By Steve Robinson | December 2, 2018 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – For one quarter, the first quarter of Normal Community High School ’s Big 12 Conference matchup against unbeaten Peoria Notre Dame, it looked like the Ironmen had the chance to keep pace and outpace their guests from the River City . But it only took a 9-0 run to start the second quarter for the Irish to overturn that advantage and stay in front of their hosts en route to a 57-45 victory.

It took nearly three minutes before any player on either side could penetrate the opposing defense to score the game’s opening bucket, but senior center Evan Pogge did so at the 5:13 mark putting NCHS (3-2) ahead, 2-0. That became a 5-0 run for the Ironmen when senior guard Blake Foster’s trey went through the hoop at 4:25. Peoria ND hit back-to-back unanswered deuces from junior Connor Dillon and junior Ben Kouri to close the score to 5-4 at the 2:35 mark. A three-point play, including a free throw by senior forward Christian Wilbourne doubled the score for NCHS, 8-4. But a trey from Kouri closed out the first quarter, with the Ironmen holding a one-point lead, 8-7.

From the opening of the second quarter, though, Peoria ND (4-0) went on a 9-0 scoring blitz which featured deuces from junior Declan Dillon, Connor Dillon, and senior Matt Pudik, topped off by a trey from senior Joe Gustafson, putting PND in front, 16-8 with 4:27 left in the half, prompting Ironmen head coach Dave Witzig to call a timeout. A trey by Ironmen senior guard Drew Kagel at the 3:17 mark closed that lead to 16-11, but the half ended on back-to-back unanswered buckets by Connor Dillon and Pudik, putting PND in front, 20-11.

Foster hit a trey to open the third quarter for NCHS, putting the Ironmen within six, 20-14, but Pudik replied with a trey of his own, putting PND up, 23-14. Foster hit another trey, closing the score within six, 23-17, but back-to-back treys by Pudik and Connor Dillon gave PND a 12-point lead, 29-17, before NCHS senior guard Daylen Boddie added a three to help keep the home team within nine, 29-20, with 3:49 left in the period. Wilbourne added a deuce to put the Ironmen within seven, 29-22.

Another Connor Dillon deuce and free throw by Kouri gave PND a 10-point lead, 32-22, with 3:02 left in the quarter. NCHS got five unanswered points from a Wilbourne rebound and a trey from Boddie pushing the Ironmen within five, 32-27, with 1:25 left in the quarter, but the Irish closed out the quarter on a 6-0 run thanks to back-to-back unanswered treys from Gustafson, putting PND in front, 38-27, going into the fourth quarter.

Senior forward Dishon Hall II’s deuce opened the fourth quarter for NCHS to help close PND’s lead, 38-29, with 6:41 remaining. Between free throws by Kouri and junior Declan Dillon for PND, Hall hit a deuce, but PND remained in front by 10, 41-31. Pogge and Wilbourne went back-to-back to the free throw line courtesy of fouls from PND, going a combined 3-for-4 to pull NCHS within seven, 41-34, prompting visiting head coach Tom Lacher to call a timout with 3:21 remaining.

Coming out of that timeout, however, two NCHS fouls – including a technical foul called on Foster – sent Kouri to the line to answer for the technical and Declan Dillon to answer for the game penalty. Combined, the pair went 2-for-3, and were followed by a basket by Connor Dillon to put PND up, 45-37. Connor Dillon squeezed a deuce in between two sets of Wilbourne free throws, Wilbourne going a combined 4-for-4, but PND owned a 47-41 lead with 1:59 left in the contest. Wilbourne fouled Declan Dillon, who went 1-for-2 at the line, putting PND up, 48-41 with 1:55 left. Boddie hit a deuce at the 1:45 mark to keep NCHS within five, 48-43. The margin and time remaining prompted Witzig to call timeout.

But coming out of timeout, NCHS fouls sent Gustafson, Declan Dillon, and Kouri to the free throw line where they went a combined 5-for-6 allowing the visitors to restore a 10-point lead, 53-43, with 56.7 seconds left. A Wilbourne put-back shot helped pull NCHS within eight, 53-45, but fouls called on Boddie and Foster sent Gustafson and Declan Dillon back to the free throw line where they went a combined 4-for-4 to help their team arrive at the final score.

Gustafson led PND in scoring with 14, followed by 12 from Connor Dillon, Kouri’s 11, and 10 each from Declan Dillon and Pudik. Wilbourne and Foster led the way for NCHS, scoring 13 points, and 12, respectfully, on the night.

PND’s Lacher complimented his coaching counterpart, Witzig, saying, “He’s a great coach. We figured we’d see some pressure, and we figured it would be Wilbourne at the top and get him where if he couldn’t score, he could at least facilitate some scores with the guys around him. They also had some guys who came off the bench and stepped up and knocked down some shots and made some plays. Wilbourne facilitating hurt us in the fourth quarter.”

“NCHS turned up turned up the defensive intensity on the parimeter,” Lacher said, adding his squad had not been exposed to that sort of defensive maneuvering during a Thanksgiving tourney the Irish played in.

“I’ve chosen for our team to play man-to-man whereas Notre Dame plays a 1-2-2 defense,” explained NCHS head coach Dave Witzig. “In the first half, we didn’t play very hard and that put us down, 20-11. We didn’t compete at a high level like we need to in the Big 12. You have to give Notre Dame credit. They came in here and they competed and got after it and it was a good win for them.”

By Steve Robinson | December 1, 2018 - 7:57 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Kentucky has one. Indiana has one, too, and Minnesota is in the midst of putting one together. So is Illinois. What these states either have or are trying to assemble memorabilia for is a High School Basketball Hall Of Fame. Illinois’ is in the works, planned to be located in Pontiac. And the 1,500 plus wins Normal Community High School’s boys’ basketball team has accrued over the decades would be considered worth noting for being added to this new shrine.

Steve Allen, a member of Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s Board of Directors, Bill Kemp, librarian for the McLean County Museum of History, and Milan Jackson, a volunteer with the Museum, made fans aware at halftime of Normal Community High’s boys’ game against Peoria Notre Dame Nov. 30 that their team’s total number of victories over the decades assures the team that those collecting every nugget of basketball history in this state would want to include this milestone.

“Anybody who plays basketball, we’re hoping to have something from every school added to the Hall of Fame,” Allen said. “There will certainly be historical lists and information. Normal Community has a great history and they’ll be in the Hall for sure.”

The museum “has had great responses” for things folks think ought to be included within it, Allen explained. “We get more information than we’re probably going to put in at one time.” Reaching the 1,500 win plateau qualifies NCHS for recognition within the Museum with other schools getting that far.

“There are not many schools who’ve done that and we want to demonstrate to those schools that we acknowledge their success,” Allen said.

NCHS basketball history would appear to fill its own building if it could be built, it appears. When Allen made the announcement regarding the new Hall Of Fame, the crowd of roughly 400-450 fans in NCHS’ large gym cheered.

There were a number of former Ironmen players invited to the PND game to bear witness to Allen’s announcement, and not just from recent years. Meet Hudson resident Robert Whitwood, who played for the Ironmen in 1958. In his playing days, under Head Coach Fran Somers, Whitwood was a forward in an era when the game was very different than it is now.

“I was considered tall back then,” Whitwood said. “I’m 6 foot-2.” The game has changed drastically since Whitwood’s years on the court. There was no 3-point line back then, and rather than taking the ball in-bounds after an opponent scored, there was always a jump ball for possession.

Whitwood said the pace of the game sped up after his playing days were over. “When we played, we tried to set up plays that resulted in baskets,” he explained. “There’s a lot less ball-handling now than there was then.”

To show how things have changed, Jason Lay, who played forward and center for Ironmen head coach Tom Eder from 1989-1991, said the change he noticed that didn’t happen in his day include things he said would have gotten him and his teammates in Eder’s doghouse back then. “A lot of kids watch ‘SportsCenter’ on ESPN and want to make plays instead of doing what’s right and doing other things to win games.” Lay recalled that “using an entire team to run an offense” was a positive item used in his playing days.

Former Ironmen player Brian Metz has been fortunate enough to see the tradition of players see their children play for the team they did. A 1983 graduate, Metz was a shooting guard when he played under Head Coach Joe Hawthorne. Metz’s son, Austin, is a sophomore and carrying on the family name when he takes to the court.

Metz said his team won 34 games when he played and he has tried to put that into perspective when you size it up as part of a 1,500 plus win ledger.

Tyler Vance, a 2015 graduate who played for current Head Coach Dave Witzig, was a point guard who got to and lost in a State Championship. “We were trying to get as far as we could,” Vance said. “We had a really fun year and we were able to be Chicago Simeon in the Super Sectional game, and we took it a game at a time ‘til we got that spot and lost to Stevenson in the title game.”

Jeff Collins played shooting guard for NCHS from 1979-1981 under Hawthorne. His years saw the team only get as far as Regionals each year he played winning one and losing one. He spends his off-hours serving as historian for NCHS’ Alumni Association. Collins probably should have a chat with Hall Of Fame organizers because Collins mentioned that when Randy Smithson was an NCHS student in the 1980s, he most likely set the record for the most wins by a player at the school. That would be 83 wins by Collins’ tally in remembering the son of then-Illinois State University head basketball coach Gene Smithson.

Beating Bloomington for the Regional championship is a memory Collins said he carries with him to this day.

I don’t know how many of the former players who were invited to attend the Hall Of Fame announcement showed for it. But there has to be a grapevine or network that will get word to them all, and no doubt they will have input on things that could be or should be added to the Hall. I will keep tabs on the Hall and hope in a future column to bring you some more information about it.

By Steve Robinson | November 30, 2018 - 2:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – If possible, a good office assistant tries to anticipate his or her supervisor’s needs on any project. Such an assistant learns to put personal needs on the back burner when changes occur, as well. Sandy Fedden was considering retirement in 2017 when her boss, City Manager Mark Peterson, announced in 2016 he was going to retire this past March. Not wanting to leave Peterson’s successor, Pam Reece, in a position to have to find a new assistant immediately, Fedden opted to stay, she said at that time, until December

But with her daughter expecting her third child, Fedden surprised everyone and asked to retire at the end of November. On Nov. 29, the Town of Normal held a farewell function for Fedden who had worked for the Town for 38 years. The function was held at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott in Uptown. By proclamation as introduced at the gathering that day, the Town designated Nov. 30, her last day on the job, as Sandra A. Fedden Appreciation Day.

Fedden began her career with the Town in 1980 working for its Parks and Recreation Department working for its director at that time, the late Ron Blemler. After a few years, she moved on to the Town’s Public Works Department for a time before returning to Parks and Recreation. She moved from there to the Town’s Administration division in 1994, becoming an executive secretary moving up to the position of executive assistant of administration, the post she held as she left the Town on her last day of work.

While she was in the Town’s Administration division, Fedden, who started her career with the Town at age 21, has worked for all three city managers – David Anderson, Peterson, and Reece. Fedden said, “It’s been great” to have worked with the administrators the Town has had for as long as they have been here. “Every boss that I’ve worked for has been just fantastic,” Fedden said. “So have the people I’ve worked with. It’s just been phenomenal.”

Fedden said Peterson and Reece asked her if she would consider staying another year while the change of City Managers was in progress. Fedden agreed to give it one more year.

In addition to three city managers, Fedden has served for two mayors and 18 Town Council members. As part of her duties related to Town Council, she was responsible for planning thousands of meetings, coordinating hundreds of events and assembling over 600 Council packets.

The job has also afforded Fedden opportunities to meet some famous folks along the way, among them: Former President Barack Obama when he was a State Senator, Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and 1960s-era singer Gary Puckett.

“When I took the job in ’80, I had just turned 21, and I was going to take this job in Parks and Rec and get a little bit of clerical experience and move on,” Fedden recalled. “And once I got here, it was a good fit. The people I worked for and with were great and time just kept going on, and here I am 38 years later.”

As part of her job, Fedden served on the board of the Town’s credit union and in 2007, served as head of the Town’s United Way Pacesetter Committee. During that year, the charity saw an increase in giving by Town employees of 113 percent over the numbers from the previous year.

“You get to meet a lot of people in this position, and to me, that’s rewarding,” Fedden said. “I like trying to help people and find a solution to their problems. You try to help folks find solutions so they don’t have to make multiple phone calls. That’s part of our customer service philosophy here. And having them say ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done for them is rewarding.”

Fedden said she will miss the people she has worked with over the years, and plans to stay in touch.

Fedden and her retired husband, Alan, have one daughter, Katie. Katie and her husband, Ethan Glasford, just had the couple’s third child. First on Fedden’s list of retirement adventures is to go to South Dakota to visit the newest grandchild.

Receives Thanks At Reception: At the reception held on her next to last day working for the Town, Reece thanked Fedden for her efforts. Peterson came to congratulate her on her retirement, and although he was not able to attend, Anderson sent her a videotape message congratulating her for her time with the Town. Between 50-60 people attended that function.

“I’ve Enjoyed My Jobs With The Town”: After putting in 38 years, Fedden summarized her time with the Town by saying, “I’ve enjoyed my jobs with the Town. I don’t have any regrets or complaints about them. The Town of Normal is a great place to work, and I will always tell people that.”

By Steve Robinson | November 23, 2018 - 8:06 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

I realize the high school basketball season is just getting underway, but a local event where fans of round ball really get their fix, the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known to locals by the nickname, “The Classic,” will be here before you know it. The annual Boys’ tournament will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The Classic will run Wednesday, Dec. 26 through “Championship Day” on Saturday, December 29. fans can catch games at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and at a venue making a return appearance after being absent for a while, Bloomington High School (more about BHS’ return to “The Classic” shortly).

Dave Oloffson, vice president of Classic Tournament, Inc., the non-profit group which has operated the tournament since 1995, said there will be nine new teams coming into the tournament this year, and that ticket sales began online earlier this month at the event’s website,

Oloffson said there are a couple of benefits to buying an all-tournament pass in advance of the event. First, he explained, “Doing ticket purchases in advance is cheaper than if you went to every session, obviously, and paid the per session price. Buying an all-tournament pass gets you into every game of the tournament – boys’ and girls’, all 128 games – you could see bits and pieces of each one.”

“Secondly, for each tournament pass you purchase online, we will donate $5 back to the participating team of your choice,” Oloffson said, encouraging fans to consider such purchases. “It’s a good fundraiser for those teams. If 20 people go online and each buy a pass, that starts to add up to help the school.”

Oloffson said the silent auction featuring items autographed by former “The Classic” players who have gone on to play in the pros will be back and available at NCHS and Shirk Center. Monies raised at the silent auction are used for the tournament’s scholarship fund, he reminded. The scholarship has been part of the tournament since 2006, Oloffson reminded, adding the Tournament’s organizing committee will award four $1,500 scholarships this year. High school seniors playing the tournament this year will be eligible for and have the chance to apply for those scholarships.

Players wishing to apply for the scholarships, in addition to being on a team’s active roster, must write an essay, list their extracurricular activities in school, and meet a specific grade point average requirement, Oloffson said.

“We’re always thankful to our venues who host our tournament,” Oloffson said. “I don’t think they get enough credit. It takes a lot because we have to have six courts at four different venues. The logistics and scheduling didn’t work at Bloomington Central Catholic this year so Bloomington High School will host girls’ tournament games.” BHS has been a tournament venue for “The Classic” before, the last time being in 2002. Before that, BHS was a host venue twice previously, in 1999 and 2001.

“BHS is a great place to watch basketball,” Oloffson said. “It gives you a chance to experience watching a game in an old-time, old school fieldhouse atmosphere. You don’t get that with newer schools nowadays. We’re excited about that.”

Tournament Hasn’t Run In Consecutive Years: If folks reading this were around in this area in the mid-to-late 1980s and can’t recall this tournament being active at that time, you’ve got good memories for events. Oloffson said there were no “Classic” tournaments from 1986-1989, but said he isn’t aware of the reason for that.

This will not just be the 40th year for the boys’ part of the tournament, but also the 23rd year for the girls’ tournament, as well as the 20th year State Farm Insurance has been involved. This will also be the 17th straight year The Classic will also have “The Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout,” featuring local and area Special Olympics basketball teams, each getting in some games to get their seasons started in preparation toward a State Tournament held on Illinois State University’s campus in March.

Next week, I will have some more information on the tournament which ought to get fans a little more ready for the event as the dates get nearer.

By Steve Robinson | November 19, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Beginning in mid-December, those persons who choose to stay in lodging known as AirBnBs – private residences which offer a room with a bed and breakfast to total strangers for a charge – will, just like hotels and motels do currently, be required to pay taxes to the Town of Normal . That’s the result of a unanimous vote by Normal Town Council members at the governing body’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

The ordinance take effect April 1, as a result of the Council vote, and would impose a 6 percent rental charge for customers’ lodging bill, explained City Manager Pam Reece. Six percent is the current amount charged as a result of the Town’s hotel/motel tax.

In a report to Council members, Reece less than 25 properties are listed on short-term rental websites with that amount slated to increase. Airbnb states a total of 16 properties are listed for this type of lodging in the past three years – 6 entire homes that could be rented; 9 with private rooms, and one that provides a shared room.

Houses could be rented at $100 per night with individual rooms going for $60 per night, according to Reece’s report. The tax is paid by guests at AirBnBs and collected by that company’s corporate entity. Websites which help promote short term rental companies will be notified by the Town to make AirBnB operators of their responsibility to collect the tax and pay the Town.

In a public comment to Council members, Ray Ceresa, president of Bloomington-Normal Hotel and Lodging Association told Council members hotels associated with the group “are not afraid to compete with AirBnBs.”

AirBnBs “are not what I bought into when I bought in my neighborhood,” stated Council Member Jeff Fritzen. “These are businesses and they should contribute taxes as businesses do.” Council Member Chemberly Cummings said she sees AirBnB operators paying the tax as a means “of paying a fair share.”

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz asked Reece how payment of the tax would be enforced. Reece replied the Town will do “spot checks and respond to complaints from neighbors.”

Ordinance Prohibiting Minors Using E-Cigs, Vaping, Unanimously Passes: Council members unanimously passed an ordinance amending Town Code to prohibit the sale of tobacco, nicotine, and smoking devices including vapor, cigars, cigarettes and pipes to minors. The ordinance will be put into effect December 1, Reece stated in a written report to Council members.

Vendors caught selling tobacco or related products to minors will be subject to a $50 fine for a first offense. Normal Police conducts audits of businesses selling tobacco in Town.

Members of an Illinois State University advocacy group called Tobacco 21 Coalition brought the idea for this action to Council members during the annual Town-ISU Meet And Greet event held Oct. 1 at Medici Restaurant in Uptown.

At least 20 states have adopted legislation at State level and 26 communities in Illinois , including Peoria and Washington, have adopted similar ordinances.

Boy Scout’s Project Leads To Lights At Grandview & Vernon: Council members also unanimously passed a motion approving criteria and analysis for installation of flashing LED stop signs and authorizing installation of the signs at the intersection of Vernon Ave. and Grandview Dr., and approving an associated budget adjustment of $3,500.

But this was one time such action was taken because the Town found it necessary and took action, but rather they were made aware of the situation by a resident – one who approached the Town to aid in a project in order to work toward earning a Boy Scout merit badge in Citizenship.

Jack DeKeersgieter, an eighth grade student at Chiddix Junior High School approached the Town about putting in an embedded LED stop sign or flashing LED stop sign at the intersection in question for among other reasons that the intersection had sight restrictions and cars going through it at fairly high speeds. One pedestrian, Lanny Lobdell, was killed two years ago at the intersection DeKeersgieter was lobbying for installing such a sign.

In his quest to see the signs getting placed, DeKeersgieter involved administrators at Colene Hoose Elementary School and contacting Town Council members Kevin McCarthy and Lorenz. He said he also met with Lobdell’s widow, as well as with Hoose Principal Adam Zbrozek.

DeKeersgieter was invited by Mayor Chris Koos to sit at the speaker’s table and explain to Council members why he felt the need to take on this project. As he explained his need to become involved in getting the project started, he was flanked by Town Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich and Town Engineer Ryan Otto.

“My mom and I brainstormed ideas and she talked about the intersection, where a car ran a stop sign and accidentally caused the death of Mr. Lanny Lobdell in August 2016,” DeKeersgieter told Council members. “I chose this issue right away because it made me feel sad Mr. Lobdell lost his life there and couldn’t spend more time with his family. I didn’t want any other person or kid from my old school, Colene Hoose, to die, too, when it could be safer for the school and Constitution Trail with a blinking LED stop sign.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 5, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 14, 2018.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. to perform emergency creek bank erosion repairs and stabilization in Sugar Creek for an amount not to exceed $319,000 and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Electronics Recycling Services for calendar year 2019.

• A resolution authorizing a three-year contract with Monee , Ill.-based Cardno, Inc. fro Riparian area maintenance in an amount not to exceed $80,000 per year.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with storm water education services provided by the Ecology Action Center for a period not to exceed three years.