Relay For LifeBloomington, Illinois – June 27, 2016 – Relay For Life of McLean County wrapped up its 22nd annual event at Normal Community High School on Saturday, June 25 at 10a.m., having had team members circle the track at Ironmen Field for 18 hours, and held a 5K Run to raise money to fight cancer. There were many inspiring stories, large and small, during the event which motivated and encouraged those who participated.

TWO HEARTS, ONE TEAM: Each having been touched by cancer, Bloomington residents Michael Fitzgerald and Stephanie Moore learned and understood what it took to care for a loved one stricken by the disease. Fitzgerald, 44 and the father of two daughters now 14 and 10, lost his wife of 15 years, Elaine, to tongue and throat cancer just a few weeks before Christmas in 2014. Elaine had been diagnosed in March 2013. Moore, 38, a mother of two boys, now 11 and 7, lost her husband of almost 7 ½ years, Noah C. Moore, to colon cancer in November 2014, having battled it for a year once he had been diagnosed.

They each watched over, cared for, and aided their loved ones during their disease. They began trying to heal through their grieving by being part of a group they joined at a local church. That’s where they met and were able to share – both with the group and each other – how to survive losing a loved one. They met as part of that group in January 2015. Their bond grew so strong that they fell in love and married on April 30, 2016, blending the two families.

Then, after being asked by the organizing committee of Relay For Life of McLean County to serve as honorary caregivers for this year’s event, the couple took matters one step further when they began organizing their Relay team, named MooreFitzStrong, in honor of their loved ones.

Most Relay teams have between 12-15 individuals on a team, with at least one member or more circling the track for part of the 18-hour event. But Fitzgerald and Moore may have set a record in recruiting when they began forming their team. When the Relay began at 4p.m. Friday, MooreFitzStrong’s team roster tallied 22 people. They ranged from Fitzgerald’s daughters and Moore’s sons to co-workers of the couple and extended family members.

Among those on the team were best friends who took up the fight alongside Moore and Fitzgerald. Moore’s best friends, Brandi Storm and Erika Cheeseman, walked alongside her for part of their time on the track Friday night. “We’re here to support Stephanie and Mike in remembrance of Noah and Elaine,” Cheeseman explained.

Because of their experience, Fitzgerald and Moore were chosen as our Honorary Caregivers for this year’s event.

“As friends, we’ve seen the aftermath of what a cancer patient’s loved ones have to endure,” Storm said. “Cancer affects everybody in some sort of way. I just think the more support we have, whether directly or indirectly, will lead us to a cure so people don’t have to go through what our friends have gone through.”

“Mike and Stephanie are the base of an amazing support system,” Cheeseman said acknowledging the large number of members on their team. “The support they gave their families and each other is something for the others on the team to grow off of. Being part of this is just an amazing experience that people should come see. Storm added that, even with the number of members the team brought to the event this year, she believes the MooreFitzStrong team could become even larger by next year’s Relay event.

2nd ANNUAL 5K EVENT DRAWS PARTICIPANT BACK HOME: This year’s event again incorporated a 5K Run event held early Saturday morning with 100 runners taking part, either having pre-registered online or in person at the event.

It wasn’t just local residents who came to participate in the 5K, but out—of-towners, too, came to support the cause while feeding their passion for running. Josh Brandt, 36, a Twin City native, knowing he would be visiting family when he came to town, said he looked for 5K events on the internet before leaving his home in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Brandt was possibly one of the first runners to complete the course, having done it in 19 minutes and three seconds. Cancer has also played a motivating factor in Brandt’s wanting to participate in the 5K, too, he said, because his mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor. He said he has also had co-workers at the high school where he teaches English who have also survived cancer.

RELAY 2016 NUMBERS:
Relay For Life of McLean County raised nearly $270,000 in 2016 and had 79 teams and 500 survivors and caregivers at their annual Relay event, held from 4p.m.June 24 to 10a.m. June 25, 2016, at Normal Community High School.

Since it began in McLean County in 1994, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $7.8 Million to fight cancer.

Of this year’s event, Catina Struble, Lead Co-Chair for Relay For Life of McLean County, said, “We are very pleased with the amount of money we were able to raise at this year’s event. We are equally pleased with the fact new people came to join our fight, both as part of the annual Relay and at our new 5K event. Such success can only help us continue our fight.”

SPONSORS FOR THIS YEAR’S EVENT: Sponsors have helped Relay For Life of McLean County with continuing our efforts. We are honored to have State Farm Insurance as our presenting sponsor for this year’s Relay, as we are honored to have Avanti’s Italian Restaurant and Country Financial as our Gold sponsor.

More information may be obtained by contacting either Catina Struble at 309-706-5367 or Steve Robinson at 309-242-7838.

By Steve Robinson | June 23, 2016 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballThis column starts with what was considered at the end of last season a final act for one of the Western Division Champion Normal CornBelters’ better-known players. First baseman Aaron Dudley turned in his retirement papers to his manager, Brooks Carey, at the end of the team’s first playoff season last September. After six seasons in baseball which included being in a CornBelters uniform since 2013, he felt it was time to move on.

Then fate, in the form of Frontier League rules, intervened. When this season began, left fielder Cameron Monger would have been the ranking member of the club this season with shortstop Pat McKenna having moved on in his career. Dudley hoped he could rejoin the team. But Carey’s player roster was full forcing Dudley to become the odd man out. That was until he dealt Monger to the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association for shortstop R. J. Perucki.

That move, as it turned out was what was necessary for Dudley, now 28, for his return to The Corn Crib to become a reality. As a result, Dudley could step into the role of sole veteran under Frontier League rules. The league allows each of its 12 teams to have one veteran age 27.

A non-drafted free agent in 2010, Dudley signed with the then-Florida Marlins and was assigned to their Class A team in Jamestown, N.Y. He moved from there to Class A teams in the Marlins system in Greensboro, N. C. and Jupiter, Fla., playing in just a handful of games at each stop before being advanced to their Class AA team, the Jacksonville Suns.

CornbeltersJacksonville turned out to be Dudley’s last stop before being released by the Marlins in 2013. At the time of his release, he had played in just 94 games over four years. When he arrived in Normal, Dudley felt he’d have a chance to contribute regularly – something that didn’t turn out to be the case with the Marlins organization.

Among his highlights in a CornBelters uniform, Dudley appeared in 27 games in 2013 for the Belters with a .289 batting average, eight doubles and four home runs, earning a .400 on base percentage. In 2014, batted .314 with 14 homers and 64 Runs Batted In including the longest home run in Corn Crib history in August that season, a 450-foot bomb that just missed clearing the right field patio. Last season, he batted .346 with 10 homers and a career-high 69 RBIs.

In 139 at-bats in 39 games this season, Dudley has scored 31 runs, and had 52 hits including eight home runs and 13 doubles knocking in 34 RBIs. He has walked 30 times and struck out 24 times leading to a batting average of .377.

As for his role in the game right now, Dudley said he wants to focus on the CornBelters right now. He said he would love another chance at the majors, and until that comes along again, helping Normal in his current post is his priority.

As a team, Dudley said, the CornBelters are waiting for “that long winning streak to come our way,” to offset a season-starting seven-game losing streak the team has been trying to erase.

“He has the right approach to the game,” Carey said of his 6 foot-2, 215 pound first baseman. “He’s a professional hitter in every sense of the word. He knows what he’s doing at the plate and everybody in the league knows it. He gets pitches thrown around him, and still is very patient and gets the pitch that he wants and usually barrels it into a line drive.”

The wait paid off for Dudley, and with the CornBelters in 5th place in the Western Division right now, his experience is sure to be a contributing factor as the season progresses.

Frontier LeagueJuly 4th Holiday Weekend In Schaumburg: After wrapping up a three-game home stand against Traverse City, the CornBelters will spend Friday through Sunday, July 1-3, at Schaumburg. Following a league-imposed day off July 4, the ‘Belters return to The Corn Crib to start a six-game home stand before the Frontier League All-Star Game festivities July 11-14 in Florence, Ky.

The Gateway Grizzles, currently in fourth place in front of Normal in the Western Division, will visit Normal Tuesday through Thursday, July 5-7, and will be followed by the Florence Freedom for three games on Friday through Sunday, July 8-10. Weeknight and Saturday games will start with 6:35p.m. first pitches while Sunday’s game begins at 4:35p.m.

A Week’s Worth Of Transactions: Carey has been busy filing transaction information about players to the league office this week. Among the moves made to help improve the team’s chances this season: Placed right-handed pitcher Jeremy Holcombe on the 60-day injured list, and placed infielder Ty Morris on the 7-day injured list, retroactive to June 25.

Lake Erie Hires New Manager: Newspapers in northeast Ohio are reporting the Lake Erie Crushers hired Cameron Roth to replace third-year manager Chris Mongiardo, who was fired by team operators, along with Mongiardo’s assistant coaches, after the team got off to a 17-20 start to begin the season. Roth had been part of the Schaumburg Boomers organization.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Anyone familiar with Normal’s history won’t deny that, years ago, relations between the Town and its primary employer, Illinois State University, were not always steady. But history has shown the relationship between the two entities has taken time to nurture and develop the cooperative spirit local residents, University officials, and students have now become accustomed to experiencing.

It’s a relationship with a history that, as both sides saw it, could be something other college towns could afford to learn from. To that end, representatives from both the Town and ISU jointly recently attended an annual meeting of the International Town/Gown Association (ITGA), held in Chicago earlier this month. Both the Town and ISU hold ITGA memberships. Representatives from 400 college towns and the universities in those towns, including Normal and ISU attended the three-day event.

Normal and ISU’s representatives gave presentations at ITGA as well, including sessions on Planning for Town/Gown Success; Enhancing Neighborhood Livability Through Town/Gown Relations, and Large-Scale Parties: Can They Be Stopped. Heather Wagner, communications manager for the Town, told Council members Normal’s representatives at these meetings even had a chance to talk about improvements made along Main St.

Wagner told Council members Normal’s representatives at ITGA explained Normal and ISU “have tried to impress upon students that they live in residential neighborhoods and what they do off campus is an extension of their University Code of Conduct.” ISU’s Code of Conduct provides rules and regulations for students and student organizations to abide by while they attend the University.

“College students do have a concern about their futures when the possibility of disciplinary action is concerned,” explained Harriett Steinbach, coordinator of leadership and community connections, part of ISU’s Office of the Dean of Students. Steinbach presented ITGA information along with Wagner to Council members.

“We want to help students understand they are citizens of the community who have a responsibility to their neighbors,” Steinbach added.

Wagner and Steinbach explained ISU is one of the few universities in the country which seems to take the attitude that activities of students living off-campus do need to be monitored because doing so is in the best interest of the University. The pair pointed to the Neighborhood Action Team (NAT), created by Normal Police Department in conjunction with the Town’s Legal and Inspection Departments. NAT works with residents in addressing neighborhood complaints.

“We will continue to plan events,” Wagner said.

“I’m very, very proud that our University is at the forefront of these issues,” stated Council member R. C. McBride, one of the ISU alums on the Council said, following the presentation.

“I think we’ve just scratched the surface for continuing the relationship between the Town and the University,” added City Manager Mark Peterson. “I feel we’re on the same page, moving in the right direction together.

Peterson noted the first meeting of Normal’s Town/Gown Committee came in 1985, following the infamous “beer riot” in 1984.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on June 6, 2016.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of June 15, 2016.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and authorizing a contract with Springfield-based Henson-Robinson Company for the replacement of low slope roofing systems at the Normal Theater and Community Activity Center in the amount of $186,409 and approving an associated budget adjustment to provide for the higher than expected project cost as well as a 10% recommended contingency.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating in the amount of $146,000 for the reconstruction of portions of the Pine Street right-of-way, and the parking lot for the 305 Pine Street property.

• A resolution rejecting bids for the “Normal Theater – House Lighting Upgrade Project.”

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $483,352.35 for the improvement of Virginia Ave. from University St. to Franklin Ave.

• An ordinance conditionally and partially approving the final plat of the Lipic Subdivision fifth addition by expedited process (103 W. Poplar St.).

• An ordinance amending parking restrictions in the 800 block of Broadway Ave.

• An ordinance establishing prevailing wage rates.

• An ordinance amending Section 25.16-3 of the municipal code of the Town of Normal regarding fees for Parks and Recreation programs.

• An ordinance authorizing execution of a contract for the purchase of the property at 222 Keiser St. for $25,000 and authorizing the donation of that property to Habitat For Humanity of McLean County, Inc.

BaseballRight-hander Michael Schweiss’ experience as a pitcher with the Frontier League’s Western Division Champion Normal CornBelters has proved him a unique perspective on being a professional ball player. And during the off-season, the 26-year-old is able to not only pass along his knowledge of the game, but provide insight as to what life is like to players coming up behind him.

He has been doing this as an assistant coach for the baseball team at his college alma mater, the University of Dallas. “Playing in the independent league level for four years now, I know, kind of, what it takes to get here, and to stay here, which is the tough part,” Schweiss said. “I try to instill a work ethic in my guys and, of course, there are pitching mechanics I can help them with.

“But the biggest thing is working on their attitude and effort that I want to instill in them,” explained Schweiss, an off-season resident of Parker, Colo.

Schweiss said the players on the current University of Dallas roster are receptive to his message. As he explains it, “I’m young enough to relate to what the players there are going through because I went to school there, but I’m old enough to where they respect me and they listen to what I say. I think I have a really good relationship with my players.”

CornbeltersSchweiss said the one thing he tries to put across to the college players he coaches is that they shouldn’t take for granted “any day they have on the field. Four years of college baseball goes by really quick. I tell them it’s probably the best four years they’ll ever have.”

Schweiss himself is in the middle of his fourth year in a CornBelters uniform and this season is 2-2 and hoping to make an impact this season His overall record on the mound for Normal in four seasons to date is 20-15, including going 9-7 last season. In 2014, his second season in a CornBelters uniform, a twinge of discomfort he detected during an away game against the Southern Illinois Miners led to being sidelined for nearly two months, contributing to a 4-2 mark.

Schweiss said going out when he did was tough in 2014, and watching the CornBelters scrape their way into a Frontier League playoff slot without his help that season on the mound was tougher still.

An Economics major at University of Dallas, Schweiss said he’s considered trying to stay in the game after finishing his playing career seeking a front office position. In that regard, he would join many other players to contribute their smarts and love of the game on.

“Schweiss has thrown the ball better this year than he ever has in the three full years I’ve had him,” CornBelters Manager Brooks Carey said. “It looks like he’ll be on an All-Star team again this year.”

CornBelters Outfielder Nolan Meadows Earns Weekly League Honor: CornBelters outfielder Nolan Meadows has earned the Frontier League’s Player of the Week honor for June 14-19.In his second season of professional baseball, and first in the Frontier League, Meadows managed had 10 hits in 24 at-bats. He began the week going 2-4 with 2 Runs Batted In, 1 Home Run, and 1 run scored. That was followed by going 3-for-4 on June 16 against River City, with 1 double, 1 triple, 1 Home Run, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored.

In this past weekend’s series versus the Southern Illinois Miners on the road, Meadows went 3-for-11 with 1 Homer, 3 RBIs, and 1 run scored. Before joining the Frontier League, Meadows spent his time with the Roswell Invaders of the Pecos League, where he finished with a batting average of .354 and accumulated 6 Home Runs, 34 RBIs, 5 doubles, and 1 triple. Originally from San Pedro, Calif., 23-year-old Meadows attended California State University Long Beach.

Meadows is the third CornBelters player to receive league honors this season behind catcher Dillon Haupt and outfielder Mike Fish.

Digging Away: The CornBelters are busy trying to dig themselves out of a hole they found themselves starting the season in. They were 14-19 and seven games out of first place as of Tuesday when they started their current three-game home stand.

“I picked up a lot of guys that I still liked, but we got off to a really slow start,” Carey said. “But we’ve been playing better as of late.”

The biggest culprit for the record, Carey said is, “We’re leaving too many men on base. We’ve got a decent hitting team. We’re hitting close to .280 as a team, which is a number I’m pleased about. We’re scoring enough runs, but the pitching’s not there. Then, when the pitching’s there, we don’t score enough runs. That’s a big reason for why we’re where we are right now.”

Ever optimistic, however, Carey said he anticipates a winning streak in his team’s future.

Ironically, Traverse City, the team which beat Normal in the league semifinals to advance to the championship series last season, is also struggling. But their struggle is a little tougher, as they are in last place in the Eastern Division with a 10-22 record prior to Tuesday’s scheduled games.

Frontier LeagueCornBelters Home Tuesdays Through Thursdays In June: If it hasn’t started already, the beginning of that streak could come as the CornBelters’ schedule in June has them at The Corn Crib only on Tuesdays through Thursdays and on the road on weekends for three weeks straight. They host Gateway June 21-23, before traveling to Florence June 24-26. Following a league-imposed Monday off on June 27, they will host a rematch with league champion Traverse City on Tuesday through Thursday, June 28-30, with all games starting at 6:35p.m.

Frontier League Now A 12-Team League: The Rockford Aviators have moved on to another league and to avoid an uneven number of teams as a result, the Frontier League folded its permanent traveling team, the Frontier Greys. Last season, the Greys were managed by former Normal assistant coach Vinny Ganz.

BaseballEAST PEORIA – To hear Normal Community West High School head softball coach April Schermann explain her team’s drive to get to the Illinois High School Association Class 4A State Softball finals, there weren’t many believers outside of die-hard Wildcats fans, the players, and their coaches.

So making it to the State Championship managed to prove the naysayers wrong. All that was left to do was defeat the winner of the other Class 4A semifinal, Oak Park-River Forest High School, to earn the first Softball State Championship in the school’s history.

But Oak Park-River Forest (37-2) scored two runs in the bottom of the 7th inning forcing extra innings before defeating the Wildcats, 4-2, in 10 innings to claim the top prize placing the Wildcats in 2nd place to finish a year that ended with a 29-10 mark.

West scored first in the bottom of the first inning as lead off hitter Brooklyn Bane reached first base on an error by OP-RF third baseman Ellie Ziegler. A single by West left fielder Ellie Sonetz followed and the pair executed a double steal before a squeeze bunt by right fielder Amanda Rogers drove West’s scoring chances, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.

From there, the Wildcats and the Huskies were locked in a defensive struggle until the top of the 6th inning when OP-RF second baseman Fiona Girardot scored on a single by catcher Miriah Scott, cutting West’s lead in half, 2-1. Scott’s hit caught West second baseman Livi Sonetz in the face, bloodying her nose and mouth. But after being quickly attended to in the Wildcats dugout, Schermann said the younger of the two Sonetz sisters on the team insisted on going back onto the field. Following the game, Sonetz was taken to an area hospital to be examined.

Normal WestWith two out in the inning, the game could have been tied had it not been for Wildcats center fielder Bane catching a drive by OP-RF first baseman Caitlyn Santiago, and hurling it toward home as Scott attempted to score. To fans the ball looked to have reached Wildcats catcher Sydney Hollings in time. Home plate umpire Larry Haywood squared himself into position in time to see the catch and call Scott out to the delight of the Wildcats supporters who were in the crowd of 400 fans attending the game.

OP-RF tied the game at 2-all in the bottom of the 7th inning with two out on a triple by shortstop Maeve Nelson, the ball nearly touching the right field wall, scored Ziegler who had singled. From there, a pitcher’s duel ensued with Camp striking out three of the 15 total batters.

In the top of the 10th inning, Huskies center fielder Samantha Linde reached base on an error by West’s Rogers and advanced to second as Ziegler hit directly to Camp for the Huskies’ first out of the inning. Nelson walked before a second out made on Richardson. That was followed by a single to left field by Girardot which drove Nelson home for the winning run.

“I’m very proud of my team, coaching staff, our support staff, and everyone in the community who came out and supported us,” Schermann said afterward. “I have no regrets. I looked each player in the eye during my postgame speech and told them they gave me memories that will last a lifetime. I hope we did the same for them.”

Schermann said keeping Camp on the mound “was the easiest decision” of the night for her. “Camp was going to stay on the mound no matter what, and no matter how many innings we went. She was going to get the ball.”

As the game got into the later innings, Camp said, “I just tried to stay calm and throw my pitches and keep on going even though, whether we got first or second, we got an amazing accomplishment. We just tried to keep fighting.”

Senior left fielder Ellie Sonetz reflected on the entire season with reporters afterward explaining, “I love my team. We worked so hard to get today. The Huskies are an awesome team, too, but we just couldn’t pull it out at the last second. We fought to the very end. I’m proud of everybody. It was awesome.” As for her younger sister getting injured, she said, “She’s a fighter.”

IHSAWildcats Sink Downers Grove South In Semifinal: West reached the championship game with a 3-1 semifinal game victory over Downers Grove South on June 10 at Eastside Centre. Wildcats third baseman Jess Jacobs singled and advance around the bases in the top of the second inning, thanks to teammate Jaxynn Dyson reaching second base on a Downers Grove South error, putting the Wildcats up, 1-0.

Normal West (29-9 following this game) extended that lead to 3-0 by their top half of the fifth inning, with Dyson and Bane each singling. Dyson stole third and was able to score because of an error on Downers Grove catcher Madison Paladino, giving West a 2-0 lead. The Wildcats upped that advantage to 3-0 when Bane came across home plate as an unearned run.

The only run Downers Grove South (35-3) produced came in the bottom of the fifth inning when, Mustangs third baseman Rebecca Bluder crossed the plate. She singled and advanced on a wild pitch from Camp, and advanced to third as teammate was grounding out to Wildcats second baseman Livi Sonetz. Bluder scored as Mustangs first baseman Kristin Lea singled to left field, resulting the final score. Camp earned the win, pushing her record to 24-7. The loss handed Mustangs pitcher Caroline Hedgcock her first loss of the season, dropping her record to 13-1.