language program, or ESL. The program’s coordinator, Leslie Romagnoli, explained to Board members that a total of 492 students have been served by the district’s ESL Program through 12 of the district’s 18 schools. The largest amount of students using the service come from Cedar Ridge Elementary (123 students), and Colene Hoose Elementary having the fewest students in the program, with just eight students.

Romagnoli explained to Board members that while the program is open to all students whose first language is not English, not all students who can have the program made available to them take advantage of it, for varying reasons. The district calculates there are 154 students district-wide who have refused to participate in the program.

Romagnoli said the number of newcomer students who are in grades 6-12 has required the district to add one full time teacher at NCHS to support them. She added a bilingual teacher has needed to be added to Cedar Ridge Elementary School’s staff as a result of increased numbers of ESL students there.

District’s 2014-15 Student Achievement Report Presented: Laura O’Donnell, Director of Secondary Education, and Carmen Bergmann, Director of Elementary Education, presented Board members with the district’s 2014-2015 Student Achievement report. To begin with, the educators explained, Unit 5 has a 20 to 1 ratio of students to teachers at the elementary level and a 21 to 1 ratio of those parties at the high school level. That appears close to the overall State average at the elementary level, which is 20-to-1, and doesn’t do quite as well to the State’s 21-to-1 mark throughout its high schools.

In terms of academic growth in the subjects of reading and math across the grades, Unit 5 students are staying within the same range as students statewide, the educators explained. In terms of being ready for college-level work, and showing it on annual ACT exams, the educators explained the district’s students seemed to score well in all subjects exceeding state averages in all subjects except Science. There, the district had 49 percent of students showing they were ready for college-level work compared to a statewide average of 35 percent.

The subject where the district and State numbers came nearly to par was English, where 69 percent of Unit 5 students showed they were ready for college-level assignments compared to a Statewide figure of 61 percent. In Mathematics, Unit 5 students outpaced State comparisons, with 56 percent of district students showing to be ready for college-level assignments to a 40 percent State average.