By Steve Robinson | November 12, 2017 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonHaving never played sports in high school, I have no reference for how members of one team supported another at certain points of the year. But if you looked in the stands of Redbird Arena this last weekend, you got the feeling members of one team or another were eager to support the U-High Pioneers as they prepared for a Class 3A State Title at State Volleyball.

Even though U-High’s football team lost out on making the Illinois High School Association playoffs this season, there was a strong contingent of U-High supporters both days at the tournament and sitting closest to the action row in the school’s designated section in the arena were guys who had taken to the gridiron earlier this season. And not surprisingly, Pioneers senior quarterback Doug Holmes was in the front row.

“We’ve been ready all day Friday – all week, actually, — for this,” Holmes said. “The Volleyball team has been hyped all day and we believe in them and we’re ready to support them.”

The conversation I had with Holmes and some other sports team members took place before the Pioneers lost their semifinal match to Belleville Althoff in two games 25-13 and 25-21. Before that set started, you could feel the enthusiasm Pioneers fans had for their making it to State Volleyball for the first time in 17 years.

Holmes explained, “The members of the Volleyball team were at some home games and our away games every time they could if they had no game themselves.”

Senior Kearsten Personette sat a few rows behind Holmes waiting for that first match and said she was excited about her team’s trip up the road from their school to the arena.

Senior Ty Ziebarth, a member of the Pioneers boys’ basketball team, sat next to Holmes and said when he arrived at school Friday for his 8a.m. class “school was already bumping” with excitement, ready to go to the finals.

You could understand why there was the excitement and enthusiasm: The last time the Pioneers made State in this sport, some of those kids sitting in the stands had just been brought into the world.

The outcome of the semifinal was disappointing but still, Pioneers faithful knew they still had a shot bringing home some hardware for the school’s trophy case.

The support the girls got for the semifinal showed up for the consolation game, too. “Our school is supportive of each other, and it’s not just sports,” explained Mackenzie Banbaley, a senior and a member of the Pioneers Softball team. “Even if it’s theatre and dance, we turn out and support them no matter what.” Banbaley said before the game against Althoff that getting third or fourth “was still a great accomplishment for this team.”

“It’s been 17 years since we won two State championships in a row,” U-High Athletic Director Wendy Smith reminded, adding those were the years future Olympian Ogonna Nnamani was a team leader.

“We’ve seen our student body has been supportive of other teams and in particular, football players who’ve come to Volleyball games,” Smith said. “They’re pretty respectful of their classmates and want to support them and share and celebrate in the achievement.”

Sharing in this case meant needing to share that certain pain that goes with losing the semifinal but knowing that they would share in the success of a consolation victory which would allow head coach Mike Bolhuis’ troops to bring home a 3rd place trophy. That accomplishment was thanks to a hard-fought victory over Arlington Heights-based St. Viator by scores of 25-21, 19-25, and 25-19.

I can’t say whether there was that kind of togetherness among the teams when I attended U-High but it sounds like nowadays it has become almost routine and that also helps the school as a whole earn an additional victory regardless of what title is being sought after.

VolleyballNORMAL – It’s a short trip from University High School to Redbird Arena, but 17 years have gone by since the Pioneers made the short jaunt to claim any trophies in State Volleyball. And although they didn’t make it to the title game, head coach Mike Bolhuis’ squad did claim a prize – 3rd place – after a 25-21, 19-25, 25-19 victory over Arlington Heights-based St. Viator High School Saturday.

Game 1 was a tight point-for-point contest for the first 17 points scored by each side until kills by U-High’s Isabel Schaefbauer and Addy Loeffler followed by two attack errors by St. Viator’s Catherine Hickey, followed by another Pioneers kill from Illiana Lin, put U-High up, 23-17 en route to victory, which was sealed with another Loeffler kill.

Game 2 saw St. Viator use scoring streaks to march toward victory by its conclusion. While serving, Michela Mueller and Carrie Leazer anchored the Lions’ attack, each of them, along with Hickey, scoring a service ace. A kill by Hickey followed up by an attack error by U-High’s Lin, helped make the Lions’ victory official.

In game 3, U-High trailed as much as five points, 11-6, in the early going thanks in part to kills by Kate Nottoli, Jessica McDowell, and Hickey before the Pioneers stormed back on kills by Schaefbauer and Loeffler and a service ace by Juarez, tying the game at 11-11. The contest would be tied four more times from there with a last tie at 17-all before two kills by Lin, a service ace by Juarez, and attack errors by the Lions gave U-High the victory.

Schaefbauer and Loeffler led U-High in kills with 11 each during the three-game set, with Lin following with 9. Schaefbauer, Juarez, and Kimmy Sendelbach each scored a serving ace. St. Viator had more takeaways with 229 to U-High’s 111. Hickey led in total kills with 15. Leazer led her team in serving aces with three.

After losing game 2, Bolhuis said, “the biggest thing we talked about most was blocking and we felt when St. Viator was taking half-swings, we were jumping too early. So we talked about block timing and where we were positioning ourselves. In the third game, you probably saw a prime example of us blocking at our best.”

U-High PioneersLoeffler Played Through An Injury: Fans probably couldn’t tell, but Loeffler, who sprained an ankle earlier in the season, was playing with that ankle having been re-injured during play at the State tourney. “I sprained it previously in the season and then I re-rolled it on Thursday. So, yeah, it was fun.”

Juarez told reporters when game 3 was tied at 17-all, and McDowell was serving, “Jess is a pretty consistent server so I knew she was going to be aggressive. But the ball was going to be in. She kinda got us rolling at that point.”

Senior Abbey Collins called being with this team this season “The most amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade this season for anything. We had the best team chemistry. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I love my team.” Some of her teammates responded to her comments with reactions of “awww.”

St. Viator’s 4th place finish also marked the first Volleyball tourney trophy in that school’s history. Head coach Charlie Curtin called getting it, “’Unbelievable.”

“This year, the girls came together, they clicked, they worked hard in the offseason. I’m just so proud of them,” he said.

Of the third game, Curtin said, “U-High played extremely scrappy defense and they got a lot of one-arm digs and they were able to capitalize on it. We made a couple of mistakes and they compounded them and it was hard for us to get our heads back in the game.”

St. Viator wound up facing the Pioneers in the 3rd place game as a result of losing their semifinal against Chicago Resurrection 32-30, 23-25, and 18-25.

Pioneers Lose To Belleville Althoff In Semifinal: The Pioneers found themselves in the Class 3A consolation game as a result of losing their semifinal match to Belleville Althoff, 25-13 and 25-21 on Nov. 10. The victory gave the Crusaders a 40-1 record going into a State Championship match Nov. 11, while Bolhuis’ Pioneers fell to 28-11.

U-High found themselves down quickly in game 1, 4-0, the result of three Pioneers attack errors and a kill from Althoff’s Annika Beal. The Pioneers first point came from a kill by Loeffler, 4-1. The Crusaders remained I front throughout the contest with the closest U-High coming was 12-9, the result of miscues from an attack error by Addie Burris and a serving error from Amber Juarez. From there, the Crusaders coasted to a quick 25-13 victory.

Game 2 was tighter with U-High’s Schaefbauer serving and being credited with a kill combined with a kill from Althoff’s Karinna Gall to tie the game at 3-3. But from there, a kill by Althoff’s Louise Comerford put Belleville in front, 4-3, where they stayed for the remainder of the contest. U-High did pull within one, 22-21, thanks to an Althoff serving error before Althoff pulled away on another Burris kill, a Pioneers attack error, and another Burris kill.

“U-High played the game we were expecting but we stuck to our game plan,” Althoff head coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich said. “We focus on our game and make changes as needed.”

“A true sign of how we played was seen in that second set,” Bolhuis said in summing up his Pioneers’ play. “We came back in the second set and played the best we could. That second set showed the way we play and the style of Volleyball we’ve preached all year.”

Belleville Althoff faced Champaign-based St. Thomas More in the championship match, winning in two games, 25-16 and 25-23.

By Steve Robinson | November 9, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Local honorees recognized by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) at a dinner Oct. 28 were introduced to Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members at the local governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Nov. 8.

District’s “Good News” Honors “Those Who Excel” Winners: Four Unit 5 employees and a former district school board member who had received honors at the event at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal had their contributions to the district mentioned to Board members by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district.

Cory Bennett, a teacher at Parkside Junior High School, was recognized for his receiving ISBE’s Classroom Teacher Award Of Merit; District employee Nancy Braun received ISBE’s Administrator Award of Merit; A certified student support personal Award of Excellence from ISBE went to Suzann Marcum, who is employed at both Fairview Elementary and Grove Elementary.

A School Board Member/Community Volunteer Award of Excellence went to John Puzauskas, who served on Unit 5’s School Board for 12 years, opting not to run for re-election last spring. The Team Award of Merit went to Normal Community West High School’s Science Department.

Brown credited Braun with heading the district’s wellness committee, which has “contributed many policies” which have aided staff’s and students’ well-being.” In addition, a Non-Certified Educational Service Personal Award Of Excellence was received by Cindy Singley of Chiddix Junior High School.

District’s Other “Good News”: The District’s Other “Good News” item recognized that Nov. 15 would be “Illinois School Board Members Day” as designated by Illinois Association of School Boards. “This day is to honor these public servants for the contributions to our public schools,” explained district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. “The decisions our school board members make impact so many aspects of our daily lives that we often overlook the service they provide which allows our community to grow and thrive.”

Among the current Board members, Mike Trask earned his Master Board Membership; Meta Mickens-Baker earned her sixth year of Master Board Membership; and Board Member Barry Hitchins earned Level I Membership.

Unit 5 map“Welcoming Schools” Resolution Approved: Board members unanimously approved a resolution affirming Unit 5 as a “Welcoming Schools” district where, as the resolution states, in part, “students have the right to attend regardless of their immigration status.” The resolution also signifies, “Unit 5 will protect the rights of all students and their families, including student confidentiality rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

Board Receives Life Safety Recap: Board members received a recap of numerous life safety projects the district has done in this and the previous fiscal year to date on district buildings. Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, explained that because of improvements done on the district’s six largest buildings over the last two fiscal years totaling $9.3 million – four junior high schools and two high schools – Unit 5 won’t be spending $6 million on improvements related to heating and cooling.

Adelman said roof work has been done at Colene Hoose, Northpoint, and Parkside Elementary Schools; Parkside Junior High School, and Normal Community West High School totaling slightly over $2 million. Nearly another $248,000 went into chiller projects at Northpoint, Prairieland, Towanda, and Pepper Ridge Elementary Schools. Geothermal installation at PJHS totaling over $561,000 has also been done.

He said work done to Normal West in the last two years will save the district $12,000 in energy costs annually. “All this work helps provide a healthy environment for teachers as well as students,” Mickens-Baker said in appreciation of the effort.

Trask reminded that the district does a 10-year plan to determine where repairs should be conducted.

Other Reports Presented: Board members also heard reports relating to preparation of the annual property tax levy due into the McLean County Clerk’s Office from the district by the last Tuesday in December, and about strategic planning being prepared for the coming year by the district.

No Second Meeting In November: As a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 13, and will be the only Board meeting before the district’s Christmas holiday break.

By Steve Robinson | November 6, 2017 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a motion to authorize preparation of the Town’s 2017 Property Tax Levy. Town Staff is estimating the levy be established at $13,016,100 in fiscal year 2018-19, an increase in the Town’s tax rate of 6.38 percent.

The Town’s 2016 tax rate was $1.4115. The projection for this year assumes property assessed valuation will increase by one-half percent. Actual assessed values of property will not be determined until next April.

The majority of the increase will help the Town keep its obligation to continue funding police and fire pensions responsibly, according to a report given Council members which was prepared by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn.

Through its “Truth In Taxation” statute, the State mandates communities like Normal to meet at least 20 days before approving the property tax levy ordinance in order to determine the amount of the levy. Town Staff will present to Council a levy to consider and vote on at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 4. The Town, as will all other taxing jurisdictions in the county must submit an approved levy to the County by Tuesday, Dec. 26.

But before Council members approved the measure, they received comments from constituents who expressed differing opinions on the effect of the increase. Normal resident Craig Stimpert reminded Council members Illinois pays the nation’s second-highest property tax, second only to New Jersey . “Residents are being taxed to death,” Stimpert said. “How can Normal consider a tax increase?” He also wondered “when is this going to stop?”

Resident Dave Shields publicly credited the Town for how it researches solutions facing the Town and reminded the Town “has a history of conservative financial decisions.” Another resident, Julie Hile, told Council members she sees the Town meeting the pension obligation as upholding “a sacred trust.”

During Council members’ deliberations on the matter, Mayor Chris Koos said deciding on the increase was not “a comfortable decision,” and Normal “doesn’t want to go down the path of the State of Illinois on our obligations.” He reminded 40 people in the audience in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station that wanting to approve this is “not a comfortable decision.”

Council Member Jeff Fritzen said the Town is responsible for delivering necessary services like police protection and fire and emergency services. People sometimes take such services for granted, Fritzen said, but added, “When people have such a need for those services, you don’t want to settle for second rate.”

“The State of Illinois hasn’t done its job on pensions,” Council Member R, C. McBride said. “We shouldn’t go down that same path.”

The State of Illinois gave communities a mandate to have police and fire pensions at 90 percent funding by 2040. The Town used that marker to challenge itself to have its police and fire pensions 100 percent funded by that same deadline.

“I wish I could tell you this will be the last property tax increase you’ll ever have to consider,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members. But he quickly added there will be future increases in pension costs which could prompt the Town to consider raising property taxes. He said there have been pension increases in the past and likely, he said, there will be increases in the future.

Council Declines To Release Remaining Funds For Feeney Property Upgrade: By a 4-3 count, Council members declined to approve a resolution which would release the remaining money in redevelopment funds for a project at 208 Parkinson. Until September 2016 when Council members approved a measure offering to contribute $40,000 to property owner Chuck Feeney to help him upgrade the property, the property had sat vacant for 15 years.

Once the resolution was passed, Feeney received $25,000 of the money toward work that had been done up to that point. Feeney began plans for the renovation in February 2016 and it was estimated, before the Town’s contribution, the project would cost around $300,000.

The building underwent a remodel and is now being used as an office by Stout Chiropractic. However, while the building’s look is improved, the Town felt the improvement fell short of what the Town and Feeney agreed upon. Chief among the concerns was a drainage and storm water retention area which still sits where Feeney proposed a sunken patio.

Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen Lorenz, and Scott Preston voted against releasing the remaining money while Council Members Chemberly Cummings, McBride, and Fritzen voted in favor of releasing the remaining money for the project. “It just seems like there was a change in scope for the project from what was originally presented,” McCarthy said regarding his concerns about the project.

“What was delivered varied too much from what we agreed to a year ago,” Lorenz said after the meeting.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 16, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 1, 2017.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Springfield-based Halverson Construction Co., Inc. in the amount of $113,045.74 for timber pile repairs on the Belt Drive Bridge .

• A resolution to approve bids and award a contract to Decatur-based Bodine Electric in the amount of $125,277.73 for communications and traffic signal upgrades on College Ave. and Mulberry Street from Oak Street to Main Street .

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to negotiate and execute a sublease with Amtrak for platforms at Uptown Station.

By Steve Robinson | November 5, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonIt used to be that, for those of us who are storytellers, it required knowing an agent and/or a publisher and putting the writer’s trust and hopes in the hands of others in the publishing world and hoping that those people’s skills would translate to success in the form of publication which would lead to book tours and media interviews, and of course, a paycheck – or several! – for the effort.

But these days, many local authors have gone the self-publishing route to get their works before the public. The Bloomington Public Library held an inaugural Local Authors Fair event on Sunday, Nov. 5 allowing local authors to showcase their work. All genres from poetry to self-help to teen literature to Christian fiction to romance to horror were represented thanks to the 19 authors who took part in the 90-minute session.

G. P. Ching of Bloomington writes in a genre called teen paranormal fantasy. In the 10 books she’s written, the stories revolve around teens who receive paranormal powers which they receive from God. Ching started writing these books in 2011. In each of the books, when a traumatic event takes place in the main characters’ lives, that power is activated, allowing the teen to help deal with the issue at hand while also learning to cope with newfound strengths and challenges.

“I have a lot of male teen and young adult readers,” Ching said. She said she specializes in using male teens as protagonists because so many teen books, otherwise, are aimed at teen girls. “I felt boys were underserved,” Ching said. “They needed more to read.”

In her career path, Ching has worked at State Farm and gone to nursing school becoming a registered nurse. Her first book, “The Zookeepers,” launched her writing career, and books number 11 and 12 are being worked on now. She is what is considered an “indie publisher” because she owns the company that publishes her books. The company is called Carpe Luna Publishing.

Heyworth Musician Turned Horror Writer: Heyworth resident Pete Altieri is a musician who also writes in the horror genre. He said some older teens would likely enjoy his work. His latest book is called “Creation Of Chaos,” a collection of 15 short stories which he self-published. Altieri said for people who want to take up writing, they should read a book on writing by horror writer Stephen King called “On Writing.” He said King’s book is about how to write.

Reporter Recounts Cross Country Record Setter’s Feat: Randy Sharer, sports reporter for the Bloomington Pantagraph, has written about Craig Virgin, who as a cross country runner in his high school days at Lebanon High School in St. Clair County, set a State record for cross country running of 13 minutes 50.6 seconds for a three mile run in 1972. It’s a stat that still stands today. “A couple times every decade, there’s a superstar who comes along and Craig gets a little nervous,” the veteran reporter said about the record staying in tact. Sharer’s book is titled, “Virgin Territory: the Story of Craig Virgin, America’s Renaissance Runner.” Sharer quickly points out the renaissance label is a result of Virgin’s ability “to excel at cross country, track, and road racing.”

What with Sharer and Virgin both busy with full-time jobs, it has taken 8 ½ years and 260 hours of taped interviews for the book to be completed. There are now 2,000 paperback copies and 750 hardback copies as well as e-books available, Sharer said.

Event Done To Benefit Writers: Carol Thomas, adult services manager at Bloomington Public Library, said the desire to have this event stemmed from the library receiving calls, either from authors wanting to publicize their work or friends and relatives of writers lending an assist to spread word of a book’s publication. Conversely, Thomas said, “The library also heard from aspiring writers wanting such an event so they could get insights from authors on the writing and publishing process.

“This event has gone spectacularly well,” Thomas said. She said she had more than the 19 authors like Ching, Altieri, and Sharer who were at the event and wanted to attend and sign up. She said she hopes the library will make this an annual event which would coincide with National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo for short, held every November.

“The biggest compliment I can get is that people keep buying the books,” Ching said.

No doubt, every writer who attending this first edition of this event feels the same way.

No Papal Visit At State Volleyball: Regular readers of this column will recall at this time last year fans of Bloomington Central Catholic High School’s Volleyball team brought a cutout of Pope Francis with them to the student section at Redbird Arena to help encourage the team to victory. But there’ll be no Papal visit with the Saints not making it to State this year. But fans will still get a local team to cheer for as University High Pioneers (my alma mater) will try their luck toward a State Championship in Class 3A. Their semifinal game against Belleville’s Althoff Catholic begins at 5:30p.m. On second thought, maybe the Pope will show up this year, too.

NCHS, Normal West Football Out; EPG Still Playing: I need to offer congratulations to both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School for their football team’s efforts this season. Both the Ironmen and Wildcats were eliminated last weekend. NCHS lost their Illinois High School Association Class 7A second round contest at Chicago Mt. Carmel, 14-13. Normal West lost their Class 6A second round showdown to New Lenox-based Providence Catholic, 33-7. Both Ironmen head coach Wes Temples, and Wildcats head coach Darren Hess, and each player on both teams, should be proud of the effort they put in and the achievement getting that far into the playoffs represents.

In Class 2A, El Paso Gridley remains the only McLean County school still standing this far into the playoffs. The 14th seed Titans’ quarterfinal contest will pit them against second seed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley on the road.