By Steve Robinson | February 22, 2019 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Regular readers to this column might recall that at this time last year, when the Illinois High School Association Class 1A and Class 2A 3-Point Showdown, sponsored by COUNTRY Financial, rolled around, Jayden Standish from Lexington High School, then a sophomore, had made quite an impression on her competition and was ready to take on any and all comers.

This year in Class 1A, she had some company in the Class from a school in the county and from a school within the Heart Of Illinois Conference. Within the group of shooters she was in, Jayden, now an LHS junior, got to lead off the group of eight shooters in the 3-Point competition and hope to repeat the accomplishment of last year.

When she finished shooting in the 45-second limit this time, Jayden sank 7 baskets. Four competitors later, Jadyn Mitchell, a senior from Flanagan-Cornell High School took her turn, and turned heads as the only girl in that particular group of eight shooters to achieve double-digits, sinking 11 shots. In fact, Mitchell was the only contestant in Class 1A to do that.

But as for Miss Standish, even with her basketball coaches, teammates, and family cheering her on, this time, it wasn’t to be. “I felt I prepared a lot more this year,” she said afterward. “I was in the gym after school every day, and my coaches would come in the gym and work with me every day. I don’t think I came in every day last year.”

Those coaches would be Lady Minutemen head coach Bill Elias and assistant coach Shane Little. Standish said having been at Redbird Arena on Illinois State University’s campus for this competition last year helped her adjust to the atmosphere surrounding the competition this year. So many of the kids I interview when they get to this competition point out that practicing for this and playing mostly in school gyms in small towns, there is an adjustment to be made when they enter the finals of this competition in a 10,000-seat arena where the lights are much brighter and the noise level, even if the place isn’t even one-quarter full can be problematic for them to adjust to.

“You just have to trust your muscle memory and kind of have to go with it,” Jayden advised. Even with all she knew about the surroundings and atmosphere of the competition, “I was definitely still nervous about doing this, but I knew I did everything I could do” to work through it, she explained.

She had a contingent of family, friends, teammates, and teachers come to see her which helped, she explained, because the adults among that group usually come to watch her and her teammates play anyway. Not a big change in terms of what she has experienced before.

For Jayden, she ended her basketball season at this event. That was last Thursday. Being a member of the Lady Minutemen Softball team, she already knows she had practice with that squad to look forward to. She also has travel softball this summer to look forward to, as well.

Because of travel softball, she admits, “I’m not really home during the summer.” And then of course, she tries to squeeze in playing in some summer basketball events, too, “as much as I can,” she admits.

The other girl from a school within the county, Molly White, a senior point guard from LeRoy High School, unfortunately, had a rough go behind the three-point line, only sinking 4-of-15 shots. ”I shot a lot more than I usually do” at practice, she admitted afterward.

Although she doesn’t know yet where she is headed for college, White already has involvement in the National Guard to keep her mind sharp. This summer, instead of participating in travel leagues, she will be headed off to basic training at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood. She will be there through what would be her first college semester in the fall, and she’ll actually start her college career at an as-yet undecided institution next spring. Going into it, she already has the rank of Private First Class.

Her motivation for joining the Guard came, she said, “from watching members of the Guard on TV helping during natural disasters. That’s something I really want to be able to do is help people like when hurricanes hit, or something.” She had never experienced any sort of volunteer work of that kind before until the last year when her interest in joining the National Guard developed. Going on mission trips with her church sparked an idea she wanted to do something like this, she explained. Joining the Guard will give her the full experience, she reasoned.

IHSA Class 3A and 4A 3-Point contestants will be here this weekend to compete at Redbird Arena. Here’s hoping they will have success as they try to advance in that competition. And, we all want to wish Standish and Mitchell the best of luck in their future sports season and later on as they head off to college and the Guard.

By Steve Robinson | February 18, 2019 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – For 23 years, the Twin Cities’ Not In Our Town Committee has been tasked with seeing to it the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington demonstrated to residents and visitors alike that they were inclusive communities. But also in those 23 years, NIOT had never produced written updates to the Town on progress made concerning those efforts.

That changed Monday, as NIOT Committee Member Mike Matejka gave a brief presentation at Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

In addition to giving some historical background to the work NIOT had done over the past 23 years, Matejka pointed out special events NIOT had hosted in an effort to make young people more aware of opportunities for them. Among those was a “Listening Session” held at Miller Park in Bloomington last summer. Among the goals for that event, Matejka said, “Was to make young people feel part of the community, particularly those of lower income.”

He said NIOT works to make sure students who feel alienated in some way are made to feel welcome within the community. He credited local school administrators with supporting the group’s effort in that area.

Design Waivers For Trail East Building Approved: Before adjourning to executive session, Council members unanimously approved a resolution granting waivers from the Town’s Uptown Design Review Code and supplemental Roundabout guidelines to approve a preliminary plan for the proposed Trail East building, to be located at the eastern edge of the Roundabout.

Representatives for the project’s developer, Iowa-based Bush Construction, introduced their concept for the proposed five-story building at the Council’s Jan. 7 meeting. Among the highlights of the proposed new building are an arcade design, storefront transparency, and several public entrances off of College Ave., Constitution Blvd., and Beaufort St.

A public hearing on the proposed building was held by the Uptown Design Review Commission on Feb. 11, but no residents addressed the Commission. At that hearing, Commission members voted 4-0 in support of the project as proposed with the waivers required for arcade design, storefront transparency, design for a tower which will be part of the structure, and floor heights.

Commissioners approved the project, also, on the condition the developer submit a signage package, landscaping plan, and an exterior lighting plan which the Commission would review in the future.

Mayor Chris Koos did have one suggestion for representatives of the developer who attended the meeting. He said he noted the building has an all-brick look to it along College Ave. He asked the developer’s representatives to consider finding a way to break up that look.

Rivian’s Progress Noted: A Chicago Tribune article published Sunday addressed the Town’s continued hopes for the success of Rivian Automotive, an electric car manufacturer which bought and took over use of the former Mitsubishi Motors of America plant on Normal’s west side. The plant is being used now, with roughly 70 employees currently, and once production of electric cars gets into high gear, it’s anticipated there will be 1,000 employees at the site.

The Tribune article pointed out that a $700 million investment spearheaded by Amazon, announced on Friday, had managed to raise about $1.4 billion for Rivian which would allow the auto manufacturer to begin production next year.

“This year, as they start to develop the assembly line, that will ramp up manufacturing pretty significantly,” Koos said after the Council session. “When they are ready to produce, I think they said they would be at 500 jobs.” He added it was his understanding from what Rivian officials have told him that as production increases, the numbers of staff needed will increase.

When the company negotiated with the Town, Rivian officials estimated rolling out the first vehicles off the assembly line sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. But the company has had to push that deadline back slightly, to sometime in the first quarter of 2020.

By a unanimous vote last February, Council members approved an ordinance abating the 2017 property tax levy for Rivian. 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 MMNA facility; and invest at least $500,000 in project expenses, but did not include the cost of the former MMNA property. At the time of that agreement, the Town estimated the abated property tax for the Rivian land was equal to $74,900 for the Town and $32,300 for the Normal Public Library.

Concerning the three-month delay, Koos said, “In terms of meeting their obligations for sales tax rebates, they’ve done that handily and continue to do so. That won’t be an issue.”

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting held Feb. 4, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 13, 2019.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2019 construction season with Bloomington-based Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC (RGE).

• A resolution to appropriate $526,648 of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for the resurfacing of various streets for the 2018 MFT Street Resurfacing Project.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of Lot 1 of resubdivision of Lot 2 in the first addition of North-Land Commercial Subdivision and Lot 7 in the fifth addition to North-Land Commercial Subdivision by expedited process (Menards, 900 Greenbriar Drive).

• An ordinance renaming Duff Street to Julia Duff Street.

• A resolution considering the release of executive session minutes from June 19, 2017 and October 1, 2018.

By Steve Robinson | February 17, 2019 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Upon finding out that Major League Baseball pitching coach Derek Johnson was coming to speak to his teammates and baseball fans earlier this month, University High sophomore pitcher McCallan Conklin said he wanted to hear how Johnson got into the majors. Junior shortstop Jacob Mote said he wanted to hear Johnson speak about what attention players should give concerning caring for their arms.

Pioneers senior pitcher Jack Sauser wanted to hear Johnson speak about how Johnson teaches pitching, first at the college level, and now in coaching pros. Sauser has aspirations to getting to the pros himself someday.

Yet, when Conklin, Mote, Sauser, and members of U-High’s baseball’s four grade levels and 300 plus guests filed into Ruth A. Stroud Auditorium to hear Johnson, a 1989 U-High grad and 1994 Eastern Illinois University grad, speak to those assembled, they found he spoke not just about how to handle situations in baseball, but how what they learn from being in the game can be carried over into everyday situations.

Johnson has coached at both the college and major league level, beginning his coaching career in 2002 at Vanderbilt University for 11 seasons before entering the pro coaching ranks, first in the Chicago Cubs minor league system from 2013-15. From there, he went to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016 where he spent three seasons. This year, he is taking his coaching talents to guide the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff.

He started by saying teams that to compete and succeed well have a number of elements. First off, he said, the players find “they found joy in competing in the game, and they found joy in working with each other.” He said the teams he was part of “competed in everything they did, whether it was on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom.”

“Baseball is a hard game,” Johnson said. “You have to take the small moments where you are successful and use those. But you also have to get through some of the tougher moments. While there are some individual moments for players, the team will make you better, and that’s how you have to look at it.”

There were 14 keys to how players could improve, and they weren’t solely related to baseball, Johnson said. First on that list was ceasing spending time with what he termed “the wrong people” – those he defined “take the happiness out of you.”

“You guys all have strengths and you have some weaknesses, too,” Johnson said, addressing the players, who all wore their jerseys, each a different shade of the school’s green and gold colors to denote which of the four school year teams they play for. “Take your strengths and try to become a great player using those strengths. Don’t worry about your weaknesses.” He said most people will find that logic “counterintuitive,” but Johnson said he wanted the boys to keep their strengths in mind as a means of succeeding in the game.

He also said players tend to live in the past because if they have a bad outing, it gets relived. Johnson advised the boys to try not to hang on to the past. “You have to get to a point where, no matter what happens in a game, you can say, ‘So What? Next pitch.’ If you’re really a good team and you’re really a good player, you don’t need that bad pitch. Being a good baseball player is about having a short memory.” He said if a team can collectively take that approach, they will win games.

From a personal point of view, Johnson, who never played professionally, told the gathering that when he went from college coaching to being a coach in the pros, at first with the Brewers, he put his concerns aside and asked himself, “Why not me for a first pro coaching job?” He said the kids should also ask themselves as a team, “why not us?” as a means of thinking in order to succeed over the course of a season.

About making it to and coaching in the majors, “I pinch myself all the time because of how awesome this is,” Johnson explained to the gathering. The lesson there, he said, is that the high school players should remember to take in the memories of being part of the team.

He said he wanted the kids to think in terms of a formula they should use throughout their lives to handle situations not just related to baseball. The formula is E + R = O, or Events that happen plus Response to those events equals Outcome. Depending on how they respond to an event determines the outcome of the situation, he explained.

Johnson’s last piece of advice to the players was “Stop being ungrateful,” he said. “Better yet, be grateful. I’m not saying you guys are ungrateful.” He said compared to people who face physical or personal issues, the players should realize they ought to be grateful for the things they do have.” He suggested the boys give a quick “thank you” their parents for helping them so they can play baseball. “A quick ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ goes a long way,” he added.

On a lighter note, Johnson, author of “The Complete Guide To Pitching” told the players, “You guys have really cool uniforms. We had really bad uniforms when I was here. We looked like the 1976 Oakland A’s.” It was a comment that produced a few chuckles.

“Looking back at Derek as a teammate, you saw his coaching ability,” explained Steve Schulz, a former U-High teammate of Johnson. “He was a coach, even as a teammate. He was the guy who kept everyone out of trouble, kept you level headed, and made sure to tell you positive things, telling you things to help you out. He was a great teammate to have.” Schulz now lives in Lake Geneva, Wis., but came back to his alma mater to visit with and hear his old friend.

“I think Derek would be the first one to tell you he’s always had a passion for coaching,” stated Schulz, now a regional manager for a building materials manufacturer.

“Some people are given the ability to throw at 95 miles an hour, and if he could have thrown 95 miles an hour, he’d probably have been in the major leagues,” Schulz added in talking about his friend. “He knew his limitations and what he did was take his abilities and one of those abilities is to make the difficult seem very simple.”

The “Day At The Ballpark” event Johnson spoke at was a fundraiser for U-High’s baseball program, put together by team parents. Money collected at this event will go to equipment and expenses involved in a spring trip the Pioneers varsity team will take over spring break to a tournament in Sanford, Fla. sponsored by Florida Collegiate Scouting League.

“Derek can give our guys an understanding about the type of work ethic it takes to become great in this game,” said U-High varsity team head coach Steve Paxson. “He’s a large name in the game of baseball and hopefully, our guys will be able to understand a little bit more of what it takes to get to the pro level.”

It should be noted this event was held on Super Bowl Sunday. But considering the weather we had for much of the month of January, and now February, the thought of spending a day watching baseball seems a welcome relief to get us ready for the upcoming season. I also believe U-High’s players, coaches, and fans welcomed the chance to look ahead to the upcoming season, just as Johnson does once he starts coaching in the Queen City.

By Steve Robinson | February 16, 2019 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – From the opening tip, Normal Community High School’s girls’ basketball team appeared to be ready to race toward winning the Illinois High School Association Class 4A Bloomington High School Regional Title. The Lady Iron managed to do just that, outpacing Normal Community West, 58-39, to advance to the Sectional semifinal Monday night against Rock Island. That game, ironically, will be played at Normal West. Also, with this victory, NCHS managed to win the season over the Wildcats by a 3 wins-to-1 tally.

As a result of the win, NCHS advances to Sectionals which will be played at Normal Community West High School where they will face Rick Island High School. The Rocks got to the Sectional semi with a win 63-55 win over Moline.

Junior guard Maya Wong scored the first points of the game for NCHS (23-9 after this game) to begin the scoring and was followed by a deuce by West junior guard Olivia Demosthenes to tie the game at 2-all. Senior forward Cassi Kraft’s basket, followed by a trey by Wong pushed the Lady Iron up, 7-2, prompting Normal West head coach Corey Ostling to call timeout.

Two free throws by a fouled senior forward Ayanna Gibbs cut that margin, 7-4 before NCHS scored on back-to-back deuces by senior forward Abby Feit and sophomore forward Mallory Oloffson for an 11-4 advantage. One free throw by Wildcats freshman guard Averie Hernandez reduced that lead to 11-5 before another set of back-to-back baskets for the Lady Iron by Wong and Feit extended NCHS’ lead to 10, 15-5, with 50.8 seconds to go in the quarter. That deficit prompted another Wildcats timeout. Following that, fouled Wildcats senior forward Tresoir Newson sank 1-of-2 free throws and was followed by another bucket by Wong, helping increase NCHS’ lead, 17-6, going into the second quarter.

Sophomore guard Madison Feeney opened the second quarter with a trey and was followed by back-to-back unanswered deuces from junior guard Kylee Schneringer to push the Lady Iron up, 24-6, with 5:29 remaining the period. At this point, Normal West took another timeout to regroup, and managed to cut the lead to 24-8 on a basket by Demosthenes with 4:18 on the clock.

But from there, NCHS launched into a 6-0 run, with Schneringer hitting a deuce between two baskets by Feit, putting the Lady Iron up, 30-8, prompting another Normal West timeout with 2:57 until halftime. Back-to-back deuces by Gibbs and Demosthenes reduced NCHS’ lead, 30-12, before a free throw by NCHS’ Feit and a deuce for West by Feeney led to the Lady Iron owning a 31-14 halftime lead.

Wong opened the third quarter with a three-point play for NCHS, having scored and been fouled by West’s Newson, and sinking the free throw, giving the Lady Iron a 20-point advantage, 34-14 with 7:15 left in the quarter. Newson scored next cutting that lead to 34-16, but a trey by Schneringer followed by a Newson deuce gave NCHS a 37-18 lead, and prompted a timeout for West at the six minute mark in the quarter.

Two free throws by a fouled Craft put NCHS up 39-18 before the Wildcats tacked three straight unanswered buckets on the board from Newson, Gibbs, and Demosthenes, pulling Normal West (19-11) within 15, 39-24, causing the Lady Iron to take a time out with 3:11 left in the quarter. Following the time out, Normal West got one more basket from Gibbs at 2:03 to pull within 13, 39-26 before NCHS would close out the quarter on a 5-0 run with a basket by Oloffson and a three-point play from Schneringer which included a free throw. That gave NCHS a 44-26 edge going into the fourth quarter.

Newson opened the fourth quarter with a deuce to reduce NCHS’ lead to 44-28 with 7:47 left in the contest, but back-to-back scores, an Oloffson deuce and a trey by Feeney pushed the Lady Iron up, 49-28 at the 6:37 mark. A trey by West senior forward Jess Jacobs cut that lead to 49-31 with 6:32 left. But having been fouled by Jacobs in the next possession, Feit hit two free throws putting NCHS up by 20, 51-31, prompting the Wildcats to call time. A three-point play by Kraft and a deuce by freshman guard Karleigh Creasey put NCHS up 56-31, followed by a Lady Iron time out.

West’s Demosthenes and NCHS’ Feit swapped deuces leading to a 58-33 lead for the Lady Iron with 2:17 remaining, but the Wildcats closed out the scoring with Bozarth hitting a deuce at 1:48, a trey from Jacobs at 1:09, and a free throw from Demosthenes.

Schneringer and Feit led all scorers each pocketing 14 points. They were followed in double-figures for the Lady Iron by 12 from Wong. Demosthenes and Newson led West’s scorers, each scoring 11 points.

After the presentation of the regional championship plaque, Lady Iron players gathered with family members and posed for pictures with the plaque. NCHS senior shooting guard Katie Broad could be seen on the hardwood of Robert Frank Sports Complex on BHS’ campus receiving congratulatory hugs from family and friends who attended the contest. She said she was excited to have been part of the win and that when the team works together toward a win, “that’s when we seem to do our best.”

“I’m very excited about our going to Sectionals,” Oloffson said. She added when Normal West began a steady scoring pace in the second half, her team “just tried to stay relaxed the whole time and just play our game. I think we did a really good job of it.”

“We’re excited to come away with a win,” stated NCHS head coach Marcus Mann. “We’re definitely excited to come away with a win and to do it against a crosstown rival as good as Normal West is.”

Although NCHS owned a large lead at the half, Mann said he knew the Wildcats would be resilient and come back from the deficit they had been handed by his team at half. “We just knew we’d be weathering that storm and that it would be coming at some point.”

“We wanted to compete,” explained Normal West’s Ostling afterward. “I told them at the half we couldn’t get all the points we needed all in one shot. We just did it little bit by little bit, doing things correctly, and then maybe, the ball starts falling in for us and we start a turnaround. The ball bounced around and went in a couple times for NCHS, and bounced around and didn’t go in for us. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.”

He added his team showed a lot of perseverance this season and times could have decided to fold, and yet didn’t. “They just kept battling and I’m proud of my girls,” Ostling concluded.

By Steve Robinson | February 15, 2019 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – To look at the pictures taken of both the tennis courts at Normal Community High School and the parking lot at Parkside Junior High School, one gets the feeling time has not helped, and that both surfaces are in need of immediate repairs. In fact, during at least one previous meeting before their regularly-scheduled session Feb. 13, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board had seen photos of the conditions of both locations as the district considered tackling life safety projects.

At both locations, running cracks and deep gaps between those cracks abound.

As part of the Feb. 13 session, Board members held a public hearing to determine concerns by the public before board members voted to agree to spend Life Safety dollars to repair those locations. Meta Mickens-Baker was the only Board member who to addressed the issue before the Board took a vote to seek bids for the repairs, stating that looking at photos taken of both surfaces, “In looking at the photos, they definitely need repair, and are a potential hazard.” She said that was particularly true of the tennis court at NCHS. If it wasn’t repaired soon, she told Board members, “I’m afraid we’d have to close it because of the likelihood of students having a real injury” while playing there.

Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district added to the Board’s conversation on such repairs, explaining two other schools, Parkside Elementary and Hudson Elementary, are being looked at for potential future repairs to their parking lots, as well. He added he and his staff are aware that parking surfaces at “all 30 of our building sites, including all 22 of our schools, need attention.”

Before the hearing closed, Board President Barry Hitchins reminded Board members that at a future meeting, they will get a chance to approve bids for the projects once they come in. The district must first publish a request for proposals, or RFPs, giving contractors an opportunity to submit bids to receive the work.

Staff Commended For Presentations Given: During comments he made during the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, commended district staff members who recently gave presentations at conferences. The first teacher commended by the superintendent for a presentation given was Parkside Junior High School teacher Naomi Kosier, She recently gave a presentation called “Reading Aloud Refreshed” at the 2019 Comprehensive Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference in Downtown Chicago Jan. 23-25. The Conference was sponsored by National Louis University. Kosier is the district’s middle school intervention coach for the district. She has taught for 23 years.

Daniel also mentioned a team of four other district staff members who jointly gave a presentation called “Sink Or Swim: Throwing A Life Preserver To English Learners In An English Emersion Setting.” That presentation was done by Amanda Armstrong of George L. Evans Junior High School, Janelle Learned of Normal Community High School, and Leslie Romagnoli from the district office, during the annual Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Conference in Chicago.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a U.S. law passed in December 2015 which governs the United States K–12 public education policy. The law replaced its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, and modified but did not eliminate provisions relating to the periodic standardized tests given to students.

Energy Efficiency Projects Discussed: The session ended with a presentation concerning energy efficiency projects past and future which the district has been planning for. Board members heard from Jason Vogelbaugh, a representative of Rockford-based Alpha Controls And Services, LLC who works with the district to update its buildings, and Adelman. The company is paid by the district on a contract basis working on numerous projects, Vogelbaugh explained.

To date, Vogelbaugh and Adelman explained to Board members, the projects which have been completed thus far throughout the district include geothermal projects at PJHS and EJHS, and Energy efficiency projects undertaken at both of the district’s high schools. An energy efficiency project is slated to begin at Kingsley Junior High School in May, while a geothermal project slated for Chiddix Junior High School is in the planning stages, Adelman explained.

KJHS will present an interesting challenge for converting to geothermal, Vogelbaugh and Adelman explained, for numerous reasons. Those include the building’s age, having been opened in 1957, and undergone numerous remodeling projects over the years. The building had previously been used as NCHS, and remodeled when it was converted into a junior high school in the mid-1990s.

Among issues needing tackled are failed roof top units, failed boilers, and significant safety issues when work on the over-156,000 sq. ft. facility begins. Vogelbaugh said the geothermal project would save the district money because the current tab to heat and cool the building annually is around $282,000.

Adelman told Board members Eugene Field School remains the only “boiler operation” within the district.

Schools that have already been worked on are showing decreases in amounts of energy used to heat and power them, Vogelbaugh told Board members. Normal West, for example, he said, has reduced the amount of gas used by 10 percent. PJHS has seen the reduction in gas used come down by 99 percent, he added.