By Steve Robinson | February 28, 2018 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – During what he called “an ad-lib” presentation, Jim Hayek, Jr., president of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, announced that a job transfer to Arizona would be causing him to step down from the Board either at the end of May or early June. Hayek, employed by State Farm Insurance, has been president this current school year, and a Board member for three years.

One thing Hayek said he is proud of was “providing students a number of ways to connect with the district, whether it’s in extra curricular activities or in the classroom or co-curricular activities.” Such opportunities provide students a way to connect to their school, Hayek said. From such connections, students find goals and a direction for their lives, Hayek added.

Providing such things “is one thing I’m proud of the district for in many different ways,” Hayek said. But for Hayek, such opportunities also have him fearful, he said, because “we are in times where, if our budget doesn’t improve, there are programs that might be at risk.” He said the district is going “to have to spend additional dollars on mental health issues” for students, the recent shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day where 17 people were shot to death by a gunman.

He said the needs which the district must address would come from a district budget which currently “is not growing at a pace that we need it to grow to keep up with these demands.”

Hayek said he made the comments so that the “community will have an awareness I want it to have,” and that the district’s “ability to great things for kids” was, in his words, “at risk.”

Following the meeting, Hayek told reporters his new job “will be a new adventure, but it’s going to be hard to leave Unit 5 behind.” Hayek said he would have wanted to wait until after next year to make any kind of move, as his son will be a senior in high school next year, but, he added, “The timing is just right for that move. Our family is excited.”

He said “keeping the strategic plan for the district alive” was what he considered his greatest accomplishment since being on the Board.

Under State law, the district will have 45 days from the date Hayek’s resignation takes effect to appoint a successor. That person, after taking office, will have to formally run for the seat in a primary election next spring.

In addition to approving a resolution to issue $13 million in taxable education warrants, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board heard a trio of “good news” reports to start their meeting off on March 28 at district headquarters.

Public Comment Concerns Normal Community West Coaching Change: Board members approved the hiring of Nathan Fincham as the new head coach of Normal Community West High School’s varsity football team. Fincham was an assistant to Darren Hess, who resigned from the post in December. While approval of Fincham to the job was unanimous, a resident with concerns addressed Board members during the meeting’s public comments segment.

David Cobb told Board members making such a change “wasn’t something to be taken lightly,” and added he believed neither the school’s principal, David Johnson, or Athletic Director Stan Lewis have displayed “the leadership or concern for our African American students.” Cobb added.

Cobb said hiring Fincham would run the risk of repeating issues faced by black teammates under Hess. “By placing the current candidate as your new head coach, whom was part of the former varsity football staff, we are running the risk of the same nepotism and systemic bias as before,” Cobb explained. “It is my recommendation that we select a coach, not from the staff of a head coach who was recently terminated.” He also pointed out that neither Normal West’s football or boys’ basketball teams have ever been led by black coaches.

In an impromptu interview session with reporters following his remarks to the Board, Cobb said boys were transferring out of Normal West’s football program for various reasons. When pressed by reporters for specific reasons, he stated, “I’ll let you figure out why that is.”

In January, several Normal West football families and booster club members attended a Board meeting seeking information about Hess’ departure from the football team. At the time, district officials admitted having concerns regarding how Normal West’s Gridiron Club boosters group spent its money. At issue was whether booster dollars improperly went to Hess’ assistant coaches. Those same parents and boosters also sought an explanation for a closed door session two months earlier, asked for by Cobb and others. The state’s Open Meetings law allows public bodies to go into closed session to discuss specific employees.

Wednesday’s Unit 5 meeting agenda indicated Hess himself sought to the closed session’s minutes using a Freedom of Information Act request, which the district denied.

New Athletic Director Coming To NCHS July 1: NCHS will have a new athletic director effective July 1. Nic Kearfott comes to NCHS from Dekalb High School where he serves as the Athletic Director. Prior to DHS, he opened the athletic department at Woodstock North High School and was the Athletic Director there for seven years. Kearfoot has held an Athletic Director position for 14 years, and has held a seat on the Illinois Athletic Directors Association Executive Board of Directors since 2009. He is married to Stephanie Kearfott and has three boys Connor, Collin, and Cooper, ages 12, 9, and 6, respectfully. Kearfoot is an El Paso native. He and his wife have family in the Bloomington-Normal area.

He is replacing Mike Clark who is retiring. Clark has been A.D. at NCHS twice, first when the school’s new building opened in 2003, and later serving as A.D. at Parkside Junior High School for seven years before returning to NCHS as A.D. two years ago to replace Andy Turner who took a similar post at Maine South High School.

Darren Cooper Named Principal At Parkside Junior High School: With Dan Lamboley having been promoted from being a principal to director of secondary education at the district office, the school he oversaw, Parkside Junior High School, was going to need a new principal. District officials tabbed Darrin Cooper, principal at Oakdale Elementary to succeed Lamboley effective July 1. Lamboley assumes his new duties that day as well.

In addition, Shane Hill, assistant principal at Normal West will become Associate Principal at Kingsley Junior High School. Stacie France, assistant principal at Chiddix Junior High School will become principal at KJHS. All of these moves become effective July 1.

Evans Jr. High School’s “Good News”: Gina Tenuta, associate principal and athletic director at George L. Evans Junior High School, presented the school’s latest champions to Board members during a Good News report, as she introduced them to the school’s Class 8-4A Boys Basketball team. On Feb. 15, the team traveled to Urbana Middle School to compete in the Illinois Elementary School Association 8-4A State Championship Game where they faced an undefeated Urbana Middle School squad on their home court.

The EJHS Eagles held off Urbana the entire game, never letting the lead get away from them on their way to a final score of 45-37. As a result of the win, the Eagles finished the season with a 22-5 record to earn the first boys’ basketball State Championship in EJHS’ history.

EJHS entered the championship quest with a first round 42-39 win over University Park Crete Monee, which advanced them to a semifinal victory over Bolingbrook’s Jane Addams Junior High, which the Eagles won, 45-38. From there, EJHS advanced to the showdown against Urbana.

Members of the team are: Shea Zbrozek, Dax Yosten, Titan Virgil, Chase Adams, D.J. Starr, Jamarcus Webb, Aaron Eiker, Carson Beal, Jono Edmonson, Tyler Dwinal, Camden Maas, Ian Bliss, Ben Bittner, Joe Zeman, and Kaden Stork. Team managers were Parker Michels and Ohm Patel. The team’s head coach is Nate Sefton. Brian Duggins, and Alex Kepuraitis are the assistant coaches.

Kingsley Jr. High School Doubles Its “Good News”: Kingsley Junior High School doubled up on its good news reports to the Board at this meeting, as Principal Shelley Erickson introduced Board members to Diavion Smith, a seventh grader. Diavion was selected to be one of a number of keynote speakers at the annual “Be Great” Breakfast. Diavion has been a Club member since he was six-years-old. He and the other keynote speakers addressed an audience of more than 500 people who attended the breakfast, a fundraiser for the organization.

During his presentation, Diavion shared the benefits of participating in the Boys & Girls Club, including mentoring, learning leadership skills, and making lifelong friends. Diavion received a standing ovation at the end of his talk.

Erickson’s next introduction was for Board members to meet KJHS seventh grader Froylan Racey. In January, Froylan was selected to play the euphonium for the All-Illinois Junior Band at the University of Illinois. During the competition, judges were not informed which school students attended, and students were required to submit recordings of two solos and a chromatic scale in the full range of the instrument.

Froylan practiced before school with KJHS Music Teacher Becky Meadows as well as investing many hours practicing on his own. Approximately 80 students representing over 70 schools were selected to participate.

By Steve Robinson | February 24, 2018 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

It was obvious Lexington High School sophomore Jayden Standish had a following at the COUNTRY Financial 3-Point Shootout at Redbird Arena on Thursday, Feb. 22. Family, friends, teammates from four sports she’s active in, and even Lexington’s superintendent of schools turned out to see how far she would get in her attempt to qualify to compete for a chance to be part of and win the competition’s “Queen Of The Hill” competition.

But none of those folks who came that day could have predicted what they witnessed when Jayden, daughter of John and Sara Standish of Lexington, took to the right wing position of the arena’s north basket for her preliminary turn at this event.

As family and friends cheered, and teammates held Fathead-style signs of Jayden’s smiling face to show their support, Jayden went to work to try to sink as many free throws as she could.

The first rack of balls at the right wing position on the floor Jayden shot missed the mark – slightly concerning considering the circumstances if not the distraction of the crowd in a larger venue (usually, when she is shooting, there is no audience and she is either with her team coaches or by herself). At the second rack at the top of the key, she missed the first two shots. But her fans continued cheering even if concern was setting in.

Then she saw her eighth shot – the third from the second rack – go through the hoop. Then saw her ninth, and then her 10th followed. As she moved on to the last rack at the left wing position, the cheering picked up – and so did Jayden’s momentum.

She drained her last five shots from that last post, as sportscasters like to describe such successful shots, finishing with 8 baskets and the entire north end of the arena cheering her on and then hoping she would advance to the tie-breaker round. In that round, which followed, where contestants shoot strictly from the wings, Jayden hit 6-of-10.

“The lights here are very bright so the basket is kind of hard to see,” Jayden pointed out to reporters who’ve themselves have never taken any free throw shots, so what she was explaining was no excuse. It was just a statement of fact.

To compensate, Jayden said, “I just shot and did it from memory and hope it goes in.”

Jayden said she was “super excited” for Friday’s next round, and hoping her supporters could all come back after being there Thursday.

Her Lady Minutemen coaches, head coach Bill Elias and assistant coach Shane Little, were also on hand for Jayden’s turn Thursday. “It’s been an on-going process all year long,” Elias explained. He said that included not just shooting but discussing form and follow-through.

Sophomore teammate Jules Grunloh said she and the other girls on the team weren’t concerned by Jayden’s cold start. “We believed in her,” Grunloh said. Joining Grunloh to witness Jayden’s feat Thursday were sophomores Layken McGuire and senior Kaitlyn Little.

Jayden closed the press conference Friday by saying she hoped to return to the Shootout event in the next two years “and have the same experience or better.”

There is no doubt that her family, friends, teammates, and other folks around town, having experienced this year’s event with Jayden, also share that sentiment.

By Steve Robinson | February 23, 2018 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Lexington High School sophomore Jayden Standish knows a little something about shooting a basketball and winning basketball games, especially when there is pride at stake. Jayden, now a sophomore at Lexington High School , was part of Lexington Junior High School ’s 8th grade team that won an Illinois Elementary School Association championship two years ago.

One would think the degree of composure one would need to win such an event would carry over to a player’s high school playing time given just a little effort and a lot of guidance from the team coaching staff, and of course, practice. In LHS’ case this year, the Lady Minutemen got as far as the Sectional Championship with Standish lending her talents.

But when a player participates in a 3-Point Shootout, it’s strictly a solitary effort – just the player racing the clock while trying to sink as many of 15 basketballs as possible from three different stations on the court in 45 seconds. Of the 31 girls in four groups at the COUNTRY Financial 3-Point Shootout, held at Redbird Arena on Illinois State University’s campus, who shot in the first round on Feb. 22, Standish was slated to shoot 26th in that order.

When she went through the qualifying rounds to get to State, she made 8 baskets at Sectionals and 10 baskets at Regionals. So her performance to get through to the 3-Point Shootout at State Tournament here had practically everybody she knew in Lexington buzzing. Not only did her teammates from LHS’ basketball came to see how she fared, but so did the girls from three other team sports she is involved in. Those would be Softball, Volleyball, and Track and Field.

Her folks, John and Sara Standish, were there, too. Even Lexington School District Superintendent, Dwight Stricklin, came out to witness how far she would go.

Jayden has been practicing in the school gym, and getting tips from her team coaches, head coach Bill Elias and assistant coach Shane Little. As her turn began, Jayden missed all five of her shots from the right wing position where all contestants start from. Moving to the top of the free throw circle, she missed her first two shots, as well.

But her third shot from that mark went in. So did her fourth. Then her fifth, indicating what might be a turnaround. When she got to the left wing shooting position and the last cart of five balls, she could see her folks, the crowd of fans, her friends, teammates, and onlookers had joined in on the thrill as she put the remaining balls through the hoop for a total score of 8 to qualify for a 10-shot second round with three other girls at that basket.

In the 10-shot runoff, she sank 6 baskets and qualified for the four-player showdown Friday following the first Class 1A semifinal game. Winning that shootout would make her a “Queen Of The Court” contestant who would compete on March 3 here against three other girls – one each from Class 2A, 3A, and 4A.

“She’s always had a drive to excel,” said her father, John, who watched his daughter recoup from the icy start. When the qualifying round was over, John summed up the event by saying, “She never gives up. That’s what she does.”

The difference between the rims of the baskets at Redbird Arena compared to those at LHS had a part in why that opening score was challenging,” Jayden admitted, explaining the rims at the high school “aren’t as stiff.”

“I’m super excited for tomorrow,” Jayden said as she looked forward to Friday’s showdown with three other girls.

At Friday’s finale of the Class 1A 3-Point Shootout event which followed a semifinal between Okaw Valley and Stockton, Jayden sank 7 baskets, tying her for second place with Hannah Krumwiede from Carrollton. Logyn Little from Winchester West Central powered through to the victory with 11 baskets.

At a news conference following the finale, Jayden said she tried blocking out the crowd and the fact she and the other girls would have cameras following their moves at the event.

Jayden said the entire experience “has just been great. We’ve all had big support systems the entire time we’ve been here. Being a sophomore, I hope to be able to come back here these next two years and have the same experience or better.”

By Steve Robinson | February 21, 2018 - 8:25 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

I learned to play chess from a childhood friend, John Crew, when we were in fifth grade. John was, I would say at the time a very accomplished player — especially if I was the one he was teaching. I lost to John every time except for one draw (a moral victory at best for me). Sadly, I’m rusty at the game having not played in a while.

So I absolutely would be in worse shape if I played today against young people who achieved playing well enough to get to Illinois High School Association State Chess Tournament held at Peoria Civic Center Feb. 9 and 10.

All five Intercity schools had teams qualify for the tourney with Normal Community West High School, under head coach Vicki Kafer and assistant coach Garrett Scott, finishing 21st out of 120 teams who came from all over the State.

For Bekah Nielsen, daughter of Adam Nielsen and Dayna Brown Nielsen, and a junior playing chess for the Wildcats and being at the State Tournament “was really fun and we wanted to do well. At the end of the day, we played our best and that’s all we could ask for. Getting 21st was something we were happy about.”

“We were happy we finished high,” Bekah said. With the State Tourney done, some of the team members from West are now gearing up to compete at Nationals in Nashville, Tenn. this spring.

Bekah, being female, said she has discovered she not only needs to take on her mostly male opponents at tournaments but must also take on a perception that lingers in the chess world that girls just don’t do as well as guys at the game.

Her advice to girls who want to play: ”Just keep playing, just keep practicing. You will win some and you will lose some, but you’ve got to keep going to tournaments and you’ve got to keep going to the practices. You will get better and have a chance to go to Sectionals which can lead to getting to State and trying for a title.”

Bekah said she would like to play chess in college and she wants to follow in the footsteps of older brother, Benjamin, now in college, who was also on West’s chess team when he was there.

Bekah’s teammate, Clayton Davis, son of Ben and Nickie Davis, is a junior on the team and said going to State “was pretty fun. We played against teams we hadn’t played before.”

Joseph Kessinger, son of Sheila Kessinger, and another junior on the team said kids start to learn the game in kindergarten, as he did, although Davis didn’t until he was in fourth grade. Kessinger said at the age he started, “Chess is different than anything else offered to kids at that age. When I play, I feel like I have control over my own game. I don’t have to depend on someone else to succeed.”

It appears Bekah has the right approach to this issue, from what I can see. It’s an approach and an attitude she is using to cope with naysayers she encounters who question how well girls do at a chess board. Hers is an attitude which will serve her well once she gets into the real world beyond chess, too.

Overall Results For Twin Cities Schools: Normal Community West, under head coach Vicki Kafer and assistant coach Garrett Scott, finished highest among Twin City schools placing 21st. Among those who made it to State in addition to Nielsen were other juniors including Gabe Chambers, Jon Spaulding, Zach Gilliam, Henry Lovellette, Sawyer Price, Davis, and Kessinger. Also qualifying for State were sophomores Tori Kafer, Jolie Pressburger, Naaman Rivera, and Austin Shillage.

University High under head coach Gretchen Zaitzeff and assistant coach Megan Flueri-Somers, finished 25th. . Pioneers Team members are: Seniors Vish B-Karthekeyan, Brian Cordero, Jack Dawson, Tanner Gillam, Nick Rolley, and Jared Schuckman; Sophomore Tasha Schuckman; and freshmen Grant Antink, Xhemal Bardhi, Jade Bates, Suhas Nelaturi, and Joseph Suh.

Bloomington High School finished 26th under head coach Allen Hays at this year’s event. Team members included: Seniors Mihir Bafna, Jason Enevoldsen, Prithiv Kumar; Juniors Prathik Gowda, Henry Lopez, Noah Pounds, Harrison Slotky, and Aditya Thakur; Sophomores

Selman Aydogdu and Sriram Vakkalanka; and freshmen Daevion Givan and Hari Kumarakrishnan.

Normal Community High School placed 33rd out of 126 teams this year under head coach

Chandra Darbhakul. Members of NCHS’ team are: Seniors Tarun Maddineni, Micheal Mesquita, Shanku Nair, and Nithin Sebastian; Sophomores Srikar Annapragada, Nikhil Kuricheti, Abhiru Raut, and Nathaniel Sobery; and freshmen Rahul Darbhakul, Eli Exner, Ashwath Ramesh, and Vasanth Ramesh.

Bloomington Central Catholic High School under head coach Doug Michlich and assistant coach Jim Taber, brought up the rear for the Twin Cities’ schools at the tournament placing 75th. Team members included: Seniors Dillon Manness, John-Charles Micklich,Ryan Jonas, and Andrew Smith; Juniors Finn Rubey and Reese Seidl; Sophomores Ethan Catt, Reagan Simpson, and Phillip Yu; and Freshmen Alex Brouillette and Owen Macrowski.

By Steve Robinson | February 19, 2018 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – If you are, or know the parent of a child or young person in a sport that doesn’t have its own facility to cater to those who play the sport, such as Soccer, for example, you’ve heard the conversation before. Those parents yearn for a site their kids can play at within the Twin Cities. Up until recently, there was a facility near Central Illinois Regional Airport which catered to young Soccer players until the Federal Aviation Administration took over the land.

At their regularly-scheduled session Monday, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to authorize funds for and gave the City Manager authority to enter into an agreement with Clearwater, Fla.-based Sports Facilities Advisory, LLC (SFA) to conduct a feasibility study and economic impact analysis of a multi-sport facility being placed in Town.

Simply because the study is being done should not be an indication a facility is in the works, Council members pointed out as they approved spending an amount not to exceed $47,000 for SFA to conduct the study. “Just because the study says ‘your community is prime for a facility like this’ doesn’t mean we’ll do one,” Council Member Jeff Fritzen said.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz said studying the need for possibly needing such a facility is worth the cost because of all the other events which use area facilities. She cited the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known by the nickname, “The Classic,” as another event that draws fans from out-of-town when held annually the four days after Christmas.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy called the study a “pricey idea” but worth it for what is being looked into.

Four firms submitted proposal requests to be selected for the assignment. The firms also had to make in-person presentations to a committee made up of Town officials before the final selection was made as to which firm was selected.

SFA, which has been in business since 2003, will send representatives to make three in-person visits to Normal as part of their research for their final report.

There was public comment before the discussion from two citizens – one for and one opposed. Former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer spoke against the expenditure, saying no investor had shown interest in a Soccer facility. “If they want Soccer,” Ulmer said, referring to parents, players, and fans who have been seeking a facility, “Have them mount a campaign to rescind order” that would help the local Soccer association put pressure on FAA to let them reuse the land. He cited President Donald Trump seems to favor such actions nationwide.

“I would support this because it would be a community amenity,” said Bob Kohlhase with an opposing view. “It would bring in dollars from visitors.”

Tax Levy For Rivian Motors Abated: By a unanimous vote, Council members approved an ordinance abating the 2017 property tax levy for Rivian Automotive. Doing so was in accordance with the 2016 economic incentive agreement the Town signed with the auto manufacturer. To receive the abatement, Rivian successfully completed a couple of stipulations sought by the Town: To complete its purchase of the former Mitsubishi Motors of North America on the Town’s west end; and invest at least $500,000 in project expenses, but did not include the cost of the former MMNA property. The Town estimates the abated property tax for the Rivian land will equal $74,900 for the Town and $32,300 for the Normal Public Library.

Subway Lease Amendment Approved: With the exception of two omnibus items pulled for discussion, the remaining five items on that list were approved unanimously. The first item pulled from the omnibus agenda concerned an amendment to the lease agreement the Town had with Subway restaurants concerning the franchise operated in Uptown Station. Council members unanimously approved a lease agreement concerning rent to be paid to the Town by Subway Real Estate, LLC, the operators of the Station’s Subway restaurant which has been in operation since Uptown Station opened in 2012.

Subway Real Estate LLC, operator of the Subway restaurant in Uptown Station, was seeking to renew its lease with the Town to continue operations but was seeking, among other things, to extend the base term of the agreement so that it would expire in 2027.

In addition, the ownership of the Subway in Uptown Station has changed owners, and they were seeking to change its rent to fixed monthly payments. Currently, the rent, according to a Town Staff report “is greater of 10% of gross profit or $1,400 per square foot.” Currently, Subway is paying a monthly rent of $1,927.33. The Town has another concern in that the restaurant can only take in a certain amount of money from the restaurant because Uptown Station was constructed in part with the use of tax exempt bonds.

The other item removed from the omnibus agenda concerned an ordinance amending the Town’s liquor code giving restaurant and bar owners the opportunity to serve as early as 9a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Currently, those establishments must not open until 11a.m.

Only the following establishments with the following types of licenses would be affected by the change: Class B (Consumption on premises-Beer only); Class C (Consumption on premises-Beer and Wine); Class D (Consumption on premises-all liquor); Class D (Consumption on premises-all liquor); Class E-Hotels, and Class M-Brewpubs

Under the proposed ordinance, establishment in these categories can now begin sales on Saturday and Sunday at 9a.m. But Fritzen objected to the hours in the amendment and asked if it could not be altered so that the hour serving could begin would be changed to 10a.m. The Council voted down that change by a 5-2 count with Fritzen and Council Member Kathleen Lorenz casting opposing votes. When it came to the original amendment, to begin serving at 9a.m., Council members approved the start time change by a 6-1 vote, with Fritzen voting against it.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Feb. 5, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 14, 2018

• A motion approving hourly rates and direct costs for 2018 with Clark-Dietz, Inc.: Crawford, Murphy, & Tilly, Inc.; Farnsworth Group; Lewis, Yockey and Brown, Inc.; Maurer-Stutz, Inc.; and Wight and Company to provide engineering services for various Town departments.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2018 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC (RGE).

• A resolution approving a salary schedule adjustment for classified employees to reflect the cost of living adjustment.