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.

By Steve Robinson | June 13, 2018 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Having lost Jim Hayek, Jr. off Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board as of the end of last month, the district is currently in search of his replacement. The procedure for finding someone to replace him should cause Board members to become quick studies with the procedure after hearing that Joseph Cleary will step down soon as a Board member, as well.

During the Board member comments section toward the end of the meeting, Cleary, who teaches construction management at Illinois State University, announced he had been offered a similar position at California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal-Poly, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Cleary did not state when he would submit his resignation from the Board.

But when Cleary formally turns in his resignation, under State law, the Board will have 45 days from the date the resignation takes effect to appoint a successor. Also, that person would have to run for election the spring of the next election cycle. The Board is currently going through applications from citizens wishing to replace Hayek.

Cleary was appointed to the Board following the resignation of Denise Schuster in spring 2016. Schuster, an employee of State Farm Insurance, as is Hayek, exited the Board because of a job transfer to Dallas, Texas for her husband. In April 2016, Cleary was sworn in to complete Schuster’s term, and successfully ran for a term of his own the following spring.

“Unit 5 is still a great district,” Cleary said in answer to a media question as to whether the State’s witnessing an exodus of residents partly because its financial status, had anything to do with his own departure. He said the State’s situation had nothing to do with his own exit, and that “I was presented with a teaching opportunity on the west coast. My family loves it here. We have family here, so we will visit as often as we can.” Cleary and his wife, Karmon, have a boy who will enter 4th grade and a girl who will enter 6th grade in the fall.

Amended Budget Approved: Prior to Cleary’s announcement, Board members conducted business which included unanimously approving an amended budget for the coming school year. The district will have $169 million with which to operate. The district is looking at each of the operating funds the district has – Education, Operations and Maintenance, Transportation, and Working Cash – having some surplus money on hand to the tune of $2.3 million, according to the report presented to Board members by Business Manager Marty Hickman.

There is still some money yet to come in, Hickman told Board members, as Unit 5 is expecting roughly $2.7 million in payments for Special Education and Transportation due the district from the State.

Board Votes For District To Join Insurance Co-Op: In addition, Board members unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to become part of Suburban School Cooperative Insurance Pool (SSCIP) for its insurance needs. SSCIP operates financially on an annual calendar whereas the district operates on a fiscal calendar. As a result, Hickman said, Unit 5 would need to pay for its membership for the second half of this calendar year as well as for all of 2019 to start that relationship. After that, beginning with the start of 2020, Unit 5 would pay an annual amount to SSCIP.

By Steve Robinson | June 11, 2018 - 2:22 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

This column may keep older folks informed on what teens are up to, but music lovers of all ages will be able to experience a live day-long sample of just about every kind of sound at the annual “Make Music Normal” event to be held in Uptown on Saturday, June 23 from 12 Noon-11p.m. Admission is free.

The Town’s Cultural Arts Department is coordinating the event which will have eight stages in different locations, each showcasing eight acts over the entire event, each group playing music sets of 45 minutes. This event, begun in 2015, with musicians setting up on corners of Uptown in an impromptu fashion, explained Adam Fox, Civic Arts Manager for the Town, whose duties also include overseeing operations of the Normal Theater. “Make Music Normal” became part of a worldwide event, “Make Music International,” trying to introduce folks to different kinds of sounds for a wide variety of musical tastes.

Fox said while the concept was right during that initial event, all the separate groups playing at one time made it seem “detached.” As a result, for the event’s second year in 2016, the Town tried to make a new musical arrangement, as it were, making the sounds a little more localized.

“We tried to make it into a destination event, and Uptown was the logical place to put it,” Fox said. As a result of its popularity, Fox and his boss, Beth Whisman, executive director of the Town’s Cultural Arts Department, explained, the number of stages has grown over the years from two to eight for this year’s event.

“The daytime portion of this event is really targeted at all ages and all experiences,” Fox said. “We thought focusing on participation would set this event apart from the others.”

This event will give people who have never engaged with music a chance to do that, Fox explained. He added there “will be a number of open jam sessions for people to sit and play” if one wants in addition to listening.

“It started small and it’s grown every single year,” Whisman said. Stages will be set up at, among the Uptown locations, on North St., the roundabout, and Emack & Bolio’s Ice Cream on Beaufort St.

Outside organizations will also be on hand to promote their causes and the Children’s Discovery Museum will have things for the younger set to keep them engaged, too, Whisman said.

Near the roundabout, if folks want to do more than just listen to and see the acts, they can go to the event’s “Uptown Lounge,” where, Fox explains, people can put on a headset tuned to music of their choice and dance away. “Everybody’s dancing and listening to something different,” Fox said of how it worked last year. “Everybody had a blast.”

Among the bands and individuals performing this year are: Leah Marlene; the Joe Zaklan Band; John Til; John Campbell; The Bygones; and Red Scarves. It all sounds like a great way to spend a summer Saturday.

In speaking about such an event like Make Music Normal, Whisman said, “These are the things other communities wished they had and we’re lucky we have the right venue and the right leadership that supports it.” The last half of that quote aimed at the Town leaders, Town Council, and others in Town who back these kinds of events.

I look forward to taking in some of Making Music Normal to see and hear everything that goes on. It sounds like it will be successful again this year.

By Steve Robinson | June 4, 2018 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

BLOOMINGTON – Fourteen years have gone by since the last time University High’s Softball team made it to a Super Sectional contest. But no thanks to New Lenox Providence, the Pioneers season ended six innings short of achieving the team’s goal making it to State Finals. Two four run innings in the first and second innings secured an 11-1 victory in six innings for the Celtics over the Pioneers. U-High’s season under head coach Al Toliver ends at 24-11. The game had roughly 125 fans in attendance at the softball field at Illinois Wesleyan University .

After U-High’s first three batters – freshman shortstop Abby Knight, left fielder Jen Kuhn, and senior second baseman Lexi Tennison – went down in order to open the game, New Lenox Providence (28-11) went to work in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Pioneers sophomore starting pitcher Maddie Roop walked senior catcher Taylor Young and junior catcher Shannon Smith before a single by junior center fielder Lex Leighton loaded the bases for freshman first baseman Nicole Mucha.

Mucha smacked a double which cleared the bases putting her on second base, giving the Celtics a 3-0 lead. Mucha was called out at third thanks to an outfield throw received by senior third baseman Grace Matheis as Mucha was trying to slide in. New Lenox Providence did get a fourth run when Layton scored on a double by designated hitter Hannah Falejczyk, increasing the lead to 4-0.

U-High switched out sophomore starting pitcher Maddie Roop after an inning and a third for senior pitcher Maddie Boucher, but the Celtics would get four more runs off of Boucher, expanding their lead, 8-0, after two innings.

The Pioneers’ lone run came in the top of the fourth inning as senior second baseman Lexus Tennyson’s blast into left field gave her a single. That was followed by Boucher who was called out on base running after having singled but tried to get a double only to get throw out trying to get back to first. In the ensuing play, Tennyson made it to third and scored on a single by sophomore center fielder Emily O’Leary, giving the Pioneers their only run of the contest, 8-1.

The Celtics scored two more in the bottom of the fourth and one more in the bottom of the sixth to close out the scoring, but the Pioneers showed some spirit thanks to sophomore right fielder Makaylea Sepich who had three catches including one diving catch in the sixth inning robbing Courtney Mahalik of a base hit.

“I knew they were probably a really good hitting team and they showed it today,” said Pioneers head coach Al Toliver. “They’re just a very solid, solid team up and down the line, so my hat’s off to them,” he added.

About his team’s season, Toliver said, “Winning the Sectional over at Washington is a huge highlight for us. And then coming back home, we hoped for better today, but today, the better team won.”

For the Celtics’ part, their head coach, Jay Biesterfeld, said going into this contest his team was hoping “for a good first few innings and put some pressure on them. Obviously, things worked out a little better than we expected.”

“We just wanted to come out and drive the ball and make some plays,” Biesterfeld added.

By Steve Robinson | June 3, 2018 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

Normal Wildcats head Girls’ Soccer coach Val Walker tried not to let his players get ahead of themselves as this season began. Most coaches won’t allow players to think too far ahead beyond the game in front of them. But in recent years, it sounds like the Wildcats got ahead of themselves to the point that, when this season started, Walker instituted the “one game at a time” approach. That approach got the Wildcats all the way to the final four of State Finals, starting with a sendoff from the school on May 31 before heading to the campus of North Central College in Naperville to compete in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A State Soccer Tournament.

The approach Wes employed this season resulted in the Wildcats finishing the year with a 20-7-3 mark after losing the semifinal to Arlington Heights St. Viator, 1-0, and then needing to summon the strength to try to break a tie in the consolation match, winding up earning fourth place after a 1-0 overtime loss to Lemont High School .

But before the Wildcats left for Naperville via charter bus, the team bonded over a meal, encouraging each other and hearing a pre-departure pep talk from their coach. His talk came complete with props, but not any props, but the two trophies West had won at State Soccer in years past – a 3rd place trophy from 2008, and a 2nd place trophy from their 2014 appearance.

From there, Walker encouraged, there was only one direction to go as a result of the team’s previous performances – 1st place.

“I can’t wait,” said Julia Marsaglia, one of the seniors who is a team captain, when the team went around the room to express the feeling they were having as the big event drew near.

As the team boarded the charter bus afterward, between 60-75 well-wishers waved and cheered in the school’s front parking lot along Parkside Rd.

Once they were in Naperville , I kept tabs on the team’s progress. Their end result wasn’t what they had hoped for, but they were able to add to the school’s trophy case after a long season.

Sunday Celebration: Fourth place is never the goal when a sports team’s season begins. But sometimes, that’s where it winds up through one circumstance or another. Despite that finish, there was cause for celebration, and celebrate is exactly what the Wildcats did at a rally in the school cafeteria on Sunday. The players and many of their parents were in attendance for the post-season event.

Walker opened the celebration by saying he couldn’t do what he does “without a strong family foundation,” as a means of thanking his wife, Mary, and their kids. He also thanked his assistant Brady Piepenbrink, Lewis, and West Principal David Johnson for their support.

Walker also paid tribute to Livi Sonetz, a West Softball player who was killed in a car accident on March 8, the first day of practice for Soccer this season. There was supposed to be a first practice for his team that day, but instead, he and the team joined a group of teachers and students to grieve her loss that day.

After that, while the team was still grieving, Walker said, the Wildcats faced Normal Community High School and lost. But Walker explained, based on what he had seen in his players that day, “I knew we were going to get better. We just needed to play these one game at a time.”

He said the girls “started to believe in themselves” following a victory over Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin. Getting a high seed in the opening round, he said, helped his team avoid facing one of a pair of powerful squads, University High and Mahomet-Seymour as they approached the opening round of the playoffs.

Senior midfielder Melanie Bautista was voted “Most Improved Player” by her teammates, Walker announced to the gathering. Walker also recognized the team captains – seniors Olivia Peters, Samantha Whelan, Marsaglia, junior Bekah Nielsen, and Bautista – for their efforts this season. The work and determination of the team made them “yearn to get better,” Walker said. “Thank you, ladies, for all you’ve done this season.”

Unit 5 Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker was present and passed along the congratulations of the Board to the team during the session.

Peters told the gathering she has been playing Soccer since she was five said getting to State “was a great way to retire” from the sport, and thanked her parents for their support. Marsaglia added, “This team was the best team for me, not just for Soccer, but for anything in my entire life.”

As they get older, other things will come along involving family, jobs, other activities waiting for them in the future. But for that moment Sunday, this is what mattered to those kids, and years from now, they can look back and know they added to Normal West sports history.