By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2019 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Meteorologists had predicted rain for Friday of week five of high school football season, so area athletic directors took precautions and scheduled their games a little ahead of schedule for Sept. 27. Normal Community High School planned ahead, moving up their Big 12 Conference tilt start time against Peoria Manual. But the game still took two days to complete, as the Ironmen defeated the Rams, 31-6, to earn a Homecoming victory.

Freshman kicker Ryan Millmore’s 36 yard field goal at 3:46 in the first quarter capped a 6 play 33 yard drive for NCHS (4-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) and provided the sole points in the quarter for either team, putting the Ironmen up, 3-0.

Sophomore quarterback Chase Mackey and senior quarterback Aidan Quinn each led the Ironmen offense for a half of the contest, with Mackey going first, and completing a 25 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy at 10:34 in the second quarter, followed by a successful 2-Point conversion dash by Mackey to extend the Ironmen lead, 11-0.

After receiving a pitchout from sophomore quarterback Devon Owens, junior running back Joseph Franklin dashed into the end zone from 6 yards out with 1:29 until halftime, completing a 6 play, 28 yard drive. Owens added to the score with a 2-point conversion play, cutting NCHS’ lead, 11-8. The Rams fortunes for this drive came courtesy of an interception of a Mackey pass by Franklin. At the time of the interception, the Ironmen were in the midst of a drive which began at their own 37.

The score stayed that way going into halftime and the two teams went into their locker rooms, but when they came out for their three-minute warmup, lightning seen off to the west of Ironmen Field had game officials deciding to call the game before the second half kickoff. The game resumed at that point Saturday morning.

The resumption of play may have started with Peoria Manual (0-5 Big 12) receiving the kickoff, but the Rams were forced to start from the series of downs from their own 3. An interception of the third play from scrimmage by sophomore defensive back Keewan Grismore turned into a 7 yard touchdown for him and the Ironmen, followed by Millmore’s point-after, increasing NCHS’ lead, 18-6, at the 10:09 mark.

NCHS partially blocked a Rams punt with two minutes in the third quarter, giving the Ironmen the ball at their own 41. An unnecessary roughness call against the Rams and a 7 yard run by junior running back Benjamin Larson provided the set-up for Oliver’s 28 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy with 1:07 left. Tracy’s score was followed by a failed 2-point conversion try, but NCHS led, 24-6, going into the fourth quarter.

But the game was temporarily stopped by officials at the 10:58 mark when a fight between players on the Rams sideline occurred. That resulted in a brief stoppage of play, and included Rams head coach Gene Cagle taking a quick vote of his players as to whether they wanted to continue play. They did, and the game resumed. The Rams player who instigated the fight was ejected. Three plays later, junior running back Benjamin Larson ran in for a touchdown from a yard out capping a 3 play 27 yard drive followed by a Millmore extra point creating the final score.

“I don’t think the delay in finishing the game affected us because I think our coaches did a real good job in handling the situation,” NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz said. “But more importantly, I felt that our seniors, our captains, our players handled it well.”

“I was real proud of how our team handled a difficult situation for Manual,” Drengwitz added, referring to the flair-up on the Rams sideline. “I’m really proud of them. A win’s a win and we’re excited.”

With regard to the incident on the Rams sideline, Drengwitz said Cagle wanted to stop the game after it occurred and the second season Ironmen coach said he would have agreed to whatever decision Cagle made concerning that. “You feel for him and they are so much improved but it was important that we finished it and they finished it and just a difficult situation. I’m just proud of how our guys handled it.”

Concerning the matter regarding his team, Cagle said, “I’m glad our guys took some pride went out and at least finished the game and showed respect.” He said the incident itself troubled him. Cagle said he consulted with both the referee and Drengwitz as to what they wanted to do. Cagle said he was told it was his decision what Manual would do.

Cagle then went onto the field and asked his players if they wanted to stop playing at that point. He said his players pleaded with him not to stop the game. He then took a show of hands to see how many players wanted to continue finishing the game. Enough players did to allow the contest to finish to the final horn.

Cagle, a 1989 Peoria Manual graduate, became visibly emotional as he added, “I love this game, I love my school, and it’s my alma mater and I don’t like people disrespecting my alma mater. I’m glad the guys came out and played like they meant to play.” He said there would be consequences for the offending players involved in the fourth quarter incident.

Bloomington High School Visits Ironmen Field Friday: NCHS will host a 3-2 Bloomington High School team at Ironmen Field Friday night for a 7p.m. game. The Purple Raiders engineered a 58-6 road victory against Urbana last week.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2019 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Players and parents associated with the local lacrosse team in the Twin Cities must have felt as though they scored a goal at the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board on Sept. 25. That’s because Board members unanimously approved adding the sport to the spring schedules of both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School starting in 2020.

With their vote, Board members agreed for the district to enter into an agreement with Friends Of Bloomington-Normal Lacrosse to assemble two varsity teams — one boys’, one girls’ – for competition beginning next spring. The teams will incorporate players from Bloomington High School into their teams

The students representing the organization and their parents listened as Nic Kearfoot, athletic director at NCHS, and Stan Lewis, athletic director at Normal West offered to address any issues Board members may have had. The teams will practice at the practice field at Kingsley Junior High School, the former home of NCHS, and games will take place at Ironmen Field at NCHS and Wildcat Field at Normal West. The ADs explained boys’ games will be played at NCHS while girls’ games will be played at Normal West. Lewis said the reason for that is because fields for girls’ games are marked differently than they are for boys’ games.

Lewis said since the schools got a bit of a late start in getting the organizational matters taken care of, more than likely the teams would travel to Chicago suburban schools for some games rather than playing host to those schools this time around.

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker asked about what amount of class time would students be absent from if they are playing on the road. Lewis said that is a “valid concern for any of our sports,” adding if games are in the Chicago suburbs or St. Louis, he envisioned doing those games on Saturdays to prevent any class time from suffering as a result.

He said the teams’ options for local contests are a little more limited, but would be looking to play “during as many Saturdays as we could get within the confines of the season. The regular season runs from mid-March through mid-May followed by playoffs which run through May and part of June.

Bloomington-based District 87’s School Board was to have a presentation given to them to consider related to this venture. That meeting took place the same time Unit 5 met in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School for their Board meeting Wednesday.

The sports conference both NCHS and Normal West belong to, Big 12 Conference, has no schools competing in lacrosse, Lewis said, but there are a couple coop teams within driving distance of the Twin Cities, including in Washington and Dunlap.

During public comments Mike Buelow, president of Friends of Bloomington-Normal Lacrosse, told Board members the group began in 2011 and only had 15 kids when it started and now has ten times that number now. “The dream of these athletes to play for their school is real, and with your help, it can become a reality.”

Layne Scheck, an NCHS sophomore and a member of the girls’ team associated with Friends of Bloomington-Normal Lacrosse, told Board members playing the sport has been beneficial to her in a number of ways including gaining close friends in the six years she has played the sport. She said the sport has taught her, among other things, perseverance, hard work, teamwork, and leadership skills.

After the meeting, Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant superintendent, explained Lewis and Kearfoot will next turn in a cooperative agreement with Illinois High School Association to have this team added to IHSA’s ranks in this sport. Epperson added the schools will post ads to seek coaches for the teams. There will be a varsity team and a junior varsity team for each of the schools being combined in this effort, he added.

Lewis and Kearfoot submitted applications with IHSA to have a two-year agreement for both boys’ and girls’ co-op teams once District 87’s Board approves the agreement.

Epperson said costs involved with this sport will include transportation, equipment, and coaches’ pay. Friends of Lacrosse, he added, will do fundraising and will turn proceeds from that over to the schools. The schools, in turn, will pay for officials, uniforms, and other related expenses.

Taking this approach, Epperson added, going forward should any other group wish to add a sport, a similar process for how it financially gets started could be used.

Normal West Girls Junior Varsity Basketball Team Honored In “Good News”: The resilience of Normal Community West High School’s girls’ junior varsity freshmen basketball team was honored in a ‘good news” item presented by the team’s head coach, Corey Ostling. On December 5, 2018, the school’s junior varsity “B” girls’ team was heading home from a game against Champaign Central when the bus was struck by a semi-truck heading the wrong way, resulting in a loss of life for two of the individuals, the driver of the truck that hit the bus and the team’s scorekeeper, Charlie Crabtree. The team’s head coach, Steve Price, and bus driver, Mark Kuhn, were injured in the accident and were both hospitalized.

“I cannot express enough gratitude to the counselors and the resources that Unit 5 have put into social emotional learning into understanding the importance of it,” explained Ostling. Explaining there is no test the girls could take in handling this, that this was an event which tested the girls’ character. In explaining how the girls handled the circumstances, Ostling added, “Time and time again, these girls rose above their challenge.”

“They showed strength not to give in to pain,” Ostling added in his addressing Board members. “They could have gone into a really dark place, but instead, were selfless and kept each other going. They also showed great self-awareness when they needed to reach out for help, and they did.”

The girls on the team are: Jori Bishoff, Abby Hoeft, Moni Howard, Kirsten Lellelid, Jess O’Brien, Olivia Reed, Grace Storm, and Haley Willan.

To honor Crabtree, the school has redecorated the entrance to the school’s large gym to honor the 72-year-old. The doors to the gym have been given a shiny new coat of black. Above the doors are draped the words “Westside Wildcats…Eat ‘Em Up, Eat ‘Em Up.” On the adjoining wall is a full-size black and white photo of the gym. In the upper right corner of the photo can be found the words, “In Memory Of Charlie Crabtree.”

Budget For 2019-20 School Year Approved: Board members unanimously approved a budget for the 2019-20 school year. It was the same budget shown them during a Board session in August. The district has a budget of $192 million but shows a deficit of $12.8 million. The district’s education fund from which most dollars used come from has a small surplus.

By Steve Robinson | September 21, 2019 - 10:25 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – Two Central State Eight teams which find themselves near the bottom of the standings squared off at Hancock Stadium Friday night when University High hosted Jacksonville. Although the Pioneers managed to keep the contest close in the first half, the Crimsons scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to help pull away from the Pioneers, 31-19 before a crowd of roughly 800 fans.

Junior running back Chris Pulley’s 2 yard run for a touchdown gave Jacksonville (2-2 Central State Eight) the only score either side would get in the first quarter, capping an 8 play, 80 yard drive, followed by senior kicker Collin Brunstein’s extra point, putting the Crimsons up, 7-0, with 2:32 left in the quarter.

A 10-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Camdyn Barclay to junior wide receiver Savion Jackson would help U-High (0-4) pull within one, 7-6, with 8:12 remaining in the second quarter, but senior kicker Wyatt Berg’s extra point kick would sail away from the goal post, allowing Jacksonville to keep that slight lead. Jackson’s touchdown would cap off a 10 play, 65 yard march for the Pioneers toward that score.

But the score would not stay that close very long because junior running back Michael Walker would take the ensuing kickoff for the Crimsons at their own 35 and dash through Pioneers defenders for his team’s next score at the 7:58 mark in the quarter, followed by Brunstein’s extra point, putting Jacksonville up, 14-6.

U-High would pull within two, 14-12, when Barclay would connect with Jackson a second time on the night, this time from 14 yards out for a touchdown followed by an unsuccessful extra point try with 2:11 left toward halftime. A poor punt by Jacksonville gave U-High a short 40-yard field to work with toward that touchdown.

The Crimsons won the pre-game coin toss and opted to defer receiving the ball until the second half. During the half, they chewed up either time on the clock or yardage to keep the Pioneers at bay. Their first possession of the second half lasted 12 plays going 74 yards and ended with junior quarterback Ryan Maul’s 15 yard touchdown run followed by Brunstein’s extra point, pushing the Crimsons in front, 21-12 at the 7:58 mark in the third quarter.

U-High could have pulled within six had their ensuing possession worked out better than it did. After the ensuing kickoff, they began working with the ball from their own 45. Passes to Jackson and senior and senior wide receiver Spencer Parker helped get the Pioneers in range for a 35 yard field goal. But Berg would miss the field goal try. From their own 20, the Crimsons would march 80 yards on 10 plays, with Brunstein kicking a 33 yard field goal to double up the score on the Pioneers, 24-12, with 41 seconds left in the quarter.

The Pioneers would start their next series of downs from their own 20, but two plays later, Jacksonville senior defensive back Chase Vega would intercept a long Barclay pass giving the Crimsons possession at their own 44 yard line. Sixteen plays later, junior running back Gavin Roegge would score from a yard out followed by another Brunstein extra point, increasing Jacksonville’s advantage, 31-12 with 4:12 left in the contest.

A 6-yard touchdown run in the closing minute of the game was the last score U-High could muster, followed by Berg’s extra point.

“We’re a football team that runs between the tackles,” Crimsons head coach Mark Grounds explained, adding U-High defense didn’t allow for that in the first quarter forcing his team to make adjustments. Once that was done, he said, his team didn’t deviate from the alterations they made. “We saw U-High had adjusted their coverage and that was something we expected and practiced against. I saw they moved their linebackers up and there wasn’t much hesitation from them tonight.”

“I thought we played hard but the better team won,” explained U-High head coach John Johnson. “They were more physical than we were up front. Up front is where they beat us, in the trenches.” He said Jacksonville’s initial second half drive simultaneously used up the clock “while wearing us out.” He added his team doesn’t have a team that’s physically big enough to “sustain a football game right now.”

“We have to tackle better and we have to block better,” Johnson added. “And if we do that, maybe we can sneak out a win here because we pulled out trick plays tonight and some of them worked and some of them didn’t.”

Prior to the contest, students, parents, and teachers from Thomas Metcalf Elementary School, numbering around 175 people, gathered in Horton Field House for a pregame meal. Then prior to the game, Metcalf cheer team members joined U-High cheerleaders on the Hancock Stadium turf to help fans cheer on the home team. Like U-High, Metcalf School is a lab school overseen by Illinois State University.

The game was an emotional matter for the Crimsons because of a death in the team’s family. Grounds gave the game ball to Lona Jackson, mother of Crimsons defensive end Jaylon Jackson. Their son and brother, Alex, passed away earlier in the week.

By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2019 - 1:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The battle struggle concerning Normal Town Council established rules went on for another session on Monday in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Current Council meeting rules for public attendees include that they may speak to Council members during a public comments portion of the meeting, but only on topics listed on that meeting’s agenda.

During the public comments segment, former mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli, while quickly addressing a few issues he wanted to cover, mentioned the need for the Town to fill a vacancy for a representative from the Town on the Connect Bus Transit System Board. Mayor Chris Koos interjected reminding Tiritilli the Board vacancy was not among the listed items on the agenda and that public comments should pertain to items on the evening’s agenda.

Hearing this, Tiritilli ended his comments about Connect. But during the Council Member Comments portion of the meeting before adjournment, Council Member Stan Nord asked for Tiritilli to be able to continue his comments regarding the situation concerning Connect’s Board appointment. Koos informed Nord that could only take place if Council members voted to suspend the established public speaking rules. A vote to suspend those rules took place with Koos and Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy voting against doing that. Nord and Smith voted in favor of suspending those rules.

With regard to this particular issue, the Office of Illinois Attorney General is currently investigating a challenge to that rule filed in the spring by council member Karyn Smith.

Nord then became insistent Koos fill the Connect Board vacancy. Koos replied saying there was an interested party who withdrew their name from consideration as a result of not wanting to be involved in what the interested party saw as “toxicity” present on Connect’s Board.

At the start of the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, Smith requested an edit in the minutes from the Council’s Sept. 3 meeting. Smith wished to have Town Clerk Angie Huonker edit minutes from that meeting to, in her opinion, more properly reflect statements she had made. Supporting Huonker’s capabilities as Town Clerk, Koos denied Smith’s request.

Brewpub Design Approved: Council members unanimously approved waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code requested by two brothers desiring to open a brewpub at the former location of a longtime key shop. Having gotten that approval, brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala will demolish the original structure and replace the former key shop location with a two-story structure which will house a microbrewery. Being two stories will add square footage to the property. Also included in the design of the proposed new building are a pair of outdoor patios.

At the Sept. 9 meeting of Uptown Design Review Commission, the design was approved after the brothers and the architects they hired to do the work spoke. No members of the public spoke at the session.

Fiala Brothers Beer LLC will create craft brews and operate a full-service kitchen according to the report provided Council members by Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen.

At the Council’s Sept. 4 meeting, Council members approved brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala’s request for proposed plans for a brewpub by a 5-2 vote with Council Members Nord and Smith voting in opposition to the plan. The Fialas proposed brewpub would be established at 127 E. Beaufort St., the former location of Bill’s Key And Lock Shop.

Annual Town Financial Trend And Condition Report Reviewed: Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn presented Council members with an annual summary concerning the Town’s Financial Trend and Condition Report. Among the highlights of the report was continued increase in assessed property values. Equalized Assessed Value increased from 0.7 percent in 2017 to 1.4 percent last year. While this is a good trend, Huhn reminded Council members the Town would prefer to see EAV growth of at least 2 percent annually. Having that happen, Huhn explained, helps the Town to take in sufficient property tax dollars to offset increases in expenditures.

A slight piece of good news came courtesy of travelers, Huhn said, in explaining numbers of folks using Central Illinois Regional Airport. In 2017, CIRA saw a drop of 12 percent in passengers using the airport, a drop of usage of nearly 12.4 percent versus 2016 numbers. But in 2018, it looked like folks were flying out of CIRA again, as the airport registered 364,482 travelers going through the airport last year, an increase of 9.15 percent.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Sept. 3, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 11, 2019.

• A resolution to amend the lease agreement for the Illinois State University Art Gallery to extend the term to Feb. 28, 2020.

• A resolution to accept the proposal and award a contract to Layne Christensen Co. for drilling test wells at three locations within the corporate limits in the amount of $32,960.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Peoria-based Presidio Networking Solutions Group LLC in the amount of $112,443.42 for the purchase of body camera video storage and protection and related professional services.

By Steve Robinson | - 6:34 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – For many a junior high student, the thought – let alone the actual anticipated step up to becoming a new high school student – can be an anxious event. In the school year of 1995-96, students having completed eighth grade the spring before and headed for high school that fall had an additional concern besides trying to remember where their hall locker was.

That school year, Normal was getting its second high school in an attempt to lessen overcrowding at venerable Normal Community High School. The new school, Normal Community West High School, located at 501 N. Parkside Rd., opened the fall of 1995.

NCWHS faculty, staff, and students used their homecoming weekend Sept. 13 to celebrate the milestone of the school turning 25 years old.

Dozens of former students filed through the cafeteria to look at mementos of their years at the school and to visit and reminisce with their former teachers. The school’s first principal, Dr. Jerry Crabtree, was among those who saw a number of former students at the event which was held prior to the Normal West football game against Big 12 Conference opponent Danville.

Crabtree was principal of Parkside Junior High School and he and a number of teachers from PJHS who had been assigned to staff Normal West that first year were a little anxious themselves to be starting a new year heading and teaching in a new school. Roughly 150 teachers, both certified and non-certified, as well as a handful of support staff, could lay claim to helping get the new school up and running that first year.

Crabtree joked that all the kids he oversaw at PJHS in the spring of 1995 “couldn’t get rid of me” when they became Normal West freshmen. Kidding aside, Crabtree said that timing for those kids “was great because the whole objective when we started West was to really build a family atmosphere because those kids were like our own kids.” Crabtree admits that’s cliché thinking, but he said there were a number of teachers who he supervised at PJHS who came along to Normal West when he did.

Now married, Julie Stone was known as Julie Bueller when she was among the first students to enter Normal West when it opened, as a member of the school’s first freshman class. “We were really excited to be coming here,” Stone said about how she and her friends felt about being the first students to occupy the school. “There were a lot of new features here,” she said. “There was a new computer lab, a lot of new resources here, and we were really excited about it.

“Having Dr. Crabtree and some of our teachers from Parkside was really neat because it was neat to have that continuity. That made it feel pretty natural to come here.”

Prior to Normal West opening, Unit 5 School District had structured junior highs to have seventh, eighth, and ninth grade age students. Students entering high school at NCHS across town started high school with 10th grade through senior year graduation. Prior to Normal West opening, the district changed that format so that 9th graders would begin attending high school. Sixth graders shifted from grade school into junior high.

Crabtree remained as principal at Normal West for eight years, retiring in 2003, succeeded by Tom Eder. Looking back on his time at the school, Crabtree explained, “The overriding memory I have is of the students who were here. They were like my own kids. I tried to treat them like that. You can’t have the same kids for six years and not know them.” Crabtree added being around kids for that length of time as an educator means you get to know students’ parents and grandparents, too.

Crabtree said it’s both unique and “cool” to have former students who now teach at Normal West. Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum is one of them.

Lexington resident Jill Stutzman came to the pre-game event with her husband, Dave, and their children, and found herself looking back over her high school days going through the memorabilia that were laid out on numerous tables scattered throughout the cafeteria. “I wanted to go into elementary education when I got to college,” Stutzman said. Currently, she’s doing just that, teaching at Lexington Junior High School. An athlete herself, she was on the Wildcats’ girls’ basketball team the first two years Normal West was open. That team went to State those first two years. Her Wildcats girls’ head coach was Bernie Chiaro. She has parlayed that experience into serving as a coach on the LJHS girls’ basketball team now.

Class of 2015 member Stephanie Davis held her toddler son at this event and looked over old pictures from her recent past in secondary education. She is now a freelance graphic designer in her own business in Normal. “I was heavily in art, choir, and band while I was here,” she explained. She played the teen named Kim in the school’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” She has been back volunteering to help with the school’s production of “Beauty And The Beast” and will return to offer her talents for the Wildcats as-of-yet unannounced production next spring.

NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman taught business at Normal West from 2005 through 2011 before moving on to George L. Evans Junior High School to become an administrator. Chapman credits Bierbaum, who had himself been a student and faculty, to guiding him concerning the culture of the school. From Evans, Chapman became NCHS principal in 2017.