By Steve Robinson | April 29, 2018 - 7:06 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – On those Sundays when he has to go into enemy territory south of Green Bay , into Chicago ’s Soldier Field, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can almost count on there being some Packers faithful among the normally-antagonistic crowd at such away games.

But invited to be the guest speaker at the 25th annual “Evening With The Stars” benefit for Heartland Red Cross April 24, when the veteran quarterback who will enter his 14th season with his team this fall asked those attending the annual fundraiser how many present were fans of his team, it seemed over half of the 1,100 people present responded. It was estimated the silver anniversary event would take in enough to surpass the $230,000 raised by the event last year.

Following dinner, with questions posed to him by WJBC Radio play-by-play man Dick Luedke, Rodgers said this appearance was not his first trip to the area. He said he had had breakfast at The Cracker Barrel on Bloomington’s West side with teammate long snapper Brett Goode as the pair drove from Goode’s home town of Fort Smith, Ark. back to Green Bay on two separate occasions, and both times, fans who spotted him picked up the tab for his meal.

He said being associated with winning a Super Bowl and later appearing in commercials for State Farm Insurance raised his public profile. In the State Farm ads, he appears with a dog – a subject he said he received plenty of queries about as to whether it was his own dog used in the ads, among other curiosities he has had to address from fans. “It wasn’t my dog,” Rodgers said. “And they wouldn’t sell it to me,” he quipped to the laughing approval of the crowd.

Luedke prodded applause from the audience when he asked the 34-year-old Rodgers, “I was just wondering who you were going to be rooting for in the Indy 500?” The obvious answer is his current girlfriend, Danica Patrick. Not mentioning Patrick by name, Rodgers responded by mentioning her team sponsor, saying, “The Go-Daddy Team,” referring to the internet page provider. It was another line that brought cheers from the gathering.

He reminded the crowd he visited the University of Illinois between his junior and senior year at Pleasant Valley High School in his native Chico , Calif. U. of I. offered him a scholarship, but Rodgers, instead, opted to go to California-Berkeley. The crowd applauded again when Rodgers mentioned his first start as a college quarterback was at Memorial Stadium in Champaign when the California Golden Bears played a road game against the Illini in 2003, a game the Golden Bears won, 31-24. He said his college playing years taught him a lot about assuming a leadership role on a team.

About his decision to enter the NFL draft after his junior year at Cal , Rodgers lamented, “I wished I had stayed another year. There’s nothing like the college experience. It’s a special time in your life, because you don’t have to have the responsibilities that you do as a professional, and there’s nothing like that college atmosphere.”

“There’s a different type of pride when you play for your college,” Rodgers said, adding that type of pride has carried over when he suits up in the Packers’ green and gold, or, he added, in Bears’ colors, too.

At first without mentioning Packers great Brett Favre by name, Rodgers said of his first couple seasons in the league was “playing behind a legend. That’s because not only did I get to fill out my body and my mind, but I got to see firsthand what greatness looked like. I know that you guys appreciated what Brett did on the field.”

He said unlike a number of first round quarterbacks who might have been thrown into tough game situations, Rodgers said, “I got to wait and watch and study and pick out things I liked that I wanted to incorporate into my own play.” By doing that, he added, he also saw intricacies of the game he wanted to do apart from how he had seen them done, as well. “I’m thankful for those three years,” he stated about the time he spent observing Favre.

He said those years he served as Favre’s backup helped him receive “a dose of humility,” which he said everyone needs now and again. He said NFL’s Draft process puts players in a position where they need to compare themselves to other players involved in that process so they will stand out to teams. Those first few seasons after the Packers selected him in the draft, gave him “a big dose of humility, and I needed it, and it was on national TV, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

He said that experience “also fueled me because I thought of all the teams who passed up on me,” including the Bears. Mention of the Bears under those circumstances brought laughter from the audience. In addition for playing for an area team in Wisconsin , Rodgers also holds a small ownership stake in NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. During the event, an audience member informed Rodgers the Bucks won over Boston in their first round playoff series, giving the Bucks a 2 games-to-1 edge.

Luedke asked whether Rodgers believed he would have been having the career he had experienced if he had given the starting quarterback job right after being drafted. Rodgers said his first couple pro seasons in Green Bay in 2006 and 2007 “were vital to my development and that set me up to have some success.”

Addressing his experience in aiding the Red Cross, Rodgers said it began with his family as a young person. “When I was a kid, it was important for us to volunteer and get involved in our communities,” he began. He joking compared his family getting their kids involved in such activities to team workouts players do in the spring. He said his family tried to do “two outreaches” for charities every year.

“I have to take my hat off to you,” Rodgers told the gathering. “What you’re doing is phenomenal. You’re pouring your heart and your life and your emotions into this and I just want to applaud you for your grit.” The statement was another of the night’s applause lines from Rodgers.

Prior to his appearance, Rodgers posed for pictures with select fans, and spoke with athletes from some of Illinois State University sports teams.

By Steve Robinson | April 27, 2018 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Heyworth Buzz

When “Senior Awards Night” at Heyworth High School ended Wednesday night, there had to be the usual relief by those just days from graduating that they could see the light at the end of the tunnel as they anxiously awaited their college or vocational careers.

And thanks to the “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship Fund, two HHS seniors received a little help to getting those careers started. The “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship Fund was established to honor Noah Wiseman who was an HHS freshman when he died in 2014 at age 16. Approached by family friend Julie Day, Noah’s parents, Clay and Sue Wiseman, along with Noah’s older brother, Kyle, and his wife, Jill, established the “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship Fund as a means of honoring Noah, who was an HHS freshman when he died.

Each year, the committee members, which include the four Wisemans, Day, and her husband, Jeff, create an essay question for the students to write about. Committee members deliberate themselves on the subject of the question before a question is finally selected by the committee to present to students, Clay and Sue Wiseman explained.

Sue Wiseman said a total of 18 students submitted essays. Committee members read the essays reducing that to the top three, the top two earning the scholarships.

This year’s question: “What life lesson will you take with you from Heyworth High School?” This year’s “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship winners are friends who knew each other in grade school and strengthen their bond of friendship in junior high and high school: Riley Ryburn and Amber Tomlin.

Riley Ryburn: Riley, daughter of Lori Becker, Heyworth, and Phillip Ryburn, Murfreesboro, Tenn., explained, “The main thing I learned was life is going to give you, like, obstacles and ups and downs and it’s up to you to get back up.” For Riley, that has meant being part of helping her mother with some health issues related to cancer. She said she has had to help with her mother’s care at times. She said her gist of the essay she wrote is that getting back up after such setbacks is what she learned while attending HHS.

Riley knew Noah Wiseman when they were in junior high school, living in the same subdivision. Riley said she wrote about how caring for her mother led her to the career path she’s seeking in nursing. To that end, she will use her scholarship money to attend Southeastern Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. Her career goal at this point is to become a Nurse Practitioner. She is graduating HHS with a 4.0 Grade Point Average.

“I’m really grateful for this,” Riley said of being a scholarship winner. “I don’t think Noah’s family knows how much it means to me.”

Amber Tomlin: For Amber Tomlin, the lesson she said she came away with from her HHS years was that “life is short and people should live it while they can and not wait until something goes wrong to appreciate what you have.” Her view is seen through remembering classmate A. J. Hanlin, who died in a traffic accident in 2014. For Amber, before Hanlin’s death, “Everything was running smoothly,” she said. “I hadn’t experienced any, like, big deaths or illnesses or anything in my family. So I was kind of naïve to think that ‘I’m young and lifer is perfect.’”

But when Hanlin was killed, explained Amber, daughter of Patrick and Lisa Tomlin, she said, “Reality hit me.” Amber is planning to attend St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa where she will major in Nursing.

With healing being the duty a nurse or nurse practitioner has a role in, it seems appropriate that these friends aiming for parallel paths should be honored with these scholarships.

How “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship Began: When they conceived of the scholarship, the Wiseman family’s goal was to raise enough money to give out one $5,000 scholarship. But the outpouring of support that first year allowed there to be two scholarships totaling $5,000 each to be awarded.

When the Wisemans agreed to establish the scholarship, Sue Wiseman explained, she and her husband had a few conditions before setting about honoring their son in this manner. The first was any money collected must never come to the Wiseman house. The second condition was that the contest be closed to senior members of HHS’ football team in its first year, 2015, because Noah was on the football team at the time of his passing. Since then, it has been awarded to any member of the school’s senior class.

Day, later joined by her husband, Jeff, stepped up to help make good to the Wiseman’s request regarding cash handling.

The Wisemans helped establish the committee that first year in 2015 but did not judge the essays which were turned into HHS’ counseling office and renumbered so as to keep the writer’s identity a secret until it was time to select a winner. Wiseman family members did not serve as judges that first year because of their familiarity with the boys on the team. An independent panel judged the essays. The Wisemans, their son and daughter-in law served as judges starting with essays submitted for 2016.

When they began raising funds for the scholarship, the Wisemans thought $5,000 from friends, neighbors, and strangers would be a nice start for the first year. To their delight, they raised $10,000 – enough for two scholarships. Heyworth’s school board approved the scholarship, and HHS’ guidance office collects the essays and assigns a number to each essay to protect the writer’s anonymity so the judges have no idea which students have written them.

By Steve Robinson | - 12:49 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

With temperatures pushing into the mid-60s or higher this week, I think it’s safe to say spring has finally arrived for real, and that will help us all get out of having that winter doldrums feeling we’ve been experiencing while waiting for it. After all, we still saw snow flurries a short time ago, and although they didn’t stick, it made all of us impatient, I’m sure, to declare an official arrival to spring.

Those students who participate in high school spring sports and fans of those sports were forced to stay off the diamonds for eight days last month because of bad weather at that time, too. And that was right after Normal Community High School’s baseball and softball teams had just returned from their spring break trip to Florida where they had gotten a week’s worth of games in.

For those of us who didn’t head south, waiting for warmer weather became the simpler goal. And local teams found themselves sitting out those eight days as a result of cold conditions.

And the weather has wreaked havoc for teams in other ways besides postponements. “It’s just been awful trying to get games in and scheduling,” explained Wendy Smith, athletic director at University High School. If the weather wasn’t an issue, she said, “When you get a nice day outside, then you couldn’t get officials. Or you get an opponent who can play but you can’t get transportation.” What Smith describes seems to be the pattern for ADs throughout the area.

“It’s been very frustrating for everybody – the kids and the coaches,” she explained, adding, “And now, we’re down to crunch time because we have to get our conference games and intercity games in and there are very few dates we can schedule dates on right now.”

Smith said playing at Central State Eight Conference opponent Jacksonville was helpful because the bad weather line stopped around Lincoln so getting those away games in wasn’t an issue.

Smith said Central State Eight Conference ADs met to decide what the air temperature outside is too cold to play in, explaining Illinois High School Association has a heat index to indicate when it’s too hot for kids to be practicing, as with football in the summer before and during the season, but doesn’t have one for determining what temperature is too cold to play in during the early spring.

“I’ve heard from more than my share of athletic directors and coaches who are frustrated with the weather we’ve had this spring,” admitted Sam Knox, Assistant Executive Director for Baseball at IHSA.

The heat advisory index IHSA uses comes from that organization’s sports medicine advisory committee, Knox said. He added an index for cold weather probably wasn’t considered because the degree of injury or illness to players doesn’t exist if the temperature is in the mid 30s and kids are being active in a sport. He said IHSA leaves the determination of whether or not to play in adversely cold conditions at this time of year up to ADs and head coaches.

As the calendar has turned to May, it looks as though we have rounded the corner, finally, away from winter weather and thoughts of what spring sports action will bring us. Let’s hope those thoughts include plenty of warm, dry days for players, coaches, ADs, and fans alike.

By Steve Robinson | April 26, 2018 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At their regularly-scheduled meeting April 25, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board elected officers for the next year. Barry Hitchins is the new Board president succeeding outgoing president Jim Hayek, Jr. Mike Trask is the new Board vice president, and Taunia Leffler was elected the new secretary. Hayek was not at the meeting and had announced to Board members at the governing body’s last meeting in February he would be resigning from the Board as a result of a job transfer to Phoenix, Ariz.

The new Board members were elected by acclamation.

Increased School Lunch Prices Approved: When the school year revs up again in August, parents and students, and district employees will be paying more as a result of a unanimous omnibus vote once the new officers were seated. Lunch prices will go up by five cents for both students and adults as a result of rising costs and requirements set by Federal Paid Lunch Equity rules. That would boost lunch costs to between $2.15 and $3.35. The change will not affect breakfast prices or the cost of reduced price lunches.

In addition, it will cost students more to attend sports events, with the price of a ticket going up $5, to $20. Instructional fees will not see an increase in cost this year.

Normal West High Doubles Its “Good News”: Prior to the Board elections, Board members heard a pair of “good news” reports from the district’s high schools. From Normal Community West, Associate Principal Angie Codron introduced Board members to teacher Dave Weber who was awarded a $1,000 grant which he will use to purchase additional sensors and “Go Links” which students can use in Psychics classes to conduct inquiry-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM investigations centering on acceleration and friction.

Weber will also use the funds to upgrade a 3D printer he has been using in class. Students belonging to the school’s STEM Club have been designing a variety of objects science teachers need to replace equipment which has been misplaced or worn out.

Codron also introduced Board members to senior Andrea Irving who has won a $1,000 scholarship as one of two Outstanding STEM students in McLean County for 2018. Irving is active in the Normal West group “Girls Who Code” is a national non-profit group dedicated to helping increase and support the number of women who enter the computer science field.

Normal Community High And Normal West High Team Up For “Good News”: Normal Community West and Normal Community High School joined forces for the other item of good news as Codron and NCHS associate principal Nikki Maurer introduced Board members two top finalists, one from each school, from the 2017-2018 Celebrating High School Innovators (CHSI) competition which was held on Illinois State University’s campus on April 7 and 8. This year’s event was the third annual event which recognized ninth through 12th grade students who were eligible to apply in five areas including Arts, Media and Literature, Technology, Engineering and Math, and Health and Nutrition.

The team of Becca Nally from Normal West and Lexi Showalter from NCHS were selected as one of the competition’s five finalists for their project which involved using smart phones for communication. The pair were awarded $1,000 as well as a scholarship.

Standards-Based Grading Discussed: Carmen Bergmann, director of elementary education, and Laura O’Donnell, director of secondary education for the district, presented information to Board members concerning an update concerning how the district will assess grading students beginning over the next two school years. Unit 5 is going to introduce a concept called Standards Based Grading (SBG) to all grade levels over the next two years, the pair explained. They said a partial rollout of SBG took place during this school year with nearly 90 percent of teachers using the method. They said a full rollout of SBG will begin at all elementary grade levels next school year.

At the middle school level, Bergmann and O’Donnell explained, students have a hand in their education from the standpoint of being able to talk to their teachers about and learn about the education process. At the high school level, they explained, characteristics for learning, such as showing respect, being part of a collaborative effort, and showing responsibility are separate matters apart graded on their own merits in addition to grading the finished work for each student.

Chemical Spraying Near Fox Creek Elementary Alarms Parents: Parents of one Fox Creek student in south Bloomington addressed Board members concerned about nearby farmers having recently sprayed chemicals on farmland near the school at a time when students were playing on the school playground. The parent indicated school officials were told by the farmer the herbicide was not harmful, but Board members told the parents the matter would be investigated.

May 9 Meeting To Be At Hoose Elementary: The Board’s next meeting on Wednesday, May 9 will be held at Colene Hoose Elementary School starting at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | April 20, 2018 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, one of the most horrific tragedies since the phenomenon of such events began. I looked to see how far back they went, and it turns out decades, but they seem to have picked up in intensity over the last 20 plus years.

As a result of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day, there have been rallies across the country conducted and ongoing by students wanting an end to such tragedies.

On that day on the front lawn of University High School along Main Street in Normal, roughly 60-75 students, 10 percent or slightly more than the school’s total population, gathered to address the issue and honor those lost at Columbine, Parkland, and other shootings and looking for hope for such events to end.

“Clearly, Columbine was not unique and a change has to be made,” said U-High senior Caroline Pickering, in her speech to the gathering, which began with a moment of silence for Columbine victims and ended with another for Parkland victims. The walkout would only last 17 minutes – one minute for every life lost, student and teachers, at Parkland.

“We are walking out to send a message of solidarity to the schools that have experienced this horrific violence, and to send a message that we want to feel safe and secure in our schools and our communities,” she added.

Fellow senior Emma Noraian pointed out to the gathering that, at the Parkland shooting, student victims had varying interests and promising lives. “This could have been us,” she said. “But it wasn’t. We’re here so that we can be safe at school and to get the education that many students throughout the country and the world have been denied because senseless acts of violence.

“We are calling for a change,” Noraian added. She said they were demonstrating for students who were not allowed to do so.

The session ended with the students chanting, “Spread love, not hate, we just want to graduate.” And understandably, that’s the biggest goal any student has at that age: To graduate, move on to college, and eventually, a career.

I don’t doubt there will be other activities like this one in the future. This issue will, likely, not go away. And at the most, it will fade but not disappear. We all want such violent, tragic events to end. We need them to end. From my point of view, and I don’t own guns, I can understand why the kids are concerned. But I don’t hear a call for guns to be confiscated away from their legal owners. I really don’t.

I hear a cry for the future from our future.

It should be pointed out that Normal-based Unit 5 School District had an institute day for teachers that day and did not hold classes. As with such stories, there are two sides needing heard from. If there is a local high school student who takes issue with such rallies or their mission, let me know.