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High School Highlights

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Steve Robinson

‘Perfect Storm’ Of Circumstances Prompted U-High’s Exit From Corn Belt

In recent years, as a result of economics, changes in school population size, and other factors, some high schools have found it necessary to exit the sports conferences they have been associated with for long periods of time.
Rochester, Mahomet-Seymour, and Eureka are among those schools which have left the Corn Belt Conference previously. Decatur’s two high schools exited the Big 12 Conference for the Central State Eight a couple years back.
Now we can add University High to that roster of school teams seeking another league to play in. After being part of the Corn Belt Conference for decades (they were members during my high school years 35 years ago), the Pioneers  recently announced they were accepting an offer to join the Central State Eight Conference, headlined by four Springfield schools, Jacksonville, Chatham Glenwood, and Decatur’s two high schools, Eisenhower and MacArthur.
Central State Eight issued an invite to U-High in January. The vacancy came about as a result of Lincoln High School announcing in December it would be moving to the Apollo Conference in 2017-18.
What exactly prompted U-High to make the move include “multiple factors that have evolved over time,” explained Dr. Jeff Hill, superintendent of Illinois State University’s Lab School system, which includes U-High and Thomas Metcalf Elementary School. “With the State sports multiplier provided by Illinois High School Association, we found ourselves playing bigger schools in the State Playoffs, and they were bigger schools than we were seeing in the regular season.”
Because IHSA uses a multiplier on schools like U-High – schools that don’t have designated boundaries in the same way, say, Normal-based Unit 5 School District does, because it stands alone – that allows IHSA to place them in one of the group’s sport-specific Classes. For example, U-High has been in Class 3A in football. IHSA’s multiplier allows U-High, which has an actual student population of 620, to be place in a category of being shown as a school with a population of 1,000 students, allowing them to play school which actually do have 1,000 students.
Hill added that schools with smaller populations than U-High were losing actual numbers of their student populations, causing decreasing enrollment numbers. “Not knowing what the future would be for the Corn Belt, the opportunity to join Central State Eight came up,” Hill said. “It was a perfect storm of what was going on in the conference, and the invitation to join which forced us to take a look.”
The Central State Eight Conference’s governing body, known as Board Of Control, made up of the principals of the member schools, will vote Feb. 10 to approve U-High’s membership. The invitation to join came in January, Hill said.
“With things trending the way they were, we felt this would be best from a stability standpoint, and a healthy move for finding a competitive atmosphere for our students,” Hill added.
“We were founding members of the Corn Belt Conference,” Hill reminded. That relationship began in 1950. At that time, other member schools included Central Catholic, then known as Trinity High School; Clinton, Normal Community High School, and Pontiac. The conference was absorbed into the former Heart of Illinois Conference in 1972, and became reborn as the Corn Belt Conference six years later, in 1978.
That history, Hill said, “was one of the things that made this decision so tough. It was one of the reasons why you have to leave.” And yet, the circumstances and the opportunity that came U-High’s way were not to be ignored, and U-High didn’t. Hill said the school’s decision, made public Jan. 27, “has gotten immediate positive feedback and that’s always nice to hear.”
As both an alum and a reporter who has seen many a U-High game, it will take a little getting used to associating a new conference name with the Pioneers. But the players, students, coaches, parents, and fans will roll with it just fine and we’ll all look forward to the excitement the new opportunity will bring us in coming sports seasons.
Finally, I really must learn not to make promises technology will not allow me to keep. I mentioned last week I would bring you a story that I thought bridges the County Tourney and Valentine’s Day. I need to apologize, not just to you, but to the two young people I interviewed for it because the tape I used gave out on me earlier this week. It’s no excuse, but still, I am sorry I will have to wait perhaps, for another Valentine’s Day, to tell this young couple’s story.

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Redbird Basketball Report
Redbirds Clipped in Overtime at Missouri State
A 3-pointer by Missouri State’s Dequon Miller with three seconds remaining in regulation tied the game to force overtime where MSU overcame Illinois State’s early seven-point advantage by outscoring the Redbirds, 12-2, through the final 2:46 of OT to secure an 84-81 victory over the visiting Redbirds Saturday, January 30th in Missouri Valley Conference play at JQH Arena.
Illinois State (12-11, 6-4 MVC) saw its three-game winning streak end, while Missouri State (9-13, 5-5 MVC) has now won five out of its last eight game. DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell led the Redbirds in scoring and rebounding, netting 18 points while collecting nine rebounds. MiKyle McIntosh (16 points) and Deontae Hawkins (15 points), joined Akoon-Purcell in double-figure scoring.
Miller was one of three Bears to score in double figures with a game-high 22 points, including six 3-pointers. The Redbirds shot 47.6 percent from the field, and Missouri State shot 49.1 percent. MSU also outrebounded ISU, 34-33.
Illinois State scored the game’s first field goal on an Akoon-Purcell jumper and proceeded to take a 9-2 lead on a McIntosh field goal at the 16:13 mark. Missouri State responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game, 9-9, before a Justin McCloud 3-pointer regained Illinois State’s advantage.
Later in the half, a 10-2 Bears run, capped by back-to-back Miller 3-pointers, lifted Missouri State ahead, 24-16, with 6:57 remaining. Hawkins stopped the streak with a 3-pointer. However, the Bears went on to build a 27-20 advantage on another trifecta by Miller. Illinois State answered by outscoring Missouri State, 11-4, over the next four minutes to tie the game, 31-31, at the 56-second mark on a soft Quintin Brewer jumper in the paint. A jumper by Missouri State’s Chris Kendrix with 26 seconds remaining allowed MSU to solidify a 33-31 halftime lead.
Akoon-Purcell gave Illinois State a 38-37 lead with a 3-pointer early in the second half, and a McIntosh three-point-play increased ISU’s advantage to 43-39 with 17:33 remaining. After being held scoreless in the first half, Tony Wills scored six points in the first four minutes, building a 45-39 Redbird lead with a jumper at the 16:23 mark.
With the game later knotted up, 49-49, McCloud again broke the tie with a 3-pointer, making the score 52-49 Redbirds at the 13:12 mark. Hawkins followed with a trifecta of his own, as Illinois State established a 55-49 lead with 11:39 remaining. ISU went on to build a 59-50 advantage, the team’s largest of the game, at the 8:25 mark on a McIntosh jumper. However, MSU answered with a 10-0 run, as the Bears took a one-point lead on a Williams free throw at the 5:47 mark.
Akoon-Purcell drew a foul to stop the run, and he proceeded to score two-straight free throws, followed by a Paris Lee layup to give ISU a 63-60 advantage with 4:54 remaining. ISU forced back-to-back steals, resulting in an Akoon-Purcell layup and a McIntosh free throw, as ISU pulled ahead, 68-62, at the 2:12 mark. With Illinois State leading by three points, Miller netted a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to send the game to overtime, tied at 72 points apiece.
Brewer scored ISU’s first field goal in overtime, netting a soft hook shot followed by a layup by Hawkins and a Lee three-point-play to establish a 79-72 advantage at the 2:54 mark. However, Missouri State answered by manufacturing a 10-2 run to take an 82-81 advantage on a Jared Dixon jumper with 1:12 remaining.
After a timeout with 10.8 seconds remaining, a contested layup attempt by Akoon-Purcell missed, and after MSU rebounded, the Redbirds were forced to foul. Dixon proceeded to make both of his ensuing free throws with two seconds remaining, and a last-second three-point attempt by Akoon-Purcell missed, as the Bears held off ISU, 84-81.

Lady Redbird Basketball Report
Redbirds Jump Out To Early Lead And Never Trail In 64-57 Win At Evansville
A season-best 25-point first quarter scoring barrage gave Illinois State an early lead on the road at Evansville, and the Redbirds (5-14, 3-5 MVC) never trailed the Purple Aces (2-17, 1-7 MVC) the rest of the way in a 64-57 win Friday, January 29th.
Senior Colleene Smith led the Redbirds with a career-high 20 points and added seven points and four steals in a strong effort on the night.  Freshman Shakeela Fowler added 15 points and controlled the offensive attack with a career-best eight assists and freshman Katrina Beck finished game with 13 points, 12 of which were scored from three-point range in the first half.

Redbird Women Comeback Falls Short In 76-71 Loss At SIU
A furious fourth-quarter comeback fueled by freshman Shakeela Fowler cut into a double digit lead held by Southern Illinois, however Illinois State came up a bit short as the Redbirds (5-15, 3-6 MVC) fell to the Salukis (13-8, 6-3 MVC) by a score of 76-71 at SIU Arena Sunday, January 31.
Fowler led four Redbirds in double figures with 15 points, thanks to a pair of late three-pointers, and dished out three assists for the Redbirds.  Seniors Octavia Crump and Colleene Smith chipped in 13 and 12 points, respectively, and Viria Livingston added 12 points as well in a balanced scoring effort for ISU against the Salukis.
“In the second quarter, it took a second to get adjusted as they switched defenses and in the interim they were scoring and we weren’t and that really made the difference,” ISU head coach Barb Smith said.  “I loved the way our team came back and fought to get it close again and their fight the whole game.  A few key turnovers in key moments and a few offensive rebounds that led to baskets swung the game in favor of SIU, but I can see this team growing and getting better each game.”

MVFC And ESPN Announce Multi-Year Agreement
Illinois State football fans wanting to watch the Redbirds in 2016 on their smart phones, tablets, computers or televisions will now have an opportunity to do so, as ESPN and the Missouri Valley Football Conference announced Monday a multi-year agreement that will provide increased coverage of conference games on ESPN3 through the 2023 season.
“The most far-reaching way to showcase the Missouri Valley Football Conference is by broadcasting our games and our goal is to make all of our games, conference and non-conference, available to our fans,” MVFC Commissioner Patty Viverito said. “We are elated with this agreement with ESPN and, this fall and in every year of the contract, we will have more than 50 Valley football games available on ESPN3 nationwide.”
As part of the deal, ESPN, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and its 10 member institutions will work jointly to air all conference games and most non-conference home games on ESPN3 throughout the length of the agreement. During each year of the term, the MVFC will produce an eight-game exclusive package available only on the league’s conference channel on WatchESPN (Valley Football on ESPN3). MVFC institutions will continue to broadcast other games as part of their regional sports package or institutionally produced content, but any game that is televised will also be available on ESPN3.
Last year, a total of 49 Missouri Valley Football games during the regular season were available on ESPN3. Additional road non-conference games and playoff contests involving MVFC teams were also aired on ESPN networks.
ESPN3 is currently available to more than 99 million homes at no additional cost to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection or video subscription from an affiliated service provider. The network is also available at no cost to approximately 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers, smartphones and tablets connected to on-campus educational and on-base military broadband and Wi-Fi networks.

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