By Steve Robinson | October 30, 2016 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonSPRINGFIELD – If you’ve been to a high school sporting event lately like football or basketball, particularly involving a Unit 5 School District team, you know the students supporting their classmates on the field or on the court stand throughout the entire contest.

They do it all game. On their feet for the duration. When the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, and I took to the road to cover Normal Community West High School’s Class 6A football showdown against Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin last weekend, I noticed a small group of 35-40 kids from Normal West in the visitors’ stands.

And just as they do at home games, they were standing as they watched from the stands at Cyclone Stadium, supporting their Wildcats.

Those kids were standing but their team was in the uncommon position of being behind at halftime.

“It’s tough right now, but we’re hanging on,” admitted one of the group of 40 or so, West junior Ben Smith. “We can get better and we can make adjustments.” At the half, adjustments were going to be essential to start the second half because the Wildcats were trailing the Cyclones, 36-14.

The Wildcats could make adjustments, but the reality was West was seeded 27th in Class 6A and the Cyclones were seeded 6th. They had also been to the playoffs consistently for a number of years.

“I think we’re kind of struggling in the first half, but I believe Peyton Dillingham and Nick Filosa and all my senior friends on the team will bring us back to win the game, and we’re going to be fine,” declared Allie Mitchell, a West senior, herself a member of the Wildcats’ Soccer team who knows both the quarterback and tight end.

The Wildcats could only scrounge one more touchdown before the night, and their season, ended.

“I hate seeing my senior friends being upset about losing,” Mitchell said. “I think our student section does a good job on keeping our heads up and being positive.”

Being positive in the face of certain defeat isn’t the easiest thing to do. We all understand that. But Smith, Mitchell, and their friends are learning that, and what’s more, they’re showing it can be done even when the odds of you accomplishing your goal don’t look so good.

It’s not a bad lesson to learn and pass on for future Wildcats student fans, many of whom will stand in the bleachers years from now, or even later in life, is it?

SoccerEAST PEORIA – Fifteen years ago, University High School’s Soccer team, with Jeremy Stanton as a player, made it only as far as the “Elite 8” in their quest for a state title. On Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Eastside Centre here, the Pioneers succeeded in becoming IHSA Class 1A champions, beating Westchester St. Joseph, 3-1, to earn the school’s very first State title in the sport.

It was the second title earned in a fall sport that the school has won in one month, as the boys’ golf team won IHSA Class 2A title in mid-October.

U-High PioneersAt the 12:35 mark in the first half, sophomore J. D. Kelly kicked U-High’s first goal in the net, with an assist credited to sophomore forward Nathan Clay, giving the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.

The Pioneers increased their lead, 2-0 just over three minutes later with Clay scoring, with an assist from junior defenseman Matthew Mier. Clay provided the Pioneers’ third goal as the first half was winding down, with just over a minute left, with Kelly providing an assist.

The Pioneers opened the second half with that lead and maintained a tight defense penetrated only by a goal shot by St. Joseph senior forward Oscar Rodriguez with 7:50 left in the contest.

Each team had 12 shots on goal. U-High finished the season with a final record of 17-6-5 and Westchester St. Joseph went home with second place ending their season with a record of 13-9-8.

IHSA“Clay and I have been leading the team in goals and assists, so it’s been a really good season and I’m glad we ended up winning,” Kelly said afterward.

“It helps that we’re able to feed off of each other in games,” Clay said about how he and Kelly operate during competition.

“We got stuff done,” Mier said about his team’s total effort.

“This win was well-deserved,” Stanton said. “They put in a lot of work and I’m just really happy for them. Our coaches knew that if they won this, they would be making University High School history, but we didn’t add that kind of pressure on the kids. We just wanted them to carry out our game plan.”

By Steve Robinson | October 29, 2016 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballSPRINGFIELD – Normal Community West High School’s quest toward an Illinois High School Association Class 6A championship ended in what was a tough uphill battle against Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin on the road Oct. 28, as the Cyclones defeated the Wildcats, 57-20, the win helping advance the home team to the second round of the State Playoffs.

Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin football helmetThe Cyclones (10-0) seeded 6th in the south bracket of Class 6A, racked up a 22-0 advantage by the end of the first quarter before Wildcats senior quarterback Peyton Dillingham connected with sophomore wide receiver Armani Forrest on a 59 yard touchdown at 11:29 in the second quarter, followed by junior kicker Matt Lage’s extra point, cutting the Cyclones’ lead, 22-7.

Normal West FootballFollowing a 51 yard touchdown run by SHG junior running back Tremayne Lane putting Cyclones up, 29-7, West (7-3) ended their ensuing possession with Dillingham connecting with junior wide receiver Greg Thomas on a 12 yard touchdown strike, followed by Lage’s extra point, reducing SHG’s lead, 29-14, with 4:23 until halftime.

IHSABut SHG scored one more time before the half, giving them a 36-14 lead entering the third quarter and scored again three more times in the second half – twice in the third quarter and once in the fourth quarter – before West would score one last time on the season in the fourth quarter thanks to Dillingham connecting with junior wide receiver Genesis Forrest on a 1 yard touchdown pass, followed by a failed two-point conversion try.

By Steve Robinson | October 27, 2016 - 3:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Since the school year began in August with reports of difficulties experienced by students, parents, teachers, and others discussed at recent meetings of Normal-based Unit 5 Board of Education, Board members have found themselves in the position of deciding whether the problems regarding getting students to and from school in a timely matter required a change in the busing provider.

At one recent meeting, Board Vice President Jim Hayek, Jr. noted that the district superintendent, Dr. Mark Daniel, was spending additional time on the matter when he could have been handling other district business. Because of the complaints and concerns, Board members gave First Student until Nov. 1 to correct the problems.

At their regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 26 in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School, Board members voted to give the busing provider until that date to agree to new terms under which service to students must improve or the contract will be terminated as of the end of the 2016-17 school year on June 30, 2017.

In addition to performance showing improvement, First Student must increase the number of drivers available for helping run routes in order to assure they would have an increase of 20 percent of available substitute drivers. That percentage means First Student would need to have 146 drivers on duty in order to cover the district’s 122 bus routes. Board members set a Nov. 22 deadline for that condition.

Roger Moore, senior vice president of operations for First Student, told Board members he had 135 drivers on the payroll as of the meeting with an additional five who would be hired by Oct. 31. “We will not stop recruiting drivers,” Moore told Board members.

“Dr. Daniel needs to get out of the driver recruiting business,” and back to the business of operating the district, Board member Mike Trask told the bus company executives, in reference to district superintendent. Busing issues have consumed district officials’ work hours since the year began with busing problems in August.

Under the terms of the agreement which First Student has until Nov. 1 to agree to, the bus company must reimburse Unit 5 for dollars it paid out in the forms of staffing a bus service hotline which took calls from parents and overtime for employees who worked late while students waited for late buses. The district is also asking for the ability to collect late bus penalties and other penalties listed in the contract.

Board member Barry Hitchins said that to add to the difficulties the district has experienced in ferrying students to and from school and home, the added complication of winter coming with the potential for weather that would only increase delays needed to be considered.

Following the meeting, Bob Rutkowski, area general manager for First Student, explained that under the arrangement, both parties have the authority to terminate the contract. Rutkowski said the two parties can’t come to terms by the end of the day on Nov. 1, either the district or the bus company would kill the contract.

Moore said for the company’s part, they don’t want to see the situation get to the point where the two sides part ways. Should that parting take place, the district would put out a request for proposals, or RFPs, to get a bus provider who would begin operating at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. Daniel said after the meeting that if the two parties got to the point of separation and RFPs were advertised for by the district, First Student would be welcome to submit one.

“I think First Student is highly motivated and they are wanting this contract,” Daniel said after meeting.

Unit 5 mapDistrict’s “Good News”: District teachers who were honored with the “Those Who Excel” award by Illinois State Board of Education were recognized in the meeting’s “good news” segment. The award is given annually to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to schools throughout the state. The group was recognized at a dinner attended by the State Superintendent of Schools the weekend of Oct. 23. Unit 5’s 2016 winners are: Classroom Teacher – Jennifer Gibson – Benjamin Elementary third grade teacher – AWARD OF MERIT; Student Support Personnel (certificated) – Tera Hafermann – Normal West IMC Specialist – AWARD OF EXCELLENCE; Educational Service Personnel (non-certificated) – Gwen Pebbles – Evans Junior High School Paraprofessional – AWARD OF MERIT; Community Volunteer – Garry Hendricks – Pepper Ridge Promise Council Volunteer – AWARD OF MERIT; School/District Administrator – Laura O’Donnell – Director of Secondary Education – AWARD OF RECOGNITION; Team – Cedar Ridge Bilingual Team – AWARD OF MERIT; and Early Career Educator – Devin Wilson – Normal West Math Teacher – AWARD OF MERIT.

Student Achievement Update: Board members received a student achievement report from Carmen Bergmann, director of elementary education and Laura O’Donnell, director of secondary education for the district. The highlight of their report concerned data received from Heartland Community College regarding college readiness displayed by Unit 5 high school’s graduates.

Among the highlights of Bergmann and O’Donnell’s presentation was the fact that, in terms of college readiness, national averages for students is nearly 75 percent of those students who will find themselves placed into needing to do some remedial coursework. By comparison, 52 percent of Unit 5 grads require remedial work in math and just 9 percent find they need remedial work in the areas of reading and writing.

Annual Audit Reviewed: Hope Wheeler, a principal with Champaign-based audit firm of CliftonLarsenAllenLLP, addressed Board members, reporting one area of concern which auditors wanted to make the district aware of concerned credit card charges made by district employees. During a check by auditors of district receipts, it was discovered that some itemized receipts for purchases were missing. It was further discovered that sales tax had been paid. State law makes school districts exempt from paying sales tax. The audit firm recommended the district review its policies concerning credit card use to ensure rules are being adhered to by employees.

Enrollment Down From A Year Ago: A same day attendance comparison was presented by Curt Richardson, the district’s attorney. He reported at same day attendance figures for Sept. 30 compared to the same day last year show Unit 5 has 13,521 students in class that day this year, a drop of 92 students, or .68 percent from a year ago.

Attendance in both the district’s elementary schools and junior high schools has dropped slightly for the same day a year ago. There are 6,599 elementary students in class at the district’s 17 elementary schools, compared to 6,685 students a year ago, a drop of 86 kids, or .86 percent. The district’s four junior highs showed a total population this year of 3,114 students in class, down from 3,193 students a year ago, or a drop of 79 kids, or 2.47 percent.

For the first time, the total population numbers of the Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School have had added to them by the district the population numbers of students attending sessions at a vocational training center at Eugene Field School. Field recorded only 40 students, but the total number of high school students at this point in the year is 3,808 compared to 3,735 on the same day last year, a jump of 73 students, or 1.95 percent. Statistics from Field will now become a permanent part of the district’s student population updates.

Vehicle Leasing Agreement Approved: Board members unanimously approved a leasing agreement with St. Louis-based Clayton Holdings, LLC for the leasing of three 2016 Ford F1504x4 trucks, two 2016 Ford F250 trucks; and one 2016 Takeuchi TL8CRWP Track Loader. The total cost of the vehicles under the conditions of the agreement is $223,096.13.

By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2016 - 11:30 am
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – As Illinois State University’s men’s basketball team prepares for their 2016-17 season, the key word used is potential. Potential in hopes for a great season. Potential for more victories versus Missouri Valley Conference opponents. The potential to get to NCAA Tournament for the first time since Redbirds head coach Dan Muller led the team’s charge 18 years ago against Arizona.

Muller began his fifth season telling reporters his squad’s four seniors – guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills, and forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh – will be the ones leading the charge and showing their younger teammates the way throughout the season.

“I really like this group a lot,” Muller told reporters on Media Day on Oct. 19 in the interview room at Redbird Arena. “We’ll see where that takes us, but so far in practice, they’ve been really fun to coach.”

Muller said he thought it was a fair assessment that the Redbirds, who finished last season in third place in MVC with an 18-14 overall record which included a conference finishing mark of 12-6, “will go as far as our seniors will take us.”

“Obviously, it will take more than just those four for us to attain the goals we have for our team,” Muller said. “But with their experience and their talent level, a lot of that will fall on them.”

“The good thing about those four is that they can handle it,” Muller said. He added the younger players on the squad will follow the lead of the veteran players.

ISU RedbirdThe Redbirds had been working on Doug Collins Court for two weeks already when Media Day came, and as you read this, the team is entering into the next phase of their work with practices in the next two weeks which will involve learning some fundamentals followed by inserting specific plays and strategies for game situations. Muller said that last aspect can, sometimes, be tricky for new players.

Muller said his two transfer players – junior Milik Yarborough from St. Louis and sophomore Christian Romine from University of Texas El Paso – won’t find not being in game situations a problem probably until mid-December, January, and February – the time when the Redbirds will face the heart of the conference schedule.

In the meantime, helping those two newcomers “by developing great relationships with them, helping them to understand and trust the coaches, and how hard we’re pushing them and help them understand how they can improve as players” becomes the main focus.

High Energy Wanted: Lee said Muller puts an emphasis on making sure players have high energy when the team practices. “My approach to games this season is to come out and be comfortable,” Lee said. “I’m taking things one game at a time. You don’t want to overlook any opponents.”

“I feel like we’ve got a group of guys who can come out here to compete against anybody in the country,” Lee said.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season at home on Sunday, Nov. 6 with an exhibition against Quincy with a 3p.m. start time. The Redbirds’ nonconference schedule will start with a road game at Murray State on Friday, Nov. 11, and the Redbirds’ first home game will be on Wednesday, Nov. 16 against Indiana Fort Wayne, starting with a 6p.m. tipoff. The Redbirds will say aloha to three games at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu where they will face Hawaii in their first game there Friday, Dec. 23. Upon returning home, Evansville will be the first MVC opponent to visit Redbird Arena this season on Thursday, Dec. 29, starting at 7p.m. The two-game rivalry with I-74 nemesis Bradley will play out starting with visiting Peoria’s Carver Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 18, starting at 8p.m. The Braves will visit Redbird Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11 starting at 9p.m.