By Steve Robinson | May 31, 2021 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A teacher from Normal Community High School lead the list of instructors who were honored for winning numerous awards recently and recognized by members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s May 26 meeting held in Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria.

NCHS’ Liz Harris Wins $10,000 “Beyond The Box” Grant: NCHS teacher Liz Harris was honored with “Beyond The Box” Foundation’s top honor of its $10,000 “Beyond The Box” Grant for her project called, “Making a (Green)house A Home.” The goal of this project was to renovate the greenhouse overseen by students with lessons by Harris. Presently, the greenhouse is not in functional condition, according to Principal Trevor Chapman. In his memo to Board members, Chapman said the grant money will be used to update its heating and cooling, watering, and electrical systems in order to grow flowers and vegetables.

The greenhouse is also meant to serve as space for NCHS students enrolled in the school’s Animal Science course which provides students with a dual credit opportunity which provides them with hands-on learning. This semester, the students’ studies centered on animal husbandry and animal reproduction.

NCHS, Normal West ACT-SO Award Winners Honored: Eight students from both Unit 5 schools who won at the ACT-SO Awards on May 21 were introduced to Board members and recognized for their accomplishments. ACT-SO stands for Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics. Eight students, three from NCHS and five from Normal West, were honored for their accomplishments. The three students from NCHS honored, how they finished, and their subject they competed in are: Isha Gollapudi, a gold medal each in Architecture and Painting; Bradley Ross Jackson, bronze medal in Poetry Performance; and Aniya Thompson, gold medal in Music Vocal Contemporary.

The five from Normal West honored, how they finished, and their subject they competed in are: Kodzo Aduonum, gold medal, Drawing; Destinee Byrd, gold medal in Poetry Written and silver medal in Poetry Performance; Jasmyn Jordan, silver medal, Poetry Written; Nashyla McQuirter, gold medal, Biology/Microbiology; and Sahara Williams, a bronze medal each in Poetry Written and Music Vocal Contemporary.

NCHS’ Madelyn Hubble Wins FFA Honor For Second Straight Year: NCHS teacher Madelyn Hubble won the competition at Illinois Future Farmers of America’s Ag Education Career Development event. She created and taught a lesson plan to a group of high school students on the subject of communication called “Communication Charades” based on the popular party game, stressed verbal and non-verbal cues. This was Hubble’s second consecutive win at the FFA event but because of the pandemic, the first time she was able to present her lesson in person.

She told Board members she found being able to present the lesson and to talk to the judges afterward to answer their questions to be “a super cool experience. It allowed me to give insight to one of my passions.”

Normal West’s FFA Win State Livestock Judging Event: Normal Community West High School Principal Dave Johnson announced Normal West’s placed first at the FFA State Livestock Judging event which was judged virtually on May 21. Team members Chloe Boitnott, Paige Lenemager, Lauren Mohr, and Preston Rhode saw their exhibits place first in a competition that had eight classes. In addition to placing classes of beef, swine, sheep, and goats, students completed three breeding selection classes and a class of cattle yield and quality grading. This event follows the animal sciences courses these students have been studying. Normal West teacher Parker Bane is the FFA advisor.

NORMAL – With COVID-19 still in our midst and parents and students age 12 and up receiving vaccinations, District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle took to the visiting speaker’s lectern and faced members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board and laid out plans for the upcoming school year. First item on her list: Students will be expected back in classrooms when the 2021-22 school year opens on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Dr. Weikle began by explaining she and assistant superintendent Michelle Lamboley had meetings with groups she identified as “a variety of stakeholders” within the district – primarily Kindergarten through fifth grade educators followed by educators serving 6th through 12th graders, as well with the district’s Citizen Advisory Council, as well as the district’s pandemic advisory committee.

First, she explained, the district would purchase, with Board approval, equipment which would be attached to heating, air conditioning, and ventilation equipment at all of the district’s 17 schools. The equipment, Dr. Weikle said, “Will help with the air quality to kill a number of viruses.” She said the system to be purchased has been tested against the COVID virus “and proven to have a high level of efficiency” in fighting it.

She added Illinois Department of Public Health is requiring schools throughout the State to continue to mandate use of masks through until the end of the school year. Dr. Weikle added she has not heard any information from IDPH regarding the status of the use of masks for the 2021-22 school year. As a result of that, Dr. Weikle told Board members, “We’re preparing for all possible

She explained the district hosted two vaccination sessions for students and that district employees have been getting their shots of either the Moderna or Pfizer created vaccine. Currently, the Superintendent said, 70 percent of district employees have received their shots.

Dr. Weikle then quoted a resolution passed by Illinois State Board of Education which states, “All schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days provided and pursuant to” COVID.” She then told Board members, “So basically, that statement right there means we have to provide in-person instruction to our students.”

She said ISBE added that as a result of its resolution, at-home learning may, may, not will be available for remote instruction. That would also mean a student who meets “specific medical criteria” may be able to continue remote learning. She said the district would need to see doctor’s information before granting a student approval to continue remote learning. How many students fit that situation, Dr. Weikle said, will determine the staffing level the district will need to provide.

She added remote students may be kept together under one campus. Doing this, Dr. Weikle explained, “helps the parents find one common place to get information from.” She added this gives “families, students, and staff one administrator, and support staff to go to should they need further assistance.”

Dr. Weikle told Board members and cautioned parents wanting to continue to exercise the remote option that should they change their mind and want to put their student back into a physical classroom, such changes will not be permitted to take place after one month but changes can take place at the end of the semester. She added students in 6th through 12th grade who opt to do remote learning will not be permitted to participate in extra curricular activities per a State School Code.

Human Resources Update: Board members were informed by Roger Baldwin, director of human resources for the district, that among the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for the district included issues revolving around sick leave and family leave matters, and various staffing issues.

Budget Update: Among the highlights District Chief Financial Officer Marty Hickman presented to Board members were that the district experienced less income from food service due to fewer meals being served by schools because of the pandemic. Countering that, the district received more Federal revenue from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Grants. Conversely, district teachers encountered lower than expected salary and benefit expenses due to online learning.

He added the district’s spending laid out as anticipated in the last fiscal year resulting in a $3.5 million surplus for the 2020-21 school year. The district had a budget of $202 million in all of its funds.

Hickman added the savings were primarily due to unneeded positions which weren’t filled for online learning. In addition, Hickman explained the district mended budget for the current fiscal year includes $13 million abatement from Working Cash into Education Fund. He said the actual amount could be lower and require Board approval at their June 9 meeting.

Public Comments Continues To Revolve Around Masking Children: While the district continues to abide by State mandates regarding masking students, seven citizens spoke during public comments again protesting needing this to be done to students. Katie Lavoie, a parent of future Towanda Elementary School students, told Board members she will not mask her children in public and said she believes masking children who have no illness is wrong. She said she was speaking out on behalf of those who do the same and fear retaliation on the part of the district.

Resident Larry Dibway also addressed Board members, calling the policy instituted by the District, which was following a State mandate of requiring masks, “cruel, unnatural, and unneeded and capricious.”

Dawn Bergeron, parent of a Normal West student, became emotional as she explained her son “wants to come to school, he wants to see his teachers, he wants to see his friends, he wants to see smiles.” Adding that she takes part in natural health, she said the policy of wearing masks “has never made sense to me from day one.” Saying she is employed in holistic health care, she told Board members, “There are plenty of ways to heal the body and build the immune system.” She added school lunches feed chemicals to students.

By Steve Robinson | May 25, 2021 - 3:31 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High School senior shortstop Abby Knight blasted two home runs to help her team beat Normal Community West Monday, 5-3, at Champion Fields.

The lead off batting senior shortstop’s first turn at the plate ended in a home run over the center field fence giving the Pioneers (15-5) a quick 1-0 lead.

Two innings later, in the top of the third, with two outs and nobody on base, Knight belted a 2-ball 2-strike pitch from Wildcats pitcher Rylee McConigle over the center field fence a second time, giving the Pioneers a 2-0 lead.

In the top of the sixth inning, with one out, Knight walked and advanced to second on a sacrifice by pitcher Jen Kuhn, and scored on an error by West shortstop Landes Benedict, upping the Pioneers’ lead to 3-0.

With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Pioneers center fielder Brooke Cordray singled and was followed by designated player Evellyn Kline’s single and Knight being walked. Winning senior pitcher Kuhn followed and was walked scoring Cordray, increasing U-High’s lead, 4-0. The Pioneers last point came with Kline crossing the plate.

Normal West freshman third baseman Emily McCandless led off her team’s bottom half of the seventh with a walk followed by right fielder Gracie White striking out for West’s first out. Benedict followed and benefitted from a Pioneers two-base error. Sophomore Emily Kobel followed with a three-run shot that left the yard over the left field fence resulting in the eventual final score. The loss dropped the Wildcats record following this game to

West sophomore center fielder Katie Poehlman hit a double after that, followed by a single from Post being walked. But with two on, West first baseman Claire Post hit the ball in the direction of U-High sophomore third baseman Lauryn Blemler who fired the ball to sophomore first baseman Adi Rumler for the final out of the contest.

Kuhn’s win for the Pioneers increased her record to 10-2 while the loss went to McConigle whose record dropped to 12-3. Normal West’s record dropped to 20-5.

Of the two home runs she hit toward U-High’s victory, Knight said, “I take batting practice and I just try to make contact and it goes out like it did today.” She said Pioneers head coach Al Tolliver had stressed trying to make contact when there were two strikes in the count. “I look for lower pitches,” she added regarding what she tries looking for when at the plate.

“It’s always nice when Abby starts a game with a home run,” U-High head coach Al Toliver said. “It’s nice to get those early leads but we knew it would be a battle at the end and it was.”

“We kind of need to get our bats going a little earlier,” said Normal West head coach April Schermann. At times, she added, “We had runners in scoring position and we didn’t come up with that big hit.

Mother Of Normal West Player Honored: Schermann said her team is honored to be able to play for Melissa Fasig, mother of Wildcats player Kenzie Fasig. Melissa is currently battling breast cancer. All the monies the team has raised is helping bring awareness to people and raise money to help with the Fasig’s medical costs. “That’s really important to us,” Schermann added.

NORMAL – As members of leadership for any community will tell you, they want to hear about concerns effecting its residents. On Monday, Normal Town Council members got to meet with some very special concerned citizens with regard to an issue of interest to them: Playgrounds accessible to all children, which included disabled students. That’s because the citizens interested in the issue were students from Grove Elementary School and Prairieland Elementary School.

The youngsters brought their concerns to the attention in letters written to Mayor Chris Koos. In introducing the subject to Council members, City Manager Pam Reece described the letters as “very thoughtful in their request,” which prompted the invitation for them to take part in the special session which took place prior to the regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session.

The youngsters’ teacher, Connie Stanczak, and Unit 5 Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle introduced the session to Council member before the youngsters shared their feelings about the need for accessible playgrounds in Normal, Reece recapped for Council members, adding Koos has replied to the students by mail about their concerns.

Their session also included some ideas to make playgrounds more inclusive. Those ideas included: Swings with bases for wheelchairs to be placed on while in motion, playground merry-go-rounds which are lower to the ground allowing students the ability to be on them without having to climb on, and freeing playground areas of woodchips or mulch making it easier to get around for students in wheelchairs or walkers.

Koos thanked the youngsters for making their presentation and doing what he said was “raising an issue that is very important to our community. We understand, and better understand, because of your presentation today, the needs we have in our community. And I can assure you we hear you and we have already made some plans.”

Of those unspecified plans, Koos said were “not too long term” for providing inclusive playgrounds in the community. He told the youngsters and their teacher that their appearance at Monday’s work session “reinforced the importance of doing that in our community.” He did mention he “was very encouraged about the exciting plan presented for Colene Hoose School for a very innovative plan of outdoor play that accommodates everyone in our community. That’s just amazing.”

“What I see if all of you have come together,” Council Member Stan Nord added, getting choked up as he spoke. He said what he heard from the kids were the youngsters not speaking about themselves, but rather, “it was all about other people. That touches my heart.”

During the youngsters’ presentation, they mentioned a “buddy bench” they had at their school. That prompted Council Member Kathleen Lorenz to explain what it was. One of the students explained that any student who wants to find someone to play with on the playground goes to that bench and another child will find them and ask them to join them to have some fun.

“Look at you guys!” remarked Council Member Scott Preston. “I wished that when I was your age, when I was in fourth grade, that I was doing what you guys are doing. Thank you for telling us why it matters and why it matters for everybody at your school and all the schools and all the kids in our community. I so badly want to help you however I can to make sure we get this project done.” He did, however, remind the youngsters that getting such things completed takes time and that they may not be fourth graders when approving the project takes place.

“If these kids are the future of our community, we’re going to be in really good hands,” added Council Member Kevin McCarthy. He repeated for the children to be patient as the Town works to get the new playground from concept to reality.

“We certainly commend you for all your thoughtful words,” added Council Member Chemberly Cummings. “It is such an honor to have you all here because you all are who come behind us. I know it will be a pleasure having any of you take this seat because I know you will consider everyone in our community just as you are right now.”

Council Member Karyn Smith thanked the school district and the teachers for the efforts given to making welcome youngsters with disabilities and their parents. “The parents and the students have made such a welcoming home to anyone who is different, and it makes such a difference to be accepted like that. Thank you, and thank you to your parents for raising such wonderful kids.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council Meeting of May 3, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of May 12, 2020.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of refuse containers from Schaefer Systems International, Inc. in the amount of $27,560.50.

Local fans of baseball were denied their chance to sit in the 7,000-seat venue known as The Corn Crib last year due to the Coronavirus, and although as fall approached, there was a collegiate league, the Kernels Fall League, which left fans with a lingering reminder baseball was still around and would, hopefully, return the following spring. Well, we have arrived at spring, and for our patience, we baseball fans will get an opportunity to see the game played again by not just one league, but two, as the Normal CornBelters will rejoin the Prospect League this season, and a summer collegiate league will play at The Corn Crib as well.

Prospect League: The Normal CornBelters will be rejoining the Prospect League this season after the league suspended operations as a whole due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But upon their return this season, they will find a league which has expanded, had teams move, and will face some opponents in new places as they prepare to play a 60-game schedule divided between home and away contests.

There are now two conferences in the league with two divisions per conference, each with four teams in a division. The CornBelters are now members of the league’s Great River Division in the league’s Western Conference. That division will be home to some familiar foes for the CornBelters: Quincy Gems, Burlington Bees, and Clinton LumberKings. The other conference in the division is the Prairie Land Division, where the Cape Girardeau Catfish, Springfield Sliders, Alton River Dragons, and O’Fallon Hoots reside. If Burlington and Clinton sound familiar, they should because they are both former members of the Midwest League.

Game times are 6:35p.m. for single games and 5:35p.m. for doubleheaders. The opening week for the CornBelters will see the team play a different team over three nights, with Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp at The Corn Crib opening night Thursday, May 27, Quincy Gems on Friday, May 28, and Burlington Bees Saturday, May 29.

“We’re just excited to be back in the Prospect League,” said the CornBelters new general manager, Matt Durkin. “As a result of having more teams, we’ll play a lot games with the teams from our division such as Quincy as well as Burlington and Clinton. We’re just excited to have both of those teams in our league and go back to traveling and have a much broader scale across the Midwest.”

“Ticket sales for the Prospect League team started in January and they have been good the last few months, and they have really picked up here in early May and late April,” Durkin said. “We’ll be excited to see everyone back at The Corn Crib.”

At the time I interviewed Durkin, the league rosters were not being released but he did say there would be some Illinois State University baseball players on the team roster.

Kernels Collegiate League: As took place last fall, the Kernels Collegiate League will feature a quartet of teams with only nicknames and high school players looking to get some playing time in. The team names are: Bobcats, Bluecaps, Ground Sloths, and Howlers. The league will play a season running from May 30-Aug. 8. The Kernels Fall League will be back later this year, too.

Social Distancing To Be Employed: Durkin said The Corn Crib will abide by regulations established by the Center for Disease Control and the State of Illinois to keep folks as safe as possible with COVID-19 still a part of how we go about our everyday lives. To start, The Corn Crib will be at 25 percent capacity, Durkin said, but added he has heard both the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox will increase their stadium capacities to 60 percent which means that number could go up here, too. He said when CDC and State announce changes, The Corn Crib will change its attendance levels to match them.

New Ownership Group: The CornBelters now have new owners. The ownership group operated by Steve Malliet which operated the team since it began play during its first season in 2010 has sold the team to Play 9 Sports. That group is owned by Matt Stembridge, Rick DeStafane, and Jimmie Louthan. Stembridge serves as the team’s President of Operations.

As I get more information about players and other team-related items, I will pass them along. In the meantime, here’s hoping for nice warm nights, nice crowds, and plenty of success for both leagues’ teams this summer. Having missed it last year, we could all use a night (or two or three or several) out at the ol’ ball park.