By Steve Robinson | January 23, 2017 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonLast year, El Paso Gridley High School’s Special Olympics basketball team members, in their debut season under head coach Cindy Martorana and assistant coach Carter Tria, had a little luck come their way in an effort to qualify for Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament. Although they lost the only game of their regular season, their scheduled opponents for the district tournament forfeited. As a result, the Trojans made it to State.

This year, EPG having gotten to this year’s district tournament last weekend at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus by posting a 1-5 record in the regular season knew full well no forfeit would be forthcoming this time around.

In fact, at first glance, it might have appeared the obstacle facing EPG’s trying to earn their next shot for getting to State were bigger than their desire to get there. We’re talking in terms of size at least three of the opponents from Kankakee High School being at least a set of head and shoulders taller than EPG’s players. The tallest player on EPG were roughly around 5 foot-5.

At first glance, it had to feel like a daunting task for EPG, right? Yes. A little intimidating? Certainly. But in a small side gym, with moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and siblings watching, EPG’s troops showed no signs of letting the size difference bother them.

Knowing they needed two wins to get to State, the Titans went right to work, outpacing KHS 14-4 in the first quarter of game one. KHS was a little better at rebounding but trailed at halftime, 18-10. EPG did have one combination play that, in the words of one player’s grandfather, “the high school kids don’t even try.”

That play is a three-quarter court pass between Jordan Peacher and Andrew Hartman. This play doesn’t just happen once a game. It’s a regular feature every game.

“On a regular basis, you don’t see that kind of play in a high school varsity game,” Bill Peacher, grandfather of Jordan Peacher said.

Typically, it’s Jordan to his buddy, Hartman, and from there, someone on the Trojans finishes the play by putting up points for EPG, delighting their fans and stymying the opponents.

And KHS was stymied but recovered in the second half, but it was EPG who won the first game, 28-24. One win down, one to go. One more victory and EPG would earn a gold medal and be off to State.

Peacher the high school student and Hartman, a sixth grader at the local grade school, developed the play with help from Tria. “I put the ball up high to get to Andrew so the other teams can’t get it,” Peacher explained. It was as simple as that.

It’s a tactic that would help make Hartman “happy if we get to go to State,” he said.

In addition to Peacher and Hartman, EPG’s team includes Zoey Slightom, Caleb Turner, Brady Neill, Geneva Powell, and Courtney Adkins.

Bill Peacher gave credit to Martorana for everything she has done to have the team working as well as it does, but it was Tria, a former EPG varsity player for the Trojans’ boys’ team a few years back, who worked on the two boys’ razzle-dazzle maneuver.

In addition to that play, the team collectively has a name for a specific defensive posture they put up against opponents. Neill is usually the one taking a lead for that, calling for the team to “make our wall.” That’s the signal for the team as a whole to try keeping opponents coming down the court out of the paint. On this day, in both games, the tactic worked.

With Game 1 in hand, a second victory would assure the Trojans of a trip to State. But Game 2 was a closer affair, with EPG leading 10-9 after one quarter and 16-13 at the half. But EPG outscoring KHS 10-5 in the third quarter helped ease the team into a 34-26 second victory.

EPG, now proud possessors of a 3-5 record after their triumph at District, will again get back to SOI State Basketball Tournament when it tips off on Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18 at Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus.

To anybody else, it may not seem like a winning record when you look at it as a statistic on paper. But if you consider the effort and continual improvement these kids have made as a result of their being on this team, you come to realize they’re looking to earn wins – both on and away from the basketball court – every day.

By Steve Robinson | January 22, 2017 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Ridgeview, The Normalite

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – While both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Ridgeview High School advanced to their respective championship games at the 106th Annual McLean County/Heart Of Illinois Tournament, the teams came away with vastly different results, which, for the boys, included tying a record for threes in a contest. All of Saturday’s games were played at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus.

Ridgeview Boys Beat Deer Creek-Mackinaw, 58-32: Head Coach Rodney Kellar’s Ridgeview Mustangs’ boys’ basketball team (19-1) kept Deer Creek-Mackinaw (11-9) at bay early while racking up points for themselves on their way to their third consecutive championship title, beating the Chiefs, 58-32, before 2,000 fans.

One of the individual highlights of the night was Mustangs senior guard Tyler McCormick tying a tourney record for three-pointers, with five. Two of those threes came in the first quarter and one added by senior guard Noah Young helped set the pace for the Mustangs, as they entered the second quarter with a 21-8 lead. Senior guard Corey Graham sank another three to open the second quarter and expand the lead, 24-8.

The Chiefs reached double-digits at 6:44 in the second quarter on a deuce by senior guard Nick Debolt, reducing Ridgeview’s lead, 24-10. The Mustangs would carry a 32-14 lead into the half.

The onslaught would continue in the third quarter, with Ridgeview leading, 43-23, despite Deer Creek-Mackinaw matching the Mustangs in points scored, 9-9, in that period.

Foul trouble would cause the Chiefs’ pursuit of 4th ranked in Class 1A Ridgeview to unravel. Three Mustangs shooters – junior forward Jacob Donaldson, Young, and McCormick – went a combined 8-for-10 from the free throw line to push to victory.

“Our scoring came in bunches and it came from a lot of different people,” Ridgeview’s Kellar said. “It was a real battle to get here and once we got here, we were ready.”

“We lost McCormick and Young way too many times, and once we did find them, their other guys started making shots,” was the assessment of the loss from Chiefs’ head coach John Hughs.

McCormick credited shooting drills in practice for what made his effort successful.

trophy-mctourn.jpgEPG Boys Finish 4th After Loss To GCMS: Sixth seed El Paso Gridley’s boys’ team (13-7) took home a fourth place plaque, having lost to 4th seed Gibson City Melvin Sibley, 40-39. The Titans trailed 25-19 at halftime and 37-31 after three quarters. EPG came within one, 40-39, after a trey by junior forward Dylan Smith with 36.4 seconds remaining before GCMS’ defense stalled the Titans’ effort to take the lead. GCMS finished with a 14-6 mark.

Eureka Girls Win Championship, Beating Ridgeview, 52-28:
Fans of Ridgeview High’s girls team, seeded first in the tournament and seeded 4th in Class 1A, saw their team’s efforts toward a championship stall in the title matchup against second seed Eureka. The Hornets beat Ridgeview, 52-28, stinging early and often, going up 10-0 early in the first quarter thanks in part to a trey each from junior guard Natalie Bardwell and junior guard Tessa Leman. Only senior guard Jordan Talley and freshman guard Grace Ward could each make a basket to the Mustangs on the board in the first quarter, with Eureka owning an 18-4 lead. The Hornets extended that advantage to 25-9 at halftime and 40-19 at the end of the third quarter.

Heyworth Girls Finish 4th With Loss To Fieldcrest, 55-44: Third seed Heyworth High’s girls’ team took home a fourth place trophy following a 55-44 loss to 4th seed Fieldcrest early Saturday. The Hornets finished 20-3 after the tourney, with Amber Tomlin leading her team’s scoring with 9 points. Fieldcrest’s Kianna Klendworth led the Knights with 15 points. With the win, Fieldcrest increased its record to 18-7.

By Steve Robinson | January 21, 2017 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

doug collinsBLOOMINGTON – Doug Collins has had a lot of identifiers precede his name in a varying life and career: Former Illinois State University basketball standout; Former Olympian; Former NBA head coach; Award-winning broadcaster. And now, he has had his career on the court cemented into basketball history. He was recently named to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall Of Fame in Kansas City.

Collins’ accomplishment was celebrated with a dinner honoring him at DoubleTree Hotel and Conference Center here Jan. 20. ISU basketball fans got to join in on the celebration at halftime of ISU’s Missouri Valley Conference Men’s basketball game against Drake the next night.

A total of 315 people attended a dinner and silent auction at the hotel, which was followed by Collins reminiscing about his career with the emcee for the evening, fellow ISU alum and WGN-TV Sports Anchor Dan Roan.

Collins said that in his junior year at ISU, he received the invitation to try out for the 1972 Olympic Basketball team from Bill Wald, then head coach at MacMurray College, who was in charge of issuing invitations to those tryouts. Collins became one of 68 athletes who went for practices for two weeks at the Air Force Academy in Colorado in hopes of being selected.

Collins, now 65, said that there were eight teams assembled who played games over a week’s time, each team facing the others to determine who would be chosen.

For him, Collins said, the tryout “was like a coming out party because the greatest players in the country were invited.” He said he did well enough that he was the second leading scorer. He added, “One of the most pressure-packed days of my life was when they announced who had made the team.”

“When they said my name, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life to be able to have that kind of experience,” Collins said. It was a statement that was met with applause from those attending. But what’s more, Collins said, he hoped his selection “would validate Illinois State.”

Collins recounted how the act of terrorism by members of the Black September Organization which killed 11 Israeli athletes at those games in Munich, Germany raised concerns as to whether the games would continue. They did, with Collins and his Team USA teammates beating Italy in the semifinals while at the same time, the Russian National Team from the USSR also had won their semifinal.

“We knew we were on a collision course with the Russians,” Collins said of the situation. Nowadays, scouting and game tapes of opponents helps coaches and teams prepare for future games. “But at that time, we’d never seen the Russians play,” Collins said. The Russians won the game, 51-50 as a result of game officials adding two seconds to the game clock after Team USA scored a basket to go up, 50-49 with one second on the clock.

Following that basket, “game referees stopped the game but no one understood why,” Collins explained. He said the contest was as much “a political event as it was a basketball game.” He added the referees were Eastern European. Collins said Team USA appealed the game’s outcome to the Olympic Committee but the appeal was rejected.

As a team, Collins said, it was decided “We didn’t lose, so we just won’t accept the medals.” As a team, it would be 40 years before the members of the 1972 squad would reunite since those days. One member has since died.

After Munich, Collins finished at ISU, graduated, and was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, chosen first in the NBA draft. He played eight seasons with Philadelphia. After his playing career, he went on to a coaching career, with stints in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, and Philadelphia. Following the coaching career, Collins moved on to broadcasting, working as an analyst for ESPN.

Although denied a gold medal decades ago, in 2009, Collins eventually got a gold medal – as his son, Chris, who was an assistant coach with the 2008 Team USA squad coached by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, won gold at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China. Chris gave his father the gold medal he was given for that victory, Doug Collins remembered.

By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2017 - 10:26 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

BaseballNORMAL – Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel, no doubt about it: Fans of the World Champion Chicago Cubs from Bloomington-Normal and other parts of central Illinois looked forward to seeing the World Series trophy the north siders earned beating Cleveland in seven games in November. The trophy made a stop in the Twin Cities on Jan. 18.

The central Illinois leg of the tour visited three locations that day, including State Farm Corporate and Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center in Bloomington, as well as Redbird Arena on Illinois State University’s campus.

At ISU, a total of 500 tickets were distributed to fans who started lining up outside the arena around 10a.m., waiting for the doors to open at noon. The trophy would be available for fans to have their picture taken with it for about 90 minutes beginning at 2p.m.

world series 2016Bloomington brother and sister Tony Schaefer and Jen Schaefer brought a Cubs “W” flag that has some mileage on it as the pair had taken it to every first game of the Cubs’ playoff quest. That means the siblings saw the first games of every series the Cubs played in their attempt to eradicate a 108-year-old curse some Cubs fans believe has kept the team from the big prize.

The Schaefer siblings took the flag to Wrigley Field game one of the National League Divisional Series against San Francisco Oct. 7, where the Cubs shut out the Giants, 1-0; and game one of the National League Championship Series, where Chicago doubled up on Los Angeles, 8-4, on Oct. 15. The only first game the pair with their flag missed was game one of the World Series against the Indians.

When she found out the championship trophy was coming to town, Jen Schaefer said she told her brother, “We have to take the day off work that day. We have to see it. We have to get there.”

Fans who were given tickets as they entered the arena sat in three sections and were called down in numbered groups to stand in line for their moment with the trophy. For Greg Pummill, a Decatur resident who works at State Farm Corporate South in Bloomington, seeing Manager Joe Maddon’s troops win the World Series had been a 62-year long wait – all his life – to witness. In fact, when they won, the Cubs managed to do it on Pummill’s birthday. “That made the win even more special,” Pummill said.

chicago cubsPummill said the Cubs bringing Theo Epstein in as general manager in 2011 after Epstein had helped another long-suffering team which had not won the championship in decades – the Boston Red Sox — was, to him, a signal of a real change coming for the team. When that move was followed by the Cubs hiring Maddon as manager in 2015, Pummill said, he had a feeling the team was close to bringing a championship to the Windy City.

Another pair of devoted Cubs fans, Mike and Rhonda McComas explained they felt the need to share this kind of sports history with their 6-year-old granddaughter, Madysyn McComas, who was visiting at the time. Little Madysyn was in the playroom of her grandparents’ house when the Cubs were closing in on the victory. The McComases brought the girl in to see the historic third out that would give the Cubs the championship.

“I knew this was historic, so she was staying at our house and I brought her in and had her watch as Chicago made the third out,” Rhonda McComas said. While waiting for her and her grandparents’ turn to get a photo with the trophy, Madysyn sat wearing a Cubs cap.

Like Pummill, young Madysyn “has been a Cubs fan since she was born,” Rhonda McComas said.

world series trophyChenoa Woman Saw Cubs Games From Grandpa’s Bedroom Window: These fans, however, probably haven’t had the background of fellow Cubs fan and former ISU employee Bobbi Thomas of Chenoa.

As a young child of the 1950s, Thomas was able “to visit my grandparents who lived on Clifton Ave. and watch Cubs games out of my grandpa’s bedroom window.” She also recalled attending games with her mother on Tuesdays, which at the time were branded “Ladies’ Day” at Wrigley Field. On “Ladies’ Day,” Thomas recalled, she and her mother could get into Cubs games free.

Thomas, Pummill, and the McComases said they are convinced the Cubs can repeat as champions again at the end of the coming season. Spring training is now less than a month off, so it won’t be long until those fans get the chance to see what the team can do in 2017.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2017 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – A scheduled payment from the state for reimbursements related to Special Education and Transportation to Normal-based Unit 5 School District was anticipated to arrive last June in time help the district catch up on those specific debts the state owed the district for Fiscal Year 2016.

That last payment came – in December. And it appears such delays may be something the district may have to contend with, according to district officials. Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board heard that information at their only scheduled meeting for the month of January at district headquarters on Jan. 18.

In laying out the situation as it stands concerning payments from the State, District Business Manager Marty Hickman added no payments have arrived for Fiscal Year 2017-18, at least not in January.

To head off a potential shortage, Board members unanimously approved a resolution to use funds not exceeding $14 million in taxable education warrants as a means to pay anticipated bills while it waits for State funding to arrive.

Hickman told Board members the State is $6 million behind in payments for Transportation and Special Education funding which it provides the district. He explained Springfield is still that far behind in spite of the fact the State has used two years’ worth of stopgap spending measures to try to keep money it owes the district flowing in.

He said it could be June before the district sees three of the four payments from the State it will need to add to its coffers, and has the potential of looking at a $167,000 shortfall in its transportation fund.

Unit 5 mapBoard Approves Using $3.5 Million In Bonds To Pay For New Buses: The Board unanimously passed a resolution to issue $3.5 million in general obligation bonds, Series 2017, as a means of increasing the district’s working cash fund. Doing that provided the district with a levy of direct annual tax which would help pay principal and interest on the bonds.

Unit 5 will use that cash to, in part, purchase buses which will accommodate a number of wheelchairs. Dr. Mark Daniel, superintendent for the district told Board members the district has an aging fleet of buses that can carry multiple wheelchairs and the cash would go to purchasing vehicles which are upgraded for that task.

Daniel said some of the buses currently doing that task have been in service in the district since 2003.

District Doubles Its Own “Good News”: Normally, it’s the students who take center stage during any Board meeting’s “good news” reports. But at this session, a pair of Unit 5 educators received recognition for efforts helping students who need some additional assistance.

Peggy Modglin, speech instructor and language pathologist at Normal Community West High School, was recognized for her efforts, working at state and national levels, to see to it changes that help students that require assistance in order to complete their speech and language testing for college entrance exams receive that help.

Through both grass roots efforts and assistance from Illinois Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Modglin presented her concerns to schools regarding students who were denied necessary accommodations in order to take the ACT exam. As a result of the efforts brought forth by Modglin and those who supported her effort, the majority of students who are approved for and use testing accommodations at their school through a current Individualized Education Program will have those same accommodations automatically available to them for SAT tests; PSAT 10 tests; Advanced Placement exams, and two other testing situations. That is a policy that went into effect Jan. 1.

The other “good news” item concerned Kevin Bradley, who has worked with YouthBuild of McLean County. A number of Unit 5 students participate in the YouthBuild program. Bradley was named charter school Teacher of the Year. Bradley has worked at YouthBuild for a decade, and in a memo to Board members, Laura O’Donnell, director of secondary education for the district stated, “Kevin has positively impacted hundreds of young men and women who are seeking academic remediation, mentoring, leadership, skill development, and opportunities that will lead to a successful future.”