By Steve Robinson | October 4, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – When Illinois State University ’s men’s basketball team began their season last year, they had no seniors and a lot of hope for a successful season. With no seniors, there were some who questioned just how far such a team could go as the season progressed.

As it turned out, the answer as to how far they got answered in St. Louis , when head coach Dan Muller’s troops finished, was second losing to league tournament champ Loyola-Chicago. But this year, with four seniors, the Redbirds’ hopes to go further are clearly evident.

With guards Keyshawn Evans and Ridgeview alum William Tinsley, and forward Phil Fayne as the seniors leading the charge, and two juniors – Josh Jefferson, Zach Copeland – following, waiting for their moment to step up, Muller knows he has players who can step up right now from the opening tip.

He also knows LeRoy High alum Matt Chastain, who has battled injuries over the last couple of years, is of a mind to contribute this season, as well, and hopes to stay healthy.

As for the group as a whole, Muller said, “We have high expectations. We have a really good group and the leadership’s there. It’s a fun team to coach.”

Muller said this team “reminds me of the team we had a couple years ago.” That would be the 2015-16 season team that made it to the quarterfinals at the MVC Tournament before losing to Indiana State , finishing the season with an 18-14 mark, including a 12-6 conference record.

He said that’s because sophomore forward Keith Fisher III, senior guard Jaycee Hillsman, and sophomore guard Dedric Boyd all came to ISU with playing experience in NCAA Division I. Fisher and Hillsman both came from San Jose State , and Boyd came from Eastern Kentucky . But while Muller is happy to have that trio on his roster, those three will be watching this season, unable to play at ISU now to fulfill NCAA’s transfer residence requirement for players.

That means this season “will come down to returning players,” 42-year-old Muller admitted. “We have guys in the program for 2, 3, 4 years who know what to expect.”

“We’re more balanced on both ends of the court,” Muller said, adding the team has worked more on its offensive scheme “than we ever have before.” That’s because ISU, which finished 18-15, which included a 10-8 conference mark last season, is working on a new offense. At that point, Muller refused to say much more about it, except to admit he thought he now had “the most talented offensive team since I’ve been here.”

“We’re more balanced on both ends of the court,” he added. “We have more shooters and more guys who can make plays.”

UIS Transfer Donnelly Not Bothered By Sitting Out A Year: ISU fans won’t see junior guard Lijah Donnelly on the court for another year because of NCAA’s rule about transfers needing to sit out one year after moving from one school to another, but that doesn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for being at ISU.

The Bloomington High product played at Division II University of Illinois Springfield before coming to ISU, and although he can’t play this season, he shows signs of being glad of his decision to come here. He said Muller reached out to him, stating he wanted Donnelly to come “help the team as much as I could.”

He said he is a player whose philosophy toward the game is “play hard every day, go hard every day.” What he was told by teammates was that being in Missouri Valley was that “it’s a battle every night and to come prepared for that.”

Chastain Learned To Get Through Adverse Times: Redshirt sophomore guard Matt Chastain said he learned a lot from his first year at ISU, including some new offensive and defensive techniques. After playing in big games at LeRoy High School and Loyola-Chicago, being part of a team that made it to MVC’s championship – against the school he first went to out of high school — didn’t rattle him, he said.

Chastain said he learned plenty about himself in his first year while at ISU, including “how to get through adversity, and learning not to be scared about taking the right shots.” He remained injury-free last year, playing in all 33 games for the Redbirds, but has recovered from a minor meniscus surgery in his left knee he needed after the season.

Internally, Chastain said, he and his teammates are talking about, once the regular season is completed, winning the MVC Championship, having come as close as they did last year.

Tinsley Ready To Continue Contributing: While Chastain’s redshirt period has ended and he is ready to make contributions this year, Ridgeview High alum William Tinsley appears anxious for the season to get started having experienced ISU’s run last year and the team having gotten to the MVC championship with hopes for a return. Last season, in his first season on the court after transferring to ISU from Lake Land College and sitting out per NCAA rules at that time, Tinsley scored 120 points, averaging almost 7 points per contest. He also had 8 steals, 18 blocks, and 14 assists. He was 2-for-7 from the free throw line and had 45 percent shooting from the floor. He also make 28-of-73 treys.

Among the lessons he said he latched on to last season: ”When to shoot the three and when not to shoot the three, and when to drive to the basket and when not to drive, defensively, especially. I learned a lot about defense because without defense, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”

Tinsley called last season with the Redbirds “a growing year for me, but I think it’s going to help me learn from mistakes and hopefully, be the best player I can be this year.”

There were other lessons he picked up, Tinsley said, including “how to get through adversity, and not be afraid about the shots you take.” Among his goals for the coming season are to be “a relentless defender.”

Tinsley had surgery to repair a meniscus tear after the season which laid him up for three weeks.

Circle Your Calendars: ISU begins Muller’s seventh season with an exhibition game against Lewis University on Tuesday, Oct. 30 starting with the 7p.m. tipoff. Their first game of the season is Tuesday, Nov. 6 against Florida Gulf Coast University . ISU will play in the Cayman Islands Classic Nov. 13-Nov. 21. ISU’s first MVC game will be Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Valparaiso . Their games against Bradley will be on Wednesday, Jan. 23 in Peoria and on Saturday, Feb. 16 at Redbird Arena.

By Steve Robinson | October 1, 2018 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Without discussion, Normal Town Council members unanimously approved appointing Nick Moran to fill a vacancy on the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority, the governing body which oversees Central Illinois Regional Airport.

Moran will fill a Board seat vacated by Beth Whisman, whose term expires on April 30, 2022. Moran has been employed at Commerce Bank for 17 years, currently in the position of vice president of the bank’s Commercial Banking Division based in Bloomington.

Among his community activities, Moran serves on the board of American Red Cross, president of 5Khaos, a charity obstacle race, and the marketing committee of Illinois Prairie Foundation. He also volunteers on the Parent Teacher Organization of Sugar Creek Elementary School. He was also a founding member of McLean County Chamber of Commerce’s young professionals group which was once known as NeXt Professionals.

A Lamont, Ill. native, Moran and his wife, Kathy, have three children, ages 5, 7, and 9.

Three Seats Up For Election, Two Candidates Announced: When voters go to the polls next spring to determine who will sit on Normal Town Council, there will be three seats to be voted for. Two one-term incumbents have said they will run again, while a third veteran has not announced his intentions as yet.

Kathleen Lorenz and R. C. McBride, elected in 2015, each have declared their intentions to run for second terms. Jeff Fritzen, who has served on the Council from 1983-1999, and then after a four-year hiatus, ran again in 2003, hasn’t announced whether he will run for what would be his fifth term this time around. If he seeks re-election, it would be for a ninth term.

“I have a genuine desire to continue to serve the community,” Lorenz said Monday. Having had four years of experience after winning what was Sonja Reece’s seat on the Council at the time, and growing and learning from being on Council during that time has enthused her to run again, she explained.

McBride said he was happy with what the Council has accomplished for the Town in the last four years, including being awarded a AAA Bond rating and a balanced budget. He also pointed to the Council passing a Welcoming Families ordinance and introducing multi-family recycling.

Candidates must file between Nov. 19-26, explained Town Clerk Angie Huonker, with petitions due in by 5p.m. on the last day to her office. Anyone wishing to file can get petitions from either her office at Normal City Hall or the McLean County Clerk’s Office, or Illinois State Board of Elections.

At this time, other than Lorenz and McBride, Huonker said, her office is not aware of any other candidates who have petitions out at this time. She said her office won’t know that until those candidates submit their petitions during the filing period.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Sept. 17, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept.26, 2018.

• A resolution to accept water treatment chemical bids from November 2018 through October 2019.

• An ordinance granting a Special Use Permit for a temporary parking lot at 612 Kingsley.

• An ordinance granting a Special Use Permit for a temporary parking lot at 603 Dale.

By Steve Robinson | September 29, 2018 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Normal Community High School senior quarterback Daylen Boddie scored four running touchdowns totaling 80 yards and threw over 200 yards passing as the visiting Ironmen defeated Bloomington High School at Fred Carlton Field Friday night, outpacing the Purple Raiders, 49-28, for a Big 12 Conference victory.

BHS (4-2 overall, 3-2 Big 12) could only mount single-digit scoring each quarter but surprised their fans and stunned the visitors when senior wide receiver Drew Crooks took the contest’s opening kickoff at his own 13 yard line and then weaved his way through Ironmen defenders and then found a hole in the defense which he used to score the game’s first points. That gave BHS a quick 7-0 lead at 11:48 in the first quarter following freshman kicker Jack Weltha’s extra point.

After each team failed to score on a possession and BHS punted, NCHS (5-0 Big 12, 5-1 overall) and Boddie received the ball at his team’s own 46. From there, he weaved through defenders for his team’s first score of the game followed by senior kicker Camron Hinman’s extra point to tie the game, 7-all, with 5:35 left in the quarter. Boddie scored his next touchdown from five yards out with 55.2 seconds left in the quarter followed by Hinman’s extra point, putting the Ironmen up, 14-7.

Junior running back Jake Hileman scored from five yards out to cap a 3-play, 53 yard drive for NCHS putting the Ironmen up, 21-7, following Hinman’s extra point at 3:56 in the second quarter.

BHS’ ensuing drive resulted in a 6 yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Griffin Moore to junior wide receiver Diontay Griffin with 47.5 seconds until halftime capping an 8 play, 64 yard drive. A 2-point conversion pass from senior wide receiver C. J. Hyde to junior wide receiver Ivan Smith provided a surprise for fans and cut NCHS’ halftime lead to 21-15.

NCHS received the ball after the half and marched 65 yards on 7 plays for their next score, a 26 yard pass from Boddie to senior wide receiver Connor Lay at 9:14 in the third quarter followed by Hinman’s extra point, increasing the Ironmen’s margin, 28-15.

Following a BHS punt, the Ironmen scored again, with Boddie running into the end zone from 14 yards out to put the visitors up, 35-15, after Hinman’s next extra point at 6:07 in the quarter. BHS pulled within 13, 35-22, when Moore connected with senior wide receiver Mauliek Johnson on a 22-yard pass play followed by Weltha’s next extra point, with 3:42 remaining in the third quarter.

But NCHS increased their lead by 20, 42-22, at 11:31 in the fourth quarter when Boddie connected with senior wide receiver Dishon Hall II on a 20 yard scoring pass followed by Hinman’s extra point.

Starting with an interception of a Bloomington pass by Ironmen Hall playing defensive back, NCHS began their next drive at the Purple Raiders’ 16. Three plays later, Boddie scored from seven yards out to top the drive, followed by Hinman’s extra point, with 8:16 left, pushing the Ironmen up, 49-22.

BHS scored their last points of the night thanks to Smith’s 19 yard running touchdown with 5:58 remaining in the contest but Weltha missing the extra point.

Explaining the Ironmen’s performance in the second half, Boddie said rhetorically afterward, “It looked like we got a little juiced at half, didn’t it?,” and then referring to Ironmen head coach Jason Drengwitz, added, “Coach told us to keep our composure and play our game, and that’s what we did. We just played our game.”

Referring to the contest overall, Drengwitz said, “ Bloomington was doing some things we had to adjust to and they were playing physical and their assignments were sound.” He said his team put itself behind in a couple instances but were still able to come away with a win.

When BHS scored on the opening kickoff, Drengwitz said, his players showed no panic and took that as a sign “they needed to step up.”

This contest, BHS head coach Scott Godfrey said afterward, is “why our guys need to be in the weight room. NCHS was more physical than us and they took the fight to us in the second half. That Normal Community team is bigger and more physical than we are.

“If we don’t close that gap down,” Godfrey added, “The result’s not going to change.”

“We knew at some point we would have to match score-for-score with them,” Godfrey pointed out. “We told our guys ‘you have to keep going against this team,’” explaining to his players that NCHS has the ability to run away from opponents during contests.

“We knew what NCHS was capable of. At a certain point, we knew we would have to match score for score with them,” he explained. Godfrey said his players managed to achieve that matching in the first half, but he added, by the second half, “the better team won.”

By Steve Robinson | September 27, 2018 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Jane Collins made sure those who made the concrete walkway rounding the inner part of the property near Eugene Field after a year plus of labor received a proper “thank you” during the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 Board of Education Sept. 26.

The walkway surrounding the inner grounds of Eugene Field School complete, during a “good news” item at the meeting, Collins, the school’s administrator, passed along her and the school’s thanks to all involved in making the walkway a reality. A formal ceremony to announce the project, including groundbreaking, was held in May 2017. Students saw the finished product when they returned to class as the current school year started Aug. 16.

Eugene Field School, once an elementary school when it opened over 80 years ago, is now home to an Adapted Learning Program, a Secondary Services Program for young people ages 18-21, a vocational training center, a vocational transitional training program, and Decker Industries.

The walkway was dedicated to one of the school’s first students, Reggie Whittaker, who attended the school as a fifth grader in the 1936-37 school year. Work began work on the walkway shortly after the groundbreaking.

Among those Collins thanked were: Ronald C. Morehead, President of Local 18 of Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly. Also thanked were Nick Blazevich, Ray Bosquez, Joe Carr, Justin Dumyahn, Scott Gregory, Dick Huddleston, Steve Lowe, Gage Nimmo, Scott Nimmo, Chris Patterson, Dennis Rich, Kevin Taylor, and Mark West of Laborers Local 362.

In addition, Collins thanked Ray Lello, Danny Martinez, Jr., Doug Meyers, Ronnie Paul, Chuck Porter, Tony Sipes, and Elliot Vinson, from Bloomington-based Stark Excavating Co. Brent Williams from Midwest Construction Rentals also received acknowledged appreciation.

Collins’ thanks continued to Alan Batterman, Jim McKinney, and Bill Speary who were Teamsters members who drove trucks hauling the needed concrete, and the dispatcher who coordinated the trucks, Curtis Eichen. She also acknowledged Rob Ditchen, the concrete supervisor for McLean County Asphalt Co., Inc.

Unit 5 personnel were not left out in Collins’ appreciation for what was done for the school. She started with Operations Manager Joe Adelman, and Unit 5 staffers Doug Johnson, Kaine Hilt, Norm Hicks, and Chad Merritt.

Hudson Elementary School’s “Good News”: Board members heard from Scott Myers, principal of Hudson Elementary School, as he introduced them to second grade teachers Amanda Hunt and Becky Braman. Hunt and Braman, Myers explained, have introduced a new mentoring program into the school which puts students in “multi-grade family teams.” The teams meet weekly on Monday and Friday mornings with students to discuss such things as character traits, goals such as self-esteem and empathy, and showing kindness toward others.

He explained there are student mentors in the group giving positive reminders to fellow classmates each day during morning announcements.

School Year 2018-19 Budget Approved: Board members unanimously approved a budget for the coming school year. District leaders presented Board members a tentative budget for the next fiscal year that has a structural deficit totaling close to $5.9 million. To close that gap, Board members unanimously approved borrowing up to $16.5 million using bonds. Doing that will create an increase in property taxes for local residents. For example, the owner of a $177,000 home will see an increase of roughly $204 in their tax bill in each of the next two years.

Substitute Teacher Issues To Be Concern Of New Panel: Board members heard the district will form a panel which will address issues brought to the district’s attention by substitute teachers who addressed the Board at this meeting and at the governing body’s Sept. 12 session. Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, informed Board members an advisory committee consisting of substitute teachers, members of Unit Five Education Association and Unit Five Support Professionals Association, which represents support staff in the district, will meet for the first time on Oct. 9 to address concerns raised by the substitutes.

Learning By Playing Returning To District Kindergarten: Board members heard from Deb Honniger, Early Learning Instructional Coach for the district, and Kathy Reardon, Kindergarten teacher at Fox Creek Elementary School, Bloomington. Honniger and Reardon informed Board members that after years of being absent, play time is back for district kindergarten classes.

Honniger informed Board members 40 minutes of free play time, which has been absent from district schools for a few years, has returned. She explained such activity helps children’s brains and imaginations. She said it’s done in what she called a “teacher-engaged” style and helps to form emotional and academic skills. In one class, the instructors informed, children used water-filled bottles to study different sounds made using them.

Reardon related children using blocks in her class to build a Wal-Mart building. She said that prompted one child to consider the fact the building would need a sign, which he took the initiative to make for the creation. Other children, she added, began creating the road around their creation.

In another instance, Reardon said, children used blocks to build a castle. That exercise, Reardon explained, helped teach youngsters about various shapes, such as cylinder-shaped blocks.

“We want our time in the classroom to stick with them,” Honniger told Board members.

By Steve Robinson | September 24, 2018 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

John Johnson is trying to put the University High Pioneers football team in a winning frame of mind. In his second year as head coach, Johnson seems to be trying to get his players to think of themselves as a unified group out to erase the 4-5 record they finished 2017 with.

When it comes to football, Johnson’s resume is vast – from high school to college to arenafootball2 to the pros, including a Super Bowl ring. Johnson was on the Green Bay Packers coaching staff headed by Mike Holmgren and led by quarterback Brett Favre when they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI that year, 35-21.

But Johnson’s coaching roots got planted at the high school level, as head coach of Negaunee High School in Michigan 30 years ago. From there he coached at Harper College, moving on to Kentucky Wesleyan University, followed by the Peoria Pirates of af2. Peoria was where I first encountered John, covering the Pirates for a couple local daily papers.

When John was in Green Bay, he was an intern in the team’s marketing department before being added to the coaching staff. Making the leap from marketing to coaching was something his bosses in Green Bay knew Johnson wanted to do, he said.

As for his Pioneers’ season thus far, it has been be blown out or blow out the opponents. His team is 1-4 going into this week’s homecoming contest with Springfield Southeast. After three straight weeks of only managing seven points or less the first three weeks, and scoring 12 in a losing battle to Jacksonville two weeks ago, Johnson’s Pioneers opened fire on Springfield Lanphier, 41-12, in front of the Pioneers faithful at Hancock Stadium last week.

“We’re young and we’re kind of small up front,” Johnson admitted about his team. “We try hard.” But the problem is his players go into games facing bigger kids on the other side of the ball. “We tell the kids to keep on keeping on and keep playing.”

Johnson himself has continued to keep on keeping on, even when coaching football wasn’t how he earned his keep. It was in a supervisory role at Caterpillar in Peoria that helped Johnson win up as an assistant with Peoria’s af2 Pirates in the mid-2000s. Before Peoria, Johnson kept his hand in the game as head coach of a semi-pro team in Pekin, the Mid-State Steel before joining the Pirates. By 2009, he migrated east to join the Bloomington Edge. When he isn’t at U-High, he currently coaches the currently league-less Bloomington Edge.

One of Johnson’s former Bloomington players, Dusty Burk, played 50-yard ball for Bloomington and moved on to coach U-High a few years back. Now Burk is an administrator at Chatham Glenwood High School.

Johnson said he got the suggestion from Burk to apply for the Pioneers coaching post after the team went 3-6 under then-head coach Trevor Von Bruenchenhein two seasons ago. Johnson had seasoned players last year but the team’s record last year halted their progress toward the postseason.

Johnson said he’s “coaching really cool kids…really good kids” and describes the administrators he works for, which include U-High Principal Andrea Markert and Athletic Director Wendy Smith, as “awesome.”

“We’re pretty small,” Johnson reminds, with his Pioneers playing bigger kids from, among others, three Springfield high schools and two from Decatur who belong to the league
the Pioneers currently reside in, the Central State Eight.

Johnson commends Pioneers fans for being “great,” adding, “They never get on us and they cheer all game.” He adds parent groups back the team well and have a presence at games.

Despite their current situation in the standings, but because of the love he has for the game, Johnson adds, “I love being at U-High and it’s a good challenge. We’re working hard.”

There is half a season left for the Pioneers, and in the interest of full disclosure, this reporter is a U-High alum, but there will be no favoritism shown here, except to say, it’s hoped that after seeing the Pioneers make the playoffs in recent years, they get hold of the right combination of plays to help turn their fortunes around in the near future.