By Steve Robinson | August 1, 2017 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Illinois State University head football coach Brock Spack told reporters at the team’s annual Media Day on Aug. 1 his team had “a very good off-season, and that the first practice the team had was typical of a first day back when even the veterans tried to get back in the routine again.”

The Redbirds, who finished 2016 below .500 for only the second season in Spack’s tenure up to that year, begin Spack’s ninth season when Butler visits Hancock Stadium for a non-conference contest on Saturday, Sept. 2 for a 6:30p.m. kickoff.

“We’re a long team and athletic,” Spack said. “But we’re inexperienced in certain spots.” That means as of yet untested talent the Redbirds will get five weeks between Media Day and their first game to put players into position in time to start the season.

Spack said his troops will have their hands full against Butler, and then again at their first away game at Eastern Illinois on Sept. 9.

While 6 foot-3 Jake Kolbe is set to start at quarterback for the Redbirds, a competition in training camp will determine from whom he will receive snaps, Spack said. Peoria Richwoods High alum Tyler Brown and Dan Helt, a 6 foot-5 senior were rotated through on the position of center during camp’s first few days.

Spack said junior quarterback Kolbe has recovered from an injury he sustained last season and has spent time in the weight room this summer which has made him “a bigger guy structurally” according to his coach. The Redbirds “are Jake’s team now,” the coach added, the result of Kolbe stepping away from the shadow of graduate Tré Roberson. Roberson is now playing defensive back for NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

Redshirt Players Will Study: Being a redshirt freshman player has advantages and disadvantages. It gives you a year to the team’s playing system and study the team playbook at length for one season before stepping up to be on the field. But that means you sit out a whole season when a player would rather be trying to contribute. Ryan Zitkus, a redshirt freshman from Bloomington Central Catholic would like to find himself playing center in the future for the Redbirds but said he knows the wait to take to the gridiron will be worth it. “If I become a starter…great,” Zitkus said. “If not, I’m going to support the guys in front of me.” Right now though, Zitkus said he’s “just trying to learn the game.”

Zitkus will have some company familiar to him while he waits to hit the gridiron. His BCC teammate, John Hayes, is also redshirting this season, looking to start making plays for ISU next season. During his senior season last year at BCC, Hayes caught 12 passes covering 223 yards, and scored three touchdowns. His longest catch was from 40 yards and he averaged almost 19 yards per game. He could come in handy on defense, too, if Spack and the Redbirds have a need. In his senior year at BCC, he made 25 solo tackles and shared in making 26 tackles on the season. He is credited with 12 sacks and forcing quarterbacks to hurry their throws nine times.

“Being a redshirt didn’t seem like a bad idea,” reasoned John Ridgeway, a Bloomington High grad who looks to be part of the Redbirds’ offensive line in 2018. “Doing this gives me a chance to know the plays better and to come back stronger next year.”

ISU Redbird HelmetUniversity High alum Austin Galindo is redshirting this year, as well. On the ISU roster, he’s a defensive lineman. He said he has been studying the playbook with guidance from his older teammates. He said he also realizes he will need to make on-field adjustments from what he was used to in high school once he hits the turf for the Redbirds.

Normal Community High School alum Garrett Hirsch is also redshirting, in the wings studying the role of offensive lineman, as it were. “Obviously, everybody strives to be a starter and be ‘the guy,’” he said of those wanting the nod from the coaching staff to take the field in a key situation. “But it’s a process and there’s a position battle going on” even as early as day two of training camp.

Hirsch said he’d like to try out for center and that after his redshirt period ends, he’d be studying the Redbirds’ playbook for the next four years. “It would be like a test that never ends,” he joked.

Normal West Alums Breen, Bumpus Prepare For Their Junior Year: Two Normal Community West High School products, Zach Breen and Cole Bumpus return for their junior seasons with the Redbirds. The 5 foot-10 Breen was a backup kicker/punter for Sean Slattery last season. In that role, “I got to learn a lot, and hopefully, can take what I’ve learned into this year.

Breen said punter Reese Attard, a native Australian who graduated in the spring, did teach him Rugby punts. Those include starting out by running as though you are rolling out to throw a pass. Kicking in that manner, Breen said, keeps defenders from getting to close to kickers compared to how close they might get to one who kicks in the traditional manner. “Rugby punts don’t involve as many steps,” Breen explained.

Younger guys are getting up to speed as camp opened, Breen added.

Bumpus, a defensive back, said one of his goals this season, is to “be a leader on special teams. Ultimately, as a team, our goal is to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.”

Missouri Valley Football ConferenceBumpus said ISU having been the last team selected to get into the FCS Championship playoffs last season didn’t bother him. “Our being selected that far down only showed me the selection committee respected us because we were the only 6-5 team to get in. But it also showed me how strong the Valley is in terms of competition.”

As far as personal goals this season, Bumpus said, “I’m just going to put as much hard wo9rk in as I can and see where it takes me.”

This Is Lexington Native Hoselton’s Senior Year: ISU’s 2017 campaign is Lexington native and BCC product George Hoselton’s final season as a Redbird. “It’s crazy I’ve already been here 4 ½ years,” he said. He said his goals this final season are “more for the team than for myself.” He did say winning MVFC Championship was a top goal. That was followed by “taking care of the football more.”

Spack’s Record: As Spack begins his ninth season patrolling the sidelines in 2017, he carries into it a 62-35 record which includes four appearances in the FCS playoffs, with the farthest the Redbirds have soared in them is to lose in the championship game to North Dakota State in January 2015 to complete their 2014 season. ISU’s regular season conference record under Spack is 41-23.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season at home against non-conference visitor Butler on Saturday, Sept. 2, starting with a 6:30p.m. kickoff. MVFC season for ISU starts on the road at Missouri State on Sept. 23 with a 2p.m. contest. MVFC foe South Dakota State will be the opponent for the Redbirds’ Homecoming game on Oct. 21 at 2p.m.

By Steve Robinson | July 30, 2017 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonSomeone in charge gave the scoreboard operator at The Corn Crib the night off on Saturday, July 29. If the scoreboard operator was lucky enough, that person should have showed up at the ballpark anyway for the annual “Legends” game. Proceeds from the contest went to benefit The Miracle League of Central Illinois.

Bill Wright, the late owner of Uncle Bill’s Self Storage in Normal, helped throw out the first pitch, as it were, to making sure the Twin Cities would have a league where a child, regardless of their disabilities, could play the grand old game just as other children do. Each player in the Miracle League gets a “buddy” to help them bat and field and run bases. That’s part of how the Miracle League works. Part of a nationwide organization, Miracle League of Central Illinois (MLCI) has been playing its seventh season in 2017. Wright had a hand in getting the league off the ground and passed away in 2012.

The two sides for the Legends game were divided by the colors of the event’s logo, green and yellow. A total of 4,260 fans came out to see and cheer for guys who used to suit up for Major League Baseball. They were joined by local guys lucky enough to share a dugout with them.

The “Green” team, captained by former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams, consisted of Judge William Yoder, State Rep. Dan Brady, State Sen. Rodney Davis, WGLT FM General Manager R. C. McBride, Former Cubs/Giants/Phillies alum Mike Fontenot, Former Chicago Cubs center fielder Bob Dernier, former St. Louis Cards pitcher Rick Ankiel, former Oakland A’s outfielder Jose Canseco, former Chicago Bears Hall Of Famer Dan Hampton, and The Pantagraph’s Randy Reinhardt.

The “Yellow” team, captained by Dustin Crone, consisted of this roster including the following players: Former Atlanta Falcons defensive back Brian Jordan, former Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, former Cardinals pitcher Jason Isringhausen, Former Chicago Bears tackle Steve McMichael, and former WJBC Radio Reporters Adam Nielsen and Alan Sender.

The evening had a wild beginning as Canseco and Ankiel took part in a home run contest prior to the game. Softballs flew out of The Corn Crib as the two former superstars engaged in a little friendly competition which everybody marveled at.

I’d love to tell you who won the Legends Game itself, but since the scoreboard wasn’t turned on and like many of the fans, I got caught up in the camaraderie and the fun the evening produced, I think it would be safe to say the big winners on the night was The Miracle League of Central Illinois and its players and volunteers. Other winners on the night were the fans who came out to cheer and marvel at the guys who played in the majors and still appear to have what it takes, and their local teammates who joined in on the fun. The Miracle League players have a field of very own right behind The Corn Crib and play their games on Sunday afternoons in the spring and summer.

Kids Playing Leap Frog And Chicago 6 Band: After the game, fans waited for a concert by the Chicago 6 Band fronted by Hampton and McMichael. They entertained the crowd that stayed after the game with songs from Elvis and Pink Floyd, among others. Between tunes (and at times after altering tunes to mention their previous occupation), the band members reminisced and took some semi-friendly jabs at their former coach, the legendary Mike Ditka.

They started out by playing to a crowd that sat in the stands while the stage was set in deep center field. But as the concert continued, the fans, roughly 300 or so, many wearing Cubs gear and World Series Cubs gear, took to the field to get a closer look and interact with their favorite players.

Prior to the concert, kids took to the field and played catch or other games as they and their parents waited for the concert to start. Among those kids were a couple sets of three or four kids playing leap frog. The first set of kids, we thought, was only going to go from home plate to first base. But they showed they had a little more energy and determination than it turned out managing to round the bases until they reached third. That’s when they appeared to run out of gas. With the first set of kids, four kids played, and one child would abandon the game for a short time and pick it up again before the whole crew stopped.

A second set of three kids weren’t as ambitious as they started from home plate to leap frog as far as they could go. The second group barely made it to first base. But while both sets played, they had our group of fans in the stands down the first base line smiling.

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

Steve RobinsonLate buses, either at the start or end of the school day. Uncertainty over where a bus is exactly when it is expected at a specific location. A shortage of regular and substitute drivers. All of these items plagued Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., the transportation provider for Normal-based Unit 5 schools at the beginning of last school year.

As a result, there were many angry parents who made their feelings known at a number of district Board meetings. It took a change in First Student’s chain of command for the matter to see a turnaround.

This newspaper did extensive reporting on the busing situation that arose last school year, and the most notable quote from the whole episode for me was from Unit 5 Board Member Mike Trask, who reminded First Student officials who attended those meetings that Dr. Mark Daniel was the district superintendent and not the bus depot supervisor. That comment came as a result of Daniel having had to be involved in the matter practically daily until it could be smoothed out. It took most of the first semester for that to get done, and included a change in First Student’s hierarchy when their location manager at the time resigned five days into the new semester.

But as the current school year approaches, district and First Student officials both say they are ready for the start of school and look forward to making sure such episodes like last year’s aren’t repeated this time around.

Last month, I met with Mark Bohl, location manager, and Ladel Cass, a district manager for First Student, to find out just how preparations were going. Also at that meeting were Daniel and Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district. Bohl assured me the busing routes – all 126 of them – are completely mapped out and that he has enough drivers, substitutes, and monitors to get the job done when school opens in the district Aug. 16.

Right now, Bohl said, he has 145 drivers on his roster ready to drive. That means they have completed the necessary training and are certified by the State. In addition to those, he added, the company has “a significant number of driver candidates in the pipeline.”

At the time I did the interviews in mid-July, Bohl added that First Student was still waiting for information from the close of summer school and from parents who would submit changes before making any last minute tweaks to routes. Those changes are something the busing provider anticipated, he explained.

Bohl was “able to turn the situation around very quickly” after his hiring in October, explained Adelman. Adelman added First Student has made sure they have a 20 percent staffing of substitute drivers on hand to step in if there are issues. Bohl added parents can access routes using the district’s Skyward information system. That information, he said, is regularly updated.

For parents who read this and still are skeptical that their fears and concerns over what took place last year might get repeated later this month, Bohl said all aspects have been addressed, adding, “It’s going to be better. We’re going to accomplish the task. I foresee a great startup. We’ve got everything in place. The drivers are engaged, and everyone’s excited.”

Preparation for the situation will also include keeping the public informed through the local media, Daniel added. In addition, parents will receive notices through Skyward, he said.

“We’re going to be starting this year with what we ended last year with in terms of expected performance,” Cass added. He said once problems developed as they did last year, First Student’s corporate staff in Ohio offered suggestions to help improve the situation.

“I know this is a business operation. First Student is watching what is going on this school year,” Cass added. He said both he and Bohl have frequent calls from their superiors asking about progress made, and inquiring about any sort of assistance which might be needed at this point.

Bohl said working with Unit 5 “is key and has been a joy.” He said doing the job the company does without any kind of support from a district makes First Student’s job harder. But the two groups have been working as a team to see that last year’s problematic start isn’t repeated.

I also spoke to Trask about the situation and about his hopes for how the situation will progress as the new school year begins. I will bring you his comments in my next column.

By Steve Robinson | July 28, 2017 - 10:09 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – The very first group Carl Teichman ever volunteered for was the local United Way campaign in the mid-1980s at the request of a colleague. From there, his efforts earned him a reputation as someone who could be counted on to aid his community when asked.

At the annual Town of Normal Appreciation Reception on July 27, Teichman, Director of Government and Community Relations at Illinois Wesleyan University who has been there since 1979, was recognized as the Town’s Citizen of the Year. The announcement was made by Mayor Chris Koos when the function was held at the Astroth Community Education Center on the Heartland Community College campus.

From that first time of being asked to volunteer, Teichman said, he has been asked to become involved in other efforts to help benefit the Town. He is the past president of the McLean County Regional Planning Commission, a governing body he has been part of since 2006. He has also served as a member of the Main Street Call For Investment Committee, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, which he has served as Board President since last year.

Born in Chicago, Teichman graduated from high school in Antioch, Ill., but said after attending and graduating from IWU, he liked the Twin Cities so much that he decided to stay.

Teichman also currently serves on the Board that oversees the McLean County Museum of History, telling the gathering, “I certainly would like to see what happens with the Museum, and I’m part of the Board of the Ecology Action Center. Obviously, making the community more sustainable is a good thing.”

Teichman credits his employment at IWU with helping him achieve all that he has done and which allows him to help the community. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the University because they’ve given me the ability to do a lot of things as part of my job.”

Teichman’s wife of 33 years, Laurel Mode Teichman, said she was notified of her husband’s honor a few weeks back. “It was exciting to find out, and I’m very proud of him and for him,” she said.

In his remarks introducing Teichman, Koos said, “He is a humble and modest individual who lives each day asking, ‘What good did I do today?’ He has helped the Town of Normal by creating a vibrant and exciting future.”

After being introduced, Teichman, the father of two children, said, “I certainly thank the Town of Normal, all the people who were part of the decision-making to make me Citizen of the Year.”

“While I do my part, I know all of you in this room do your part,” Teichman said to the 250 invited guests attending. That number included some past Citizen of the Year recipients. “I think that’s one reason Normal is such a great community to live in.”

This function marked the 60th year the Citizen of the Year award has been given by the Town. Past recipients have included: Clarence Ropp (1960); Howard J. Hancock (1976); Hall Riss, Jr. (1982); Stanley R. Ommen (1994); Edward Jelks (2004); and Myra Gordon (2012). The honor has gone to a married couple five times during its history, the last couple to receive the honor being Dan and Kathy Steadman in 2014.

Unit 5NORMAL – In years past, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board and Normal Town Council members have tried to form a committee which would examine an issue or concern both groups had a need to address for the good of the community.

During those years, such agreements to begin those committees never quite took hold. But following a joint session of the two governmental bodies July 26 in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council and Unit 5 Board members have agreed to try again.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos directed City Manager Mark Peterson to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and the district. Peterson would negotiate the agreement with Dr. Mark Daniel, Unit 5’s District Superintendent. Peterson and Daniel sat side by side at the speakers’ table across from a nearly-full dais of both Council and Board members who sat at the Council table.

All seven Unit 5 Board members joined five of the seven Normal Town Council members for the session that lasted nearly an hour. Normal Town Council Member Chemberly Cummings was away on business and Council Member Kevin McCarthy was on vacation.

“I think we can pull this committee together and get started pretty quickly,” Koos told Peterson and Daniel. He added the two governmental entities are and have been looking for items where they can collaborate together.

“I’m so appreciative that we are here talking about how to expand our collaborative efforts,” Daniel told the gathering.

Town of Normal“We need to keep the lines of communication open,” Koos responded, explaining that, in the past, such attempts at collaboration had faded. “We don’t want that to happen again.”

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz, a former member of the Normal Planning Commission, said when NPC dealt with a particular issue, she often found herself asking if the school district was aware of the matter being discussed.

Peterson said such collaboration would have been helpful last December when both groups were deciding whether to assist electric car manufacturer Rivian Automotive as it sought to purchase the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant on the Town’s west end.

Separately, Council and School Board members are expected to approve establishing a permanent committee which would have members from each group. It is anticipated that group will meet quarterly, and that their first meeting could come as early as sometime in August. Each group will choose two members to be part of the committee, with Peterson and Daniel attending. However, Peterson and Daniel would not be voting members.

Unit 5-State Budget Update Presented: Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman presented the gathering with a recap of the district’s financial standing as it waits for money from the State budget to arrive, provided State Senate Bill 1 is either signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner or vetoed by Rauner followed by the veto being overturned by legislators.

If funds do not arrive in a timely manner, Unit 5 schools could close after 60 attendance days, said Hickman. That would put the closing sometime in November. Classes start Aug. 16, but the district’s problems will be compounded should the funding impasse go on past Aug. 3, added Hickman.