By Steve Robinson | March 27, 2021 - 11:22 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High School earned its first Central State 8 Conference win Friday night, overtaking Springfield Southeast in a 49-6 victory at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus. Pioneers senior running back-defense back Peter Deffenbaugh scored on runs of 4 and 6 yards topping it off with an 82 yard scoring sprint to complete the night.

The sole score by Springfield Southeast (0-2) on the night came courtesy of a 21 yard interception touchdown by senior defense back Jared Harris, picking off a pass from Pioneers senior quarterback Camdyn Barclay converting it into what would be the Spartans’ only score of the night. That was followed by a failed two-point conversion. As a result, the visitors had a quick 6-0 lead going into the second quarter.

But from there, U-High (1-1) owned the evening, starting with taking the lead on a 13 yard rushing touchdown from senior wide receiver Ethan Hunt, followed by a successful extra point by sophomore kicker Declan Duley. That would put the Pioneers up 7-6, with 11 minutes left in the half.

U-High’s next score would come on a 36 yard touchdown pass from Barclay to senior wide receiver Justin “J.J.” Johnson at 6:04 in the second quarter, followed by Duley’s extra point, advancing the Pioneers lead to 14-6. U-High added a second touchdown in the half thanks to Deffenbaugh’s first score on the night, a 4 yard dash into the end zone at 2:46 until halftime followed by Duley’s extra point, increasing the Pioneers lead going into the half, 21-6.

Barclay’s 35 yard touchdown pass to senior Matthew Davenport helped the Pioneers open the second half with a 7 play 69 yard march into the end zone followed by another Duley extra point, giving U-High a 28-6 lead.

Deffenbaugh’s next rushing score from 6 yards out followed by Duley’s extra point helped add to the Pioneers’ lead, 35-6 at the four minute mark in the third quarter.

A Spartans special teams player bobbled and lost the ball after the ensuing kickoff giving Pioneers senior linebacker Harris Carr an opportunity to recover it, putting U-High at the Spartans’ 25 yard line for their next possession. It took the Pioneers three plays in one minute to get to the 1-yard line, highlighted by a 24 yard Barclay pass to junior quarterback-turned-receiver Konnor Bouman to get the Pioneers to the 1-yard line. From there, senior wide receiver Gavin Markert dashed into the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Pioneers up, 42-6.

On the Spartans’ next possession, an interception by Davenport stopped Springfield Southeast in the midst of a 6-play drive at the U-High 20 yard line. One play later, Deffenbaugh rushed for an 80 yard touchdown, followed by Duley’s last extra point on the night resulting in the final score.

“I feel like I stepped up this game and that 82 yard really helped me out,” Deffenbaugh said, adding he had a couple tackles in which Springfield Southeast lost yardage. He said the victory “definitely felt like a team win, for sure. We kept a good mentality throughout the whole game and we made big stops on defense and scored a bunch on offense. That really helped us out.”

Pioneers head coach John Johnson had praise for his six foot, 190 pound senior’s efforts on the night. “He ran the ball well and he blocked well, and he had an interception. He had a great game.”

Once the Pioneers figured out how to get around the Spartans’ secondary unit players, Johnson explained, “We started burning them pretty bad.”

The fourth season head coach added his staff challenged members of the defense all week to prevent Springfield Southeast from scoring as soon as the Pioneers put points on the board themselves. Johnson said that appears to be a pattern when playing other CS8 teams. “The defense answered the bell tonight. They played very hard.”

“We’ve got to execute, stay true to the game plan and just execute right,” Springfield Southeast head coach Matt Lauber said in explaining what his team should have accomplished during Friday’s contest. “U-High didn’t do anything different from what we planned for.” From looking at the Pioneers on film, Lauber added, “We thought we could take advantage of some stuff which would help clog up some of the running game. We did a good job on the run game. It was more the receivers that got us. That’s what hurt.”

NORMAL – One thing football coaches have to make sure players understand is they must be prepared for anything during a game. It’s a lesson that fits for life, too. Normal Community High School senior wide receiver Jackson Wiggins showed rival Normal Community West High School he has taken note of that lesson, and made use of it Friday night. It was opening night of a COVID-19 delayed season for both teams. Wiggins scored two touchdowns against the Wildcats, giving the Ironmen a 14-0 annual “Chili Bowl” victory in a game played at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus. The win gave the Ironmen a 1-0 start on the season.

A fumble by Normal West quickly ended the Wildcats’ second possession at their own 21 yard line. Two plays later, NCHS senior quarterback Chase Mackey connected with Wiggins for the first Ironmen touchdown with 7:09 left in the first quarter followed by sophomore kicker Ryan Millmore’s extra point. That gave NCHS a fast 7-0 lead.

Normal West (0-1) fumbled the ball deep in their own territory but fumbled where West junior defensive back Camden Maas recovered it and was downed at the Wildcats’ 9 yard line at 3:54 in the opening quarter. Three plays later, Mackey scored for the second time on the night catching an 8-yard pass from Mackey, followed by another Millmore extra point, resulting in the final score.

Where the Ironmen used Mackey all evening under center, Normal West rotated a trio of quarterbacks – seniors Leslie Fisher and Levi Hess, and junior Kolton Lindsay, to anchor the Wildcats’ offense throughout the contest.

Until Friday’s game, Wiggins said, he had only scored one touchdown in any game he had been in up to then. He was quick to distribute credit to both Chase and Wildcats Offensive Coordinator Chris Messina. Messina is also the team’s quarterback coach.

Normal Community High head coach Jason Drengwitz said he saw “a real good defensive effort by a young defense with some great senior leadership in the back end.” He added special teams “played a huge part” in the contest. “We know we have some room to improve, but when we need to make some plays, we made plays,” Drengwitz said. “We didn’t turn the ball over. We took care of it. When we needed to punt, we punted and let the defense take care of it.” It was a three-phase game, Drengwitz added, referring to the trio of parts of the team that work together – offense, defense, and special teams.

Since Normal West (0-1) rotated three quarterbacks, Drengwitz said that made it “somewhat hard to prepare for.” But he said his staff had an idea who the Wildcats would put behind center.

“It was a tough game,” said Normal West head coach Nate Fincham. “Give credit to Normal. They came out and played physical. They didn’t make mistakes. We looked like we hadn’t played a game in 18 months. We came out and had some mistakes and you can’t do that against a team like Normal.”

Fincham said his team would address ball security when they practiced this week in preparation for hosting non-conference opponent Quincy Notre Dame in a Friday 7p.m. contest

Ironmen Field Deemed Too Muddy: Late Friday afternoon, just hours before NCHS’ scheduled game with Unit 5 School District rival Normal Community High School, NCHS Athletic Director Nic Kearfoot called an audible and was able to move the game from NCHS’ Ironmen Field to Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus.

By Steve Robinson | March 20, 2021 - 10:35 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

We all know Coronavirus has messed with everybody in a myriad of ways too lengthy to list here. But there was one aspect I want to touch on, from what I saw Friday night at Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium, that left students and parents alike chomping at the bit to get back to – high school football season. After all, it had been 16 months since the last game had been played and we all expected last August we would be back watching another season of young men going for wins and championships.

But we were all thrown for a loss as much as a quarterback being sacked by the defense when the 2020 season was postponed because of the virus.

The dangers involved with the virus led to what turned out to be the postponement of the football season, leaving in limbo whether it would get started let alone completed. But teams began training camp at the beginning of this month, games were rescheduled, and enthusiasm for the delayed 2020 season, rechristened the 2020-2021 season, began.

For players, parents, and grandparents, the announcement by mid-Friday afternoon the game between Big 12 Conference rivals Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School was being moved from Ironmen Field due to overly muddy conditions had all the desire of a late 15-yard penalty flag. That is, until NCHS Athletic Director Nic Kearfoot got the game moved to Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium with hours to spare.

The only other change needed by teams was to push kickoff back 30 minutes, from 7p.m. to 7:30p.m. Even with Coronavirus-caused social distancing, that seemed a trivial matter when you get down to it. After all, players, coaches, players’ families, and fans had waited this long, an extra 30 minutes to wait would be all the more worth it.

For one player’s family, that wait turned out to be worth it seeing NCHS win the annual “Chili Bowl.” Scott Pratt’s son, Ben, is one of 20 seniors on the Ironmen 65-man roster, and the Ironmen’s starting center. “We wanted some type of normalcy, right?” the young man’s father inquired. “It was just nice to get out and cheer for the kids.

“We were just as nervous as they were,” he added with a chuckle.

Ben Pratt’s grandfather, Bob Lyng, made the four-hour trip from his home in Marshall, Mich., near Battle Creek, to cheer on his grandson and his teammates, and maintained a watch on the countdown, too. “You could see that Ben was getting more and more excited as we were getting closer to Friday,” Lyng said, adding, “Then it rained Thursday, and we figured it being a mud bowl. The college was so eloquent to, being a local game, let them play on the turf, that was just unbelievable.”

For Amy Wert, mother of Normal West junior tight end Dylan Wert, “Seventeen months is too long” between football seasons, she explained. She added, “We should have had a season in the fall. All the states around us did. We should have as well.” I checked and found 35 states, including Illinois’ neighbors Indiana and Iowa all went ahead and played fall ball as expected.

Amy Wert did laugh at the fact we were slightly bundled against the nippy conditions during Friday’s game. “We freeze in October, we may as well freeze in March,” she said with a laugh. “I think if it had been snowing and blowing, all these people would have been here just to see the boys play again.”

Even Jackson Wiggins, the wide receiver who scored both of the Ironmen’s touchdowns in the contest, had his doubts the annual grudge match would get played on account of the condition Ironmen Field was in. “It was just really special that we got to play this game,” Wiggins said. “But it’s really special that we get to play it here at Hancock. It’s really awesome.” He is on his way to Dordt University to major in Business

Illinois High School Association went ahead with a spring season for football but trimmed back the number of games to be played from the traditional nine to six. Practices for games began March 3. But although there will be a season for this sport, IHSA will not have any post-season contests. For some, that can be looked upon as being done out of an abundance of caution. For others, it could count as something not to look favorably upon IHSA for in decision making.

Considering the fact death is one of the fates Coronavirus patients look to avoid, I can understand IHSA being cautious. I also appreciate parents who may be angered by that decision, too. But erring on the side of caution is where I come down here. And we will have other post-seasons to look forward to. But getting these kids their chance at a season was what was primary here. Coaches and parents will, as needed, help the boys understand why they will not be aiming toward any playoffs. It’s unfortunate, but the circumstances created by COVID-19 forced it.

With a set of vaccines ready to go into arms, and more seasons to look forward to, possibly even getting back to playing football in fall, things are looking up. But we are keenly aware of what has been lost already and must strive to avoid any further casualties.

By Steve Robinson | March 16, 2021 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – The weather at times may indicate spring is in the air but no thanks to the global pandemic, local high schools are revving up for two sports seasons usually thought of by this time as distant memories – Football and Volleyball — which should have celebrated championships last fall. And yet, beginning this Friday, football teams will take to the gridiron for the first time in the 2020-21 school calendar. Volleyball teams for Normal’s three high schools all opened their delayed seasons in victorious fashion Tuesday night.

Unit 5’s Football Rivalry Resumes Friday: The rivalry game between Unit 5 School District schools usually takes place early in the season, complete with a steaming pot of chili – more accurately a pot of meat soup – for the victors. Usually, this game takes place after each team, Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School, have tuned up on an opponent or two in preparation for what has become a fierce rivalry that began when Normal West opened 25 years ago.

But with the postponement of the current football season and how the scheduling has worked out as a result of that for spring contests, NCHS will welcome the Wildcats to Ironmen Field for a 7p.m. kickoff Friday night to start the delayed and shortened season. There will only be six games on the schedule this year.

NCHS has beaten fellow Big 12 Conference opponent Normal West for the last five straight seasons and even with the delay caused by COVID-19, causing the fall sports season to be postponed into the spring, Normal West will be entering enemy territory in an attempt to put a stop to that winning streak. NCHS finished the 2019 season 8-3 after losing a second round road contest to Chicago Phillips. Normal West closed out 2019 with a 7-3 mark, dropping a first round game to Providence Catholic.

While Unit 5’s rivalry will entertain fans at home, University High School, under fourth season head coach John Johnson, will be at Chatham Glenwood High School to begin their delayed Central State Eight season. The Pioneers will play their first home game at Hancock Stadium on Illinois State University’s campus Friday, March 26 when Springfield Southeast visits for a 7p.m. contest. Johnson and his troops are looking to erase the memory of 2019’s 3-6 season where none of the victories came before home crowds.

NCHS, West, U-High Open Volleyball Season Victorious: The Town’s three high school Volleyball teams faced the same issue of playing after a long delay where no spikes or kills were registered all winter. The Iron got their season off to a quick start beating Danville Tuesday, 25-15 and 25-22. NCHS will play their next two matches on the road beginning Thursday at Peoria Notre Dame in a 7p.m. contest. Saturday, the Iron will visit non-conference opponent Washington for an 11a.m. match before playing before a home crowd on Tuesday, March 23 to host conference rival Peoria Richwoods for a 7p.m. match.

Normal West opened the season Tuesday at Big 12 Conference foe Champaign Central, losing to the Maroons, 17-25, 28-26, and 25-19. Their next contest is at Peoria Manual for a 7p.m. tilt, and playing a 10a.m. contest at Morton Saturday. They will play at Central Catholic on March 27 and at Peoria Richwoods March 30 before hosting their first game against Peoria High School on Wednesday, March 31 starting at 5p.m.

To open the season in the Central State Eight, University High won on the road to Springfield Lanphier Tuesday night, 25-6, and 25-11. They had one more road game Wednesday at non-conference foe Bloomington High before hosting their first home game Saturday at noon against Big 12 Conference opponent Bloomington Central Catholic. Next week will be light for the Pioneers, as they will only have one game on Tuesday, March 23, hosting visiting Peoria Richwoods in a 7p.m. contest.

NORMAL – Prior to the regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session Monday night, Council members, meeting in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, unanimously approved licenses for two establishments who, under previous owners, found themselves facing penalties imposed by Commissioners.

A Class C (Beer and Wine) liquor license for two Marie’s Place locations. One, located at 115 Susan Dr., Suite H, where a license was issued for 35 YEARS, LLC PATRIOT CENTER, doing business as Marie’s Place. Liquor Commissioners also approved a Class C license for 35 YEARS, LLC LANDMARK, doing business as Marie’s Place, 1520 E. College Ave. The licenses were necessary because both establishments are now under new ownership.

Because both establishments have the same owner, approval of the licenses was done with a single vote by Commissioners. Commissioners also approved for each establishment to possess a video gaming license. Each establishment has video terminals. In January, Commissioners were informed by Liquor Commissioner Chris Koos the prior owners of the establishments have paid all fees and all settlement costs to the Town, and new owners of the businesses were seeking liquor licenses for the establishments. He also said the prior owners “no longer have any interest in this business.”

Besides those two “Marie’s” locations, Commissioners approved issuance of video gaming licenses to a dozen other establishments.

In addition, Commissioners approved liquor licenses for 73 establishments ranging from hotels to liquor stores to restaurants and bars; Four establishments which carry Class F Catering licenses; 11 businesses which carry Class H Outdoor Gardens and Sidewalk Cafes; 11 businesses which carry Class I Annual Tasting; and 1 Class L Pari-mutuel Betting Parlor. In addition to businesses fitting in those classes, and a total of 12 businesses were issued Business Permits.

Koos reminded that businesses “which actually serve or pour liquor in their establishments this year have had their license fees waived as a result of the impact of COVID on them.” He added that applied to businesses which “upheld the Governor’s guidelines” for businesses since the pandemic began a year ago.

Commission members also approved minutes of a special meeting held Feb. 1.

Reappointments To Three Town Commissions Announced: Four people were recommended by Koos for reappointment to three Town commissions. David Burnison and Dennis French both were reappointed to the Uptown Design Review Commission. Nancy Armstrong was reappointed to the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission. R. C. McBride was reappointed to Normal Planning Commission. Each person’s term on their respective Commission was due to expire at the end of this month but will now expire March 31, 2024.

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

• Approval of minutes of the public hearing held March 1, 2021.

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held March 1, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 10, 2021.

• An ordinance authorizing publication of a zoning map.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based George Gildner Inc. for the 2021 sump pump discharge and storm sewer improvement project in the amount of $356,662.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an agreement with Mr. Craig Onsrud for the operation of Ironwood Golf Course Pro Shop and private golf lessons.