By Steve Robinson | October 29, 2019 - 10:45 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

As I write this column, I know for a fact Ridgeview is in. As I write this column, I know that fans of Normal Calvary Christian Academy and LeRoy High Schools are anxiously waiting to see if their teams will advance from the Sectional Finals to the SuperSectionals. I also know that Candy Dady is looking for volunteers to aid in making this year’s Illinois High School Association State Volleyball Tournament what everyone hopes will be a rousing success.

Dady is a volunteer who helps find volunteers to help keep the annual event, scheduled for Redbird Arena on Illinois State University’s campus running smoothly. This year’s State tournament is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 and 16, starting each day with the first match on Friday slated for 9a.m.

Candy Dady and her late husband, Jim, began helping with the tournament at various posts in 1995, she explained. Currently, Candy Dady is one of a trio of volunteer coordinators, along with Marsha Funk and Amy Smith. Over the course of the two-day tourney, Dady said, it takes 90 to 100 volunteers to keep things running smoothly and doing it so that it looks like it’s effortless. She said she is looking for 50-60 folks of age 18 and out of high school to help out.

She said she gets folks who are either retired or work and start their weekend off by volunteering. The job doesn’t pay money, being a volunteer position anybody would sign up for, but those who do volunteer get a free t-shirt and a free pass to the tourney for the entire weekend.

“If you’re a volleyball buff and you plan to be here for the whole weekend and love watching volleyball, come volunteer for a couple hours and then you have two days in which to get into this tournament for free,” Dady coaxed.

Volunteer shifts run for two or three hours at a time depending on the assignment, Dady explained. They need volunteers in the hospitality room, at hall security, among others.

Dady said the tournament, in addition to making some money for the Town of Normal, “helps get people acquainted with ISU. IHSA does a fabulous job with this tournament.”

The Dadys volunteered in 1995 when their daughter, a member of University High’s Volleyball team at the time, and the Pioneers made it to State. Candy Dady said she was approached by a volunteer organizer about volunteering for that tournament. “I said, ‘sure,’” and the Dady’s association with the tournament found its foundation.

Dady said folks wanting to volunteer should contact Marsha Funk directly at (309) 376-6206.

As I wrap up this column, I can give you some details about quarterfinal games which happened Tuesday. In Class 1A, I see that Lexington High School has passed the first hurdle toward State, defeating Cullom Tri-Point, 25-16 and 25-13. Also in Class 1A, LeRoy beat Cornerstone Christian Academy, 25-6 and 25-10. In Class 2A regional semis, Downs Tri-Valley advanced by beating Stanford Olympia 25-18 and 25-18 while El Paso Gridley outpaced Eureka, 22-25, 25-22, and 25-15. Bloomington Central Catholic lost its regional semifinal to Pleasant Plains, 25-19 and 25-19. That loss means the cardboard cutout of the Pope some BCC students have toted around to past State Volleyball events will not be seen at Redbird Arena, coming from Bloomington, at least, this year.

In Class 3A regional semifinals, University High beat Lincoln, 25-8 and 25-16, while Bloomington High defeated Springfield High, 25-12 and 25-13. In Class 4A regional semifinal action, Bradley Bourbonnais sent Normal Community West home early, beating the Wildcats, 25-23 and 25-17. But Normal Community High School defeated Quincy in their regional semifinal, 25-11 and 25-19 to advance.

Judging from the scores, it appears our local teams are in fine form already as they vie to get to State. Here’s hoping volunteers become plentiful for Dady and we see some local competitors among the teams making it to State in a few weeks.

NORMAL – When we were in grade school, we all sought to be considered part of the group of kids we had classes with. For some students, fitting right in happened almost immediately. But for kids with developmental disabilities, sometimes, those youngsters find fitting in difficult because other kids aren’t able to relate or made fun of them. But youngsters at Parkside Elementary School, through programs at Parkside Elementary School, are finding themselves fitting right in thanks to Special Olympics.

Parkside Elementary was named one of just four National Unified Champion Schools in the State of Illinois, celebrating the honor at an assembly in the school gym on Oct. 24. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is an all-ages based program supported by the Federal Department of Education. A primary goal of the program is to motivate young people and give them tools, skills, and opportunities to help change their schools to have a genuine culture of inclusiveness, according to the national office of Special Olympics.

Unified schools have three main goals as set by Special Olympics: Inclusive sports; Youth leadership and advocacy; And Engagement in the program on the part of the whole school. At this assembly, Parkside Elementary was awarded a banner signifying the school’s commitment toward those goals.

In addition to the school’s 290 students, a number of former staff members and students who were part of the program in the past were invited to return to cerebrate receiving the honor. Also, a group of students who now attend neighboring Parkside Junior High School and were part of the program at the grade school in the past were invited to attend the celebration.

“It’s a tremendous honor for Parkside and we’re really proud of them,” stated Marty Hickman, Chief Operating Officer for Special Olympics Illinois, who represented the organization at this function. “They have exhibited all the things you would want a school to exhibit with regard to inclusion and helping students with intellectual disabilities to be part of their school community.”

A total of four schools in Illinois were receiving this honor and Parkside is the only elementary school in the State to claim the honor. The others are two high schools and a junior high school. There are a total of 400 schools Statewide which participate in the Young Athletes Program. Schools applied for the honor and needed to meet 10 excellence standards to qualify to be awarded the national recognition.

The program has been in place for 11 years, Hickman said, adding, “It creates an environment in this school where students with intellectual disabilities are more accepted, more included, and can have a richer and more full elementary school experience because of how they’re treated here.”

Fifth graders serve as peer coaches for students in Special Olympics’ Young Athletes Program, a program that involves students who are younger than age 8, explained Kathy O’Connell, Special Education physical education teacher at both the grade school and PJHS. The next step for athletes once they become 8-years-old is to be eligible to participate in Special Olympics programs and events. The Young Athletes Program has been available at the school for 13 years, O’Connell added.

O’Connell said students are taught lessons in the importance of respect toward people with disabilities. Because she teaches at PJHS, O’Connell sees the lessons at the grade school sticking with kids once they move on to secondary education. “They just grow up with it,” she said. “It just flows from one school to the other.”

To celebrate the accomplishment, the assembly’s audience included current and former students who have been involved in the Unified Sports Programs established at the school through Special Olympics, as well as hearing from some of those people.

Among the speakers were former athletes in both the Young Athletes or Unified Sports Program at the grade school. Eighteen year old Brandon Lake and his mother, Heather. Heather recounted for the audience that her son was a participant in the Young Athletes program starting at age five, and she has kept the first shirt he ever got when he entered the program at that time.

She admitted she was “an overwhelmed mama who was new to the world of disabilities” at the time she and her son came to see O’Connell about Brandon getting to be part of the program. For the Lake family, “Young Athletes Program line of Special Olympics events that Brandon participated over the years,” Heather Lake said. “But for me, personally, it marked a point in time where we were actually empowered to embrace our son’s strengths rather than his deficits.”

The assembly also heard from other parents and teammates in the Unified program who say they have learned from the experience.

Sean Foster, principal of Bloomington Central Catholic High School, also addressed the gathering, saying, “We are here to congratulate you on your accomplishment. It’s really important to have schools and organizations that partner together to help one another and serve one another. He noted that seniors at his school spend one of the last days of their high school career helping with the Young Athletes program. “By helping with this program, our students receive so much more in return.”

Before the program closed, Hickman spoke just before the banner with the national honor was presented. “I want you to understand not every school is able to be a national banner Unified Champion School,” he told the gathering. “A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff. “

With that, and after the presentation, school employees, members of the school’s Young Athletes Program, Special Olympics athletes, and coaches gathered around the banner as family and friends closed out the proceedings taking pictures with the newly-attained banner.

By Steve Robinson | October 27, 2019 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Urbana head coach Ordell Walker fully admitted after his team’s contest he knows he has a young team that lacks veteran leadership and needs room to grow and improve. The Tigers’ youth and need to grow were on full display at Wildcat Field when they visited Normal West Oct. 25. The Wildcats took full advantage of the Tigers’ predicament, defeating the visitors, 63-0, before roughly 850 fans. The victory helped the Wildcats close out the regular season with a 7-2 regular season mark, including 7-1 count against Big 12 Conference opponents.

Urbana (1-8 overall, 1-7 Big 12) received the ball first but was forced to punt on fourth down giving Normal West the ball for the first time at the Tigers’ 48 yard line. One play later, senior quarterback Carson Camp raced through the Tigers’ defense for the Wildcats first touchdown followed by a successful 2-point conversion play which featured senior running back Cole Hernandez passing to passing to junior tight end Corey Walker to put the Wildcats up, 8-0 at the 10:24 mark.

Normal West got the ball back when Urbana’s next possession ended in a punt. The Wildcats were able to score again on a 3 yard dash by senior running back Aimry Schieler, capping 3 play 48 yard drive followed by senior kicker Adam Conrad’s extra point, increasing the home team’s lead, 15-0.

After Normal West’s ensuing kickoff, Urbana began their drive at their own 20 but West senior tight end Zach Marcotte picked off the pass from Tigers senior quarterback Elijah Rodgers and dashed into the end zone for a 32 yd. interception touchdown followed by Conrad’s extra point, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 22-0, with 6:44 left in the quarter.

Urbana was deep in their own territory when they gave Normal West another scoring opportunity toward the end of the quarter. Punting with their ball at their own 5 proved costly as the Wildcats began a drive at Urbana’s 19. Camp would pass to sophomore Max Ziebarth who scored the last touchdown of the quarter followed by Conrad’s next point after. That would give Normal West a 29-0 lead going into the second quarter.

Urbana’s next possession began at their own 40 until an Urbana fumble led to a scramble for the ball and was picked up by junior defensive back Scott Tippy who ran the ball into the end zone for a 5 yard touchdown at the 11:41 mark in the second quarter. Conrad’s extra point increased West’s lead to 36-0. Urbana’s ensuing possession also ended in a fumble turned touchdown for West as junior linebacker DeAris McQuirter converted Urbana’s mistake into a 22 yard return for a touchdown followed by Conrad’s extra point. That increased West’s lead to 43-0 with 11:10 until halftime.

The Wildcats ensuing kickoff would give the Tigers the ball at their own 39, but three plays later, another fumble, this time by Wildcats senior defensive lineman Anarius Walton, would help give West good field position, starting at Urbana’s 38. Seven plays later, Camp would connect on a 5 yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Corey Walker for a touchdown followed by another Conrad extra point. That gave Normal West a 50-0 lead going into halftime.

Once the second half began, game officials employed IHSA’s “Mercy Rule,” – as a result of the 40-point plus difference in the game score, using a continuously running clock, stopping it for only timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury. The running clock began as the third quarter opened.

Normal West received the ball to start the second half and began at their own 37. Six plays later, junior running back LaTre Billups marched into the end zone from 14 yards out for another score, followed by Conrad missing the extra point, leading to West holding a 56-0 lead.

A turnover on downs ended Urbana’s next possession, giving West the ball at the Tigers’ 15. Three plays later, senior running back Chauncey Jones dashed into the end zone for what would be the final points of the contest followed by Conrad’s extra point.

“Our kids did everything we asked of them tonight,” stated Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham. “They played hard. They played within our scheme. They did everything we expected them to do and they were respectful about it.”

He added that his players demonstrated a mindset the coaching staff has been encouraging of “start strong and play fast.” He admitted his players have been in this kind of game at times where they didn’t observe that request.

Urbana’s Walker began his postgame comments by congratulating Fincham and his players on their season. “Normal came out and did what they were supposed to do. We made a lot of mistakes which they capitalized on, and it was a great victory for them. Statistically, we continue to move the ball even though the scoreboard doesn’t show that.”

He said his team is “decimated with injuries, but who we have out there play extremely hard. We were severely outmatched today.” He said a number of players on the field for this game were junior varsity still learning the team’s strategies.

NORMAL – On the field, Chiddix Junior High School’s 8th grade Baseball team may have finished second at Illinois Elementary School Association State Tournament earlier this month, but appeared to hit it out of the park with how they carried themselves throughout the tourney away from the diamond. That was the message CJHS Associate Principal Wendy Davis had as she introduced the team members to Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting Oct. 24. The meeting was held in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School.

CJHS’ team was recognized by Board members for having placed 2nd in the Class 3A State Championship game on October 7, dropping a 3-2 decision to defending champion Edwardsville Liberty Junior High School. Davis introduced team members to the Board. The last game result gave CJHS a final record of 18 wins and 3 losses on the season. But the team had to wait through two days of rain delays to get to their big moment, Davis said. The team defeated Pekin Edison and Shorewood Troy junior highs to get their championship shot.

Davis began by praising her administrative assistant, Sandy Kohlhase, for her efforts in trying to get scheduling, arranging of team and fan buses, and handling the organizational matter involved with the team this season.

This team was only the second team in the last 50 years to reach getting to being runner up at State, Davis added. “That makes this team the highest-placing team that we know of in IESA. It’s a very, very big accomplishment.”

Davis gave praise to players’ parents and siblings, too. She explained there were quite a few posts on Facebook by parents keeping fans updated.

Davis also had praise for the team, saying, “This is a group of young gentlemen that are so on and off the field in terms of how they handle themselves, both at Chiddix and at other schools. We’re extremely proud of how they handle themselves and how they carry themselves. They have moral character in all situations. They remain very relaxed before a State final game. They are a group that will persevere and is committed.” She said their teamwork showed on the diamond during practices and games and away from them. She added the goals coaches and players had added to expectations by all concerned helped the team get as far as they did.

Team members are: Aidan Archibald, Kyle Beaty, Brandy Bengtson, Leif Blair, Owen Cavanaugh, Caden Correll, Christopher Courier, Lucas Drengwitz, Kaileb Hackman, Dane Harbert, Riley Hendren, Blake Potts, Jonah Roper, Drew Stevens, Ryan Theile, Devan Tupper, Charlie Vercruysse, and team manager Tucker Carlock. Charlie Shempf is the team’s head coach with assistant coach Ryan Short, and volunteer assistant coach Ben Smith, and volunteer coach Sean Shook. The head coach for CJHS’ 7th grade team is Brandon Knapp.

“Those Who Excel” Honorees Recognized: Board members were informed about groups and individuals within the district who were recently honored at the annual Illinois State Board of Education “Those Who Excel” Dinner held Oct. 19 at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown.

Honorees from the district included: Unit 5’s Middle School English as Second Language (ESL) team; Early Career Educator Brock Keller; Leslie Davenport for receiving a Meritorious School Administrator Award; April Schermann for her work as a Classroom Teacher; Elizabeth Kelley for her work in Educational Service; and Naomi Kosier for her work for her role serving as Student Support Personnel.

Charlie Crabtree, who volunteered with Normal Community West High School girls’ basketball teams and was killed in an accident involving a Unit 5 bus and a truck last December, was also honored for his volunteerism by ISBE at the dinner. His wife, Kathy, and two adult daughters were present for the meeting.

Audit Report Presented: Board members heard a brief report on an audit conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP, represented by Lindsey Samp and Tommy Hoerr. The firm had only one major finding to report to Board members related to payroll expenditures. They discovered one instance of costs claimed for reimbursement in reality were exceeding costs actually incurred by the district. Board members unanimously voted to approve the audit report.

Academic Growth And Achievement Report Presented: Board members heard an update on how student academic growth and achievement is progressing in the district based on figures compiled in the 2018-19 school year. It was presented by Mo Backe, director of elementary education, Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education; and Darrin Cooper, director of teaching and learning. Among the highlights presented were that the district is exceeding the State when it comes to the percentage of high school students on track to graduate in four years.

The report presented showed Normal Community High School had 562 freshmen, 90.4 percent of them were on track to graduate. At Normal Community West High School, there were 417 freshmen, 89.8 percent were on track to graduate. Overall, that showed that 90 percent of the district’s freshmen were in this position, as opposed to the percentage of students statewide in that position. The State’s percentage of students in that position was 86.6 percent.

In terms of where students opted to go after getting their diploma from Unit 5 at the end of the last school year, the team’s research showed, of NCHS students, 57 percent attended a four-year college or university; 33 percent attended community college; 3 percent entered the military; and 7 percent entered the workforce.

Of Normal West students tracked, 44 percent attended a four-year college or university; 35 percent attended community college; 3 percent entered the military; and 4 percent entered the workforce.

Public Hearing Held Regarding Life Safety Projects: Prior to looking into allocating funds for life safety projects concerning parking lots and driveways at Normal Community West High School and Pepper Ridge Elementary, a public hearing was held for input from community members. No members of the public spoke. The district will now seek bids from contractors for the projects. Those bids will be opened with one bid presented to Board members for a vote at a future meeting.

New Human Resources Director Introduced: This meeting was the first for the district’s new human resources director. Roger Baldwin, 49, was introduced to audience members by District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. He began his new job Oct. 21. He previously worked in the telecommunications field for 25 years, his previous job being with Frontier Communications and its predecessors for 26 years. The last nine of those years spend working in human resources. A Navy veteran, he received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Illinois State University. Explaining he had always been drawn to working with labor, and the more research he did on Unit 5, “the more it made sense to apply here.

Dates Announced For Music Parents Spaghetti Suppers: Jennifer Speirer, a parent representing the Unit 5 Music Parents Association, invited Board members to attend the two annual Spaghetti Supper events which will be held in November. The supper held at Normal Community West High School will be held Monday, Nov. 4. The supper held at Normal Community High School will be held Monday, Nov. 11. Both events will run from 5p.m.9p.m. She invited Board members to attend to the function. Tickets are available for cost at the door.

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2019 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – From the outset, it looked like a statistical mismatch to put Normal Community High School and Champaign Centennial High School against each other. While the Ironmen had only sustained one loss on the season, the Chargers were still in search of their first victory. Before a crowd of roughly 850 fans at Ironmen Stadium, NCHS added to their victories while adding to their opponent’s woes with a 41-13 victory.

As a result of the victory, the Ironmen (7-1 overall and 7-0 Big 12), ranked 10th in Illinois High School Association Class 7A, earned a share of the league championship. Crosstown rival Normal Community West High School and Peoria High are both 7-0 in league standings. The Ironmen’s final regular season game will be at Peoria High Friday, starting with a 4:30p.m. kickoff.

After the Chargers received the initial kickoff and punting on fourth down, senior quarterback Aidan Oliver’s 14 yard touchdown dash at 8:31 in the first quarter, followed by a two-point conversion pass from sophomore quarterback Chase Mackey to Oliver playing receiver gave the Ironmen a fast 8-0 lead. The score capped a 6 play 51 yard drive for the Ironmen.

Champaign Centennial’s next drive only lasted one play resulting in a fumble recovered by NCHS at the Chargers’ 21. Four plays later, junior running back Benjamin Larson scored on a two yard run at 6:57 in the quarter, followed by a successful extra point by freshman kicker Ryan Millmore, giving the Ironmen a 15-0 lead.

The Chargers next drive would begin at their own 32 after the kickoff and get as far as midfield before NCHS sophomore defensive back Keewan Grismore’s interception, giving the Ironmen the ball at their own 43. Four plays later, Oliver would connect with senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy on a 30 yard touchdown strike, followed by Millmore missing the extra point. That score would increase NCHS’ lead to 21-0 going into the second quarter.

Champaign Centennial (0-8 overall, 0-7 Big 12) would punt to end the ensuing possession, giving the Ironmen the ball on the Chargers’ 49 with 57 seconds left in the opening quarter. Four plays later, Oliver would dash for a 42 yard touchdown at the 11:43 mark in the second quarter, followed by a botched 2-point try. The score would advance the Ironmen’s lead, 27-0.

From there, each team would have a possession end in an interception, followed by the Chargers having a possession ending in a fumble recovered by NCHS senior defensive lineman Cade Hermann, giving the Ironmen the ball at the Chargers’ 14. Two plays later, Oliver would score again from 13 yards out followed by Millmore’s extra point, giving NCHS a 34-0 lead with 6:45 left until halftime.

The Chargers’ ensuing possession only lasted three downs and was followed by a punt which gave NCHS the ball back on their own 49. Two plays later, Oliver connected with senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy on a 32 yard touchdown pass play. Millmore’s extra point gave NCHS a 41-0 lead going into halftime.

Once the second half began, game officials employed IHSA’s “Mercy Rule,” – as a result of the 40-point difference in the game score, using a continuously running clock, stopping it for only timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury. The running clock began as the third quarter opened.

The Chargers scored to open the third quarter on a 3 play 60 yard drive ending in sophomore running back Montez DuBose’s 25 yard rushing score, followed by senior kicker Isaiah Douglass’ extra point, cutting NCHS’ 41-7 at the 5:28 mark and going into the fourth quarter. The guests’ final score would come at the 1:20 mark in the fourth quarter as sophomore quarterback Brady Boatright would connect with sophomore wide receiver Jack Young on a 15 yard touchdown pass, but the Chargers would miss the extra point.

“Centennial may be struggling, but we definitely weren’t taking them lightly,” said NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz. That said, the second season head coach added, “No matter who we’re playing, we’re still playing for a Big 12 Conference championship. We want to play to our level, not to the level of our opponents. Centennial has a lot of young guys. I was just proud of how our guys went about our approach and went about our business taking care of all three phases of the game.

NCHS travels to conference leader Peoria High Friday to close out the regular season. The Lions, at 7-1, present the Ironmen with “so many challenges on the offensive side of the ball,” Drengwitz said. “Defensively, they do some unique things which also provides a challenge, I think.”

“We told our guys Normal Community was a good football team,” explained first season Champaign Centennial Kyle Jackson. He admits his team is “pretty young and pretty inexperienced, so we’re focusing on growing, and building the culture, and getting better. We knew Oliver was good and he was going to make his reads and make the right reads of our defense and we tried to throw some different defensive things at him.”