Gov. J.B. Pritzker urges hospitals to halt nonemergency surgeries amid record-breaking COVID-19 spike; lieutenant governor infected and driver’s facilities to close

The effects of Illinois’ most recent COVID-19 wave were varied and widespread Thursday, with new daily cases breaking another record, the lieutenant governor announcing she has tested positive, the state shutting down in-person services at driver’s license facilities for more than two weeks and the governor urging hospitals to halt nonemergency surgeries.

Here’s a link to the story at the Chicago Tribune.

Federal court panel upholds Democratic-drawn state legislative districts

A federal court panel in Chicago on Thursday upheld a Democratic redrawing of the state’s 177 legislative district boundaries, paving the way for next year’s statehouse elections and rejecting challenges from Republicans and Latino and Black advocacy groups that argued it violated voting rights laws.

Here’s a link to the story in the Southern Illinoisan.

A few rambling thoughts on numbers, the definition of nemesis, more numbers and playoff football fever…

In another life, I worked as a writer/columnist at both the Benton Evening News and the Southern Illinoisan. During my decade at the Evening News I also dabbled in sports, covering a few games and writing a weekly sports column, a kind of “catch-all” column where I wrote about players, coaches and other tidbits happening in Southern Illinois sports. I’ve always been a sports buff, so I had great fun with the column and since I was doing play-by-play for Benton High School sports on WQRL, the two went together very well.

I reminisced this week about those columns and spent too much time on the IHSA website and decided to put on my sports’ writer’s hat, dust off the keyboard and cut loose with a few thoughts about the undefeated Benton Rangers and their much-hyped trip to Mt. Carmel on Saturday to take on the also undefeated Aces. Both teams are 11-0, in the Elite Eight and looking to punch their ticket to a Class 3A semi-final matchup on Nov. 20 against the winner of Tolono Unity and Williamsville. The game has all the makings of a classic.

Here’s a look at a few thoughts on my mind less than 48 hours before game time in Mt. Carmel.


High school football in Illinois is the only sport where teams have to qualify to participate in post-season play. Qualifying for Week 10 and beyond is determined by a team’s wins and losses during the regular season. In short, it is not something that happens every year, sometimes not every five years or decade. That’s one of many things that make football playoffs special. This is Benton’s 10th post season appearance and the Rangers have an overall 13-9 record in post season action. Benton has lost an opening round game only one time, a 10-7 loss to Harrisburg in 1998 on a field goal that hit the upright and went through the goal posts. The Rangers have advance to second round action four times (1995, 2011, 2012 and 2019) and to the quarter-finals (3rd round) three times (1997, 1999 and 2002). Benton has advanced to semi-final action only one time in 2001.


It would be unfair to mention teams that made it to post season play without mentioning the 2020 Benton team that, like all Illinois schools, was denied a chance to play in the fall by the Covid pandemic. That team came back in the Spring of 2021 to post a 5-1 record in a season shortened to only six games with no playoffs. The 2020 Rangers will always be remembered as the “what-if” and “what-could” Benton team – as in what if there was a full season, what could they have accomplished. Most observers, even those who don’t wear maroon and white, believe the ’20 team could have made a deep playoff run. But again…what-if…and…what-could. I still get a headache sorting out the fact that there was no football season in 2020 and two football seasons – 2020 (spring of 2021) and 2021 (fall of 2021). Ugggh!

Despite the fact that his first team went 1-8, Benton coach Justin Groves has turned in an impressive four-year stint, while dealing with a global pandemic to boot.

After the 1-8 record in 2018 Groves and the Rangers have reeled off records of 9-2 in 2019, 5-1 in 2020 and stand at 11-0 here in 2021. That adds up to a total of 26-10 (.722 percent). Take away the 2018 record and Groves is 25-3 (.892 percent) over the last three years. That’s a remarkable record by any standard!

While we are looking at coaches’ records…

Hubert Tabor, who has his name attached to the high school football field on East Main Street, finished with an overall record of 83-25-4 (.741) during his 13 years as Benton coach. Former Benton coach Jeff Roper also coached 13 years and matched Tabor for wins with an overall record of 83-50 (.624 percent). In all fairness to Roper, his last four years resulted in a 10-26 record. If you do the math, minus those final four years Roper had an incredible 73-24 record after nine seasons, taking the Rangers to post season play six times (1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002).

0 defines the word “nemesis” this way:

the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall; a long-standing rival; an archenemy; a downfall caused by an inescapable agent.

Or, if you are a longtime Benton Rangers football fan, you might look that definition up and find a Mt. Carmel Golden Aces football logo. In other words, if Benton has had a nemesis in post season play over the past 26 years, it’s the Aces.

Let me explain. Of those previous nine wonderful trips to play November football, Mt. Carmel has played the spoiler four times – count ‘em…1, 2, 3, 4 – in eliminating Benton. Three of those times have been at the friendly confines of Tabor Field, with one loss coming at “The Snake Pit” in Mt. Carmel.
Mt. Carmel defeated the Rangers 28-0 in 1995 and then beat Benton 35-23 in a semi-final matchup in 2001. The Aces turned the trick twice more with a 45-6 win in 2002 and beat Benton in 2011 by a score of 42-9. In three of those four years 01, 02 and 11, Mt. Carmel went on to play in the Class 3A state championship game, losing all three.

To put this in perspective, in the other five elimination losses, no team has turned the trick more than once. That list includes Harrisburg, Carterville, Du Quoin, Newton and Effingham. Let those numbers and that definition soak in a little. If Benton’s journey down the playoff trail has had an “inescapable agent” or a “long-standing rival” or an “arch-enemy” it is clearly and certainly the Golden Aces from Mt. Carmel. In total, the Rangers are 0-4 against the Aces in past years post season play and the only other time on record of the two teams playing was a regular season game in 1922 — 100 years ago — when Benton, coached by Hubert Tabor, defeated the Aces 38-0.

Let me hurriedly add this next sentence. But, I sense something different this year. The past dread of heading to the Snake Pit has been replaced by anticipation and excitement, almost a mentality of “I can’t wait until 2 p.m. Saturday.” The “oh-no” attitude of years past when seeing the opponent was Mt. Carmel has turned into “oh-yeah” I think we can get this done.”

This Benton team is playing its best football of the year at the very best time of the year and seems to continue to improve each game, even this deep in the playoffs. The Rangers have a swagger, and it’s a really good swagger. It’s not a rude or cocky swagger, but one of determination, focus and most importantly confidence.

The Benton coaching staff will have this team prepared with the X’s and O’s for Saturday’s quarter-final game, but they will also have them prepared for Riverview Stadium (AKA Snake Pit). The Rangers will not be intimidated or in awe of their surroundings and most people I speak with believe this is the year the Rangers get over the hump and end the stranglehold the Aces have had on their post-season dreams.

I mentioned earlier that I used to write a weekly sports column for the Evening News. One of the joys of that weekly adventure was picking winners in Friday night high school football games. I labeled myself the “Fearless Pigskin Prognosticator.” This past week, as I was tidying up in my office, I ran across my old Evening News Chrystal Ball that I used to figure out my weekly winners. So, I thought…what the heck, let’s dust it off, fire it up and see what happens.

All things considered, I like the Rangers in this one, as Benton puts this nemesis nonsense to rest.

Benton 28 Mt. Carmel 16

Thanks for taking the time to read this and God’s blessings to you!

Illinois Senate revives measure to allow limited sports betting on in-state colleges

SPRINGFIELD — A state Senate committee revived a gambling bill Wednesday that would allow for limited betting on in-state college sports teams, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Here’s a link to the story at the Southern Illinoisan.

A Chicago Bears move to Arlington Heights may leave thousands of fans with worthless Soldier Field seat licenses

When Chicago attorney Jerry Latherow paid $18,000 to buy four permanent seat licenses at Soldier Field last year, the Bears season ticket holder upgraded from a nearby section to get a better view of the scoreboard.

Here’s a link to the story at the Chicago Tribune.

Aspen Institute names RLC one of 150 US Community Colleges eligible for 2023 Aspen Prize

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Aspen Institute announced today that Rend Lake College was one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.

The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit data and narratives as the next steps in an intensive data and practice review process, culminating in the announcement of the Prize winner in spring 2023.

“Every year the Aspen Institute has had this program, Rend Lake College has been named in the top 150 colleges across America,” said RLC President Terry Wilkerson. “This is our seventh time and it is always a high honor. It means we are among the top 15% at retention, completion, transfer, and equity. It recognizes and confirms the shared commitment of faculty, staff and administration here at the college. The methods may be different, but the mission has been the same for more than 50 years. Rend Lake College improves our communities with quality education and training options for everyone.”

Wilkerson added that Lori Ragland, the college’s Vice President of Instruction and Student Affairs, will be spearheading Rend Lake’s application again. Ragland has had a key role in putting together the last three Aspen applications for RLC.

“Our next step will be to put together a team to complete the application process,” Ragland said. “This team is made up of a cross-section of campus. It’s an honor for us to once again be qualified to apply for the top 10 prize.”

The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to elevate the sector, drive attention to colleges doing the best work, and discover and share highly effective student success and equity strategies. Since 2010, Aspen has chosen to focus intensively on community colleges because they are—as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated at the 2021 Aspen Prize ceremony—“a powerful engine of prosperity.”

But student outcomes vary enormously among community colleges, and improving those outcomes is essential to securing our nation’s economic future, strengthening communities, and ensuring that diverse populations experience economic mobility and prosperity. With these goals in mind, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there. They are committed to ensuring that all students—including students of color and those from low-income backgrounds—graduate with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university. That same commitment that stands at the center of the Aspen Prize: to advance the goals of social mobility and equitable talent development.”

The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 34 states, these colleges serve as few as 230 students and as many as 57,000. Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns—including Lake Area Technical Institute (SD, 2017 Prize winner) and Walla Walla Community College (WA, 2013)—to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including Miami Dade College (FL, 2019) and San Antonio College (TX, 2021).

The four other previous winners are Indian River State College (FL, 2019); Santa Fe College (FL, 2015); Santa Barbara City College (CA, 2013); and Valencia College (FL, 2011).

In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Eligible colleges must show strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Nationwide, 15 percent of community colleges (150 of the approximately 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide assessed for the Prize) have been invited to apply—the full list can be accessed on the Prize homepage.

The next steps in the process include:

Selection of the top ten finalists by an expert panel of 15 experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, to be announced in spring/summer 2022
Fall 2022 site visits to each of the ten finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices
A distinguished jury will meet and make award decisions in the first quarter of early 2023
Announcement of the Aspen Prize in late spring 2023
For a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions and to read more on the selection process, visit

# # #

The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium and the Joyce Foundation.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit and, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter. The Aspen Prize hashtag is #AspenPrize.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

“Chalk Benton: Halloween Edition” coming to the Benton Public Square Saturday, Oct. 30

By Jim Muir

A Halloween-themed event coming to Benton this weekend might best be “chalked up” to an overload of talent, enthusiasm and ambition by a pair of gifted Franklin County artists.

Triston Bigham, of Benton, and Jillian Grace Prudent, of Valier, have combined forces to create “Chalk Benton” – an event where a group of people get together and draw on sidewalks with bright-colored chalk. Previous events in Benton, including one at beautiful Benton Community Park, have drawn large crowds and chalk artists ranging from small children to senior citizens.

The latest event will take place Saturday, Oct. 30 on the Benton Public Square where the sidewalks around the historic square will provide the canvas for chalk artists to create temporary masterpieces. “Chalk Benton: Halloween Edition” is scheduled to begin at 12 noon.

“Our goal is just to get people to come out and show off their art skill with chalk,” said Triston, a 2020 graduate of Benton High School. “We have younger people, older people and all ages in between and it doesn’t matter about your talent level. It’s all about having a good time.”

Triston Bigham and Jillian Grace Prudent, creators of Chalk Benton.

The chalk event on Saturday will take on a heavy Halloween theme with several businesses providing “Trunk-Or-Treat” goodies for children and there will be several other family-oriented activities.

Triston Bigham preparing for a Chalk Benton event at Benton Community Park.

“Chalk art is very colorful, so my goal is to just add some life and color to the Benton Square,” said Jillian, who is a 2021 graduate of Sesser-Valier High School. “People who want to participate don’t even have to bring chalk, we’ll provide the chalk. So, all you have to do is show up.”

Triston and Jillian both emphasized that clean up from the chalk drawings is easy – just wait for rain.

Rend Lake College receives grant to help students pay for childcare

Rend Lake College has been awarded a competitive grant to help low-income parents pay for childcare expenses while they attend college.

Here’s a link to the story at the Southern Illinoisan.

Huge Auction Slated for October 24 in Valier

‘Something for everybody’ might be the best way to describe the huge auction coming to Valier on Sunday, October 24, 2021. The estate of Lawrence and Alda McItyre, located at 6186 Park Street Road, will be auctioned off beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Collectibles, household items including furniture and appliances, tools, glassware and a boat and trailer will all be on display during the daylong event.
Voss Auctions is handling the event and more information is available at or by reaching owner Wayne Voss at 618-2822682.

Here is the flyer detailing the items to be auctioned:

No. 4-ranked Saluki Football hosts North Dakota on Homecoming Weekend

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois moved up three spots in the national rankings to No. 4 in both the Coaches and media polls this week, as it prepares to host No. 22-ranked North Dakota on Saturday at 2 p.m. It’s Homecoming Weekend at SIU, as well as Saluki Hall of Fame weekend, with seven inductees entering the Hall on Friday night. Five inductees will be recognized during the game.

The last time the Salukis (5-1, 3-0) were ranked in the Top-4 was on Sept. 6, 2010, when Southern was ranked No. 2 in the nation. In its last eight games versus ranked opponents, SIU is 6-2. The six wins are against #1, #2, #3, #4, #15 and #25.

SIU is the lone team atop the conference standings at 3-0. After beating No. 2 South Dakota State last week, Southern is tied with SDSU for the best record in the MVFC during the last 16 games, 11-5.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference awarded SIU quarterback Nic Baker (offensive), punter Jack Colquhoun (special teams) and guard ZeVeyon Furcron (O-Lineman) its Player of the Week awards.

The Last Time
SIU was 3-0 in the MVFC was 2009 when it went 8-0.
SIU was 4-0 in the MVFC was 2009 when it went 8-0.
SIU posted a 5-1 overall record was 2014.
SIU posted a 6-1 overall record was 2009 when it started 11-1 and finished the season 11-2.
Last time out: SIU 42, SDSU 41 (OT)
In its second consecutive overtime game, SIU rallied from a 20-0 second quarter deficit, tied the game with 34 seconds left in regulation and won in overtime when SDSU failed to convert a two-point conversion attempt.
SIU RB Donnavan Spencer raced 10 yards for a TD on the fourth play of the first overtime possession. PK Nico Gualdoni followed with a successful PAT.
It was the first time ever SIU played overtime games in consecutive weeks and it was the second time ever SIU played two overtime games in one season.
It was SIU’s fourth consecutive overtime win. Three of those four victories came on the road. SIU is 8-4 lifetime in overtime games.
It was the second largest comeback in Saluki history and the largest of the Coach Nick Hill Era.
QB Nic Baker passed for 359 yards, four TDs, and zero interceptions.
WR Landon Lenoir caught a career-high 10 passes. Two were for touchdowns.
QB Nic Baker
In his first season-opening start as a college QB, Baker set the school record for passing yards in one game when he passed for 460 yards in the win at SEMO on Sept. 2, 2021.
Though he’s quarterbacked just 12 games in his Saluki career, Baker is in 17th place in career passing yards at SIU with 2,394 yards.
He passed for 395 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions at #2 SDSU last week..
Baker is 8-1 as a starter
WR Landon Lenoir
Lenoir ranks No. 2 in the nation in receiving touchdowns (7) and No. 6 in yards (576)
The sixth year WR is in third place on SIU’s career receptions list with 182.
Lenoir is in third place on SIU’s career receiving yardage list with 2,315.
Lenoir is tied for eighth place on SIU’s career receiving TDs list with 14.
Going into the North Dakota game, Lenoir has caught passes in 26 consecutive games.
He caught a career-high 10 passes in the Oct. 9, 2021 win at South Dakota St.

Head Coach Nick Hill’s Weekly Press Conference – 10/11/21

Opening Statement:
“I’m really proud of our team. To go on the road and beat a really good football team – it was an exciting game, obviously, down to the last play. It’s two weeks in a row now that we’ve won in overtime and really, the same scenario in overtime, so I’m really proud of our guys and their commitment to play hard and doing what we set out to do. I’m proud of them for putting it into action when it’s called upon. You can have a lot of meetings, things you stand for, put a lot of things on paper, and motivations up on the wall that every team has. But it really comes down to being down 20 [points] on the road, are you going to be that?

I think our team has proven now, over and over, that that’s what we are about, that’s what wins football games. It’s not always going to be easy or pretty or go smoothly, but we have to get a lot better in some areas and parts of a team. There are some things that we own up to, look at, and try to grow, and that is what it’s going to be until the season is over.

I’m looking forward to another tough opponent this weekend, a team that got after us at the beginning of the season this past year and had an excellent year. It feels like we haven’t played a lot of home games – just how this season was planned. They’ve been two great environments; we’re looking forward to Homecoming. We want to set a standard that all of our alumni want to come back and are proud to be back – especially the past players. It obviously hits close to home with me being a past player, I want to build a program where everyone feels welcome to come back.”

On #4 FCS ranking:
“You sign up to be a head coach and take over a program, there is a lot of pride, but none of our goals, standards, or visions of this program is to have some moments. It’s staying a championship program and to have expectations to be in those moments a lot. It’s also winning a lot of games and winning a lot of championships – and we have not done that yet. Sunday in the team meeting, we talked about having the big goals, but working on the small, everyday tasks that allow you to get to those big goals.

Being 5-1, ranked #4 six games in, and winning on the road at South Dakota State – that’s not on any piece of paper. There’s a standard of showing up each week and winning games. I told the team, you want to play in big games, you earn the right to play in big games, so you have to win all the games and be a good team. As good as the feeling is in the locker room and the plane ride home, we are looking ahead and have the feeling that we want to do it again.

On stability at quarterback:
“It’s everything to win. With whoever you put back there and put together a plan, you have to win football games and I think we’ve done that the last three seasons since ’19, the spring, and then now with a few different guys. You ask any coach that your quarterback is “the guy”, and he knows he’s the guy with that confidence there – it’s really big. I feel good about our guy right now [Nic Baker] and we have to continue to do that.”

On alumni returning this week:
“I’m excited, I’m going to see a lot of guys. Every Wednesday, I meet on Zoom with the Gridiron Club, which is nice and we’ll have a lot of people back. They’ll get the opportunity to come to practice on Friday before the game, introduce themselves to our team, tell us what year they played, some stories will be told. It’s always an exciting time for our players to meet them with a sense of pride to come back. I want them to be able to know that they’re back, it’s Homecoming, bring your families, talk about the good ‘ole days, meet up with your friends; it’s an important part of your program.”

On the offensive line:
“We’re continually getting better. I don’t know a coach in the country that’s going to say they have it all figured out front. I think Chase [Evans] is getting better and better. It’s anchored by Z [ZeVeyon Furcron], and then both tackles have gotten strong together and a lot of consistent starts there. And then Jimmy [Wormsley] came in and battled and I’ve been super proud of Jimmy. We have a “Be A Man” award we give out and Jimmy Wormsley was our guy this week. He was just waiting his turn from being a backup, then you get to start and start one of the biggest wins that we’ve had. Building up the depth, consistency with coach [Trevor] Olson – coach Olson and I have coached the same offense for now six years, every person on that line has been recruited and heard the same voice.”

Benton, West Frankfort, Illinois News | Franklin County News