By Steve Robinson | June 29, 2018 - 10:26 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

This column usually runs from just after the Normal CornBelters season ends at the start of September until the last high school spring sports team we cover has been eliminated from State competition in June. But this past school year, it has stretched into July, having started before Labor Day covering Unit 5 preparing for busing to be revamped. This last column of the school year here gives me a chance to talk about something Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association, both based in Bloomington, would like to put out to folks who have an interest in doing something for the betterment of kids active in sports and a serious belief in how sports help kids: Becoming a referee.

If you’re a person who has been one before but haven’t in a while, IHSA has an online application process, explained Sam Knox, assistant executive director for baseball at IHSA. Knox said that regardless of the sport, “Certainly, we encourage people interested to sign up sooner rather than later so they can study rules and be comfortable with things in order to go out and work a sport.”

IHSA has rules tests and videos that those wishing to become officials can take and observe if they are serious about wanting to join a corps of officials, Knox said. Veteran officials recently signed their renewal forms in May and June, he added. In addition to a written test and video exam, referees are required to take a test concerning concussion symptoms and signs.

“It’s not difficult to become an official,” Knox said. “The difficulty actually comes with working the games.” But, he quickly added being an official “can be a lot of fun if it’s done the right way and it’s a great way to stay connected with high school sports.”

“On any given night in the Bloomington-Normal and McLean County area, the need for officials is great,” explained Steve Endsley, executive director of IESA. Endsley said boys’ and girls’ games of varying sports involving 5th through 8th graders, are needing officials.

“Oftentimes, there are more games scheduled than there are officials available,” Endsley pointed out. He said that often results in schools “having to find creative ways to schedule and/or perhaps not schedule as many games because of a shortage of officials.”

IESA purposely schedules girls’ basketball and volleyball seasons opposite from when IHSA holds them because that way, they can be assured to have officials on hand to oversee those games, Endsley explained. IESA has girls’ basketball in the fall and girls’ volleyball season in the winter.

“One of the reasons we do that for girls’ athletics is because of officials’ availability,” Endsley explained. He said if IESA had its girls’ volleyball schedule on parallel with IHSA’s in late summer and fall, “there would not be enough officials to run all the junior high contests and all of the high school contests.”

IHSA does all the licensing of officials for both itself and IESA, Endsley explained. Once a person becomes an official, they are considered independent contractors, free to work games at any level from a school that will hire them, Endsley said. He added IESA is required to use licensed officials.

Endsley said nationwide, not just in Illinois, there is a shortage of people who officiate, regardless of the sport. “We need more officials,” he said.

But just as needed, at both junior high and high school level, Endsley said, “are fans who will watch the games and cheer for their team and refrain from wanting to officiate the contest from the stands.” He said being harassed by fans is driving people away from the business of officiating. He added those who officiate do it for a love of the game.

By Steve Robinson | June 25, 2018 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – When it comes to eating out in the Twin Cities, you name it and we practically have it: Chinese, sushi, Thai, Italian, pizza, burgers, Mexican, and on and on. The same can be said for the type of eatery you can have such dishes in, too: Casual, upscale, fast food, and so on.

Yet, in the eyes of the folks who considered bringing Core-Life Eatery to the Twin Cities, they felt something was still missing among all the existing options available to food lovers who were looking for something, not just different but something that would match a lifestyle that revolved around healthy eating.

Those folks may have found their new favorite dining spot in the Twin Cities, CoreLife Eatery, located at 115 S. Veterans Parkway , Suite D, in Normal , which opened June 7. Clay Baxter, managing partner and operating partner oversees the new restaurant which opened its doors June 5. It is one of 41 restaurants nationwide and the third in Illinois . The other two are in Champaign and Peoria , with a fourth one set to soon open in Springfield , Baxter said.

One look at their menu and you get the idea that your health is what comes first: Entrees include rice bowls featuring flank steak, tuna, barbecued chicken, or spicy chicken; Dinner plate options include antibiotic-free chicken, grass-fed steak, ahi tuna, and tofu all served with vegetable options or a seasonal vegetable medley. In addition to rice bowls, there are bowl dishes served with greens, grain, or broths.

And because this is a restaurant which keys in on healthy eating options, that includes the choice of beverages, too. Instead of a soda dispenser, the drink options include lemonade, a variety of teas, and ice coffee.

As you walk in, you note wood tables and benches, warm wood floors, and warm affirmations on signs throughout the dining area with phrases such as “change your lunch, change your life” and “life is not a spectator sport.”

“It’s something different and it plays to my lifestyle,” Baxter, 54, said about his move to his involvement with this franchise. “I used to be a double cheeseburger kind of guy. Since eating healthier, I’ve gotten into the gym and been pretty active.” Now that he has been working around it and promoting it, he adds, “I’m a believer in it.”

The category of restaurant CoreLife fits into is known as fast casual, Baxter said. He said his main competitors are Panera and Chipotle. In the fast casual division, Baxter added, “There are several different concepts around the country. Some are doing all salads, or doing some sandwiches or salads, but not with the breadth of what we’re doing with the number of ingredients that we’re doing, in my opinion.”

“This is a concept with a mission,” explained Baxter, who spent 14 years in management at Biaggi’s before taking command here. “This restaurant speaks to lifestyle.” He said other restaurants that address eating healthy do add sweets or goodies to complete a meal, “but we speak just to the clean, just to the healthy food.”

Ordering here involves going through a line where servers guide you to help them put together your bowl or plate, as is done at some of their competitors. “Everything’s raw,” Baxter adds, “Nothing processed, and our dressings are made in-house. Our broth bowls are vegetable using all the trimmings, and a chicken bone broth, and a beef bone broth.”

So far, Baxter said, the biggest selling item has been tuna poke fire rice bowl and spicy Thai chicken and rice bowl. Menu items range in price from $5.95 to $12.45.

CoreLife finds itself side-by-side at this location next to a place some might think is a total opposite in terms of healthy eating, The Original Pancake House. But as Baxter sees it, chuckling, where his restaurant is situated possibly helps people think about their choices through the “guilt” factor.

Baxter said he has noted that younger people are seeking out healthier food choices when they eat out nowadays. He cited that people in their teens and 20s have been known to make the choice to eat at his establishment, not just people for whom this place adds to their lifestyle. He said people whose health has been affected by illness and have been advised by their doctor to reevaluate their eating habits have also started coming into his restaurant.

By Steve Robinson | June 24, 2018 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

When he worked at radio station WJBC AM 1230, Eric Stock was the voice who brought listeners morning news. He did that until recently, the end of May, in fact, when he switched from AM to FM, joining the news staff of WGLT FM 89.1, the National Public Radio affiliate licensed to Illinois State University.

I seemed to see more of Eric, though, when he went from A. M. to P. M., as in Friday nights at local high school football games in the fall, part of his being among the crew at WJBC who covered the station’s “High School Football Extravaganza,” the wall-to-wall coverage of the games heard during the regular season in late summer and fall. That’s the show where play-by-play guys join photographers and writers fanning out to all the games catching the night’s action to see which teams finished in the win column.

A western Pennsylvania native, Stock, who spent 14 years at WJBC, got interested in radio while growing up and “wanted to be a broadcaster from as young as I can remember. I would attend Pittsburgh Pirates games, listen to the broadcasts and thought that’s what I wanted to do.”

“I was just sort of drawn to that,” Stock said of his interest in broadcasting. “It just seemed like something I’d want to do.”

Having graduated from Duquesne University in 1995, that was where he first did play-by-play “and gave me the where-with-all to get the equipment we needed to be able to broadcast” using the first generation of mobile phones.

Stock’s first job out of college was at a small radio station in Arizona where he took the job sight unseen and stayed for four months before finding another radio job in Illinois. Once in the Land of Lincoln, he started in Sparta, and moved on to Taylorville, where he met his wife, Catherine. From there, he crossed state lines to work at a station in Cape Girardeau, Mo., before coming back to Illinois to take a job at WJBC in 2004.

Coming to WGLT, Stock said, the style would be different but the concept of putting information together to get it out to the public would be the same. Joining WGLT “was an opportunity to stretch my legs a little bit, to try some new things.” He added he’s grateful to WJBC for his years there and commended the station for its dedication to coverage of local news. At WGLT, Stock admits he’ll be “trying some new things and different things.”

He may have a new radio home for reporting, but Stock might not be done with covering sports. He explained WGLT management “has given me clearance” to continue with sports when and if needed,” but Stock said he hasn’t had any discussions with WJBC concerning future opportunities. In addition to high school games, Stock’s resume included covering Illinois Wesleyan University football and men’s basketball.

As far as advice for those young people wanting to pursue a broadcasting career, Stock said, “I think it helps to have a natural curiosity about things because you have to have that to do news and a passion to want to learn more.” He encouraged students to “be a news consumer – read the paper and stories online, listen to the radio, watch TV, even cable news – watch all of it and learn to develop a story in your own voice.”

It sounds like Stock has been doing just that himself to achieve what he has thus far in his career. And although his spot on the dial has changed, his dedication to informing others hasn’t.

Bloomington, Illinois – June 23, 2018 – Relay For Life of McLean County wrapped up its annual event at The Corn Crib in Normal on Saturday, June 23 at 2p.m., having had team members circle a makeshift track on the stadium infield for 24 hours.

As this year’s event concluded Saturday, with a grant from State Farm Bank, our Relay For Life of McLean County ended having raised $255,315 toward its stated goal of $305,000, with money continuing to come in. And because Relay For Life of McLean County will end its fiscal year 2018 on August 31, teams will continue bringing in donations through that date which will help us to achieve that monetary goal of $305,000.

RELAY 2018 NUMBERS: Relay For Life of McLean County had 54 teams involving 405 registered team members and 400 survivors and caregivers at their annual Relay event. There were also hundreds of additional community members who visited the event and enjoyed the survivor dinner, “Fun Zone”, silent auction, live entertainment and other activities.

Since it began in McLean County in 1994, and including this year’s event-end amount, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $8.5 Million to fight cancer.

Of this year’s event, Catina Struble, Lead Co-Chair for Relay For Life of McLean County, said, “We are really proud of how engaged our teams were in preparing and participating in this year’s Relay. It shows the degree of commitment and dedication our team members have when it comes to help fight this disease. We are so grateful for the support of Normal Cornbelters and their gift of this beautiful venue.”

More information may be obtained by contacting either Catina Struble 309-706-5367 or Steve Robinson at 309-242-7838.

By Steve Robinson | June 18, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The committee that decides which non-profit groups should receive Harmon Arts Grants, named after and presented to winners by former Normal Mayor Paul Harmon and his wife, Sandy, found themselves with some extra cash thanks to one recipient from last year who was unable to fulfill the task they had asked grant money for.

City Manager Pam Reece explained the Galleries at Illinois State University returned to the committee $4,000 recently. The grant awards had already been announced late last month. But since then, the committee has awarded a little more to the smaller amounts some of the groups had asked for. Of the returned $4,000, the committee awarded an additional $1,500 to groups, making the total prize given out this year $26,500 instead of the $25,000 announced earlier. As a result of the reimbursed money, organizers of Concerts On The Quad at Illinois State University received a grant of $1,500.

Other grant recipients, and the grants they were awarded are: Illinois Symphony Orchestra, $2,000; Illinois State University’s Shakespeare Festival, $2,000; Prairie Fire Theatre, $2,000; YWCA Express Yourself, $1,950; Midwest Institute of Opera at ISU, $1,850; University Galleries at ISU, $1,750; Heartland Theatre, $1,500; McLean County Arts Center, $1,500; Twin Cities Ballet, $1,500; USA Ballet, $1,500; Further Jazz, $1,200; Illinois Chamber Music Festival at Illinois Wesleyan University, $1,200; Brass Band of Central Illinois, $1,100; Normal Community West High School Bands, $1,000; Sound Of Illinois, $1,000; Illinois Voices Theatre, $750; Community Players Theatre, $600; and Crossroads Area Student Theatre (CAST), $600.

As former Mayor Paul Harmon announced each winning group in reverse order, and Council members sat in the audience watching, Mayor Chris Koos handed the representative for the group an envelope with their grant money inside.

Council Discusses Money Spent On Riparian Waterways: In certain sections of Town, water and land mesh. Council members voted unanimously to spend $100,000, paying Monee-based Cardno, Inc. to see how such lands can be developed. Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich told Council members finding other communities which have such a unique situation with land and water would give Normal an opportunity for Normal to learn.

He answered a question put to him by Council Member Kathleen Lorenz by saying residents with these unique properties – part land and part water – as the water being part of their backyards. But he added, neighbors do complain about erosion.

Board Appointments And A Reappointment Approved: Council members approved two appointments to two separate commissions and a reappointment to another. As a result of their unanimous vote, Todd E. Bugg has been appointed to the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission. Bugg is filling the vacancy left as a result of the resignation of Kristen Allen. Bugg will be on the Commission to serve out the remainder of Allen’s term which expires on March 31. He graduated from University of Illinois and Illinois College of Law and has practiced law for 27 years. He is a partner in the firm of Dunn Law Firm, LLP.

As a result of another unanimous Council vote, Julie Hile has been appointed to the Board of Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System. Hile is filling a vacancy left by the resignation of Jennifer McDade, and her term will run July 1 through June 30, 2021. She is a senior performance consultant with the Hile Group.

Council members unanimously approved reappointing Ben Harmon to the Children’s Discovery Museum Foundation Board for a term which will expire on June 30, 2021.

Former City Manager Peterson Receives Honor: Normal ’s previous City Manager, Mark Peterson, received an award from his peers in that profession on June 14 in Collinsville . Peterson was presented with the Robert B. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award at a meeting of members of Illinois City/County Manager’s Association.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of June 4, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of June 13, 2018.

• A resolution conditionally reapproving a final plat for the first addition to the MP-One subdivision.

• A resolution awarding the bid for concrete to the low bidder, Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. at a price per cubic yard of $103 for High Early Mix and $89 for S. I. Mix.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Hoerr Construction, Inc. for the 2018 sanitary and storm sewer cleaning and televising contract in the amount of $341,690.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the City Manager to enter into a contract with Lake Mary, Fla.-based Superion, LLC for the purchase of TRAKiT software and related professional services.

• An ordinance amending the Town Liquor Code concerning video gaming for pari-mutuel premises and concerning secondary premises licenses for limited hour licenses.