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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.

Corn Kernels
News about the Normal CornBelters

Steve Robinson Photo
Steve Robinson

Coming Soon!

CornBelters’ Alan Oaks Relishes Role As Closer

Alan Oaks is in his second season as a Normal CornBelters pitcher. Last season, he served as a middle reliever, but with the contract of right hander Cole Brocker purchased earlier this month by the Atlanta Braves, Oaks has been tapped by Normal Manager Brooks Carey to be one of the team’s closers.
You would think some players would tingle with excitement (although they might not express it) a having been named to the Frontier League All-Star Game roster for either team representing the league’s Eastern or Western Divisions. And right-hander Oaks said he is excited to have been named for what will be a first-time honor. But Oaks also sees the honor using a businesslike perspective.

“I was definitely excited about being chosen, and I was pumped up when I heard I made the team,” Oaks said. But then, he added, “That game is one that doesn’t affect the CornBelters. After the All-Star Game ends, you need to come back to Earth and pitch for the CornBelters to help get them into the playoffs.”
Shoulder surgery early in his minor league career led Oaks to pitch at The Corn Crib in 2013. In 2010, he attended the University of Michigan, was drafted by the Miami (then known as Florida) Marlins, who promptly sent him to their Class A team in Greensboro, N. C. at the start of the 2011 season.
But after just four turns on the mound in Greensboro, the right-hander needed shoulder surgery. By 2012, the Marlins moved Oaks to their Class A team in Jupiter, Fla., where he became a reliever. The Marlins promoted him from there to Class AA Jacksonville Suns of the Southern League following the All-Star break.
A case of tendenitis -- what Oaks calls “a small elbow issue” – forced Jacksonville to put him on the disabled list late in the 2012 season. Oaks was still under contract to the Marlins when the 2013 season began. But although Oaks was feeling stronger as that season got underway, his bosses told him they felt “there had been too many inconsistencies” in his performance over the time he was with them, and with that, they released him.
Jacksonville Manager Andy Barkett took the first step to get Oaks to the CornBelters. Barkett knew CornBelters Personnel Director Nick Belmonte and suggested Oaks contact him. Once Oaks did that, Belmonte put the 26-year-old Southfield, Mich.-native in touch with Carey. From the time he first got to The Corn Crib last season through the middle of this season, Oaks had been serving as middle relief. Brocker’s departure prompted Carey to move him into the closer’s role.
The difference between being a set-up man and a closer, Oaks said, is that as a closer, “You need to be ready to go every night. You never know when you’re going to pitch because you never know when you’re going to have the lead in the ninth inning. You just have to be ready to go every night.
“As a set-up man, you might be going two innings,” Oaks explained, adding if he has to throw numerous pitches in the seventh or eighth inning of a game, he’d likely get the next night off.
 “But,” Oaks said, “As a closer, generally, you’re throwing 10 to 20 pitches, getting your three outs, and then be ready to go the next night.”
Oaks said his comfort level with Normal, now that he has been here for a second year, extends to being able to mentor to the new guys on the team this season. “I feel like I have helped a lot of guys in the bullpen, teaching them some new things about the game, or pitch sequences or pitching mechanics.” The White Lake, Mich. Resident said he thinks he’s helped his teammates “to step their games up as well.”
The Marlins may have been the last team he spent time with in the minors, but Oaks is looking to get back to that point, and went to a tryout during spring training this year in Arizona with the Chicago Cubs. But during a routine physical, Cubs’ medical staff noticed bone chips in his throwing arm and sent him for an MRI. The bone chips concerned the Cubs and prompted the team to release him.
“The Cubs saw those and wouldn’t let me throw,” Oaks lamented. Undaunted, Oaks remains hopeful to getting back into the minor league system. As for what might have concerned Cubs’ doctors, Carey argues, “anybody who has ever pitched has bone chips.” Carey said he would like to see Oaks earn another chance to get back to the minor league system.
“I’m ready and just waiting for someone to give me a chance again,” Oaks said.
As of Monday, Oaks has pitched for 24 innings in 20 games, striking out 26, and walking 9. “Alan has torn up every inning he has pitched in this league,” Carey said of his pitcher, who is working to improve on his current 0-2 record. “He was good with us last year and he’s doing well this year.”
Carey adds he wants to see his closer back in affiliated ball. “That’s what I’m working on is to get this kid another chance at the big leagues,” Carey said.
Chirino Among Final Three Chosen For All-Star Game:  Votes from players, managers, and media members make up the first 24 of the 27 players on each team’s roster for the Frontier League All-Star Game. The final three players for each side are hand-picked by the manager of their respective teams. Normal CornBelters infielder Santiago Chirino was among the last three players chosen for the Western Division team by their manager, Gateway Grizzlies’ Phil Warren. In addition, Carey got a nod to join Warren’s Western Division team coaching staff. As a result of those additions, Normal will have seven men in uniform at GCS Ballpark.
Health concerns forced Washington and East division all-star manager Bart Zeller to resign on Sunday, so Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley was at the helm for the Eastern Division for Wednesday’s game. McCauley’s Otters were tied with Washington for first place in the East entering Sunday’s action.
Last year’s Frontier League All-Star Game and surrounding festivities took place at CONSOL Park in Washington, Pa., home of the Washington Wild Things. But in the recap of recent All-Star Games on Gateway Grizzlies’ website, the history indicates the game was played in Washington, Ill. The site did correctly recap the 2012 All-Star Game at The Corn Crib.
Frontier Greys, Washington Visit After Break: The CornBelters will be home for a 10-day, 9-game homestand after the All-Star Break concludes. The Frontier Greys, the league’s continuously traveling team, will visit The Corn Crib for three games Friday through Sunday, July 18-20. The CornBelters will take Monday, July 21 off, and then welcome the Washington Wild Things in for three games over two days with a doubleheader on Tuesday, July 22 and a single game Wednesday, July 23. Lake Erie will visit for three games beginning Thursday, July 24.

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