By Steve Robinson | September 30, 2017 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – Senior quarterback Doug Holmes connected with senior wide receiver Mark Widdel for two touchdowns to thrill University High football fans in an effort to get their homecoming celebration off to a positive start, defeating Central State Eight Conference opponent Jacksonville, 38-20, in front of roughly 1,000 fans at Hancock Stadium.

The Pioneers faced a Crimsons team which needed to resort to using a fourth-string sophomore quarterback, Wesley Ervin, and leaned heavily on senior running back Marquel White for big yardage gains throughout the night.

U-High upped its record to 2-4 both in the conference and overall with the victory, with scoring that began with a 20 yard field goal by junior kicker Nathan Clay at 7:47 of the first quarter, topping a 7 play 33 yard drive. Getting that score started thanks to Jacksonville turning over the ball on downs to complete their first possession.

Jacksonville’s next possession ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down, putting the Pioneers at their own 33 yard line to start their next drive. Holmes connected with Widdel for the first time on the night on a 56 yard scoring strike with 5:05 left in the quarter, followed by Clay’s extra point, advancing the Pioneers’ lead, 10-0.

U-High Pioneers footballJacksonville’s next possession had the Crimsons marching 80 yards in 17 plays for their first score of the night at 9:27 of the second quarter, with White gaining most of the yardage, his longest jaunt was 12 yards, and he scored from three yards out to cut U-High’s lead, 10-7, following sophomore kicker Collin Brunstein’s extra point.

Holmes connected with senior wide receiver Ty Ziebarth for a 7 yard touchdown pass at 4:20 until halftime, followed by Clay’s next extra point, to give the Pioneers a 17-7 advantage.

As a result of the coin toss before the game, the Pioneers opted to defer receiving the ball until the second half but wound up fumbling to end the third play of their opening drive, turning the ball over to the Crimsons at the U-High 39 yard line. From there, White and Ervin combined keeping the ball on the ground to score, with White entering the end zone from a yard out with 8:37 left in the third quarter. That cut the Pioneers’ lead, 17-13 when a Crimsons two-point play failed.

Holmes and U-High took to the air during their next possession toward their next score. Holmes completed 3-of-4 passes for 35 yards as the Pioneers scored at 5:23 in the third quarter with Holmes running into the end zone from nine yards out followed by Clay’s extra point, increasing U-High’s lead, 24-13.

Jacksonville’s next possession ended when Pioneers sophomore defensive back Zane Sorensen recovered a fumble and U-High began their next drive at the Crimsons’ 35 yard line. One play later, Holmes and Widdel connected for a touchdown followed by Clay’s extra point, pushing the Pioneers up, 31-13.

jacksonville crimsons football helmetJacksonville got the ensuing kickoff and could only manage, after a flag thrown against them and four downs, to get to their own 30 forcing them to punt. Starting at their own 36, U-High managed to get down field thanks to plays like a 30 yard pass from Holmes to senior wide receiver Spencer Laub highlighting the drive U-High used to score again. The drive ended with Holmes running into the end zone from 7 yards out with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Clay’s extra point put U-High up, 38-13.

From there the Crimsons used another prolonged drive which began at their own 32 to score again on the night, going 68 yards in 15 plays, concluding with White leaping over Pioneers defenders from two yards out for the touchdown, the evening’s last score, followed by Brunstein’s extra point.

“I thought our offensive line came to play today and that helped our passing game,” explained U-High head coach John Johnson. “Mark Widdel and Doug Holmes went out and played a great game. Doug beat them with his speed, too.” Johnson further credited his defense for their efforts against the Crimsons’ offense.

“My team battled to the very end,” said Jacksonville head coach Mark Grounds. “We’re fighting through some injuries, and I thought my young players made some progress. We’ll keep battling.” He also had praise for Ervin, who is the Crimsons’ fourth-string quarterback. First-string quarterback Avery Dugan is dealing with a throwing arm injury but is not healthy enough to return to that position. Doctors did, however, clear Dugan to play defensive back, which he did against the Pioneers.

By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 27 at district headquarters, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously approved spending for the 2017-18 school year, a budget of over $168 million, an increase in spending of 3 percent over the previous school year. But such spending will still leave Unit 5 with a $1.2 million shortage in its education fund, even though the increase in spending will have dollars added to that fund.

Board members were made aware that Senate Bill 1947, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner Sept. 1, allocated awaited money from the State for the district will not make up for the $1.2 million deficit the district was anticipating for its education fund.

Marty Hickman, district business manager, told Board members the budget they were approving was unchanged from the draft version of the budget he presented to them last spring.

Unit 5 mapIn addition to the education fund being short, four other funds have shortfalls, as well. There is a $1,145,168 shortfall in the district’s Bond and Interest account; a shortage of over $3.8 million in the district’s fire prevention-life safety fund; A shortage of over $161,000 in the district tort fund; and a shortage of over $86,000 in the district retirement/Social Security fund. The deficits of those funds total over $4.9 million.

With regard to the retirement fund shortage, Hickman said the State providing Tier 2 funding could help lessen that amount. Filling in the other deficits, he said, will depend on timing issues.

A public hearing was held regarding the budget prior to its passage by the Board, at which no members of the public spoke.

Life Safety Expense At Normal Community West High School Approved: Board members unanimously approved spending $430,392 to make repairs on the 22-year-old tennis courts at Normal Community West High School. Board members were shown photos of various sections the courts, some which included deep, expanding cracks in the concrete. Of the dollar amount quoted for the repair, the actual cost estimate for the project is $358,660.

In addition to that amount, another $70,000 in contingency costs is part of the grand total. Anytime paving is involved with public safety, a public hearing is required, Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, told Board members. No members of the public spoke at this hearing.

Inaugural “State Of The District” Event Set For Oct. 11: Unit 5 will hold a first-time event updating residents on matters pertaining to the district prior to the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Oct. 11. The “State Of The District” event will be held at Normal Community High School starting at 6:30p.m. The Board will then hold its scheduled meeting afterward, beginning at 8p.m.

By Steve Robinson | September 24, 2017 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWhen we were in high school, we knew who our core of good friends were – those folks who “had our back” as they say these days. What we probably didn’t know back then as our individual paths separated from the others as we got into young adulthood was how and where others’ paths would come back to ours as years went on.

For my University High School classmate Erin McCarney, graduating from U-High in 1979 led to the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1983, and from there going on to attend University of Houston Law School for her law degree. From there, she has been a practicing attorney specializing in personal injury trial law.

Erin has been married to Mike Lunceford for 33 years and the couple has two grown children, a son and a daughter. Erin said her being appointed the judge of Texas’ 61st civil district court in 2015 “was an incredible honor. I had been a trial lawyer for 27 years and I know my way around a courtroom. I was just honored to have the Governor of Texas choose me.” The 61st Civil Court District of Texas includes Harris County, which includes Houston.

Two years ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Erin to be a district court judge. She’s done for now on the bench, back practicing law again. Along the way, she has been recognized for her efforts and her work in the community in a number of ways: Being named one of “20 Winning Trial Lawyers” in 2011; and being named one of Texas’ top attorneys for the period from 2011-2015 by Texas Monthly magazine are among the accolades she has received.

Come Friday, at an assembly in U-High’s Ruth Stroud Auditorium, Erin will be able to add another honor to that list, one that’s likely to be of a more personal nature: She will be named to the school’s Pioneer Hall of Fame as part of the school’s homecoming activities. The ceremony is Friday morning starting at 9:30a.m.

My interview with Erin was unique: Due to her schedule and some other activities she needed to attend to before Friday, our interview was done through Facebook’s messaging tool. I started by asking her if being a lawyer was what she aspired to be back when we were in school.

“No one in my family was a lawyer, so I really didn’t know what lawyers did or if I wanted to be one,” she explained. She said her U-High days mostly centered on speech and drama, and caused her “to want to do something that dealt with public speaking and people.”

Currently off the bench, Erin is now back practicing law at a firm in Houston. She will be among three former students who will go into the Pioneer Hall of Fame Friday. Being added with her will be Lynn Thomsen, Class of 1983, and Thomas Golomb, Class of 1997.

U-High will also award its Alumni Service Award to Audrey Brust Naffziger, Class of 1945, and its Distinguished Alumnus Award to Bardwell F. White, Class of 1960. The school will also award its “Friends Of U-High Award” to former Pioneers Baseball Coach (and former neighbor two doors down from me as I was growing up) Jim Scott.

But back to Erin, with a record of accomplishment and honors she has amassed over the years in her career, I look forward to hearing her make her case, as it were, for how she feels about how far she has come having started it at U-High. It’s likely that when she finishes, those of us present will be feeling unanimous, agreeing with the case she will present us about how U-High shaped her life.

Steve RobinsonIt’s about a three-hour drive between Jacksonville and Normal. So when Jacksonville fans became aware University High would become a member of the Central State Eight Conference last year, there was concern on the part of some parents of the school’s athletes about how the school’s teams would adjust. Regular readers to this column may recall my interviewing U-High fans at the Pioneers’ last Corn Belt Conference Baseball game, getting the reaction of parents of players then.

I planned to do a fan reaction piece prior to the Pioneers-Crimsons game, interviewing Jacksonville fans, to get their take to making their first trek to Hancock Stadium.

I, also being a proud U-High alum, opted to dine at the school’s homecoming activity before going to cover the game. As a result of doing that, I didn’t have to go looking too far to find a Jacksonville Crimsons supporter. That’s because, sitting one table over from where I sat with my classmate, Dan Zeller, I saw man wearing a black baseball cap with a red “J” on it. This man sat surrounded by Pioneers fans dressed in green and yellow. The man is Kris Schwiderski, U-High Class of 1985.

Schwiderski has lived and worked in Jacksonville for 25 years as a physical therapist for Passavant Area Hospital there. He works with high school athletes in Jacksonville and surrounding communities. “My job is to try to take care of the kids, get them back on the court, back on the field, dealing with teams.” Schwiderski covers a large territory, spending weeks visiting and treating athletes from high schools in 14 communities that surround Jacksonville.

After Schwiderski graduated from U-High, he attended Illinois State University to get a Bachelor’s degree, and got his first job in Little Rock, Ark. for a year before returning back to ISU to get his Master’s degree. He went to Jacksonville after that and has been there ever since.

Schwiderski said when he heard U-High was joining Central State Eight, “I was excited because U-High joining the conference meant I’d get to see people I graduated with and other alums, and I’d get to see games here at ISU.”

Before U-High joined the Central State Eight, U-High faced the Crimsons in the State Football Playoffs a few years back, Schwiderski recalled.

Having lived down there as long as he has, Schwiderski said he takes in a number of high school games in Jacksonville. Before the Pioneers signed on to join the conference, Decatur was as far as the Crimsons needed to travel for competitions, he said. “Some of the fans of the Crimsons had an issue with the extra drive to get to Normal, but I think they were excited to bring in a new team, and have a different experience in terms of competition,” he said.

“I enjoy going to all the games down there because I think it keeps me young…I hope,” Schwiderski said with a chuckle. His parents, Bill and Kaye Schwiderski, still live in town and “keep me up on what’s going on with U-High.”

Now Schwiderski will be able to enjoy seeing U-High regularly now that the Pioneers belong to this conference. His work with high school kids seems to keep him thinking young and helps him to enjoy attending these kinds of events whether they are home games or on the road. Some people were saddened to see the Corn Belt Conference’s demise. But the conference change brought in old fans, too, like Schwiderski and others, and that has been one of the surprising positives that have come from the change.

By Steve Robinson | September 23, 2017 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Everybody attending a big high school homecoming game wants to see a big victory. It’s just anticipated and expected. And Normal West didn’t disappoint their fans and spectators from Big 12 Conference rival Danville in that regard, blasting the Vikings, 76-35, handing the visitors their first loss of the season.

Normal West (4-1, 3-1 Big 12) scored 42 points in the first half, highlighted by a 68 yard scoring run from junior wide receiver Armani Forrest at 1:26 in the first quarter to put the Wildcats up, 21-7, following junior kicker Eddie Miller’s extra point, and a 90 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from sophomore quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver C. J. Davis at 5:34 in the second quarter, followed by Miller’s extra point, giving the Wildcats a 35-14 lead.

Each team would score one time before halftime, Danville’s being a reverse in which senior quarterback Ernest Langley would be on the receiving end of a reverse, scoring on a pass from wide receiver Lance Langley, followed by a successful extra point by senior Caleb Griffin cutting West’s halftime lead, 35-21. The loss put Danville’s record at 4-1 overall, including 3-1 in Big 12 Conference play. Danville scored once more to cut West’s lead at half, 42-28.

Normal West FootballThere were fireworks that went off every time West scored, part of a supply which was to be used for a post-game display, but the fans got a head start on seeing those in the second half thanks to West’s offensive maneuvers. Danville received the ball for the second half kickoff and managed to march down to West’s 9 yard line in nine plays from their own 39. But on the 10th play, Plummer was intercepted by West senior defensive back Tre Matthews at West’s 1 yard line. Gaining some blocking and dodging tacklers along the way, Matthews scrambled into Danville’s end zone for a 99 yard interception touchdown. Miller’s extra point helped increase West’s lead, 49-28 at 8:24 in the third quarter.

Of Matthews’ defensive scoring dash, Normal West head coach Darren Hess said, “It was a spark…I didn’t think we did a good job defensively on third downs. That made a big difference for us.”

Danville senior running back Jerry Reed helped close out the Vikings’ next possession with a 5 yard run, capping a 52 yard drive on six plays for his team’s next score, followed by Griffin’s extra point, closing West’s lead, 49-35, with 4:52 left in the third quarter.

A touchdown run by West senior wide receiver Isaiah Shifflet capped a 9-play 80 yard march for West’s next score, pushing the Wildcats up, 56-35, with 1:44 left in the third quarter. following a turnover on downs by Danville, West got the ball back at Danville’s 35 yard line and fought Vikings defenders to score their next touchdown, a 2 yard run by senior running back Holden Lueck at 10:36 in the fourth quarter, followed by Miller’s extra point, putting West up, 63-35.

Danville VikingsA Danville fumble on their second play in the next possession was recovered by West senior defensive lineman Garrett Sheehan, giving the Wildcats the ball at Danville’s 32. Seven plays later, a 32 yard scoring pass from Camp to Tucker put West up, 69-35, with 6:55 left in the contest, but Danville defenders were able to block Miller’s extra point attempt. West’s last points on the night came courtesy of senior wide receiver Camani Jordan on a 9 yard scoring run in the waning moments of the contest, followed by Miller’s extra point resulting in the final score.

Hess said in the Wildcats’ 50-16 loss against Normal Community High School last week, penalties “killed” the Wildcats. But this week, the veteran coach said, “we were a better team than what we showed last week, and we showed that against a great team tonight. If you take care of the football and you’re physical up front, good things will happen. I thought, offensively, we did a lot of great things tonight.”

Danville’s first season head coach, former Vikings assistant Marcus Forrest, said turnovers and timing were what he feels doomed his team’s effort against the Wildcats. “If you don’t throw the ball on time or if you’re not where you’re supposed to be on the field as a receiver, bad things happen,” Forrest said. He called the game against Normal West “our first real learning experience and a tough test. We came up short on a good team.”