By Steve Robinson | May 29, 2017 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballWith Cubs great Ryne Sandberg coming to The Corn Crib on Sunday, May 28 to coach third base for the ‘Belters against Frontier League opponent Lake Erie, and then meet, greet, and sign autographs for fans, you would expect a large crowd for the occasion. And there was one – a total of 3,525 faithful showed up to get a chance to see the one-time Cubs second baseman and third baseman give directions and encouragement to guys trying to either get into or back to the minors thanks to a shot with the CornBelters.

And the autograph line stretched from the entrance to Suite 201 at the ballpark, where Sandberg awaited the folks — all the way to the very first concession stand nearest the stair entrance that leads to the parking lot, a distance I would guess is about 250 feet. I met up with some folks, one before she entered the ballpark, and one in line, who both had interesting stories of their own growing up Cubs fans and looking forward to a chance to meet the guy who fans came to know simply as “Ryno.”

CornbeltersFor Bethany Theobald, being a Cubs fan who grew up in enemy territory (aka St. Louis), “We would go to at least one game at Busch Stadium in full Cubs gear and take pictures at the St. Louis Zoo, which, of course, got us a couple of funny looks..”

“We did this for years from when we were young until we were 17,” Theobald, now 34, said. She carried a sweatshirt and a couple of Sandberg baseball cards she said were part of her collection and in better shape than the bulk of the cards she had saved over the years. She wanted to get the two 1985 Sandberg cards signed.

The second person I saw that really intrigued me was in line to get a second base bag signed. Paul Slack, an Ottawa resident made the trip down to The Corn Crib with his wife, Shelli and his teenage daughter to get the mission accomplished. The base was purchased at a Cubs game during which Major League Baseball was selling game-used merchandise. Slack bought the bag at a Cubs game against Cincinnati on Aug. 12, 2012.

“I made the decision to buy the base in hopes Ryne Sandberg would sign it for me,” Slack said. The base isn’t the only item in Slack’s collection, it turns out. His basement man-cave at his two-story home is all-Cubs, the majority of it a shrine to Sandberg. He has more than a few items personally autographed by the guy who spent a career defending either second or third base.

Frontier League“I told my wife she could have the rest of the house, but to just give me the basement” for the extensive collection, Slack said. He has other items Sandberg has signed for him in the past, mostly when he was managing the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League in 2007 and 2008 before the Cubs moved him to the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League in 2009. From there, Sandberg was promoted again to manage the Triple-A Iowa Cubs for a single season in 2010, which was followed by managing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the International League for two years. Toward the end of the 2012 season, the team that drafted Sandberg out of high school in 1978 in the 20th round, the Philadelphia Phillies, hired him to manage the Phillies and finish out the 2012 season. Sandberg would manage the Phillies for one more full season in 2013 and for 74 games in 2014 until he was fired and replaced by Pete Mackanin.

Slack didn’t have the base when Sandberg was in Peoria, he said. “So basically, I’ve been waiting for the right time ever since.”

Slack said he spent Game 6 of the Cubs’ World Series against Cleveland last year “pacing a lot” as he watched the Indians lead that game in the late innings before the Cubs came from behind for the victory.

“He was my favorite player growing up,” Slack said of Sandberg. “I’ve stuck with him and he’s a class act.”

By Steve Robinson | May 25, 2017 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District received an update concerning its financial status and the latest update from a local legislator as the clock continues to tick toward what both educators and legislators hope will not be a third consecutive year without a State budget. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R – 53rd) sat before members of the Board of Education and pointed the finger for why Springfield hasn’t produced a budget currently in the direction of Chicago Public Schools.

“The State is on autopilot,” Barickman told Board members. He said something that most people sitting at kitchen tables know full well: When spending exceeds money coming in, then a payment delay is the result. The State is behind on Transportation and Special Education reimbursements to Unit 5.

Before Barickman spoke to Board members, the Board heard from District Business Manager Marty Hickman, who informed them Springfield owes the district debt totaling $8.1 million for those two kinds of payments, also sometimes referred to as categioricals. Hickman said if the fourth of the five payments due the district were to arrive on or before the June 30 deadline, the last day of the current fiscal year, Unit 5 would have a balanced budget in both transportation and Special Education. If the district were to receive a fifth payment from Springfield, the district would have surplus funds when fiscal year 2017-18 began.

Hickman said there are two variables which the district needs to concern itself as the new fiscal year approaches: If actual property tax payment amounts turn out to be different than anticipated and If categorical payments arrive from the capitol.

Board Member Mike Trask said special needs students, their families, and the staff who work with them are the ones the budget problems have had the most effect on. He said the situation may prompt the district to borrow from its working cash fund, but there isn’t a great amount to work with there. Barickman chimed in on this discussion saying, “We need to help and I don’t know where we go from here.”

Barickman said Chicago Public Schools receive 30 to 40 percent in mandated categoricals because of a block grant.

Multiple “Good News” Items Were Presented: As far as good news reports the Board heard, they were plentiful, starting with the “Not In Our School” initiative and concluding with details on winners of a trip to the nation’s capitol for two students who attend Bloomington Area Career Center.

“Good News” From Not In Our Schools”: Camille Taylor, a retired Unit 5 teacher, now co-chairs the “Not In Our Schools” initiative and presented Board members an update on what the schools involved in the initiative have done as the school year progressed to promote inclusiveness. Currently seven of the 18 schools in the district are involved with “Not In Our School.” Among those items mentioned were: At Cedar Ridge Elementary, fifth grade students have a “Leave A Positive Footprint” program; At Eugene Field Elementary, Principal Jane Collins held an in-service with all staff that centered on diversity, cooperation, and acceptance; Fox Creek Elementary kicked off this school year with an all-school assembly revolving around the subject; At Hudson Elementary, students designed bulletin boards and wrote and made announcements: Glenn Elementary Schools students all took a pledge against bullying; Normal Community West High students held a cultural showcase showing the diversity of the student body; Normal Community High School students held a cultural fair and held a post-election unity discussion.

Fairview Elementary’s “Good News: Board members heard from Amy McKuhen, Youth Market Director for the local office of the American Heart Association, who introduced Joan Everson, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School, who, for the 35 years she has taught there, has tried to keep kids active. Everson has made keeping kids healthy a priority in all her time at the school. AHA, through McKuhen, wanted to make sure Everson was honored as she prepares to retire from teaching after 35 years. McKuhen credited Everson for her efforts in trying to keep kids healthy, which included reinforcing the message to kids they should get 60 minutes of exercise daily, and to make sure they eat a fruit and a vegetable at every meal, and to resist using tobacco.

This year, Fairview students responded by donating $7,500 to the American Heart Association. As a result of doing that, Fairview Elementary received $500 in certificates good for the purchase of physical education equipment from US Games. As a result of Everson’s efforts over the years, McKuhen told Board members, Fairview students are responsible for raising a total of $116,731.87 for AHA in those years. Of Everson, McKuhen said, “Her commitment to our mission has changed the lives of so many. Thank you doesn’t seem like nearly enough.”

Parkside Junior High School’s “Good News”: Jennifer McCoy, athletic director at Parkside Junior High School announced to Board members that 11 girls qualified for the 7th Grade 33rd AA Series Illinois Elementary School Association Track and Field State Championship held on May 19 and 20, 2017. The athletes, their events, and how they finished were:

Averie Hernandez placed 2nd in the High Jump, and 39th in the 100 meter run; as well as participated in both the 4 x 100; and 4 x 400 relays. Lilian Lay finished 40th in the 100 meter dash, and was part of both 4 x 100; and 4 x 400 relays. Taylor Yaklich placed 6th in the 800 meter run, — missing setting a school record by less than two seconds; and placed 5th in the 1600meter run, and served as an alternate for the school’s 4×400 team. Sixth grader Alex Reinhart placed fifth in the 400 meter run, and was part of the school team that ran both the 4 x 100; and 4 x 400.

The school’s relay teams put up a good showing, too, with the school’s 4 x 200 meter team of Carly Donalson, Sophie Kurdys, Miya Webb, Brianna Wright, and alternate, Ashleigh Horton finishing 27th in the event.

In the 4 x 100 meter, PJHS’ team of Averie Hernandez, Lilian Lay, Alex Reinhart, and Naomi Elliott with Sydnee Scott as the alternate) took 2nd Place. This was the same relay team that broke the school record at sectionals two weeks ago with an amazing time of 53:12. While they did not break this time at State, they came close, finishing with a time of 53:23.

In the 4 x 400 relay, PJHS’ team of Hernandez, Lay, Reinhart, and Elliott with Yaklich as the alternate, learned that they would need to shave an additional 6 seconds off of their previous record to contend for first or second place in the event, and they did, with a time of 4:19:03, they shattered their previous record.

PJHS doubled up on good news as the school’s principal, Ryan Weichman, presented a report to Board members concerning a project the school had been working on which finally was dedicated earlier this month. With the help of school parent Ryan Scritchlow and his company, Scritchlow Enterprises, the school now has a walkway which makes the grounds accessible to all of its students. The school had a workday where a number of the school’s parents pitched in complete the job. The pathway around the school will mean increased participation for the school’s disabled students, Weichman explained in his memo to district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel and Board members. Weichman’s report included a slideshow of the parents in action as the walkway came together.

Unit 5 mapKingsley Junior High’s “Good News”: Board members were introduced to Janel Sebeny, who is the English Language Arts building chair at the school. Prinicipal Shelly J. Erickson credited Sebeny for activities she participated in numerous organizations that help students. Sebeny is president-elect of the Illinois Reading Council and is Grants Committee Chair for MID-State Reading Council. “Janel is a valuable resource for other teachers,” Erickson reported. She also mentioned Sebeny is also past president of the Illinois Reading Conference, a function at which 3,500 people were present. “We just want to say thank you for all you do,” Erickson told Sebeny.

Normal Community West High School Doubles “Good News” Items: Like PJHS, Normal Community West High School presented two “good news” items in its presentation to the Board, with Principal Dave Johnson making the presentation. First, senior Ben Zinn, a cross country and track athlete was recognized, as he was recently named the State of Illinois’ male recipient of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association’s Scholar Athlete Essay Award at the Illinois Athletic Directors Association state conference on Sunday, May 7, where Zinn read his award-winning essay at the state conference. He also read his essay to Board members and those assembled for the meeting, and it was well-received. Zinn is a three-year letter winner in both cross country and track and a member of the National English, Spanish, Math, and Social Studies Honor Societies. He will be attending the University of Illinois next fall and majoring in computer science.

The school also honored four Biological Engineering students, presenting to the Board Emily Johnson, Madison Miko, John Sherman, and Nick Watson. This quartet, while being in the school’s Biological Engineering Class, participated in EnergizeME Infographic Challenge, sponsored by U. S. Department of Energy. The purpose of the challenge is to enhance knowledge and foundational knowledge of Bioenergy. The Challenge is also designed to encourage creativity and engagement through arts-based learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM.

During the program, students conducted a laboratory investigation to study ways to optimize producing biodiesel fuels from algae. A project Sherman and Watson collaborated on, “Hydrothermal Liquidification of Algae” was selected as the competition’s overall winner. Sherman and Watson will make a presentation concerning their project at a conference at the Department of Energy in Washington, D. C. and receive a tour there of various facilities.

Bloomington Area Career Center’s “Good News”: Nikki Meyer, a coordinator at Bloomington Area Career Center, introduced Board members to five students who were among 72 students who competed at the SkillUSA State Competition in April. There were over 2,000 competitors who took part from Illinois. BACC had 11 students who qualified and five of them placed in their specific category. The student, their school, their category, and how they placed are: Cara Logan, Normal Community High School, 1st place in Emergency Medical Technician; Emma Brown, NCHS, 2nd place in Nurse Assisting; Bryce Carlisle, NCHS, 2nd place in Technical Computer Applications; Cheyenne Broquarsd, NCHS, 3rd place in Job Skill Demonstration; and Michaela Goodman, Normal West, 3rd place in Nurse Assisting.

By Steve Robinson | May 21, 2017 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At a reception in the hall outside the auditorium at Normal Community West High School, Unit 5 School District employees, and current and former Board members got the chance to honor two former Board members for their service.

Gail Ann Briggs and John Puzauskas were honored for their years of service on the Board – 41 years for Briggs, 12 for Puzauskas. Neither of them opted to run for another term in the April election.

Calling Briggs and Puzauskas “servant leaders,” Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. credited the pair with “dedicating countless hours of their livers with their mission of helping students achieve personal excellence.”

Turning to Briggs and Puzauskas as those gathered watched, Hayek said, “Thanks for your legacy, thanks for your example, and for being role models for me and the other Board members.” There were between 60-70 people who came through to wish the duo well during the two-hour event.

Unit 5 mapCurrent and former Board members, and former District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus, and current superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel were on hand, as well.

The pair each received a certificate of recognition from Matt James, representing State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-53rd Dist.), and a certificate of recognition from the Illinois House of Representatives, each presented to them by Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th Dist.).

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker reminded the gathering that Briggs was the second of 10 women to serve on the Board, and that in 41 years as a Board member, she served with 42 Board members.

“As I’ve said before, I’ve gained much more than I’ve given,” Puzauskas told the gathering.

Briggs admitted, “I almost didn’t run for a second term. The first term was a little awesome.” She credited friends like Peg Kirk for encouraging her to seek that second term which lasted three years until a State law changing the length of service by Board members changed. From 1982 on, Board members went from serving three-year terms to four-year terms.

Puzauskas Nominated For “Those Who Excel” Community Volunteer Award: Mickens-Baker announced to the gathering that Puzauskas has been nominated by the district for an award to be given out by Illinois State Board of Education later this year. He is in the running to receive a “Those Who Excel” Award from ISBE in the category of Community Volunteer. The winner of the award will be announced at ISBE’s annual dinner this fall.

Puzauskas was quick to spread the credit for the honor when asked about it. “It’s an honor to be recognized at the State level for what I’ve done,” he said. “But, really, it’s what all of us on the Board have done. I’m honored. I feel no expectation and will be deeply honored to receive it if I am named.”

By Steve Robinson | May 20, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe celebration of appreciation Unit 5 School District threw for two of their longest-serving officeholders on Saturday, May 20 was a moment in their lives I’m sure Gail Ann Briggs and John Puzauskas will long remember.

In a time when our lives all get a little hectic, to take time to acknowledge and show appreciation for their efforts while serving on the Board in a relaxed setting outside the auditorium at Normal Community West High School was just the atmosphere in which to wish them both well as they each move on to what comes their way next.

But, believe it or not, this column isn’t about either Gail Ann or John. In truth, it’s about one of the guests at the function who could relate to and remember what life as a Board member was like before their time on the Board.

That’s because when Kenneth Uphoff served on the Board, the times were different, even if some of the issues didn’t sound as though they weren’t.

Uphoff, now 93, was a Unit 5 School Board member from 1964 to 1973, a time when Board member elections were, by State law, every three years. As a result, Uphoff ran for office in three elections. Briggs won her first election to become a Board member in 1976 — just three years after Uphoff came off the Board.

Those days were much easier for educators then, one supposes. The biggest issue in those days was the district expanding. Planning had begun for Parkside Junior High School, and construction for two elementary schools – Sugar Creek and Colene Hoose — were underway.

Over the course of Uphoff’s time in office, he served as Board president four times and secretary twice. In that time, he saw the district population jump from 5,000 when he arrived to 6,000 students being bused to a school in 1970 to 6,500 kids in class by the time he left. (I had a little help with the figures, by the way, from a person who recently exited the Board with literally decades of experience—three guesses who).

In Uphoff’s time on the Board, Hudson Elementary School saw three additions to its building, in 1965, 1968, and 1970. When the State income tax was introduced in 1969, the State provided 45 percent of the funding to the district at that time, Uphoff said. At that time, “we had more income so we were able to work better,” he pointed out.

Uphoff worked as an electrician and a farmer during his time on the Board. Also during his time on the Board, the Unit Five Education Association, or UFEA, the group that serves as the bargaining unit for the district’s teachers, came into being.

When he left the Board by 1973, Uphoff said his biggest concern was one he said he thinks the district still grapples with, and that would be having the ability to dismiss teachers who are underperforming. Uphoff said he believes tenure and the Union are the culprits there. “I couldn’t get the teachers to help us with that,” Uphoff said, recalling that part of his time on the Board. “That’s when I decided to step away from the Board.”

We’ll close this with a best memory for Uphoff, the father of six, who said his grown children and their families are all scattered around this area. He smiled when he recalled getting a kiss from his only daughter during the graduation ceremony from Normal Community High School as he handed her the diploma she had earned.

He smiled recalling that moment, as any father in that position should.

By Steve Robinson | May 19, 2017 - 3:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

mclean countyBLOOMINGTON – Subjects not often discussed, or done so in whispers – including suicide and involuntary commitment of a loved one – were tackled in a day-long seminar titled Behavioral Health Community Forum, held Thursday, May 18 at the Bloomington Center For The Performing Arts. The Normalite, and the Town of Normal were among 12 businesses or entities sponsoring the event.

Preventing Suicide Is Community Effort: In a seminar titled “Suicide Prevention – A Community Effort,” attendees learned 1,000 people take their own lives annually in the State of Illinois, explained Colleen O’Connor, prevention specialist for Project Oz.

According to Kevin Richardson, training coordinator at PATH Crisis Center, 17 percent of high school students in McLean County report they seriously considered taking their own lives. “It’s now a public health issue,” Richardson told those gathered.

Suicide is attempted every 17 minutes and has a cost of $6 billion,” explained O’Connor. There were 25 suicides in McLean County in 2015, an increase of two from the previous year. Of those suicides, 16 were men and nine were women.

In McLean County, the age range of persons attempting suicide was from 21 to 85. Talking about suicide doesn’t plant the idea to attempt it into a person’s head, Richardson said. He added living with financial issues likely increases the chances for suicide.

Watch For Mental Health Issues: There are, in addition to suicide, mental health issues to be watched for, Richardson said. Among the list of those were: Severe mood swings that endanger relationships; Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks; Drastic changes in behavior, personality, or sleeping habits; and repeated use of alcohol or drugs. If teens see these signs in friends, Richardson advised they notify a trusted adult.

Other Issues Tackled: Suicide was among a handful of issues tackled at this event. Others included: Parenting and Childhood Trauma; Opioids, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse; and Faith’s Role In Mental Health.

Costs Involved In Mental Health: As this inaugural forum ended, attendees heard from John Fallon from the Corporation For Public Housing. He credited the county with having the resources it has to help its citizens.

Before an audience of roughly 200 at the meeting’s final session, Fallon broke down the costs of keeping someone in a correctional institution. “It’s expected to cost $30,000 a year in a correctional facility,” he said. “It costs $25,000 a year to keep them in prison. It costs $150,000 a year to keep them in patient hospitalization.

“Court costs related to arrests are really expensive,” Fallon added. All of that doesn’t count “costs that are not monetary,” Fallon said. Those costs to the community include the fact that the jailed person is someone’s husband, wife, daughter, or son.” He said communities have to do better to aid such citizens.

Fallon said it’s important for communities to find out who, as he put it, is being served badly. “Who is in our shelter? Who is in our emergency services? Who doesn’t have a home? Who doesn’t get along with their neighbor, and needs to be in our jails, or our prisons? Who needs psychiatric services? And who needs to be in a nursing home?”

The first thing needed to be done, Fallon said, is to create affordable housing. Funding for that can be found with assistance from Federal Housing Authority in the Twin Cities, he added.

Fallon closed his message by saying the Twin Cities should be proud of what they’ve done so far in terms of addressing the mental health issue.

McLean County In This For The Long Haul: After the keynote address, Bill Wasson, County Administrator, told the gathering he believes there is a strong commitment from all sectors of the community to make things related to mental health better. “We’re in it for the long haul,” he said, adding this forum will become an annual event.