By Steve Robinson | June 2, 2018 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – O’Fallon High School head baseball coach Jason Portz spent the days leading up to the Illinois High School Association Class 4A Sectional championship at Jack Horenberger Field on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus telling his players a small number of runs scored would not be enough to beat Normal Community West, coached by his friend, Chris Hawkins.

He was right. Although they scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning to jump to a 2-0 lead, having an explosive 8-run fifth inning gave some distance between them and Normal West en route to a 9-0 blanking of the Wildcats to take the Sectional title.

After two scoreless innings, O’Fallon senior catcher Jeremy Reno reached first base on an error by Wildcats junior shortstop Jeremy Collinson to begin the bottom of the third inning. That was followed by leadoff batter and junior shortstop Josh Gibson being hit by a pitch from Wildcats senior starter McCade Brown. With two on, senior pitcher Brayden Arnold hit a double all the way to the center field wall, scoring Reno and Gibson, giving the Panthers a 2-0 edge.

There would be two more scoreless innings for both sides afterward, and Normal West (24-15) would go down in order in the top of the fifth. From there, O’Fallon (35-3-1) would add to their lead. Two walked batters and a single by Arnold loaded the bases for senior third baseman Hayden Juenger who was walked by Brown, increasing O’Fallon’s lead, 3-0. The Panthers would score five more times that inning while keeping the Wildcats at bay to achieve victory.

“With the arm they had out there,” Portz said in reference to Brown who will attend and play at Indiana next season, “If his command had been different and our kids don’t battle, and we continue to chase above our hands, we’d be in trouble.”

Portz said he told his players it would take more than two runs to beat a Normal West squad he knew would continue to fight through to the last out.

“We knew we were going to have to be about perfect to have a shot at beating them, and we weren’t,” Hawkins said afterward. “They were really good as advertised, number one in Illinois. We gave a lot of free bases and you just can’t do that with them.”

Arnold pitched seven innings striking out eight batters for the win. Brown pitched four plus innings striking four batters in the loss.

By Steve Robinson | June 1, 2018 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Prior to the regular meeting of Normal Town Council members on June 18 in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, the Town will award their annual Harmon Arts Grant to groups which applied for them in hopes of being able to enrich the community through their talents.

The list of 18 groups who will share in grants totaling $25,000 was approved by Council members as part of that omnibus vote at Monday’s Council session. Other than omnibus items, there were no general orders or new business at this meeting.

The Town received a total of 28 applications for grants totaling $74,297. That figure is down from last year when the Town received 30 grant requests totaling $90,067, according to a report prepared for Council members by Interim City Manager Teri Legner.

Although none of the groups receiving a grant applied for one this large, the maximum grant awarded is $5,000, and the programs or projects receiving grant money must be taking place between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019. Former Mayor Paul Harmon, current Mayor Chris Koos, City Manager Pam Reece, and Legner make up the committee to determine grant winners.

The Harmon Arts Grant Program is named for the former mayor and was established in 1993 to help promote various forms of art in the community. A total of $25,000 in the Town’s general fund is where dollars for the grants come from.

Grant applications are evaluated according to numerous criteria, including: They must take place within Normal and be administered by non-profit groups; They must be programs which serve a large number of patrons; and can include quasi-arts programs.

The grant recipients, and the grants they were awarded are: Illinois Symphony Orchestra, $2,000; Illinois State University’s Shakespeare Festival, $2,000; Prairie Fire Theatre, $2,000; YWCA Express Yourself, $1,950; Midwest Institute of Opera at ISU, $1,850; University Galleries at ISU, $1,750; Heartland Theatre, $1,500; McLean County Arts Center, $1,500; Twin Cities Ballet, $1,500; USA Ballet, $1,500; Further Jazz, $1,200; Illinois Chamber Music Festival at Illinois Wesleyan University, $1,200; Brass Band of Central Illinois, $1,100; Normal Community West High School Bands, $1,000; Sound Of Illinois, $1,000; Illinois Voices Theatre, $750; Community Players Theatre, $600; and Crossroads Area Student Theatre (CAST), $600.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the public hearing of May 21, 2018.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of May 21, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of May 30, 2018.

• A resolution to approve bids and award a contract to Champaign Signal and Lighting Company for the Beaufort St ./Vernon Ave. traffic signal upgrade project.

• Supplemental Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) resolution in the amount of $31,600 for the Beaufort St ./Vernon Ave. traffic signal upgrade project.

• A resolution accepting the low bid and awarding a contract to Astoria , Ill.-based K. K. Stevens Publishing Co. for the printing of Normal Parks & Recreation Department’s Fall, Winter/Spring, and Summer Activity Guides in the amount of $28,155.66 plus postage.

• A resolution authorizing the filing of the Town’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) 2018-2019 Annual Action Plan.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Elgin , Ill.-based Drydon Equipment, Inc. for the replacement of the Halogen valve emergency shut-off system at the water treatment plant at a cost of $35,985.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and executing an agreement with Santa Fe Springs , Calif.-based All City Management Services, Inc. in the amount not to exceed $82,872 for school crossing guard management services.

• An ordinance establishing prevailing wage rates.

By Steve Robinson | May 31, 2018 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Two heavy rain downpours May 30 may have forced a change of location for the Illinois High School Association Class 4A baseball Sectional between Normal Community West and Bradley Bourbonnais, but the change didn’t seem to faze the Wildcats, who won the contest, blanking the Boilermakers in five innings, 12-0. As a result of the victory, the Wildcats would face O’Fallon on June 2 at for Jack Horenberger Field on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. That game’s first pitch is slated for 11a.m.

With the field moved and the game time pushed back from 6p.m. to 7:15p.m., West winning pitcher McCade Brown sat down the Boilermakers’ firs three batters to open the top of the first inning. That was followed by Wildcats leadoff man Austin Collinson being walked and being followed by a Brandon Roth single to right field. Ben Smith followed with a single which scored both runners, giving West a quick 2-0 lead.

West (24-14) would add four more runs in their half of the second inning when Roth smacked triple scoring Sean Shook, Jeremy Fischer, and Collinson, all three who had been walked by losing pitcher Alec Weedon. Roth would also cross the plate on a fielding error, which in completing the play, delighted the crowd of roughly 500 fans, mostly West supporters. That gave West a 6-0 lead. West senior Jake Marti and sophomore Will Kafer singled and doubled, respectfully, and were driven home by a single by catcher Cody Hardt for two more runs in the innings for an 8-0 advantage.

Fischer doubling and Smith hitting a single brought in two more runs in the home half of the third inning, upping West’s lead, 10-0. The Wildcats’ last two runs came in the fourth inning, the result of a Hardt double which scored Kafer who singled, and Hardt scoring on a Collinson single.

Brown threw 54 pitches in his three innings of work, six short of what would keep him from being able to pitch in the Sectional Championship on Saturday per IHSA rules. “He knew he could throw less pitches if he could use our defense a little bit,” explained West head coach Chris Hawkins of his pitcher who increased his record on the season to 8-1.

Bradley Bourbonnais’ loss went to Weedon, and the Boilermakers season ends with an 18-14 mark. Boilermakers head coach Alec Robinson said the two-run first inning by Normal West ”was no big deal, but the big deal was the six runs in the second inning. Give them credit, Brown did a good job mixing it up. We couldn’t really pull anything together to get runs across.”

The Corn Crib Was A Last Option To Host Contest: The contest, originally slated for Horenberger Field, was moved because the field there was too waterlogged for the scheduled 6p.m. start. Quick thinking on the part of Normal West Athletic Director Stan Lewis prompted him to call Normal CornBelters President and General Manager Steve Malliet to see if it would be possible to play there. The CornBelters were out of town in the midst of a 9-day road trip, allowing the game to go forward with a 7:15p.m.start, thus preventing IHSA from declaring the game postponed.

Hawkins said maneuvering to find a location to play didn’t really rattle his players, who hadn’t played since May 26. He added, “Our guys were just hungry to play today. If someone had offered them a blacktop to play on, they’d have played on it if that had to happen.”

Malliet said The Corn Crib was “the last option” in terms of a location for the contest because even Duffy Bass Field on Illinois State University’s campus would not have been an option because of its grass outfield. “Thankfully, we had turf and we were able to help out,” he said.

Bloomington, Illinois – MAY 31, 2018 – Preparing to take a family selfie in October 2017 led to Normal Community West High School student Austin Waller needing treatment for cancer. As the Wallers – mom Amy, dad Scott, daughter Alicia, and son Austin, who will be a junior this fall, closed in for the photo, Scott felt a bump on Austin’s collar bone as he proceeded to hug him. That prompted the Wallers to go to their family Nurse Practitioner the next day.

Upon seeing the bump and taking scans of it, the Nurse Practitioner told the Wallers, “It’s cancer.” A lymphoma more specifically, and ordered Austin and the family who went with him for the initial exam to go immediately to St. Jude Cancer Research Hospital in Peoria for further tests.

After tests were done, doctors at St. Jude admitted Austin for additional tests and blood work. Another couple days went by at which point the physicians wanted to begin chemotherapy. Their diagnosis: Austin had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in his chest around his breathing muscles and heart. Chemotherapy needed to begin right away, the doctors said.

Austin’s chemotherapy took place for seven days a month for the next two months. Then, for the next two months after that, he had chemo for four days each month. That was followed by a month of radiation treatments in the Chicago area. Austin and the Wallers are currently awaiting his next appointment at St. Jude next month to see where the treatment goes from here.

The treatments he received caused Austin to miss time at school, Amy Waller said. She added the family is appreciative and thankful for the support it received from Normal Community West High School helping him stay current with his studies during his illness.

In addition, Austin also missed out on social activities, as well – namely half of his bowling season. He is in a recreational bowling league at Pheasant Lanes in Bloomington which takes place on Saturday mornings. But once doctors gave him approval to resume normal activities and his chemotherapy sessions were scheduled — including a Saturday –, Austin asked doctors if he could have the Saturday session at 4a.m. That would give him time to get to bowl at 9a.m. The doctors granted his request.

“That’s how much he likes to bowl, and he’d been bowling with the same group for quite a few years,” Amy Waller said about her son.

The Wallers have had a history with Relay For Life of McLean County dating back to when Amy was carrying both her children – she marched as part of a Relay team
headed by Deb O’Connell, Deb’s Mardi Gras Marchers. O’Connell lost her battle with the disease in 2009.

“We are happy to have Austin represent us as our Honorary Youth Survivor,” said Catina Struble, Event Lead for Relay For Life of McLean County. “He showed both courage and poise in his dealing with the disease. His desire to continue normal activities even while going through treatment is a sign of his resiliency – something we believe all those affected by this disease show every day.”

RELAY 2018 START TIME MOVES TO 2P. M. FRIDAY: In addition to a new location, the start time for this year’s Relay has been moved up to Friday afternoon at 2p.m. which will include a “soft” opening at that time where team members can begin circling the course at that time, Wright explained. She said a formal opening ceremony will take place sometime after working hours that day – something else that is a change from previous Relay For Life of McLean County events. The Survivor Walk, which honors current cancer survivors, will follow the formal opening ceremony.

YOUTH ACTIVITIES TO TAKE PLACE BOTH DAYS: This year, Relay For Life of McLean County will “have youth activities for kids to enjoy on both Friday and Saturday,” Wright added.

RELAY 2017 NUMBERS: Relay For Life of McLean County wrapped up it 23rd annual event raising $300,786.47 at the conclusion of the 2017 event and had 70 teams comprised of 657 participants, and 220 survivors and caregivers at their annual Relay event, held from 4p.m.June 23 to 4p.m. June 254, 2017, at Normal Community High School.

Since it began in McLean County in 1994, Relay For Life of McLean County has raised over $8.3 Million to fight cancer.

LEARN MORE ABOUT RELAY 2018: Find out more about getting involved with Relay For Life of McLean County. You can find a link to our Relay by visiting www.relayforlife.org/mcleanil.

More information may be obtained by contacting either Catina Struble 309-706-5367 or Steve Robinson at 309-242-7838.

By Steve Robinson | May 25, 2018 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Regular readers of this column may recall a column I wrote a couple of years ago concerning Courtney Dyson, mother of Normal Community West High School softball player Jaxynn Dyson, who as the Wildcats were going through their run at an Illinois High School Association Class 4A championship, was trying to achieve a victory of her own over cancer.

Having her daughter’s games to attend helped Courtney, serving as a necessary distraction from going through treatment. Normal West making it to the Class 4A State Championship game against Oak Park-River Forest made that distraction more enjoyable, it appeared.

Courtney’s cancer was first diagnosed in January 2016, before the season made it to the finals, providing a goal for Jaxynn to help her stay focused and providing a needed respite for Courtney from medical matters.

At that time, Jaxynn was a freshman when Normal West came in second at State Softball, with Courtney present as the Wildcats hugged, cried, and celebrated their second place finish following a 10-inning loss to OP-RF at the end of the season at the Eastside Centre in East Peoria.

Fast forward to the current season, and Courtney, sadly, is still doing battle with Stage 4 Metastatic Triple Negative Breast Cancer. But Jaxynn, the younger of her two children, was on the Wildcats’ girls’ basketball team as well as on the Softball team, providing a double dose of the right kind of distraction from her mother’s medical concerns.

That type of cancer has no cure, Courtney reports, “So I keep going and do what I can do to keep going.” “To keep going” for Courtney means showing up at Jaxynn’s basketball games as she did all last season and again next season, and at Normal West Softball contests for as long as their season plays on.

When Courtney’s cancer was first diagnosed, “she wanted me to have softball as a release,” Jaxynn said. “Her watching me play was kind of a release, so it helped both of us.” Considering the circumstances, Jaxynn added, “The situation seemed kind of normal. We’ve gotten used to it.”

During Jaxynn’s freshman year, Normal West Softball had a “Breast Cancer Awareness” game against Bloomington High and sold T-shirts to raise money. Jaxynn credits her coach, Wildcats head coach April Schermann, with making that event possible. The money that event raised was donated to the Dysons to help pay medical expenses they incurred at that time, Jaxynn explained.

But more than that, Jaxynn said, “Coach Schermann just being there for me” was also a help to a young woman who was in need of such help. “She’s just a great person.”

Jaxynn still has her senior year at West to go through next year, and the release she and her mother get from her being involved in sports will continue once she gets to college, too. That’s because Jaxynn has verbally committed to attend and play Softball for Illinois State University. Jaxynn said once her college studies are done, she’s considering working in the field of criminal justice.

Originally, Jaxynn was considering going into medicine, which would add four years of med school and interning to the schooling she has had up to now. Add to that four years of college before that. As Courtney pointed out with a chuckle, in the end, her daughter did want to do medicine, but she said she changed her mind about that because she didn’t want to do that much school.”

Courtney’s advice to folks facing continual medical challenges is “You have to keep going…You just have to keep going. I’m still going, and just gotta keep going.”