By Steve Robinson | January 30, 2018 - 8:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIf you saw much of me last weekend, you must have been at a high school basketball game. Friday night, I was at Normal Community High School covering the Boys’ game between the Ironmen and rival Normal Community West.

The biggest surprise of that night was that the game started late because the junior varsity from Normal West needed overtime to claim a 51-47 victory. You got the feeling watching that game that both sides will still be intense against one another when these underclassmen become upperclassmen. That’s always the hope, anyway, felt whether expressed or not, by coaches and fans alike.

Saturday was spent at the annual North-South Shootout at NCHS featuring girls’ teams from the host school, Normal West, O’Fallon, and Belleville East. It was a lot of un for the fans but those covering it and working the scorer’s table were happy to either keep track of or take notes about the games for the papers but were very tired by the event’s conclusion. The event moves south next year before coming back this way again, where Normal West will take its turn to host.

NCHS Swimming And Diving Team Honored: At halftime of the game between the boys’ teams from Unit 5 on Friday, NCHS’ girls’ Swimming and Diving Team was honored for finishing 4th at the State Meet. During their season, the team won the Intercity title, set eight new school records, won the Big 12 Conference title, and captured a first-ever Sectional title. At State, the team earned medals in 7 of 12 events. Members of NCHS’ Swimming and Diving Team are: Grace Ariola, Ashley Bengtson, Julia Heimstead, Claire Koh, and Julia Oostman.

Can El Paso Gridley Special Olympics Pull Off A “Three-Peat”?: Two years ago, the Special Olympics basketball team from El Paso Gridley High School got into the Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament due to a forfeit. Last year, they got in by their own merits and won gold (in double overtime, no less).

The district playoffs took place recently and Titans head coach Cindy Martorana’s team is headed back to State for the third consecutive year as a result of their efforts and partly due to another forfeit. Teams are required to play two games at district and need to earn gold medals to qualify for State.

The Titans won their first contest beating Rockford Guilford, 34-22, Martorana told me and were all set to meet their next challenger. But when they got to the court, they were informed illness prevented the other team from making the second game. As a result, Martorana’s team won the second game by forfeit and are headed back to State. EPG team members are: Jordan Peacher, Andrew Hartman, Zoey Slightom, Caleb Turner, Brady Neill, Geneva Powell, and Courtney Adkins. Here’s wishing them luck!

Normal West Chess Team Headed To State: It isn’t just the athletically inclined headed to a State event of some kind. Congratulations are also given here to the Chess team from Normal Community West High School who have been giving opponents fits to the point that the Wildcats will go to the Illinois High School Association State Chess Tournament in Peoria on Feb. 9 and 10.

To get this far, first, they beat Bloomington High School on tie breaks to earn the League Championship for the season. Then, on Jan. 27, they traveled to Mahomet and took first at sectionals. Normal West was the only team out of a field of 19 schools in the sectional to earn a perfect 4-0 record at the tournament, defeating East Peoria High School, University High School, Metamora High School, and Dunlap High School.

The team that conquered the Sectional includes: Joseph Kessinger, Gabe Chambers, Clayton Davis, Bekah Nielsen, Sawyer Price, Naaman Rivera, Henry Lovelette, Tori Kafer, Austin Schillage, Zach Gilliam, and Jon Spaulding.

Individually, Davis earned a sectional medal on his board with 3.5 points and Kessinger also earned a medal, being the only player to earn 4 points.

Here’s wishing them good luck at State, as well.

By Steve Robinson | January 29, 2018 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – Once Normal Community West High School’s boys’ basketball team got the jump on rival Normal Community High School Friday night in their rivalry contest, there appeared to be no stopping them the rest of the evening. But NCHS did manage to put the breaks on the Wildcats late in the fourth quarter but it couldn’t keep Normal West from staying in front for a 42-37 road victory.

Sandwiching two missed free throws by Wildcats sophomore guard Drew Wollenschlager were two deuces by teammate junior center Francis Okoro which gave the Wildcats a quick 4-0 lead. NCHS junior Dishon Hall put the Ironmen on the scoreboard with a layup at the quarter’s 3:27 mark, cutting that lead to 4-2. Another deuce by Okoro gave Normal West a 6-2 lead. A trey by NCHS junior Daylen Boddie sliced that lead to one, 6-5. But a trey by West guard Shea Cupples gave the Wildcats a 9-5 lead with which to open the second quarter.

Boddie opened the second quarter by fouling senior forward Drew Yonker who sank two free throws and was followed by a trey from senior forward Terance Montgomery-Fisher, and after an Ironmen timeout, senior guard Brady Cupples hit a deuce which pushed Normal West ahead, 16-5. Boddie hit a jumper and senior Dalton Tevis followed, to come within seven, 16-9 with 2:20 left in the quarter. Okoro’s next basket doubled the Wildcats’ lead, 18-9 with 1:17 left in the quarter and he followed that up with a jumper to put Normal West up 20-7, with four seconds left.

But Boddie startled the full crowd of roughly 5,000 fans with a half court shot to beat the buzzer and cut Normal West’s lead, 20-12, going into halftime.

NCHSBrady Cupples’ opening shot for the third quarter put West up, 22-12, and was followed by a bucket from Boddie, changing the score to 22-14. From there, West went on a 7-0 run that was all Okoro except for the last two points. Up until that point, the 6 foot-9 junior scored three baskets and answered a foul with two free throws before Wollenschlager answered a foul with a free throw giving West a 29-14 lead. Coleman reduced that to 29-17 with a trey at 2:48 in the period but Coleman and junior Joe Lippert responded with unanswered baskets to cut the lead to 10, 29-19, with 2:30 left in the quarter. An Okoro bucket put West up, 31-19 and a free throw by Wollenschlager made the lead, 32-18. NCHS came within 11, 32-21, on a Boddie shot and Okoro closed out the quarter on a basket for a 34-21 Wildcats lead.

Boddie opened the fourth quarter for NCHS with a trey, closing West’s lead to 10 again, 34-24, and then Cupples was fouled where he answered with two free throws putting West up, 36-24 with 7:09 left in the game. After a Wildcats timeout, senior Jalen Coleman’s trey at 3:49 pulled NCHS within nine, 36-27. But Coleman fouling Cupples got West one free throw to put the Wildcats up 10, 37-27, with 2:46 left.

Normal WestA free throw by Boddie closed the Wildcats’ lead to nine, 37-28, and West called a timeout with 1:45 left. A C. J. Chastain basket cut the Wildcats’ lead, 37-30 and a free throw by Alec McGinnis gave West an eight-point advantage, 38-30 until a fouled Boddie cut that lead at the line, 38-32. That prompted Wildcats head coach Brian Cupples to call time with 59.5 seconds left. following the timeout, a fouled Okoro went 1-for2 on the line to stretch West’s lead, 39-32. Cupples then fouled Christian who sank one, closing in on West, 39-33. But Cupples then was called for a technical for something he said to an opponent. That cut West’s lead, 39-35 with 32.3 left. Two NCHS fouls against him sent West junior forward Nate Duckworth to the line where he sank 3-of-4 giving West a 40-35. The last basket of the night came from Boddie with 3.8 seconds left.

“I thought we were great defensively, and I thought we were great rebounding,” said West head coach Brian Cupples. “NCHS’ kids did a great job battling and that got it down to a one or two position game which got it tight on us. We had a great start defensively. NCHS made tough shots.”

“We dug ourselves in a whole and West did a great job of taking care of the ball and made just enough free throws and did enough to win,” explained NCHS head coach Dave Witzig. “Okoro was a ton tonight and they handled the ball well tonight, and they did a great job.”

By Steve Robinson | January 28, 2018 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – The annual North-South Girls’ Basketball Shootout featuring teams from Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, Belleville East and O’Fallon rotated its way to NCHS Saturday, Jan. 27 giving fans something other than cold weather or politics to ponder. NCHS went 2-for-2 in victories over their opponents while Normal West dropped both sides of their contests.

Belleville East 68, Normal West 44: An opening 10-0 lead from the game’s tip-off by Belleville East (15-9) featuring two baskets each from juniors Kayla Rainey and B’Aunce Carter helped put the Lady Lancers in front of Normal West quickly to begin their day. Two baskets by junior Jess Jacobs and Carrie Sims allowed the Wildcats to cut that lead to 16-9 going into the second quarter, but Carter would add 8 more points before halftime, joined by senior Grace Tantillo who added one more bucket to give the Lady Lancers a 38-24 halftime lead. West’s biggest basket in the second quarter was a trey by Jacobs at the quarter’s 6:15 mark.

Carter and senior Jailyn McClenney each had three baskets in the third quarter helping increase their team’s lead, 56-35. A trey for West by Jacobs added the Wildcats’ biggest points in the quarter. Junior Whitney Bozarth’s trey in the 4th quarter toward the game’s conclusion helped to narrow the score.

Carter led Belleville East in double-figures with 35 points followed by 13 from junior Bryce Dowell and 10 from McClenney. Jacobs was the only player to hit double digits for Normal West (13-9) with 10.

NCHSNCHS 63, O’Fallon 39: NCHS (20-5 after their second game) closed out the event with a 63-39 win over O’Fallon. The opening quarter was highlighted by three treys for the Lady Iron from senior Summer Stoewer giving NCHS an 11-6 lead until O’Fallon senior Sydney Thurwalker hit a trey cutting the lead to 11-9. Thurwalker scored 9 of the Panthers’ points in that opening quarter, but NCHS went into the second quarter with a 17-14 lead.

After NCHS junior Abby Feit and O’Fallon’s Ashley Scholer exchanged buckets to keep NCHS up 19-18 early in the second quarter, NCHS demonstrated a 12-0 outburst featuring baskets from sophomore Kylee Schneriger, sophomore Maya Wong, and senior Hannah Johnson pushing NCHS’ lead to 31-18 before O’Fallon’s bench called time. O’Fallon would only score four points after that though, while NCHS entered the 3rd quarter after holding a 40-22 halftime lead.

Defender for O’Fallon (24-3 after their second game) held NCHS to just 8 points in the third quarter while only scoring 9 themselves topped by a trey at 1:09 in the quarter by junior Rayna Bullock. That reduced NCHS’ lead to 48-29. NCHS lead 48-31 going into the fourth quarter.

As she had at the start of the contest, Stoewer led off the fourth quarter with a basket to put the Lady Iron in front, 50-31 and the team got a boost courtesy of three baskets in the quarter from Molly McGaugh to seal the victory. Stoewer led NCHS’ scoring with 18 points, including four treys, and was followed in double-figures by Feit with 16. Thurwalker was the only O’Fallon player in double-digits, scoring 11.

Normal WestNCHS Starts Day With A Win: NCHS appeared unfazed by their 10a.m. tipoff which started the annual rotating event, defeating Belleville East, 69-55. Although Carter did the heavy lifting for the Lady Lancers by scoring 14 of her team-high 24 points in the first quarter, NCHS’ Feit matched that pace and exceeded it finishing with a game-high 26. NCHS held leads of 21-19 after one quarter, 42-30 at halftime, and 58-41 after three quarters. Schneringer was the only other Lady Iron player in double-figures with 15 points. Rainey and Dowell each had 9 points apiece for the Lady Lancers.

Normal West Drops First Game: Normal West started their morning game against O’Fallon strong, with scoring led by junior Ayanna Gibbs, scoring 6 points in the opening quarter and powered further by a trey by Bozarth giving the Wildcats an 18-14 lead going into the second quarter. Second quarter treys from sophomore Claire Demosthenes and Bozarth gave West a 35-32 halftime lead before two treys from Schloer and a trey each from sophomores Kayla Gordon and Makayla Best helped push the Panthers in front, 50-47 as the game went into the fourth quarter.

The Panthers stayed in front on the strength of a trey by Best followed by two deuces each from Schloer and Thurwalker. West only scored 15 points in the last quarter powered mainly by buckets from senior Arie Sims and a trey from Kaitlyn Hardin. Schloer led double-digit scoring for O’Fallon with 16 points followed by 10 each from Best and Thurwalker. Gibbs led West with 14 points followed by 13 points each from Demosthenes and Jacobs.

By Steve Robinson | January 25, 2018 - 8:01 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board voted unanimously to extend the district’s contract with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. at the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday at district headquarters. The current contract, due to expire at the end of the current school year, was signed in 2015 and was amended in 2016. The contract extension would see First Student providing services to the district for the next two school years, expiring on June 30, 2020. Unit 5 originally began its contract with First Student in 2012.

In addition to providing timely service getting students to and from their school “in a timely manner,” First Student agreed to a contract which has within it “penalties for non-performance.”

Among the infractions which could bring on those penalties: Not having bus service on any scheduled route; Drivers failing to show for a charter route; and failure to provide a “properly licensed/trained driver.” Those last two come with penalties of $250 per occurrence and $150 per occurrence, respectfully.

As a few Board members spoke after the vote, Mark Bohl, location manager, and Chris Coyle, area general manager for the transportation company, sat and listened. “I want to say that with regard to the services they have provided this year, particularly, their accuracy, their timeliness, Mark Bohl and his crew and the drivers did a heck of a job,” said Mark Daniel, district superintendent, referred to the days when below freezing temperatures were the norm earlier in the new semester.

Coyle will be replacing Bob Rutkowski, who had been dealing with the district’s issues previously and is retiring at the end of the school year.

“I think there’s a new culture with us with First Student with the services they are providing Unit 5,” Daniel said, adding it was a culture “that was saying they wanted to know how do we help our kids first and foremost.” Communication between the district and the busing provider has been improved, Daniel said, including establishing a committee made up of both district and bus company officials.

After the vote, Board Member Mike Trask said that after the issues that arose on Aug. 17, 2016 with late buses among the problems experienced that first day of that school year, he didn’t think the two sides would be sitting together to pass the extension at this meeting. He credited Bohl with turning the situation around in terms of helping get dependable drivers and working on routes among the items the district insisted First Student fix if the contract was to continue at that time.

“Doing this re-instilled my faith in your organization,” Trask told Bohl and Coyle. “There’s been a lot of understanding and a lot of change on the part of people,” Trask added.” I appreciate where we are today.”

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker thanked Bohl and Coyle for the efforts employed in training drivers because she said the Board has not heard of as many issues as they had at the time of the problems a year and a half ago.

Board Member David W. Fortner suggested that First Student continue working to tighten its ties with the district’s Skyward information system to be able to keep information about bus routes as current as possible.

“We’ve come a long way, and to be able to be sitting here looking at an extension is a result of your hard work and, hopefully, that will continue within your organization,” Board Member Joe Cleary told the men.

Unit 5 mapAgreement Nearly Terminated In 2016: At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, parents and students alike experienced frustration with late buses among other issues. The end result was the resignation of First Student’s location manager within days of the school year starting. He was replaced roughly a month later by Bohl, a former military man and former Caterpillar employee. When the current school year began, Bohl and his team made sure routes were covered and there were enough drivers for the roughly 128 routes the company started with.

In addition, in September 2016 after the problems emerged and the district saw little improvement, Board members gave First Student a Nov. 1 deadline to correct the issues that resulted or risk the Board voting to terminate the contract ahead of the anticipated expiration date.

Summer School, Autism Camp Get Approval: Among the items on the meeting’s consent agenda which was unanimously approved, was a summer session which will run Mondays through Thursdays, as will a camp session for autistic students. Both programs will run June 18-July 12, with no sessions on July 4 and 5 for the Independence Day holiday.

Unit 5 Withdrawing From CIRBN: Also as part of the omnibus agenda, Board members approved the district withdrawing from participation as members of the board of the Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network, also known as CIRBN. The district’s reason for withdrawing is because E-Rate, a telecommunication service, and CIRBN are both vendors which service the district. Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, explained Unit 5 was withdrawing from CIRBN to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest resulting from the district currently receiving partial reimbursement for internet costs from E-Rate. E-Rate provides internet use at district schools, Hickman explained.

“We thought people could perceive a conflict,” Hickman said. “We felt if other vendors were to see that relationship, they might not feel the bidding process would be fair and competitive.” He said eliminating Unit 5 being perceived as having an advantage over other groups in bidding for services was the main cause for the withdrawal. Hickman said Unit 5 doesn’t benefit from the relationship with CIRBN and withdrawing from the group would cement that notion.

Hickman said Unit 5 receives roughly $100,000 from E-Rate.

Closed Session Followed Meeting: The Board’s meeting began at 5:30p.m.and lasted 14 minutes and was followed by a closed door session permitted by law to discuss, as stated in the agenda, “Self evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics, when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.”

By Steve Robinson | January 22, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonOn Saturday, the Twin Cities honored two young people whose time has been spent not just helping others but also foster tolerance, understanding, exclusivity, and showing a dedication to service – ideals promoted and lived by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 42nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Luncheon was held at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal. Roughly 800 people attended the event which was emceed by Normal Town Council Member Chemberly Cummings.

This year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Awards went to two young people who both attend high schools in Normal. The honoree for the Town of Normal is Xavier Higgins, a senior at Normal Community West High School. The City of Bloomington’s honoree is Jordyn Blythe, a senior at University High School.

Xavier Higgins: While at Normal West, Xavier Higgins has volunteered with the Best Buddies Program, working his way to serving on the group’s Board. According to the group’s website, the organization was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver which has grown from one original chapter at Georgetown University to more than 2,300 chapters worldwide, positively impacting the lives of over 1.1 million people with and without intellectual disabilities. Higgins works with other students involved in the program to help foster meaningful friendships between students and assist students who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

In doing so, the program helps those students Best Buddies benefit from by being able to develop life skills. As a leader within the program, Higgins has dedicated himself to increasing student participation and volunteerism in the program among the students at Normal West.

Higgins admitted that prior to joining Best Buddies, he hadn’t had much exposure to students with disabilities. “One day, sitting at lunch, I saw this poster for Best Buddies, and I felt something in my heart that said, ‘Hey – why don’t you just go and try it out and see how it goes,’ and I ended up loving it.”

“I have learned from this experience that no matter who they are or where they are from that everyone’s the same because we all have dreams and aspirations, and we all want to have a good time,” Higgins explained. Xavier is the son of Andrew and Naiomi Higgins. Higgins said he’s a fan of technology and wants to help others learn how they can benefit from it.

Jordyn Blythe: A senior at University High School, Jordyn Blythe’s efforts have involved activities which look at changing others’ lives for the better. That included co-founding an organization called Serve Plus One which offers teens opportunities for service to others. In addition, the members discuss and reflect on their work being done. Jordyn has also helped found the Black Student Union at the school, where the members address social justice issues.

Jordyn is also the teen legislative chair for Jack And Jill of America. According to its website, Jack and Jill of America, Inc., “is a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2 – 19, dedicated to nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.”

She has also been involved with efforts concerning the Home Sweet Home Mission and BroMenn Medical Center. She said she has been participating in public service since she was small but her first formal effort was with the local March of Dimes Walk at age 10.

“I love working with the March of Dimes, and I love working with kids,” Jordyn said. Even with all she has listed being involved with, she also finds time to volunteer at the Children’s Discovery Museum in Uptown Normal. She does these things she said, because “being able to make a difference in people’s lives is really important.”

Blythe credits her parents, Marcel and Kia Blythe for instilling the volunteering instinct within her.

Higgins and Blythe don’t just have volunteering and being honored for it in common. When asked about their college plans, both say they are still mulling options as to where they will attend classes after high school.

Knecht Advises “Vote For Hope”: James A. Knecht, a Justice of the Appellate Court, Fourth District, who has been a judicial officer for 42 years, was the guest speaker at the luncheon. Judge Knecht won the Town of Normal’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award in 2000. Knecht encouraged attendees, among other things, to not abstain from being involved in the political process if their goal is to make things better for their fellow citizens.

He asked attendees “to cast aside fear and vote for hope.”

It would appear that even though they aren’t of voting age yet, Xavier Higgins and Jordyn Blythe have been doing just that – by their actions voting for hope that what they are doing through their work will not just benefit the members of the groups they belong and serve. But that what they have been doing will continue to help fellow and future students, and by extension of their actions, help their community as a whole.