Thursday, May 31, 2018

Men's Baseball: Ramirez earns national honor

Chris Ramirez had the perfect situation as head baseball coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

The Islanders had it all — a beautiful campus, state-of-the-art facilities, a winning tradition and one of the biggest, and best, recruiting bases in the country in the state of Texas. But Ramirez wasn’t looking to put his career on cruise control. He wants to be challenged. He wants to push himself to the limit.

He wants to build a program from scratch and do it the way he wants it done. So five years ago, the 2001 Fort Madison High School graduate packed his bags, loaded his wife, Lindsey, and their children in the car and headed to the University of Illinois Springfield to become head baseball coach for a fledgling program which was in its third season, had no home field and played its “home” games at city parks and high school diamonds they could find.

Ramirez has done things his way, leading the Prairie Stars to a 47-9 record this season, including a 29-game winning streak and a top-five NCAA Division II national ranking.

Ramirez recently was rewarded for his hard work, earning National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association NCAA Division II Coach of the Year honors. For Ramirez, it was a byproduct of all the hard work he, his assistant coaches, the players and administration have put into building the program the right way.

“Honestly, (the award) never really crossed my mind. I got a text message from our (Sports Information Director) saying we had two players earn All-America honors. Then I saw I was tagged on Twitter and there was a picture of me and the release about the award,” Ramirez said. “It’s surprising, but this award is a testament to our team winning a lot of games, having a lot of very good players and assistant coaches who did a great job this year. It’s a cool honor, but it’s never something we set as a goal. There are so many great teams and good coaches out there. It’s a cool honor to get.” 

Ramirez has been able to oversee major upgrades, not only in the program, but the facilities.

“In my first year we build dugouts,” Ramirez said. “The next year we got a scoreboard and we played games here. Then we added a backstop and this past summer we got a turf field. Everything is really coming together.”

This year, UIS hosted an NCAA Division II regional and captured its first Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division title, going 23-1 in conference play.

"With UIS being in the very beginning stages of the program, that really motivated me. There aren’t many new programs anywhere. We have a lot of support in the community and we are starting to see success on the field. Our goal next year is to get to the World Series. That is the next step," said Ramirez.

This story appeared in The Hawk Eye on May 30, 2018.

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De Witt to retire after launching UIS running teams

Mike De Witt got the University of Illinois Springfield’s cross country and track and field programs off the ground a few years ago. And now he is retiring.

The 67-year-old De Witt has coached for 44 years. He was a high school coach before moving to the college level in 1979.

It was De Witt who designed the cross country course on located on the northeast corner of UIS campus. “I was just looking at the prospectus that I put together when I got here,” he said. “One of the main objectives was to get a good established cross country course.”

De Witt is working toward getting the final phase of the course completed before his last day as coach on June 30.

He coached 42 athletes this past season.

“Another objective was to establish a really good base of kids,” De Witt said.

A national coaching search to hire De Witt’s replacement is underway. A new coach could be hired by the end of June, according to UIS athletic director Jim Sarra.

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 31, 2018.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Enos Park artists-in-residence

Albuquerque-based artist Allyson Packer, Nick Wylie of Seattle and Illinois State University student Zack Buckley have been chosen as this summer’s artists-in-residence by the Enos Park Residency program, a partnership between the Springfield Art Association, the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association and the City of Springfield.

The program offers four-week to 12-month residency awards to visual artists. Wylie will use his time in Springfield to research Elmer Ellsworth, a close and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first Union officer killed in the Civil War while he was removing a Confederate flag.

Buckley, an artist and composer, plans to record various types of audio from Enos Park to create a multi-channel installation.

Packer, who has recently shown work at Nahmad Projects in London and the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, will present a solo exhibit entitled “Interior Space,” at the University of Illinois Springfield Visual Arts Gallery.

This story appeared in The Illinois Times on May 24, 2018.

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Local educators work to end teacher shortage

The national teacher shortage continues to hit Illinois hard.

Right now there are 1,000 open positions statewide and 20 of those vacancies are in Sangamon County.

“I've seen more vacancies for teaching positions than I have in the 23 years I’ve been in education," said Regional Superintendent Jeff Vose, with the regional Office of Education for Sangamon and Menard Counties.

Vose had enough, so he called Dr. Scott Doerr, the superintendent in Nokomis, who offers a dual-credit class for his students and asked him to help bring an education dual-credit program to the University of Illinois in Springfield.

"My goal here was to take our local students and bring them back to our communities,” said Dr. Scott Doerr, the superintendent in Nokomis.

For the first time, this fall, UIS is offering a dual-credit course for the teaching program. Students will get credit on the high school level, as well as college credit in education.

The goal is to get more people interested in becoming an educator. "They also can get experience with teachers to see what good teachers do and to see how excited teachers still are about teaching kids," explained Dr. Cindy Wilson, the Chair of the Teacher Education Program for UIS.

Right now, 20 students are enrolled. The course starts at the end of August and goes until December. If more students show interest, they'll offer another course in the spring.

This story aired on WICS Newschannel 20 on May 21, 2018.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

UIS’ Ali Haesele gets All-Midwest Region honor

University of Illinois Springfield senior pitcher Ali Haesele received All-Midwest Region honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and NCAA Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association.

She had a 2.13 earned run average, 217 strikeouts and a 25-11 record for the Prairie Stars.

She ranks first in the all-time UIS record books in ERA, strikeouts (359), wins (42), opponent batting average (.225) and strikeouts per innings (6.78).

Haesele also hit .337 and had 33 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and 19 doubles for UIS, which reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 22, 2018.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Men's Baseball: UIS baseball reaches end of historic season after losing slugfest in NCAA regional

The University of Illinois Springfield’s historic baseball season is over.

Ohio Dominican scored five runs in the first two innings and five more in the fifth – and center fielder Noah Bland made a fantastic, season-saving catch on a near UIS grand slam in the seventh – in the Panthers’ 14-12 victory in the NCAA Division II Midwest Baseball Regional on Sunday at Robin Roberts Stadium.

UIS (47-9) ends a season in which it had a 29-game winning streak, won the Great Lakes Valley Conference, won a school-record 47 games and earned its first ever Division II regional wins.

“You hate it,” said UIS coach Chris Ramirez. “But it ends for every team at some point. There is only one team that ends with a win. “When you get to the final three of an NCAA regional, every team is good. Every team is deserving. But only one team gets to move on. We have a World Series team, we just didn’t win the tournament.”

The UIS coaching staff spent some time talking to the team after the game, before the players hugged and rolled out the tarp over the infield. Although they were disappointed, Ramirez said this group will be remembered at UIS for a long time.

“That’s what we tried to talk to them about after the game,” he said. “It was an amazing season and it means a lot to this program. “I’m really proud of them.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 20, 2018.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Women's Softball: UIS softball eliminated from NCAA tournament

The University of Illinois Springfield softball team had the best batting average in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, but the offense wasn’t there for the Prairie Stars Friday. Fellow GLVC member Southern Indiana shut out No. 19 UIS 3-0 in the NCAA Division II Midwest Super-Regional at the Land of Lincoln Complex.

The loss ended UIS’ history-making season in the Sweet 16 and denied the Prairie Stars a trip to the Championship Tournament in Virginia.

“Today just wasn’t our day,” UIS senior pitcher Ali Haesele said. “Everybody came in today prepared to play two games. I don’t think anybody regrets their performance. Everybody was going all out and trying. If you give all you can, you can’t really regret that.”

Haesele struck out one and walked two in six innings to give her a 25-11 record.

The season is over for UIS, but it has plenty to celebrate. The Stars posted a school-record 40 wins, claimed the GLVC regular-season title and made the deepest postseason run in the program’s Division II era.

They also earned UIS its first regional title and national ranking in softball.

In addition, Shannon Guthrie was named GLVC Coach of the Year and Haesele was chosen as the GLVC Pitcher of the Year.

Six UIS players received all-GLVC honors. “They have so much to be proud of,” Guthrie said. “They’re a really special group. They went further than any team in UIS history. They need to understand they set the bar really high for the future.”

“The entire season was a fight,” UIS junior left fielder Madi Torry said. “Nobody expected us to be No. 1 in our conference at the end of the season. Nobody was expecting that. We had a lot of fight and tenacity, and wanted every game that we played. That sums up our season.”

With only four seniors on this year’s roster, the Stars (40-19) should return a lot of experience.

“We have meetings coming up and that’s when we’ll talk about next year and our focus,” said Wagoner, a sophomore right fielder. “At that point, we’ll be done with the sadness and we’ll be ready to go.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 18, 2018.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Blind UIS graduate opens people’s eyes to possibilities

Raven Wilson has had the help of her service dog, Dana, for the four years she’s been a student at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Wilson, who is blind, has used her 5-year-old black Labrador/golden retriever to help her navigate a journey that’s taken her from her freshman year at UIS to her participation as a marshal for the English department on Saturday during the 47th annual commencement for UIS. 

Wilson, 22, received a bachelor of arts degree in English.

She will be missed “very much,” said Sarah Weaver, director of the Office of Disability Services at UIS. “We have only one student right now who is blind who actually uses a guide dog, and that’s Raven. The other student, who is blind, she uses a guide cane,” said Weaver, who added that Wilson has used the Office of Disability Services for test taking and for receiving alternate formats for books.

”(Raven) has added so much to this campus in the way of educating people about disability, especially a student being blind. She has participated in everything.” Weaver said, for example, Wilson has participated in a student panel that included students with different types of disabilities. "Raven was one of the first ones to jump on board when I suggested that. She has added so much to this campus. I don’t think there’s probably anybody on this campus that doesn’t know Raven, and it’s always a positive thing, too,” Weaver said.

Wilson said professors at UIS have been “really great” in working with her in figuring out alternatives to assignments that are primarily visual.

Wilson tried something new when taking a recent history final. “The professor put the final on a thumb drive, and I was able to put it in my machine (BrailleNote Touch) and complete the final, and they give him back the thumb drive. ... That worked out really, really well,” Wilson said. “That was something new that I tried out, and it really worked out because usually, I’ll go to the office of disabilities to take the tests because I’m usually allotted time and a half, but honestly, I’ve never really needed to use the time and a half except for a few occasions. I normally can finish up in the same time as the rest of the class.”

Among her many activities, Wilson helped start the student organization Awareness Respect Education Ability for disability awareness.

Wilson will be a camp counselor this summer in upstate New York and will travel to England. She hopes to move to North Carolina, searching for permanent work.

“Raven has opened the door and opened the eyes of a lot of people to see that just because someone has a disability that doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish their goals and live a really fulfilling, productive life.”

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 12, 2018.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Women's Golf: Prairie Stars tie for sixth at regional

Taryn Pittman and Brooke Hill each shot 5-over-par 77 on Wednesday to lead the University of Illinois Springfield to a sixth-place finish in the 12-team NCAA Division II Women’s Super Region golf tournament at Katke Golf Course.

The Prairie Stars posted a 313 on Wednesday, giving them a three-day total of 944.

The Prairie Stars’ Marina Espinosa shot an 80 Wednesday for a 35th-place total of 238. Ocean Pangan of UIS had a 79 Wednesday for a 79 and a tie for 40th at 240, while the Stars’ Jennifer Queller shot an 82 for a tie for 48th at 245.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 9, 2018.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Susan Koch: Celebrating UIS graduates

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 7, 2018.

This UIS Perspectives column makes its appearance at the start of the 2018 college commencement season. An estimated 2 million college degrees will be awarded across the U.S. during the next few weeks and I could not be more proud of the nearly 1,000 University of Illinois Springfield graduates who will be sharing the Bank of Springfield Convention Center stage with me on May 12. 

Among the many smiling grads whose hands I’ll be shaking is Rochester native Krissy Finley

Krissy is majoring in accountancy and is also a top competitor on the Prairie Stars cross country and track teams.

“I chose UIS because of the opportunity to compete with the new cross country program,” says Krissy. “But I’ve also been grateful for professors who really care about me and who want me to learn and retain knowledge.” 

Krissy completed an internship at Horace Mann this year and won’t have much down time after completing her degree. She is already working part-time for Horace Mann’s Planning and Expense Team and has accepted a full-time accounting position there that starts after graduation. She plans to start her master’s degree next fall. 

Tonda Chasteen, a biology major from Lewistown, became interested in UIS when she attended a high school science program near her hometown — at the UIS Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon Nature Preserve

“The Necessary Steps Mentoring Program for first generation students helped me make a successful transition from high school to college, and doing research with Professor Layne Morsch in chemistry was also a huge opportunity,” says Tonda. Tonda presented her research with Dr. Morsch at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco last year and is completing her student teaching this spring at Havana High School with science teacher Craig Bals. 

“Commencement will be important for me and my family because I will be the first in my family to get a four-year degree,” Tonda says. 

Tonda will return to Havana High School next fall as a full-time science teacher. 

Commencement is most certainly a special rite of passage for graduates and their families, but it’s also meaningful for faculty who have invested deeply in the success of their students. Ben Walsh, associate professor of management, and Adriana Crocker, professor of political science, are among the many UIS faculty who’ll be participating in commencement ceremonies next weekend. 

“Seeing commencement as a faculty member fills me with immense pride,” says Dr. Walsh. “I love it when families cheer for their graduate. It is so impactful, rewarding and significant.” 

“As faculty, we try to provide students with what they need for the real world, including other perspectives and frames of reference — not just Illinois,” says Dr. Crocker. “I tell my students commencement is not the end. It’s the beginning.” 

The mission of the University of Illinois is to “transform lives and serve society.” Thanks to the work of outstanding faculty and staff — people like Ben Walsh and Adriana Crocker — I am supremely confident that Krissy, Tonda, Manushe and Vincent have, indeed, been transformed by their UIS experience. I’m also confident they, like thousands of their fellow 2018 UI graduates at all three University of Illinois campuses, will serve society in important ways across Illinois and across the world for many years to come. Congratulations, graduates — we’re proud of you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Women's Softball: UIS softball clinches NCAA Division II Tournament berth, home field advantage

University of Illinois Springfield never doubted it would reach the NCAA Division II Softball Tournament.

They were not disappointed.

The NCAA committee unveiled the 64-team bracket on Monday and the Prairie Stars clinched not just a berth but also home field advantage as the highest seed in the Midwest 2 Region double elimination bracket.

The No. 2-seeded Stars will make their second tournament appearance and first-ever at home in their nine-year Division II history against No. 7 Saginaw Valley on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

No. 3 McKendree will play No. 6 Missouri St. Louis in the other first round matchup.

“To be able to host is huge,” UIS coach Shannon Nicholson Guthrie said. “It’s exciting to stay here at UIS. We definitely play better at home. It was a big step for our team.”

UIS, ranked No. 18 nationally, is 15-3 at home this season.

“We always talk about protecting the prairie,” Guthrie said. “That’s something we get fired up about. We don’t want anybody taking that away from us.”

The Stars last made the NCAA tournament in 2012, but this is the first time under Guthrie who was recently named Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year in her fourth season. This will also be a new experience for the rest of the team. UIS won the GLVC regular season title outright but was eliminated from the conference tournament after losing two shutouts.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 7, 2018.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Lake Springfield trash pick-up can improve drinking water

Saturday, the Lake Shore Improvement Association spent the morning picking up around Lake Springfield.

It's their annual clean-up day, but they say it means more than just beautifying the area. It's a place for fun and fishing, but there's a problem with Lake Springfield. "There's always debris,” said John Aiello, Lake Shore Improvement Association Clean-Up Day Chairman.

Dozens joined the Association's to pick up trash through the morning.

Anne-Marie Hanson of the University of Illinois Springfield was there to help. "Trying to get an idea of the plastic pollution and overall marine litter in central Illinois water ways,” said Hanson. 

Hanson came with Tom Rothfus to help in the clean-up, learn about pollutants, and raise awareness. Rothfus is the Director to the Therkildsen Field Station. "A lot of these things, the plastics in particular, just don't go away,” said Rothfus. “They continue to break down they get smaller and smaller and find ways to cause problems with filtration systems, getting into drinking water other issues like that, and so we really need to make people aware that what they're doing every day is having an impact of how they're living their life later on."

They specialize in environmental studies and work to connect UIS with lake concerns. “We're finding chunks of plastic in there and I don't think people realize how big of an impact this has,” said Rothfus. “And how it can trickle up the system and affect us."

Volunteers picked up garbage to prevent it from getting in the lake.

This story aired on Fox 55 Illinois on May 5, 2018.

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Men's Baseball: Stars’ Rothmund hits homer in 10th

Michael Rothmund hit a three-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning and No. 4 University of Illinois Springfield edged Lewis 6-5 at UIS Field.

John Sechen hit a RBI single for UIS in the eighth and tied the game at 3-all. Lewis took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th.

In the second game of the Great Lakes Valley Conference doubleheader, UIS rallied to a 5-2 win. 

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 4, 2018.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Men's Softball: UIS’ Dean takes GLVC weekly award

University of Illinois Springfield junior left-handed pitcher Andrew Dean was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week by the conference Monday.

On Saturday, Dean threw a seven-inning complete-game shutout against No. 17-ranked Bellarmine as the Prairie Stars won 7-0.

Dean allowed four hits and one walk to earn his first GLVC Pitcher of the Week award.

UIS, ranked No. 5 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association NCAA Division II poll, is 40-5 overall and 19-1 in the GLVC.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on April 30, 2018.

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Women's Softball: Stars’ Wagoner, Haesele sweep GLVC honors

University of Illinois Springfield sophomore outfielder Lakyn Wagoner has been named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Week, while UIS senior Ali Haesele is the GLVC Pitcher of the Week.

Wagoner, a Sacred Heart-Griffin High School graduate, batted .615 (8-for-13) last week. She scored six runs and had six RBIs. She slugged 1.308 with 17 total bases, three doubles and two home runs. She had .615 on-base percentage with one stolen base. She scored a run and hit safely in all four games.

Haesele went 2-0 last week. She had a 0.82 earned run average in 17 innings. She struck out 16 and walked two. She pitched a complete-game shutout against William Jewell and threw a complete game in a 10-inning win over Rockhurst.

No. 17 UIS won the regular-season conference title and is seeded No. 1 in the GLVC Championship Tournament that starts Thursday.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on April 30, 2018.

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