NORMAL – Illinois State University’s women’s basketball team has been slated to finish fourth this season according to the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll. But there is hope that Normal Community High School alum, and now redshirt sophomore guard Maya Wong will help the Redbirds move upward from that prediction by season’s end. In truth, opponents could find themselves trying to defend her for the next three years.

Wong graduated early forgoing her senior year at NCHS to become a Redbird in time for the 2019-20 season. Now that she is at ISU, she is majoring in Psychology with aspirations to use what she learns so she can become a therapist someday. “Everyone needs someone to listen to and help them with their problems,” she said, adding, “Why not make a career out of it?”

Early on as a redshirt player, Wong got experience as a practice player, playing the role of the opponent, something she said helped as did just simply watching her teammates in action to get a feel for the Redbirds’ style of play.

“I did enjoy being on the court last year because it is tough to sit out,” Wong, daughter of Geoff and Monica Wong, explained. She added, “It’s tough to go to practices because then, you really want to play.” She said despite limited time and being on the bench, Wong said, “I learned a lot my first two years.”

“It’s been fun to watch her evolution the past five months, just from a standpoint of her maturity level, her commitment level, and it has transcended on the court,” explained ISU head coach Kristen Gillespie. The coach’s assessment of the 5 foot-8 guard: “There are days she’s the best player on the floor, and we have some pretty good guards. She’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, and I think she’s going to take a lot of people in our conference by surprise.” Proof of that, Gillespie said was that when the Redbirds traveled to Northern Iowa, “you could tell she was not on their scouting report as she needed to be.”

Statistically, Wong played roughly 18 minutes per contest, and averaged 6.0 points per game, along with 1.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds per game in her first year. When ISU opened the season last year at Northern Iowa, Wong scored a season-high 15 points, and managed to score double figures in six contests.

Gillespie said there is the possibility that, with redshirting and working around COVID, Wong could be wearing a Redbirds uniform for six years. As for this season, Gillespie said Wong’s role in the coming season “will be much larger than it has been.”

Gillespie Looking For Positives This Season: Gillespie described her fourth season last year in the midst of a COVID pandemic as being on a rollercoaster – right down to being “in a room full of people” as she said to the media members she met face-to-face in the media room at Redbird Arena. “We were really pleased with how last year went in a crazy COVID year,” she said. “You had no idea what you were going to wake up to. It was testing day every other day. We had bated breath we weren’t going to get shut down.”

Despite that, Gillespie, now entering her fifth season on the sidelines for the Redbirds said all of what she describes as “the craziness” COVID produced last season also produced “a lot of positives which we could carry over into the summer and we were just keeping our fingers crossed asking ‘will we get that summer?’”

The outcome turned out to be positive, as the team was able to use the summer to bond in anticipation of this coming season which starts with a Wednesday, Nov. 3 exhibition contest hosting University of Missouri-St. Louis at 6p.m.

ISU finished the season 16-9 overall including a 12-6 MVC mark, but had shutdowns due to the pandemic four separate times. “Those are four times everyone is sitting in their dorm rooms twiddling their thumbs,” Gillespie said, adding, “There’s only so much game film you can watch.” With the upcoming season though, she said, “It’s just been fun to watch our team evolve in the last four months of a renewed sense of appreciation to be on the court.”

Even being able to go to class in person is something Gillespie said she observed was something her players seemed to appreciate more. “What we went through last year makes or breaks you and it definitely made this team.”

“I just love the feel of this team because I think what everyone went through last year kind of makes or breaks you and it definitely made this team and I love every day coaching them,” Gillespie said.

MVC Season Opens Against Bradley Jan. 1: ISU will host MVC Interstate 74 rival Bradley for a New Year’s Day game with tipoff at 2p.m. which will open the conference season. They will start the season with an exhibition game against Missouri-St. Louis Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 6p.m. ISU will travel west to participate in the annual University of California-Irvine Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 26 and 27. The Redbirds will play an Education Day game against Missouri Baptist on Wednesday, Dec. 1 with tipoff at 11a.m.

By Steve Robinson | October 25, 2021 - 4:10 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

Last weekend, high school football teams from throughout McLean County and central Illinois played their last regular season games. Then, in many of those same communities, the teams gathered together to watch the televised result of Illinois High School Association determining seedings and opponents for all the teams who qualified for the playoffs in all eight classes. Five high school teams covered by newspapers owned by The Normalite Newspaper Group made it to this year’s playoffs, and their game date and times were released by IHSA Monday.

Class 1A — 13th Seed Colfax Ridgeview Traveling To 4th Seed Rushville: Head Coach Hal Chiodo’s Ridgeview Mustangs, seeded 13th, will take their 5-4 season mark on the road to 4th seed Rushville-Industry which managed to end the season with a 7-2 record. Kickoff is slated for 1:30p.m.

Class 2A – Downs Tri-Valley, El Paso Gridley Seeded In Opposite Directions: Locally, two schools in Class 2A will be in a fight to stay in the playoffs, but coming from different vantage points in terms of how they finished their seasons. Second seed Downs Tri-Valley will be home bringing their 9-0 record into Saturday’s 1p.m. game where they will host 15th seed Taylor Ridge-based Rockridge High School (5-4)

But also in Class 2A, El Paso Gridley finds itself seeded 14th and taking its 5-4 record up to third seeded Farmington to face a 9-0 Farmers team. Kickoff for that game is slated for 1p.m.

Class 6A – 11th Seed Normal West At 6th Seed Washington: Normal West’s 6-3 record resulted in the Wildcats seeding 11th and traveling for their first round contest to Washington where they will take on a 6th seeded Panthers team which finished the season at 7-2 under head coach and Illinois State University alum Darrell Crouch. Kickoff for that contest will be Friday at 7p.m.

Class 7A – #30 Seed Blue Island Eisenhower At #3 Seed Normal Community High: Normal Community High School will bring its #3 seeding into Dick Tharp Field Friday where the 9-0 Ironmen will square off in a Class 7A matchup against #30 seed Blue Island Eisenhower. The Panthers finished the season with a 5-4 mark. The contest will have an earlier start time than NCHS’ regular season game have had, with this game’s kickoff slated for 6:30p.m.

By Steve Robinson | October 24, 2021 - 5:12 pm
Posted in Category: LeRoy Leader, The Normalite

NORMAL – Members of Normal’s Masonic Lodge #673 celebrated a milestone Saturday at their current location at 614 E. Lincoln St. gathering to celebrate 150 years of existence, first in a small church building at the corner of Broadway St. and College Ave. before being moved to the current location because the former location was torn down. The hour-long formal ceremony was attended by roughly 50 people including Mayor Chris Koos, representing the Town for the occasion.

Lodge members originally met in a narrow three-story church building at 102 Broadway until 2009 when the church was demolished to make way for a Commerce Bank building currently at that location. John Dorner, secretary for Masonic Lodge #673, said having to move got church officials to thinking about how close they were to the milestone year. Also, he said, Lodge officials realized there was a time capsule buried in the building’s basement which needed to be retrieved before demolition.

“Retrieving the time capsule got us to thinking in 2009 that in 10 years, we’ll have to start thinking it will be 150 years that we have existed,” Dorner said. Originally, the time capsule was buried in 1926 only to be opened again in 1976 for the group’s 50th anniversary. Dorner said, at that time, members commemorated what was that anniversary by opening it, allowing members to look at the artifacts, add some and then rebury the time capsule with the intention of opening it again at a time which would be 100 years later, in 2026.

The impending demolition of the Uptown church in 2009 prompted some Lodge members to remember the time capsule was buried at the church and ought to be retrieved before the church’s destruction began.

“In 1976, Masonic members put everything back they found, added some things to it, and put it back away again,” Dorner explained. Among the items which were displayed were a quarter from the Lodge’s founding year of 1871, a number of items from 1926 when the Broadway Street building was built, and newspaper clippings related to the Lodge from various decades.”

In 1976, to get to the time capsule, Masonic leaders discovered it was behind a wall which the church had had constructed for the room it was buried in as a security measure. Before burying it again in 1976, Lodge members added items from that era allow what turned out to be current members to find. It was discovered when Lodge members went to retrieve the time capsule

Dorner said church leaders knew the time capsule was in the basement of Broadway St. building, explaining, “We were very conscious about trying to recover it. When they came to do the demolition of the building, that was the only way we could recover it at the time.”

“Before we bury it again, we’ll add some more stuff to it and put it away for another 50 years,” Dorner explained.

Dorner said instead of burying the time capsule after its latest retrieval, “it got locked in a closet.” He didn’t indicate the location of the closet and was quick to add, “no one got into it.”

But after some discussion, he added, Lodge members have “got some ideas where to bury it now.”

Until it’s next reburial for the next 50 years, Dorner said, Lodge members will be given an opportunity to look at the artifacts before they are sealed up again and reburied at an undisclosed location.

LeRoy Resident, Wife’s Family Have Masonic Ties: Forrest DeVore and wife, Lola, have family ties to the Masonic Temple, they explained following the ceremony. DeVore worked as a chemist at General Electric in Bloomington when he was in his 30s and said he believed five decades ago when he was there “half the people who worked out there were Masons.” He said he was asked by co-workers if he had an interest in joining. He has been a Mason for 51 years as a result. He added some of the projects he worked on while at GE eventually were passed on to other companies involved in the United States’ space program.

“I told the guys who asked me to join I didn’t know anything about it,” DeVore explained, adding that as a result of his becoming one, “I’m the first generation in my family to be a Mason.” He said he liked the co-workers who were encouraging him to join so it didn’t take very long for him to agree to join.

What DeVore didn’t know is that Lola had relatives already involved in Masonic activities. They are enjoying life together, each having been married and widowed once before hooking up for this time around. Lola said “all my family are Masonic, and I am in Eastern Star.” Eastern Star is an accompanying organization to Masons open to both men and women. The DeVores will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in July.

“My daddy was a Mason, my mother was in Eastern Star, and it goes all the way down to my great grandmother,” Lola DeVore said, explaining how long her family had been involved with the group.

By Steve Robinson | October 23, 2021 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Community High School demonstrated Friday night scoring can come quickly in some games, and lead to a definitive result when you are in the midst of a championship hunt with two other teams.

In the span of 49 seconds in the third quarter in their annual “Chili Bowl” showdown with host Normal West, and already ahead of the Ironmen, NCHS scored three times to secure a 45-7 Big 12 Conference victory at Wildcats Field. The win earned NCHS a perfect 9-0 regular season mark and gave them the Big 12 Conference title outright toppling the two teams which had been in the competition for the title throughout the season, Normal West and Peoria High.

Senior running back Max Ziebarth’s touchdown for Normal West (7-2) at 6:17 in the first quarter followed by junior kicker Owen Senn’s extra point put the Wildcats on the scoreboard first, 7-0, and would turn out to be the only score the home crowd would get to see from their team. From there, NCHS took control of the contest.

That control began slowly, with a 24 yard field goal from NCHS kicker Ryan Millmore capping a 7 play 48 yard drive at 3:01 in the first quarter, but Normal West led 7-3.

But the Wildcats would begin their next drive at their own 22 but only manage to gain 16 yards. When they prepared to punt, West’s center snapped the ball too high leading to the ball being downed at West’s 5 yard line. One play later, senior running back Kyle Thierry dashed into the end zone with 4:04 left in the quarter followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 10-7 going into the second quarter.

Sophomore running back Tommy Davis provided the only score of the second quarter with an 80 yard touchdown sprint with 13.8 seconds left in the first half followed by Millmore’s extra point, giving NCHS a 17-7 halftime lead.

An interception of a Normal West drive by NCHS senior defensive back Jackson Hesse put the Ironmen on West’s 19. Two plays later, a halfback option play had sophomore running back Tommy Davis throwing a touchdown pass to senior quarterback Chase Mackey in the end zone followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 24-7 with 8:45 left in the 3rd quarter.

The ensuing kickoff placed Normal West at their own 20 and after an incomplete pass, West junior quarterback Jayden Mangruem’s next pass was intercepted by NCHS’ Thierry who ran into the end zone for a 25 yard touchdown followed by Millmore’s extra point, increasing NCHS’ lead, a 31-7.

Normal West only had the ball for three plays after receiving the ball but would up punting it back to NCHS only to have the punt received by junior running back Christopher Taylor at NCHS’38 yard line. From there, the 5 foot-10 Taylor scrambled and dashed past defenders for a 62 yard touchdown with 7:50 left in the third quarter. Millmore followed up with an extra point, giving NCHS a 38-7 lead.

West’s ensuing set of downs included NCHS’ defense sacking Mangruem and punting back to the Ironmen from deep in their own territory, allowing the Ironmen to start their next possession at West’s 33. Six plays later, Davis would score another touchdown from one yard out followed by Millmore’s next extra point, resulting in the final score.

“I knew it would be a hard fought game and Normal West did a lot of good things well, played well, put us in some binds defensively, challenged our offense, but probably the big play of the game was Taylor’s long run,” NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz said. “Proud of our kids, proud of coaching staff, nine-and-0, Big 12 Conference champs…those are things I feel lucky to be part of.

“Nobody wants to share a conference title,” Drengwitz added. “We were just lucky to win it outright and get that done.”

He added he is anticipating getting senior lineman Guillermo Gallardo back from injury in time for the playoffs. Gallardo sustained a leg injury in NCHS’ 42-38 road win over Peoria High Oct. 1.

“I felt like we were the better football team the first half,” explained Normal West head coach Nate Fincham. “We did exactly what we wanted to do. We dictated the tempo, we ran the ball, we dominated the time of possession, and then we just couldn’t get out of the mudslide, so to speak.” He said one bad play led to a number of others for the Wildcats. “We have to get better at minimizing those mistakes and letting them compound on each other.”

“We have to focus on ourselves and we’ve got to get better,” Fincham said. “We had a lot of plays where we were moving the ball, but we just didn’t finish the task. We just put our defense in bad spots. We have to be better.”

NORMAL – A Town playground will now become more accessible for youngsters who may have physical disabilities but still want to join their friends for some fun. That’s thanks to Normal Town Council members having voted unanimously to approve a resolution waiving the formal bidding process and awarding a contract to Charlotte, N. C.-based GameTime in care of Cunningham Associates, Inc. for the purchase of a modular unit, individual units, and surfacing paid for under the OMNIA cooperative purchasing program for Carden Park. The cost to the Town was $179,963.29 along with an associated budget adjustment.

The vote took place during the Council’s regularly-scheduled meeting which took place in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. In a report prepared for Council members by Doug Damery, director for parks and recreation for the Town, the playground unit is designed to give children of all abilities an opportunity to play and learn while also providing improved access to the playground.

The Town had plans to replace Carden Park’s playground during fiscal year 2022-23 as the Town had $135,000 earmarked for the replacement, according to Damery’s report to City Manager Pam Reece. In order to take advantage of the grant from the purchasing program, the Town required a budget adjustment of $44,963.29 to complete the purchase.

A presentation to Council members by students from Grove Elementary School students in May concerning accessible playgrounds put the project in motion for the Town. The Town was in contact with Normal-based Unit 5 School District and officials from nearby Prairieland Elementary School concerning accessibility and inclusion matters regarding the playground.

Ordinance Eliminating Need For Quarterly Liquor Commission Meetings Passes: For years, Town Council yearly calendars have noted when Normal Local Liquor Commission meetings would be held. The sessions for Council members serving in that particular capacity are held quarterly. If an NLLC meeting is needed between regularly-scheduled session, a special session is scheduled. But as a result of a 6-1 vote on an ordinance Monday, those quarterly meeting will no longer be required and now will only be held at the request of the Commission’s chair, the Town Mayor.

Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote on the matter because removing the four scheduled sessions, as he explained afterward, “removed the public’s ability to give us public comment. It took away an opportunity for the public to speak” to the Council. In the past, special sessions of Liquor Commission meetings have also been called by Liquor Commissioner and Mayor Chris Koos on meeting dates that weren’t previously set.

An Ordinance, Resolutions Related To Trails On Sunset Lake Get Approval: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance and two resolutions related to Trails On Sunset Lake subdivision. The first item, a resolution approving the second amendment to an annexation agreement for Trails On Sunset Lake subdivision passed unanimously. Passing this will aid in the further development of the property and meet a housing demand in Normal, according to a report submitted to the Council by Town Planner Mercy Davison and reviewed by Reece, Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day, Town Director of Inspections Greg Troemel, and Town Director of Public Works Ryan Otto.

Among the reasons for approving the second amendment was that a new developer seeks to build out the south end of the neighborhood in compliance with the original plan for the property, seeking 15.63 acres of large lot single-family residences adjacent to Fort Jesse Rd.

The first of two ordinances sought to rezone property at the northeast corner of Airport Rd. and Fort Jesse Rd. from Agriculture to Single Family and Mixed Residential. Normal Planning Commission members voted unanimously in favor of the requested zoning map amendment and preliminary subdivision plan for this part of the work to be done to the land.

A developer has purchased about 21 acres at the south side of Trails On Sunset Lake and were seeking to build out the neighborhood creating 15.63 acres of large lot single-family residences adjacent to the existing large lot residences already there. Planning Commission members voted unanimously in favor of the requested rezoning.

Finally, during the Planning Commission’s Oct. 7 meeting, members approved an amended preliminary subdivision plan as was proposed by the developer.

Jay Tummula, Andy Byars Appointed To Normal Planning Commission: Council members approved two men for appointments onto the Normal Planning Commission, Jay Tummala and Andy Byars.

A mechanical engineer by trade, Jay Tummala, has lived in Normal for 15 years and is a senior data engineer for State Farm Insurance. He graduated from the Multi-Cultural Leadership Program in 2015, and his wife, Uma, have a son in high school, Shritan, and daughter in college, Neha. Tummala is currently co-chair for the Town’s Minority and Police Partnership and serves as co-chair of the Town’s Human Relations Commission. He will be leaving HRC to join the Planning Commission.

Andy Byars came to Normal in 2015 to attend Illinois State University to be a Spanish teacher but changed his major to Political Science. He is employed by a public affairs firm which specializes in renewable energy development.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of Oct. 4, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 13, 2021.

• A resolution authorizing the purchase of five pieces of golf course maintenance equipment from Brooklyn Center, Minn.-based MTI Distributing, Inc. in the amount of $163,425.81.