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Eastside Bulldogs Cheer brings home national hardware

KANKAKEE — With the support of their town in a true sense of community, the Kankakee Eastside Bulldog Cheerleading organization made history this past weekend when they competed at the national level for the first time in the program’s 65-year history.

The Eastside Bulldogs cheerleading organization sent three of its cheer teams — 8u, 12u, and 14u — to the big stage, where they competed in the United Youth Football and Cheer League National Championships on Dec. 11 in Tampa Bay, Fla.

It marked the first time since its inception in July 1956 that Eastside has qualified at least one of its teams to compete at the national level, let alone a trio of squads.

“On behalf of the Eastside Bulldogs, cheer coaches, and cheerleaders, we would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who personally or financially contributed to make our trip to nationals in Florida a reality,” said Eastside Cheer Director Verlon Jordan. “We are truly grateful and appreciative of all the acts of generosity extended to us.”

Although Eastside has always had talented cheer teams that have competed alongside other area programs for decades, the Bulldogs never had the chance to send their cheerleaders to compete at the national level, most notably because they cheered in organizations such as the Will/Cook/Kankakee Youth Association, which got dismantled when COVID-19 hit nearly two seasons ago.

The dismantling of the WCKYA afforded Eastside to move to the Northern Illinois Youth Football League, which finally afforded its cheer teams a chance to compete at a stage bigger than a community level.

To everyone’s surprise, competing in its first regional ever, all three Bulldog teams dominated the competition in the UYFL Regionals that were held on Nov. 6 in Addison. Both its 8u and 14u teams secured first-place finishes with flawless routines during regionals while its 12u squad took third-place thanks to an exemplary routine in its own right.

The solid execution by the trio of squads in regionals, with the help of financial support from the Kankakee community, allowed for the three teams’ coaching staffs, cheerleaders and family members to take two chartered buses down to Florida, where two of its teams wound up taking top-three overall finishes.

Leading the way out of the three teams was the 8u squad, coached by Ulekha Young. Out of 21 8u teams who competed in nationals, the Eastside Bulldogs executed a perfect routine that landed them with a second-place finish behind the Lauderdale Lakes (Fla.) Vikings.

“It was wonderful for those girls to get that experience going down to Florida,” Young said. “All in all, it was an experience for everyone because we’ve never done that before — compete at a national level — and so for us to take second out of 21 teams was just extraordinary.”

The experience has allowed for 8u cheerleaders like Kennarhea Chandler to fall in love with the sport even more.

“I’ve been cheering for two years now,” Chandler said. “Being able to go to Florida and compete at the national level has only made me like cheering even more now.”

Following closely behind its 8u squad was the 14u team, coached by Symone West. Competing out of 16 teams, the 14u Bulldogs took home third place in the 14u Small Division, which put them directly behind Gold-Blooded Divas (Texas) and Palmetto Pride (Florida), who took first and second, respectively.

“I believe the 14u judges were looking for showmanship,” West said. “They were looking for a clean routine — good, crisp motions, solid stunts, pointed toes, etc. — and so I believe my girls placed third because they had the confidence level to perform on the big stage.”

Despite not taking home the first-place trophy, many of the 14u cheerleaders came to a realization that it’s not always about finishing at the top, especially when you consider all the stiff competition from across the country.

“At first I was sad that we only finished in third, but then I realized that we had competed against a lot of all-star teams,” 14u cheerleader member Janiya Carpenter said. “So I quickly got over it and was happy with how we did.”

Although the 12u Bulldog squad wasn’t able to take home any hardware after it finished seventh out of 10 teams, head coach Veronica Irish couldn’t have been more proud of how her squad carried out their routine.

“They went against some all-star teams and they just didn’t manage to get in the top three,” Irish said. “However, they still had a flawless routine with no deductions … they got great compliments from the judges on how in-sync they were.”

County touts taxpayer savings with ARPA funds

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board is reporting that it has saved county taxpayers $4.22 million as part of the $4.37 million it has approved from its American Rescue Plan Act funds.

During its meeting Tuesday, the board received an update on the status of its $21.3 million in federal COVID relief funding. The board has another year to allocate the remaining funds.

County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler noted that 97 percent of the money approved so far has been for projects that taxpayers would have had to foot the bill for anyway.

“Those were things that we were going to have to pay for — like the voting machines, like the vehicles [for the sheriff’s department,” he said. “... So we’re just not out there buying a wish-list of things or throwing money around. We’re actually trying to reduce future tax projects.”

Wheeler added that the county can’t build a new courthouse for $200 million like Will County did, but it has to address problems with the current structure.

“We still have to deal with the fact that we’re overcrowded,” he said. “In COVID times, you could use some of that money to reduce that burden. We can redo the basement for spacing for jury assembly, maybe courtrooms and those types of things. We need to know how much that’s going to cost and what we can afford.

“Now we got to go through the process of dollars behind things we want to do and, so we can go ‘Yes, yes, no, yes.’ This hasn’t existed before, and it won’t after two years. It’s a temporary machine.”

Wheeler said the process the county has put in place for allocating the federal funds is “really solid.”

“This next month, we’ve got the social service program [pricing request] going out for a partner to put all of that together,” he said.

Wheeler said the county doesn’t normally work directly with social service agencies, so it wants to partner with a firm that can sort through those types of funding requests. A Request for Quotations — which basically asks for suppliers’ pricing on the requested services — has been sent out.

“These are things that counties don’t usually do except for Cook County,” he said. “We’re talking about substance abuse, mental health, physical health, recidivism, and the connections between all those things and joblessness and education and tie it all together that current programs don’t connect.”

Kankakee JROTC program offered Army recognition

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee Kays Battalion JROTC program at Kankakee High School is on its way to becoming an official U.S. Army recognized program next school year.

Kankakee High School received a congratulatory letter dated Dec. 10 from Army JROTC Director Col. Steve Smith stating that the Army was expanding its JROTC program and that KHS was selected to host one of its new JROTC units.

The Kays Battalion began last school year and has been funded by the school district as an unofficial program; becoming officially recognized would mean the program gets funding assistance from the Army.

“Kankakee High School was selected based on highly competitive criteria and your willingness to establish and maintain a JROTC program for the School Year 2022-2023 timeframe and beyond,” the letter states.

The letter specifies that each official JROTC unit must be staffed with a minimum of one officer (Senior Army Instructor) and one noncommissioned officer (Army Instructor) to be hired within 90 days and 150 days of the approval date.

The school is asked to accept or decline the offer no later than Jan. 25, and 3rd Brigade staff have been asked to help with the establishment process, according to the letter.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said at Monday’s school board meeting that she was informed the official recognition would be in effect July 1.

“In 2014 there was a graduate of Kankakee High School that came up to me and wanted to know why we didn’t have JROTC,” Walters said. “A couple of years later, we actually applied for a JROTC program.”

She said the school was allowed to call its program JROTC, even though technically it was a National Defense Corps Cadets program.

Lt. Col. Maria Emery said the program was run exactly how an official JROTC program would be run in anticipation that KHS would soon gain official approval.

Emery said the biggest change this recognition will bring is that the program will be cost-shared, so the Army will pay for part of the instructors’ salaries (typically up to 50 percent) and provide many of the resources needed for JROTC, such as uniforms as well as travel, lodging and meals when the cadets travel for competitions.

One dress uniform costs about $300 per student, and there are additional costs for different team uniforms and equipment, such as for those participating in archery. Students also raise funds for things like registration fees and their annual military ball.

“It’s a big deal because they also provide the awards the cadets receive, all of those little extra things that we spend money on,” Emery said.

She said the program has grown to over 100 students in its second year, and being officially recognized would help to hire new instructors.

If the program continues to grow at the same rate, it could have close to 200 cadets next year, she said.

“We’re excited because it means the program can sustain itself for years to come,” Emery said.

BBCHS School Board hears COVID-19 update

BRADLEY — Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School has had 170 known positive student cases and 20 known positive staff cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 6, Superintendent Matt Vosberg reported during Monday’s BBCHS School Board meeting.

In the same time frame, 453 students have avoided being excluded from school through the district’s test-to-stay process, Vosberg said.

The test-to-stay process allows students to stay in school if they test negative on days one, three, five and seven after exposure. The tests are administered by school nursing staff.

Those 453 students would have needed to be excluded from school for up to 10 days without the use of the test-to-stay process, Vosberg said.

“We are doing a really nice job of keeping kids in school,” he said.

Currently, there are 10 student cases and 60 total students excluded from school due to COVID-19 protocol. Two staff members are also currently excluded from school due to the protocol.

Current numbers can be found on the COVID-19 Dashboard on the district’s website.

“We are doing a good job managing this school year with the pandemic still impacting our work,” Vosberg said. “I’m really proud of the work that our team did to start the school year, to get the test-to-stay process in place.”

Board Vice President Mike O’Gorman said he was pleased to hear BBCHS is able to keep students in school to the extent possible.

He said that although he doesn’t want to see anyone get sick or miss school, the percentages have fortunately stayed low.

The district has a total student population of 1,983 and 266 staff members.

“Keeping kids in school is our No. 1 priority,” O’Gorman said. “Some of our other districts in the county are obviously struggling with that.”

Evan Tingley, director of student support services, added that BBCHS experienced a spike in COVID numbers for about a week and a half after Thanksgiving.

At that time, the school was going through the test-to-stay process with over 30 students, and the cheerleading team had to be excluded from school, he said.

Since then, the numbers have “flattened out really nicely,” Tingley said. Currently, six students are going through the test-to-stay process.

“It’s good we have most of our students,” Tingley said. “This week is really big for our students [with end-of-semester testing], so it is really great to see most students finish their quarantine, come back, and they never got sick.”

2021 Tax Levy

Also on Monday, the board approved the final 2021 tax levy request.

Chris Hammond, chief school business official, said the district is looking to gain about $400,000 over the prior year’s extension. Last year, the district received just over $16 million, and he expects it will receive under $16.5 million for 2021.

The district’s levy request is slightly higher at $16.874 million.

“The reason why we ask for more, with the levy process, if you leave any money on the table, being a tax cap district, you never will get that back,” he explained. “So if I under levied $100,000, I will lose $100,000 every year going forward.”

Hammond also cited the district’s ongoing capital needs as reasons to capture more tax dollars, particularly the need to renovate the building for things like ADA compliance and spacing issues.

“We are having a board meeting in the library; we don’t have a board room that would really fit everybody, and that’s just one little minor thing that we need within our building,” he said.