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High School HighlightsAfter Adding Peoria’s Schools, Big 12 Conference To Be One Short, Not Five
It’s not rare to see either Andy Turner or Stan Lewis working at a bustling pace before, during, or after an athletic event at their respective workplaces.
But it is rare to find those two athletic directors, or ADs, from Normal-based Unit 5’s two high schools together at an event that isn’t sporting-related. Yet, that’s where these two gentlemen were last month, seated side-by-side, addressing the Jan. 22 meeting of the district’s school board.
Turner, athletic director at Normal Community High School; and Lewis, athletic director at Normal Community West High School, jointly addressed Unit 5 Board of Education members concerning the expansion of the number of schools that would be part of the Big 12 Conference. The Conference will be reduced in number, to seven schools, after the current sports season, with the departures of two Decatur high schools – Eisenhower and MacArthur – who are bound for the Central State 8 Conference next season.
The departure of those two schools left the ADs of the schools remaining in the league to tackle a growing issue: How to try to bolster the number of teams in the conference to avoid costly issues like seeking out-of-state opponents for sports. In recent years, among other issues, fans of both Unit 5 high schools’ gridiron teams have seen out-of-town trips on their respective schedules. Both NCHS and Normal West have made trips to Indiana and Missouri, respectfully, for football to plug holes in their schedules.
Turner and Lewis told Board members the four high schools in Peoria – Peoria Central High, Richwoods High, and Manual High, operated through Peoria School District 150; and Peoria Notre Dame High School (PND), overseen by a self-controlling board – will be joining the Big 12 beginning next season. Both District 150’s Board of Education and PND’s board approved the measure to proceed with the move.
Turner and Lewis told Unit 5’s Board the Peoria schools had been considering joining the Western Big 6 Conference, but that conference’s leadership soon realized adding the Peoria schools would result in a change in their conference structure, which would have an affect on all of its sports. As a result, the Peoria schools opted to look elsewhere.
Last fall, principals of the Big 12 Conference schools sent letters to their counterparts at the Peoria schools inviting them to join their conference. The exact date for the Peoria schools joining would be determined by Big 12 ADs. Most likely, Peoria Schools would join Big 12 formally for Cross Country, Boys’ and Girls’ Golf, Boys’ and Girls’ Swimming, Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis, Boys and Girls Track, cheerleading, and dance by next school year. Peoria schools currently have a contract to play football in the Western Big 6 Conference this fall. That means the football teams won’t meet until 2015.
The Peoria schools offer the same sports the Big 12 offers, so conference tournaments and conference schedules will mesh well once the newcomers join.
In terms of enrollment, when the Peoria schools join, Unit 5 schools will still be the largest in the Big 12, with NCHS at the top of the list with 1,950 students, followed by Normal West with 1,600. Danville is the third most populated school in the Big 12, with 1,540 students, Bloomington High is fourth with 1,440, and Champaign Centennial is fifth with a population of 1,375. With 1,370 students, Peoria Richwoods slips in with the sixth biggest population for the conference. Champaign Central is seventh with 1,270.
Although it is at the bottom of the 11 schools with a genuine student population of 770, PND can register a population of 1,270 once the multiplier used by Illinois High School Association is applied. The multiplier was first used by IHSA in the fall of 2005, and multiplies a member school’s enrollment by 1.65 to determine the class it will compete in during IHSA postseason tournaments. Peoria Central registers a population of 1,250 students, followed by Urbana’s 1,070 students, and Peoria Manual’s 825.
For the Peoria schools, coming to the Big 12 is almost more like returning to a former home considering that they were once before members of the conference decades ago, according to Turner and Lewis. As time goes on during a sports season and teams change leagues, after a while, one wonders how long a team had been in the league they are now prepping to leave. I found myself wondering how long it had been since, for example, Rantoul or Mattoon had been Big 12 members. Turner and Lewis were quick to provide answers to that in their recap to Board members.
Big 12 first lost, and then gained members when Lincoln exited for another conference in the 1995-96 school year. But that was also the same year Normal West opened, so change in numbers was hardly an issue. The Conference became 11 in number when Stephen Decatur High School was closed by the Decatur Schools during the 2000-01 school system. Rantoul exited Big 12 in the 2004-05 school year for the Corn Belt Conference, reducing the Big 12 Conference’s membership to 10. At the end of the 2012-13 school year, Mattoon bolted for the Apollo Conference, which helped them find a geographic fit in terms of competition.
This latest change in the Big 12 won’t be the only one we see locally, as the Corn Belt Conference, home to University High Pioneers, will add Chillicothe-based Illinois Valley Central High School, better known as Chillicothe IVC, to their ranks beginning this fall. Chillicothe IVC has held dual membership in two conferences for their sports, the West Central Conference and NCIC.
It will be interesting to see how new rivalries will develop and see how the Peoria schools will fit into the Big 12. It will be nice to get back to double-digits for many reasons once all the sports are in play under this agreement.
On another subject, there is another charity game yet to come between the boys’ high school teams that represent Unit 5. That game is slated to be on Monday, Feb. 17, at Normal Community High School, starting at 7:30 p.m. This is a rescheduling of the game that should have been played late last month, but was postponed due to the district cancelling school due to weather on the day it was to be originally played. Donations will be taken at the door with those proceeds going to the American Heart Association. Before the varsity tilt begins, the JV teams from these schools will play a 6 p.m. game.
Mike Veeck Recalls White Sox’s ‘Disco Demolition’ Event
When I saw that the Normal CornBelters were hosting an event in the middle of winter to remind us that, yes, after the incredibly harsh winter, there will be spring and a 2014 baseball season, I convinced the ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, that an early edition of the baseball column was essential. He agreed.
By the time Groundhog’s Day gets here, winter will be at the halfway mark, which means the idea of talking baseball can only whet the appetites of devoted fans. To that end, the inaugural “Hot Stove Banquet,” held at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott in Uptown Normal appeared to be just the thing baseball fans needed to pull themselves out of a sometimes sub-zero slump.
The first-ever event featured a silent auction, the proceeds from which went to the Washington Recreation Association in Washington, Ill., to help purchase baseball and softball equipment lost during the devastating tornado that struck that community Nov. 17. The CornBelters had even landed Mike Veeck, son of the late two-time owner of the Chicago White Sox, Bill Veeck, to be the featured speaker.
A wide ranging array of items were up for bids at the silent auction, including: Jerseys autographed by CornBelters shortstop Pat McKenna and former White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen; baseballs autographed by Kyuji Fujikawa, Bob Dernier, and Keith Moreland; a batting helmet autographed by former White Sox player Harold Baines; and two action photos autographed by New England Patriots tight end Ron Gronkowski, to name but a few of the famous who contributed. There were also gift baskets and CornBelters-related opportunities to be “Public Address Announcer For A Day,” “Bat Boy For A Day,” and “Radio Game Announcer For A Day” this season available for fans at the dinner to place bids on.
One might think having this event four months out from opening day might not help keep the thought of an upcoming season fresh in baseball fans’ minds. CornBelters General Manager Kyle Kreger disagrees. “Our logic was that we want people to be thinking baseball year-round,” he said. “But when it’s below zero, people aren’t thinking of it. But an event like the Hot Stove Banquet puts baseball at the top of their minds.”
And if the promotions that got the word out didn’t get folks into a baseball frame of mind, listening to Mike Veeck should have. He recounted for the audience of roughly 250 people who attended the dinner the story behind one of the more infamous baseball promotions of our time – “Disco Demolition Night” at old Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979.
Veeck told the gathering that, his father had owned the White Sox in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. By his father’s second try at it on the South side, Mike was working for the team, trying to drum up a promotional idea that would be a sure-fire hit. On July 1, 1979, he explained, he was in his car when he heard the disco smash, “That’s The Way I Like It” by K. C. And The Sunshine Band. That moment, Veeck told the gathering, was when inspiration arrived.
In an attempt to rid the world (or at least the South side’s corner of it, anyway) of all disco music, Steve Dahl and Gary Meier, then disc jockeys for Chicago’s WLUP FM, their program director, and the younger Veeck hatched a promotion to blow up a large stack of disco records on the field. But a rescheduled game from May 2 of that year between White Sox and Detroit at Comiskey Park was rained out. American League rules called for the game to be made up at the teams’ next meeting in Chicago. That turned out to be Thursday, July 12, for a single night game, which would also kick off a four-game weekend series, the last series before the All-Star Break. The single game date was switched to a twi-night doubleheader. The proposed demolition was slated, then, to take place between games.
“By 6:30 that night, there were 60,000 fans at the game and 40,000 more on the streets around the ballpark trying to get in,” Veeck told diners. “Ten thousand of them got onto the field.” He said the episode had traffic snarled from Comiskey Park all the way to O’Hare International Airport, roughly 5 miles away.
It was anticipated that 12,000 fans would show for the ceremonial disco demise. But the crowd was closer to 90,000 according to published accounts. The field was so badly torn up by the chaos that followed, that Lee MacPhail, then-American League President, forefeited the night game to the Tigers.
My father was supposed to take in a game at Comiskey the next day, July 13. Obviously, because of the circumstances, he never did.
Although it was Mike Veeck who helped hatch the plan for this now-infamous event, Mike said his father stepped forward to take the blame for its result, but in the end, the White Sox board of directors, which included both of his folks, voted unanimously, 12-0, to fire Mike. He told banquet attendees his father told him afterward, “sometimes, some promotions work too well.”
The fans at the Hot Stove Banquet were informed by Veeck that, in the last five years, The Corn Crib had played host to 200 events, baseball and otherwise. “That’s doing better than my old man did,” the son of the legendary owner admitted. And on this specific night, Washington Recreation Association did well, too, as winning auction bids brought in $3,000.
Prior to the banquet, I sat down with Veeck and Frontier League President Bill Lee to get an update on how one of baseball’s independent leagues fares these days. “The Frontier League has stabilized and become part of the game,” Veeck said. “The player personnel side of Major League Baseball (MLB) has now accepted players coming in through such leagues.”
Veeck added MLB clubs now hire front office personnel who have worked in independent league clubs “at an unprecedented rate. I’ve never seen anything like it in the last five years.”
The relationship between independent leagues and MLB has improved such that independent leagues like the Frontier League and the American Association and the Can-Am League receive listings of players released from teams during the off-season from MLB regularly. “We have a great relationship with the 30 Major League clubs,” Veeck said.
In fact, Lee reminds that 27 players currently in the majors started their careers in the Frontier League.
Another 1,200 players regularly get contracts to join MLB minor league clubs. As far as the CornBelters are looking right now, second-season Manager Brooks Carey tells me he has signed 12 of the players he had on the squad last season. “My one focus, my genuine focus, in being here in Normal, is to bring a championship team to this organization,” Carey said.
He said infielders Mike Schwartz, Aaron Dudley, and McKenna, as well as pitcher Tyler Lavigne, are among the 12 returning players who will do their best to thrill fans at The Corn Crib again this season, alongside new faces which will be found at scouting combines, and will try for spots on the roster come spring training in early May.
In the meantime, from now until April, Carey said, “We’ll be scouring release sheets, looking at the lists of released players who were on teams that don’t have room for them anymore.” He said that listing is another source for finding quality players.
“We’re probably three pitchers and three or four position players away from what we feel we need to contend this season,” Carey said.
That’s nice to hear, and no doubt when scouting combines open up in the next month or so, more talent will become known to the team and some of those guys will be asked to come to spring training. Once the snow clears and the winds die down, the ‘Belters and their fans can get down to the business of trying for their first championship during their fifth year.
Here is hoping the Groundhog doesn’t get the chance to see his shadow this weekend
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Second-Half Surge Sends Redbirds Past Northern Iowa, 76-65
Illinois State (13-10, 6-5 Missouri Valley Conference) used a 17-2 second-half run to surge past Northern Iowa (11-12, 5-6), 76-65, Wednesday evening on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena, as Illinois State improved to 9-3 at home this season.
Illinois State capitalized on Panther mistakes, picking up 30 points off of 16 UNI turnovers. Four Redbirds scored in double figures, with Bobby Hunter and Daishon Knight pacing the Redbird offense at 17 and 15 points, respectively.
Matt Bohannan led the way for the Panthers, leading all scorers with 19, while Seth Tuttle added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Back-to-back three-point baskets from Paris Lee and Hunter put the Redbirds up an early six points, but eight-straight points from Tuttle would aid in a 16-2 run from the Panthers. A Jamaal Samuel layup silenced the run, making the score 16-10.
At the 10:05 mark, Bohannan picked up the Panthers’ fourth three-pointer, as Northern Iowa went 6-for-9 from behind the arc in the opening half. After Lee missed a three-point shot with 6:32 to play in the half, the freshman guard grabbed his own rebound, dishing the ball out to Hunter for a basket behind-the arc.
A pair of free-throws from Tuttle put the Panthers up 26-22, but Zach Lofton answered with a three-point make of his own. At the four minute mark, Northern Iowa notched five quick points, including its fifth three-pointer of the game, but in the final seconds of the game, Samuel knocked in a bucket, shrinking the Panther lead and making the score 31-34. The New Orleans, La., native concluded the half with eight points and finishing the game with a career-best 10 points.
In the opening minute of the second-half, Hunter capitalized on steal, converting a Panther turnover into a quick two points. UNI did not back down, as it answered the Redbirds with a Tuttle layup and a three-pointer from Bohannan off an ISU turnover, extending its lead to 39-33.
At 15:37, Knight picked up a pair of free throws, followed by a fast-break layup to tie the game at 39. Lofton added a jumper to give the Redbirds their first lead game since the 15:34 mark of the first-half, but UNI answered right away with a quick layup from Jeremy Morgan. At 12:53 a Panther turnover sparked a Knight dunk, igniting the crowd and giving the Redbirds a 45-41 lead. Knight converted on another UNI turnover with a shot behind-the-arc to give ISU a nine-point lead.
The Redbirds were 8-for-13 in the first 10 minutes (60-percent) of the second half, until a missed three-point attempt from Nick Zeisloft, but the LaGrange, Ill., native would not be rattled as he knocked down the very next shot from behind-the-arc.
With just under six minutes to play, Lofton converted a three-point play, giving the Redbirds a 58-52 lead, but Northern Iowa would not quit, as Bohannan hit a quick jumper to keep the Panthers within reach. A pair of free throws from Morgan at the four minute mark closed the gap 62-56, but it would not be enough for the Panthers. Hunter sealed the victory with the seventh Redbird three, and a pair of free throws from Tony Wills would give ISU an 11-point lead. Reggie Lynch scored his seventh point in the final minutes, after making a free throw to convert an old-fashioned three-point play. Northern Iowa answered with a quick layup, but it was not enough as the Redbirds claimed the victory, 76-65.
Redbird Women Top Sycamores, 53-50
Stekara Hall scored a career-high 26 points and Illinois State (6-14, 5-5 Missouri Valley Conference) erased an eight point second half deficit to topple Indiana State (12-9, 7-3 Missouri Valley Conference) 53-50 Friday, February 7th at Redbird Arena. The Redbirds have now won two of its last three games to return to .500 in MVC play.
Hall led all scorers with 26 points, while Chloe Nelson added 10 for Illinois State. The Redbirds shot 40% (10-of-25) from the floor in the second half and outscored Indiana State 33-27 over the game’s final 20 minutes to secure the come-from-behind win. Illinois State forced 25 turnovers in the win.
Stephanie Wittman was the only Sycamore to tally double-figure scoring, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Sycamores shot 43% (20-for-47) from the floor and led 23-20 at the half.
Illinois State fell behind 43-34 late in the second half before Octavia Crump banked a layup to snap a 5:16 stretch without a field goal. Hall added a layup and Lindsay Smith made a pair of free throws to bring Illinois State within two points, 43-41, with 6:16 to play. After a defensive stop, Nelson drew a foul and made one free throw to make it a 43-42 game with 5:42 on the clock.
Wittman missed a jumper on Indiana State’s next possession, leading to a Hall banked jumper, giving Illinois State its first lead, 44-43, since the opening half. Marina Laramie’s jumper snapped the 9-0 Illinois State run, and sparked a 6-0 Sycamores advantage that put Indiana State on top, 49-44, with 3:48 to play.
Crump stopped the Indiana State streak with a spinning layup and Katy Winge added a defensive rebound to give Illinois State possession of the ball. On the other end of the court, Hall hit a layup and drew a foul. She completed the three-point play to set a career-high for points scored and tie the game, 49-49, with 2:30 left in regulation.
Hall, who had been fouled attempting to secure a defensive rebound, used the double-bonus to make both free throws, giving Illinois State a 51-49 advantage with 90 seconds to play. After a timeout, Laramie was fouled and went to the free throw line to shoot two. After rimming out the first attempt, the second was good, making it a 51-50 Illinois State advantage with a minute left in regulation. Winge’s ensuing jumper fell short, but Hall forced a steal to retain possession for Illinois State. At the foul line, Nelson made one-of-two attempts, making it 52-50 Illinois State with 24.6 seconds on the clock. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir missed a jumper from the top of the key and the loose-ball resulted in a jump ball, with the possession arrow pointed to Illinois State. The Redbirds successfully inbounded the ball to Smith, but the guard was tied up to a jump ball call, returning possession to Indiana State with 6 seconds to play.
The inbounds pass went to Wittman, who was whistled for a traveling violation. Hall added one free throw to secure the win and Indiana State’s full-court shot attempt fell short as time expired.
Illinois State forced turnovers on each of Indiana State’s first five possessions to open the game and jumped ahead to a 2-0 advantage on a Hall layup. The Sycamores made their first basket at the 17:35 mark of the opening half, getting on the board on a three three-point make by Jasmine Grier. It opened a 7-0 Sycamores run that coincided with a nearly-four minute Illinois State scoring drought.
Nelson snapped the Illinois State skid by making a pair of free-throws out of the under-16 timeout, but the Redbirds continued to struggle from the floor. After opening the game with 1-for-7 shooting, Illinois State made its second field goal with 12:05 to play in the first half, scoring on a three-point bank shot from Smith. It sparked a 6-0 Illinois State run that saw ISU take an 11-9 advantage midway through the opening half.
Tied 14-14 at the 6:20 mark of the half, Nelson made a fade-away jumper to put Illinois State back in front. The Sycamores answered with a 9-4 run to close the first half and carried a 23-20 advantage into halftime. The opening half featured five lead changes and four ties. The 23 points tallied by Indiana State marked the second-lowest figure Illinois State has allowed in an opening half this year.
The Redbirds opened the second half by forcing a turnover and Hall scored three-straight points to tie the game at 23, but Indiana State secured four-straight points to reclaim a 27-23 advantage at the 17:51 mark. Katy Winge sparked a 6-0 Illinois State sprint that gave Illinois State a 29-27 lead two minutes later.
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir made her second three-point basket of the half to put Indiana State back in front. It opened a 13-4 Indiana State run that saw the Sycamores extend its lead to 40-33 with 11:09 to go, before Illinois State mounted its game-winning comeback.
Illinois State continues its three-game home stand Friday, Feb. 14, when the Redbirds welcome Evansville to Redbird Arena. Tip-off is slated for 7:05 p.m
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