NORMAL – As of a 6-1 vote, the Town of Normal will fund the local bus transit company at a rate of $200,000 annually using dollars the Town obtained through the Federal American Rescue Plan. Under the Plan, the Town will be able to provide funding to the transit company over a four-year period, City Manager Pam Reece told Council members. Before the vote, Council members received an update on Connect’s programs from their Board chairman and their general manager who was hired for the job nine months ago.

Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote. Instead, Nord countered, making a motion that Council members amend what they would pay Connect Transit from a $200,000 annual payment to a single one-time payment of $67,000. His motion died for lack of a second from any other Council members.

Ryan Whitehouse, chairman of Connect Transit’s Board of Trustees, and General Manager David Braun, addressed Council members during Monday night’s session. Braun started by saying Connect is looking to focus on getting services available for the public’s knowledge and doing less concerning advertising on vehicles.

“What we’re concentrating on is creating a service that can be efficient and effective and services that best meet the needs of the Town and the City,” Braun said. Braun began by recapping the services Connect Transit provides, both fixed route 40-foot buses and Connect Mobility, a service users must call and make pre-arranged trips through. He said the pandemic caused Connect Transit to lose about 40 percent of its fixed route ridership, but more recently has seen 17 percent of that loss in terms of ridership come back.

Braun said there are plans to expand Connect Mobility’s service coverage area by 10 percent, partly due to the fact the system now uses a single paying fare for all riders of $1.25 per ride. Braun said Connect is also looking to expand route service to western ends of both Normal and Bloomington. That would include service every 30 minutes during peak travel hours mornings and afternoons.

Braun said the company is introducing a new service, called Microtransit, which can be accessed by using Connect Transit’s app for on-demand service to unserved or underserved neighborhoods and would serve specific zones. Connect vehicles would go from point-to-point within certain zones in the community, he explained. Braun said people living in certain areas where they aren’t able to access their nearest bus stop, either because of age or income, made creating this feature something which would help some members of the community.

Another service Connect Transit will begin to offer is a coordinated vanpooling service, for people who live outside the Twin Cities but work here. Braun said Connect Transit’s research showed a total of 35,000 people commute to the Twin Cities daily. The new service, he explained, will give people with fewer transportation options access to the Twin Cities for work.

Braun said Connect Transit is seeking sponsors for the Coordinated vanpooling program because not every employer has the financing for it. He added the program benefits the employee using it, their employer being assured of how the employee will arrive at work, and helps Connect Transit obtain a potential Federal subsidy for the program.

Council Member Chemberly Cummings told Braun she was pleased to see Connect Transit institute a “one fare for all” plan. Council Member Scott Preston told Connect officials that it “would be unfathomable” for the Town not to support the transit company’s “one fare for all” plan.

Nord Votes No On Two Omnibus Items Which Involve Waived Bids: There were a pair of 6-1 votes taken on two omnibus items, both of them with Council Member Stan Nord voting in the minority. Both of the items involved waiving the formal bidding process. The first one was a resolution waiving the formal bidding process to execute an agreement with Ithaca, Ill.-based CDS Office Technologies for purchasing replacement Panasonic body worn cameras at a total cost of $105,312. Reece explained the Town researched and found two prices – one retail, one through State Joint Purchasing Program – and found CDS was “significantly better with over $20,000 in savings to the Town at CDS’ price.

Because of the price, Reece said, putting in a request to seek bids didn’t seem to be an economical use of time considering CDS’ price. She added the actions taken do not violate Town procurement rules. Nord said he wouldn’t vote to approve the purchase because the Town didn’t go through what he understood was a proper purchasing process.

Council Member Karyn Smith added she exchanged emails with Reece on the subject where Reece informed her the cameras purchased were done so because they were compatible with the Town’s current equipment.

The second omnibus item Nord pulled was a resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing purchase of refuse containers from Charlotte, N. C.-based Schaefer Systems International, Inc.at a price of $35,565 and an associated budget adjustment. Of this item, Nord said, “This is the same issue but there is a 23 percent increase” in the price. That prompted him to ask, “At what point do we bid things out?”

Reece told Nord she could not answer his question as there was “no specific increase” for that. Nord countered, saying, if this were an increase leveled at individual consumers, they would shop for a lower price. He said Council members should seek to lessen any similar burden on constituents when it came to Town spending. He added he would like to see the Town’s spending policy either followed or change to avoid what he saw in the Schaefer purchase. Council Member Kathleen Lorenz said in both these cases, how the Town handled them followed Town policy and guidelines.

Public Comment Concerning Cars Parking, Unloading At Turn Near Children’s Museum: Resident Joe Isaia addressed Council members in public comments toward the end of the meeting, with a concern about cars which drivers park in a zone near the Uptown Circle, near Children’s Discovery Museum, primarily to let passengers out or to unload a traveler’s luggage. Isaia, a bus driver for Connect Transit for five years, told Council members he has also seen passengers get out of cars from the left back passenger door, which is also a concern. Currently, there are signs asking drivers not to do that, even under threat of having to pay a $30 fine. Isaia facetiously asked if it were possible to make the fine $300 to get the message across to drivers. Among his more serious suggestions was to paint the concrete curbing in that area yellow as a deterrent.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of May 11, 2022.

• Report to Receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of May 11, 2022.

• A resolution to accept bids and authorize a contract with Carrier Corporation of Peoria, Ill. for the Community Activity Center – chiller system renewal project in the amount of $119,450.

NORMAL – During her attempt to go from contestant to near instant superstar while competing on ABC’s “American Idol,” Normal native and 2018 Normal Community West High School grad Leah Marlene sang “I’ll Stand By You,” an anthem originally performed by Carrie Underwood. She performed it to become one of the top three remaining singers for the final episode this season on the hit songfest. Fans, supporters, and friends turned out Sunday in Normal West’s big gym to return that favor and support her in hopes she would end the program a finalist for the show that will air this Sunday.

When the show began, there were five semifinalists who sang twice each during the show to try to impress judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Ritchie. By show’s end, two had been eliminated, and the 400-500 people who came to see Leah’s performance seemed collectively on edge hoping the hometown favorite would get into the finals. By the end of the program, it was Leah Marlene’s name which was last to be announced by show emcee Ryan Seacrest, but not before a second or two of tense silence which heightened the awaited announcement.

She performed two songs in her attempt to wow the judges – “I’ll Stand By You” from 1994 by The Pretenders and “Separate Ways” from 1983 by Journey. Both were met with applause from the Los Angeles audience she was singing in front of and a louder crowd at Normal West.

In the show’s last seven minutes, when it came time to reduce the five semifinalists to a trio of finalists as a result of a nationwide vote – either online, using a text, or through an app from the show — suspense built before HunterGirl was the first contestant announced. That announcement was quickly followed with Seacrest building suspense a second time before announcing Noah Thompson as the second of three finalists. The audience in the gym collectively waited, and was now even more anxious – and hoping – the local favorite would have her name called. There were a few seconds of dead silence as the audience waited for Seacrest’s last announcement. After those seconds passed, Seacrest announced Leah Marlene’s name as the third finalist.

After Seacrest announced Leah’s name, the audience of a few hundred supporters who sat in the large gymnasium stands watching on the makeshift screen and who were wanting and waiting to know erupted in cheering and applause knowing the hometown favorite had gotten to the finals. Some people in the crowd began chanting, “Leah! Leah! Leah!”

The experience for Leah, the daughter of Derry and Deanna Grehan, leading up to before the start of Sunday’s broadcast, “had me a little nervous,” her father said Monday. But he added, “I wasn’t worried whatever way it went because it was going to be fantastic for her. He said as the show kept eliminating contestants but his daughter kept remaining, the same thought kept running through the family’s collective mind: “This is just crazy.”

“We’ve been ecstatic for her,” her father said. “She’s been working really hard.”

Leah’s father, Derry, was not able to stay to watch with those at the school due to an errand he needed to attend to, but saw the final announcement on television. He said when they got ready to announce the third finalist, and his daughter was selected, “I just flew out of my chair. I couldn’t believe it.”

He added he and his wife have been calls regularly after each “American Idol” episode once it’s determined Leah is still in the running. “I even get calls from people I haven’t heard from in 30 years,” he admitted.

“I’ve been hanging out with Leah ever since she came home from her first audition,” explained Normal Community West High School Sara Williams. “Just to be able to hear what it’s like to be on American Idol and to be with her family is just so cool, and to part of her family and celebrating this and to be part of her legacy and mentors. It’s just outstanding.”

Williams said she has known Leah since the young woman walked into Williams’ choir room in seventh grade. “She just lit it up and she kept lighting it up all her years in high school. Williams has a bond with the budding star because Leah has been in a number of singing groups at the school Williams supervises. Those groups include jazz and acapella vocals.

“Her musical mind really grew and continues to grow,” Williams said.

Outside Normal West, a festive mood was visible with people gathering, a few food trucks and face painting and a couple singing groups on hand to provide entertainment until Normal West officials opened the doors to see the broadcast. A number of those attending were decked out in their yellow “Leah Marlene” t-shirts. Cutout letters spelling her name sat in one corner of the school’s lawn near the entrance.

Sarah McManus was sporting a fedora as she attended the function, said she was nervous but admitted, “I just know Leah is going to break through to the top three, and when she does, it’s going to be great.”

“It’s really exciting and interesting to see how somebody from such a small town could make it so big, and have an impact on everybody,” resident Ella McCully offered.

Normal West teacher John Bierbaum said he had Leah in two classes when she was in school, Advanced Placement Psychology. “I don’t think she’s ever had a bad day or run into someone who’s not a friend, and I think that just translates out into her music. She’s such a wonderful human being, and everyone is just kind of attracted and wants to root for her.”

Normal West sophomore Rylee Edwards said she “honestly love listening to her music. I think she’s going to make it. I have no doubt.” Edwards said with the people in attendance at this function voting, she said she feels certain Leah Marlene would make it to the final three.

Tom Nielsen and Kathy Bohm explained they saw her perform on the outside stage of Destihl Brewery last summer. “We fell in love with her then,” Nielsen said. “We thought she was extremely good, and when we heard she was going to be on American Idol, we started following her closely.” “This is the first time we have voted for a contestant,” Bohm admitted. The couple admit to sometimes watching with eyes closed in case the outcome backfires.

But Nielsen added, “What’s so great is to see this bring the community together, with some great news of the community. Presently, there’s a fair number of bad things going on in the world, so it’s nice to hear good news.”

ORMAL – University High pitcher Chase Adams struck out four and let Pioneers fielders do the rest May 12 at Duffy Bass Field as University High beat Jacksonville, 2-0, against a Central State 8 opponent, and their second win on the season in six tries on the young season. The win gives the Pioneers a 22-6 overall record and a Central State 8 Conference record of 16-2 after this game. In addition, by beating the Crimsons, the Pioneers won the Conference title for the season.

With left fielder Evan Jones hitting directly to Jacksonville first baseman Cody Fry for U-High’s first out in the fourth inning, Pioneers right fielder Jack Bach followed and was walked by Jacksonville’s pitcher, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Eli Kieser, putting U-High up, 1-0.

U-High’s second run came in the fifth inning with two outs as a result of shortstop Charlie Vercruysse singling and stealing second base and racing to home after a walk given to centerfielder Jake Adams, resulting in the eventual final score. The Crimsons stranded five overall during the game, while U-High left four on the bases.

Pioneers reliever Jake Swartz got the win after picking up where starter Matt Sauser left off after three innings. Garrett Meyer took the loss for the Crimsons.

U-High head coach Steve Paxson explained Sauser and Swartz “both did a great job. They’re our top two guys in our rotation and they’ve both done a good job for us all season.

Jacksonville head coach Cory Bunner explained he was pleased with his team’s effort despite the outcome although not happy with the result.

U-High Come Up Short Against BHS: On May 13, after scoring 1 run in the 3rd inning and 2 runs in the 4th inning to take a 3-0 lead before Bloomington went in front in the bottom of the inning thank to 4 runs, for a 4-3 lead. The Pioneers would score one run in the 6th inning for a 4-4 tie. The Pioneers saw Bloomington score 5 in the top of the 7th inning for what looked like a potential victory. But the Pioneers scored 4 more runs in the top of the 7th inning, for a 9-4 lead. U-High managed to almost match BHS’ effort by scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the 7th but fell a run short, losing 9-8.

By Steve Robinson | May 12, 2022 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Concerned about its finances and wanting to give parents and members of the public a say concerning the next steps Normal-based Unit 5 takes concerning them, the district will hold three meetings, one of them virtually, to gain feedback on what the public believes should be the district’s next moves.

The first in-person session was slated for Wednesday, May 18 at Parkside Junior High School. The second in-person session is slated for Monday, May 23 at Normal Community High School from 6p.m.-7:30p.m. The virtual session will be held Tuesday, May 24 from 6p.m.-7:30p.m. To be able to participate in the virtual session, residents must register in advance. A link to register can be found at www.unit5.org.

Sullivan explained the initial surveys his group distributed and received back from parents and other constituents indicated over 80 percent of respondents were open to supplying more funding to Unit 5.

Sullivan said his group will begin a second phase in an attempt to give residents different options building on the feedback received thus far.

New Principals Introduced: There will be two new principals in charge at two schools in the district, District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle announced. Mariana Nicasio will be the new principal at Chiddix Junior High School succeeding Jim Allen, who served as principal there since 2016 and associate principal there since 2015. A 16 year education veteran, Nicasio has served as principal at a middle school in Berwyn. Also introduced as moving to be a new principal starting next school year is Cari Roop, who will be moving from that same position at Glenn Elementary to Sugar Creek Elementary. Roop has been with Unit 5 since 2018.

Grove Elementary School’s “Good News”: Board members were introduced to members of Grove Elementary School’s chess team, comprised of 4th and 5th grade students, together, as a team, took 1st Place at the recent State Chess Tournament. The team’s sponsor is Tiffany Borne. In her memo about the team to Board members, Borne said team members prepped, in part, by playing other chess enthusiasts worldwide online throughout the year. The students on the team are: Arjun Vyas, Kavin Sivignanam, Zachary Borne, Vanshika Bandaru, and Jasiah Nelson.

Normal Community West High School’s “Good News”: Members of Normal Community West High School’s Esports team were honored in a “Good News” report for having come away with two Illinois High School Association State Championships and a 3rd place finish. Team Coaches Jarrod Rachauskas, Cody Hatzer, Travis Lindsey, and Andy Mendez were pleased to their team’s winners forward before Board members. First Place winners in State competition in the Rocket League video game were: Cody Dunn, Nathan Conrad, Dante Phipps, Keagan Wurth, and Jacob Jones.

Jono Edmonson was introduced as IHSA NBA2K game State champion. Luke Sherman and Kwesi Blankson were introduced as IHSA third place finishers in the game called Super Smash Duo.

“Good News” About “Young Authors Program” District Winners: A total of 21 students representing five grade levels at 11 of the district’s grade schools were honored for having participated in the district’s “Young Author’s Program,” in a report presented to Board members by Maureen Backe, Director of Elementary Education for the district. These winners were among 171 entries submitted.

Backe added in a letter to Board members, “The Young Authors Program,” from the classroom to the State Conference, provides a plethora of opportunities to encourage and support authorship, a love of books, and skills that will benefit our students for a lifetime.” A variety of genres are available for students to write in, and a panel of judges read all of the material submitted by students who participate. Materials submitted are judged on originality, creativity, grammar, illustrations, and overall composition.

Student teachers select school winners in February. That is followed by a team of 8th grade students choosing district winners. District winners, their grade level, (and their school) are: Emily Arndt, Zoe Porter, 3rd, and Addie Fritts, 2nd (Hudson Elementary); Kaylee Batesole, 5th, Vincent DeKnecht 4th (Pepper Ridge Elementary); Lily Beal 5th (Colene Hoose Elementary); Evelyn Beehner 5th (Towanda Elementary); Leah Bowman 1st, Roman Felix 2nd (Oakdale Elementary); Surabhi Chincholkar 2nd, Piper Long 5th (Grove Elementary); Austin Crothers 5th (Glenn Elementary); Camille King, Audrey Kirchner both 5th (Benjamin Elementary); Jianna George 2nd (Prairieland Elementary); and Rose Miles 2nd (Cedar Ridge Elementary).

“Good News” About District Receiving Award From Music Merchants Association: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle told those attending the meeting Unit 5 has been awarded the designation of “Best Community For Music Education” by National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM). Dr. Weikle said NAMM gave the district the honor for “its outstanding commitment to music education.” Dr. Weikle said communities which receive the honor “outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music education, access and education to students.” District officials completed a NAMM survey detailing answers concerning funding, graduation requirements, and class participation among a list of criteria.

Public Comment Concerning Sex Education: Resident Toni Gorrell addressed Board members saying she objected to sex education being taught in schools to grade levels lower than are already done at. Unit 5 teaches junior high students sex ed in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.

According to ACLU Illinois website, State Senate Bill 818, titled Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act “creates personal health and safety standards for grades K-5 and updates and expands comprehensive sexual health education standards in grades 6-12 to give young people the information and tools they need to be safe and support responsible and informed decision making about their health and well-being throughout their lives.” According to an outline of the bill, topics addressed include but are not limited to: Anatomy and physiology; healthy relationships; identity; personal safety; pregnancy and reproduction; puberty, growth and adolescent development; and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Three people spoke during public comments, two concerning a new State Bill concerning sex education. Toni Gorrell led off addressing Board members concerning the new curriculum suggested under SB 818 was “unlike what I was taught when I was in school.” She said the new curriculum “fails to teach children about all of the emotional, psychological and physical health risks of promiscuous sexual activity.”

Resident Mary Carlisle followed telling Board members, “My concern is that Unit 5 intentionally chose to opt in to the comprehensive sexual education standards when you could have just as easily opted out.” She said the main goal of the subject matter is “infused in most subject matter with the main goal being “to destroy childhood innocence and destabilize children.” She went on to say diversity equity inclusion “further divides children using diversity to divide children against one another rather than dividing them with principles of unity.”

Resident Karl Sila added his belief the Board’s collective priority has not been the students but rather, politics. He encouraged Board members to stop using the sexual ed program in the State bill “because it’s harmful to kids.”

NORMAL – As every new softball begins, high school team coaches and players have such high hopes – they both hope to make it through with a winning season onto playoffs and potentially, on to State finals. For the coaches, it increases wins in their record at the helm of the team. For players, it’s the same, too, with an added hope that, if their potential is showing, a college coach or a minor league scout will keep in mind as a prospect.

All three Normal high school teams, as expected, have shown they can weather the season well with few losses no matter the opponent, no matter the game’s location. But, in some instances, weather upends the start of the season, causing coaches’ player evaluations to get put on hold.

Normal Community High School: When the season began for Head coach Steve Hassel’s Normal Community High School Softball team, things looked problematic, with the Ironmen dropping their initial three games against a trio of non-conference opponents when playing Pekin, Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, and East Peoria before registering their first win March 30 in another non-conference contest against Lincoln, 7-6. What has followed is wins in spurts: A loss followed by two or three wins before a next loss. Wins against Mt. Zion and Big 12 foe Bloomington quickly got followed on a 6-0 shutout April 15. NCHS (12-9 overall, 5-0 Big 12 Conference) exchanged wins with Morton over the next two games, NCHS blasting the Potters, 16-1, on April 16 only to drop a 2-1 decision later in the same day.

That loss spurred the Lady Ironmen toward a three-game win streak, beating Peoria Richwoods, and non-conference foe Mattoon twice, 16-5 and 4-3, before sustaining their next loss in another non-conference game against Mahomet-Seymour, 4-2. What followed was a 12-1 loss to non-conference foe Metamora before earning their next win over Big 12 challenger Urbana, 5-4, at the end of April.

Normal Community West High School: At the start of the season, fans of Head Coach April Schermann’s Normal Community West High School Softball team probably wondered when they would see the team’s first victory. Starting their season, the Lady Wildcats drew a loss against Metamora, and a tie with Haleyville (Ala.) during their southern tour which began their season, but quickly followed up with wins over Albertville, Gulf Shores, and Hale County (all Ala.), before dropping a 7-1 decision March 23 to Beulah (Ala.) High School for a current 12-5-1 record.

Their next game, against St. Joseph Ogden on March 28, however, proved to be an indicator of future game endings as the Lady Wildcats went on an 8-game winning streak, starting with a 11-6 win over the Spartans March 28. What followed in that streak were wins over Normal University High, Rochester, Urbana, Danville, and East Peoria. Those wins included shutout wins over Peoria Notre Dame (15-0) and Peoria Richwoods (16-0).

East Peoria evened the score with the Wildcats in the second game the two teams played, winning, 12-8. On May 4, NCHS dropped a 4-3 decision to NCHS, and lost a May 7 contest to Moline, 8-3. The Lady Ironmen’s latest win took place Monday, beating Champaign Central, 17-2.

University High School: As of Tuesday, head coach Al Toliver’s crew had double an unlucky number in wins and losses (13), but that same number showed how many wins the Pioneers had overall versus just three losses in Central State Eight Conference play, an indication how well the team was doing against league opponents in their fourth season in this league. U-High (13-13 overall including being 13-3 in Central State Eight) began the season splitting its opening two games against Sacred Heart Griffin, losing the season opener March 15 7-3 only to host the next day and win, 8-1. A non-conference tilt versus Williamsville March 28 turned out to be a big loss, the Pioneers losing, 13-4, but recouping the next day again against SHG in a 16-0 shutout.

But a four game losing streak with no joke included followed for head coach starting dropping a 6-1 contest to LaSalle-Peru April Fool’s Day. That slog included dropping a 5-4 decision to Normal West before winning two straight over CS8 foe Springfield Lanphier by big numbers April 12 and 13, 12-2 and 16-0. An April 14 2-0 loss at home versus Mahomet-Seymour led to the Pioneers spending the next two games pounding the Generals at Decatur MacArthur April 15, 14-4 and 10-0.

An April 16 5-0 loss at Tremont spurred the Pioneers to regroup and win their next three straight all in shutouts – 16-0 and 17-0 April 19, followed by a 15-0 win over the Griffins at home, before dropping their next three straight in non-conference tilts – one to East Peoria and two to Metamora. The Pioneers would drop still another one at Bloomington April 25, 5-4 in 9 innings. U-High would win their next two, home and away against Rochester, 19-5 and 6-2, respectfully, before dropping a 17-4 non-conference game to Olympia May 2, 17-4.