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High School Highlights

Steve Robinson Photo
Steve Robinson

Odds & Ends at End of School Year

The 2013-14 School Year has closed out, with Unit 5 students being granted the summer off as of this past Monday. At Parkside Junior High School, the message board in the school’s monument sign encourages students to “have a groovy summer.” Yes, I have no doubt some of the kids had to ask Grandma & Grandpa, rather than Mom & Dad, about what it meant by “groovy.” Still it made me smile.
Something I had to make note of in one fell swoop was that, on Saturday, the three teams that had high hopes for either winning or advancing toward a state title in their respective sports all fell short of their quest.
Normal Community High School’s Softball Team, under head coach Bob Grimes, had fans riding high with hopes of making it to State this coming weekend, but Edwardsville derailed those plans with a 12-0 victory over the Iron in the Illinois High School Association Class 4A O’Fallon Sectional championship contest. Despite that setback, they are to be congratulated for all the thrills their season provided.
Another team that had fans hoping for a state title was the Normal Community West High School Soccer Team, coached by Val Walker. By defeating Hinsdale South High School, 1-0, Walker’s charges made it to the state championship game to face Lake Forest High School for the IHSA Class 2A title, and the chance to possibly earn Normal West its very first state title.
I checked in on this game while doing some writing just in time to find out it was going into overtime tied 1-1. Coming in second in State is something the players, their coaches, fans and families will long remember.
University High’s Baseball Team lost the Class 3A Sectional Championship game to Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, 6-3,  Saturday. The team faced a tough, difficult season as Assistant Coach Michael Collins, son of U-High head coach Jim Collins, died on April 2 from injuries sustained in a March 29 accident in which the car he and three others were riding in was hit by a drunk driver. Michael was an organ donor and helped others as a result of that unselfish last act. His death also set off a campaign of kindness, of “paying it forward” as it’s now known these days. 
These three teams kept our hopes alive and our spirits up for the times they took the field. One hates to “wait ‘til next year,” and all of these losses were disappointing for anybody involved with or following the schools and the sport – that would include, obviously, the team; their fans, and local sports fans generally, seeing as we would have liked to see local teams do well and make State before the year ends.
Something else that caught my eye was the list of Unit 5 teachers’ projects that received grant money from the Beyond The Books Foundation. The list of teachers awarded was presented at the School Board’s May 28 meeting, held at Sugar Creek Elementary School. A total of 16 projects from the district’s schools earned grants.
The first one that caught my eye came from Normal Community High School’s team of Jeff Christopherson, John Bergmann, and Mike Roller and their project called, “Science Palooza – Hands On Science.” This team received a $400 grant from Beyond The Books Foundation for this, and sounds like it would be a lot of fun.
The next one came from another NCHS team – Barbara Koski, Julie Trimpe, Claire Rybaraczyk, Caroline Fox, Trish Warner, Jenny Sokulski, and Nicole Maurer entitled, “Hi/Lo Library – Literacy Library.” I am really curious about the goals of this one because this team received a $3,000 grant from Beyond The Books Foundation for this, and sounds like, because it has library in its title – twice – could possibly mean a hint that it will show kids some things about what they can learn and do in a library that they hadn’t yet considered. We will definitely want to find out more about that.
 Being a sportswriter, I will be real curious to see how Unit 5 Librarians Rixie Lanier and Remy Garard mix education and the sports device of team brackets to help students learn, after receiving a $400 grant from Beyond The Books Foundation for their project called “Book Bracket Battle.”
Before getting back out onto the softball diamond next season, Normal West’s April Schermann will be instructing her students, with the help of a $3,500 Beyond The Books Foundation grant for a project titled, “Using Robots To Teach Math And Science.” I’m sure her students would be interested to see what that project involves.
Another project I would like to find out more about comes from a team of teachers including Schermann, along with fellow Normal West teachers Jeritt Williams, Barb Bush, Dave Weber, and Beth Smith called “Beam Me Up, Scotty! Star Trek STEM.” STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I would be curious to see the results of this project.
All of these projects sound like a lot of fun, and I can’t wait for the details. I have them bookmarked for now, but will need to wait until next fall to cover them. But as we all tend to say and believe, the summer will be here – and gone – before we know it, and another school year will be upon us.
The Foundation awarded its largest grant – its $10,000 “Beyond The Box” Grant – to five Colene Hoose Elementary School teachers who, undoubtedly, could inspire a future junior high or high school student to go on to study science and possibly be inspired to create or invent something that could help the rest of us in this world. Hoose teachers Kathie Brown, Rylee Long, Christa Hoder, Maggie Nelson and Karen Mercer will use the largest grant awarded for purchasing Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading and Great Explorations in Math and Science its, also known as GEMS kits, to introduce students to learn through conducting experiments, as well as provides materials students would need for performing experiments. Magnifying lenses and microscopes are among the tools provided in a GEMS kit.       
 A tip of the hat to Brown, Long, Hoder, Nelson, and Mercer, and here is hoping GEMS encourages students learn more about the scientific aspects of our world.
As I close out this column, I should note one of the first things on my High School Highlights “to do” list for next year is a sit-down interview with Unit 5’s new superintendent, Dr. Mark Daniel. He formally takes his position on July 1 but has been active in learning about the district, attending meetings and getting to know its people.

Redbird Night With The White Sox, August 5
The Illinois State University Alumni Association invites you to cheer on the Chicago White Sox as they host the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, August 5.
Join us at 5:00 pm for the pregame reception across the street from U.S. Cellular Field at ChiSox Bar & Grill and meet Illinois State coaches and administration. Guests include: Larry Lyons, director of Athletics, Brock Spack, head football coach, Barb Smith, head women’s basketball coach, Bo Durkac, head baseball coach. After the reception, we’ll head to U.S. Cellular Field to enjoy the game.
The cost of $35 includes lower corner reserved game ticket, heavy hors d’oeuvres buffet, and nonalcoholic beverages at the pregame reception. A cash bar will be available.
Tickets are available until July 30 online at Alumni.IllinoisState.edu/WhiteSox or by contacting Alumni Relations at (800) 366-4478. Please contact Alumni Relations at Alumni@IllinoisState.edu or (800) 366-4478 for questions.

Corn Kernels
News about the Normal CornBelters

Steve Robinson Photo
Steve Robinson

2nd Baseman Santiago Chirino Keeping Team Upbeat During Hunt For Playoffs

Normal CornBelters second baseman Santiago Chirino wants to be “that guy” in the independent league team’s clubhouse. You know, the guy the team turns to for a smile and an encouraging word either out of the blue or when times get tough. The guy who is always upbeat and looking to bolster spirits when needed. The guy who is always looking to keep his teammates on the upswing when it could be needed the most – both during and away from game situations.
Living as a member of an independent baseball team means having guys with varying personalities but with one mindset as far as the game is concerned: To get to the league championship. Chirino said he wants to spend his time on the team not just helping make winning a reality, as do his teammates, but making sure the team stays upbeat while getting the job done.
“I try to talk to my teammates every day, and to be happy and have fun at winning games,” the 23-year-old explained. “If you’ve got one guy doing that every day, that helps the team.”
Chirino said his teammates appreciate the effort he puts in to try to give an injection of team spirit in what is essentially a business for the players of the Frontier League team.
“I like trying to encourage my teammates because I love to play baseball and I want to play every day.”
Chirino took on the role of “that guy” after arriving here last season.  In 2011 and 2012, Chirino played in a total of 218 games for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Class A Carolina League.  Last season, he had a .218 average, racking up 78 hits, 27 Runs Batted In, 27 runs scored and nine doubles.  In 2010, he split time with the Class A Spokane Indians of the Northwest League and Arizona League Rangers.  In 2009, he played in the Dominican Summer League.  He is a career .256 hitter, with 306 hits, 152 runs scored, 124 RBIs and 44 doubles in 330 games. It was among the reasons he was named to play in the Frontier League All-Star Game earlier this month, an honor he said he appreciated receiving.
Chirino’s family, based in Punto Fijo, Venezuela, is upbeat, too, he said, because they are able to follow his progress through his Twitter account. He said he was honored to be named to the Frontier League All-Star Game Western Division squad for what was his first time at the event. The Frontier League All-Star Game was played earlier this month at GCS Park in Sauget, Ill., home of the Gateway Grizzlies.
Chirino said he has been on teams where the players had a mindset that was strictly business. Fun was not a word in the vocabularies of those players, he explained. But Chirino reminds baseball is a sport. “You have to have fun every day,” he said, being quick to point out about one of the main goals of the game. “You have to have fun at this game. If you don’t have fun, you shouldn’t play.”
Chirino said he believes the attitude he has tried to spread throughout the clubhouse has helped the team while it pursues getting into the Frontier League playoffs for what would be the first time in franchise history.
His mood is catching, even to the point that if Chirino isn’t trying to pump up his teammates for some reason, they notice that. When that happens, Chirino admits, “I’ll get players in the dugout coming up to me and asking, ‘hey, what’s up with you?’”
Given Chirino’s efforts to help his teammates stay on track with a positive attitude as they try to compete for a playoff spot, there is no doubt he is having an influence as the season progresses.
Outfielder Judah Earns 2nd “Player Of The Week” Honors This Season: For the second time this season, CornBelters Outfielder Sam Judah has earned “Player Of The Week” honors from the Frontier League. During the week of July 14, Judah went 5-for-11 at the plate for a .455 average, hitting two home runs, driving in seven runs during the week. Judah is batting .325 this season, with nine home runs and 49 Runs Batted In. Judah is playing for Normal during his fourth season as pro player.
This is the first season the Frontier League has named “Player Of The Week” honors along a “Pitcher Of The Week,”. The award winners are chosen by Pointstreak, the official statistics provider for The Frontier League and the Independent Professional Baseball Federation.
 Outfielder Schwartz Named All-Star MVP: CornBelters outfielder Mike Schwartz earned Most Valuable Player honors from the league when the All-Star Game was over. Schwartz went 2-for-3 with two singles, a walk and a run in the Western Division’s 2-0 shutout win over the Eastern Division on July 16. “I was happy with Mike’s winning MVP,” Carey said. I am looking to have an interview with Schwartz in a future column this season.
One more item relating to the Frontier League All-Star Game: At one point in the star-studded contest, it looked like Normal was taking on the league nearly single-handed. Normal Manager Brooks Carey said that’s because during the All-Star Game’s fifth inning, six of the nine players on defense for the Western Division squad were from the CornBelters. “During that inning, our dugout received word that it looked like the game was Normal versus the rest of the league,” Carey quipped.
With the All-Star Game come and gone, it’s time to get on to the second half of the season and a push for the playoffs. Carey said the entire second half of the season will “come down to pitching. We’ve got offense. We’re going to score enough runs to win a lot more games that we lose offensively.”
At the mid-way point of the season last year, Normal was 27-22. They were 26-24 at the break this year. “We are in far better shape than we were at this point last year,” Carey said.
As you read this, the ‘Belters are in the midst of a 10-day, 9-game home stand. They have faced the Frontier Greys and Washington Wild Things earlier in the week and Lake Erie visits The Corn Crib Thursday through Saturday. The ‘Belters will be at River City Sunday through Tuesday before returning to The Corn Crib to face the Southern Illinois Miners and the Rockford Aviators during a six-game home stand beginning Wednesday, July 30.

Four Redbird Football Games Set To Air On CSN Chicago

Illinois State Athletics will continue to maintain its television footprint in the Chicago media market with a new four-game agreement with Comcast SportsNet Chicago, whose regional television base reaches 4.9 million homes, for the 2014 Redbird football season.
Comcast SportsNet, which is the television home for the most games and most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, is available on most cable outlets in the state of Illinois, as well as DirectTV and Dish Network.  Redbird fans who receive Comcast SportsNet will be able to watch the home opener against Mississippi Valley State (Sept. 6), the 103rd edition of the Mid-America Classic versus in-state foe Eastern Illinois (Sept. 13), a road game at Indiana State (Oct. 11) and the season finale at Hancock Stadium against rival Southern Illinois (Nov. 22).

CornBelters to host Michael Collins tribute night Aug. 19
The Normal CornBelters, presented by Illinois Corn Farmers, have announced they are hosting a Michael Collins Tribute Night on August 19. The CornBelters are playing the Schaumburg Boomers at the Corn Crib at 7 p.m.
The CornBelters have teamed up with Heartland Community College to host a night to remember and celebrate the life of Collins.
Collins was a member of the Heartland Community College baseball team for two seasons and was a current Illinois State University student before he passed away as a result of injuries he suffered in a car accident on April 2, 2014.
“Michael loved baseball, loved playing for Heartland, and loved playing at the Corn Crib. We are proud of the 22 years Michael spent on this earth,” said Jim Collins, Michael’s father. “Some of the very best days of his life were spent playing and practicing with the Heartland Hawks at the Corn Crib, and we are thrilled the CornBelters will pay tribute to him in a stadium that had a special place in his heart – and on the 19th no less.”
“Heartland Community College and the Heartland Athletic Department thanks the Normal CornBelters in advance for creating a special night to honor the memory of Michael Collins but even more so to help carry on his spirit,” said Nate Metzger Director of Heartland Community College Athletics. “The spirit has already provided much widespread love and kindness among our community, and even nationally.”
The CornBelters are going to donate half of the revenue of the tickets sold from the night to the Michael Collins Foundation. Additionally, half of the 50/50 raffle on the 19th will be donated to the Michael Collins Foundation. To commemorate Collins’ role as a Heartland Hawk baseball player, a blue seat (contrasting with the green seats around it) will be designated on the 3rd base side of the ballpark behind the Heartland dugout. It will have Collins’ name and number and the
CornBelters will retire the seat after that date forever.
“We are honored the CornBelters are paying tribute to him with a special night and by dedicating ‘the best seat in the house’ to him,” said Collins. “We are so grateful for the CornBelters support of the Michael Collins Foundation, and for them and Heartland baseball working with us to place a memorial plaque in honor of Michael at the Corn Crib.”
“It is appropriate that the date would be August 19th since Michael wore #19 and his jersey has since been “retired” here,” said Metzger. “We look forward to keeping Michael’s spirit alive and certainly the goal of his family and subsequent creation of the Michael Collins Foundation is to continue to honor his legacy through random acts of kindness and a “pay it forward” attitude just like he exemplified and certainly this night will help do just that!”

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