Benton High School Alum Bradley Phillips sprints towards success

Bradley Phillips, center, is all grins as he signs his letter of intent to run track with Missouri Baptist University. (RLC public information photo)

INA – Bradley Phillips has something to prove.

Simply put, Phillips wants to prove he’s fast. But, there is so much more to it than that.

A high school track sprinter at Benton Consolidated High School, Phillips was a member of both the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relay teams that smoked the previous school records.

“The 4×4 relay, we broke the record at state. We qualified at sectionals by running a 3:26. At state, we were seeded second. At state we ran a 3:22.85, and I believe that broke the school record by just under two seconds,” Phillips explained.

In spite of his success, Phillips received no offers to run at the college level. It was something that shook his belief in himself.

But, this is a young man who is no stranger to adversity.

When he was eight, he was riding his bike when he hit a hole in his yard. The handlebar struck Phillips in the rib, breaking it and sending the bone though his lung and into his liver. He had internal bleeding and a collapsed lung.

“I remember crawling up to the back door because I couldn’t walk. My sister was screaming and crying. They had to put a tube in me to re-inflate my lung and another to get rid of all the fluids.”

He survived the encounter and overcame a number of personal issues to find success. He wasn’t about to let this newest development derail him.

So, with track out of the question, he changed gears and set his sights on his degree.

“My plan was to go to SIU. So, I applied there. But, before the semester started, I had a change of heart. I decided to go to community college and save some money,” Phillips explained. “So, I called and withdrew from my classes. They told me it was all taken care of, and I started to come here to Rend Lake.”

It came as a shock when almost a year later he received a letter for SIU saying that he owed the college thousands of dollars for classes he never attended.

“I thought I was going to have to drop out of school here. There was no way I was going to be able to pay that. I was afraid a collection agency would try to take my car away or something like that.”

Luckily, Phillips had someone in his corner. Actually, a group of someones, the RLC STARS Program, a group of dedicated individuals devoted to student support.

RLC’s STARS Program is a Student Support Services grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education as a component of TRIO. It is designed to help eligible Rend Lake College students make the most of their college years by offering the advisement and academic support that may be needed to successfully complete a college degree and transfer to a four-year university. The STARS Program assists 160 Rend Lake College students each year.

“It took a lot of paperwork to prove I wasn’t there. I had to get my work stubs. There was a petition that I had to fill out. Leah [Stallman, TRIO Director] helped me navigate the whole thing. Without that help, I’m not sure what would have happened. That almost stopped me from going to college,” Phillips expressed.

“It’s like a little group of family. Amy [Cook] is like my mom. Jessica [Phillips] and Leah are like my aunts. Everyone over there is just so cool. Deidra [Traylor] and Marcia [Whitehead] are great. Everyone over there is just so friendly and helpful.”

Phillips credits STARS with being one of the reasons he is even still at college. Everything from transportation issues to food to a friendly ear, he says they are more than just college employees. He calls them his family.

With his academic life sorted back out, Phillips couldn’t shake his other passion, improving in the gym. But, without a track program at RLC, the runner began focusing on building muscle.

Instead of preparing for the next race, he was set on working out “to get big.”

“I was just a typical gym dude,” he said with a shrug. “I spent a lot of time in the gym.

Again, someone stepped up to help him get back on track. Coach Aron Kays, his former assistant track coach at BCHS, contacted Phillips and encouraged him to start running again and compete independently.

“Coach Kays saw something in me though. I wasn’t a very good athlete when I was little. I was scrawny, but I wanted to get better. I had a lot of drive. I wasn’t going to quit. I was always trying to learn more and figure things out. I was the guy who was always putting in work in the offseason. I buckled down and started really eating right and putting in more time than everyone else.”

“At that point, he had more faith in me than I had faith in myself,” Philips said.

So, at his coach’s urging, Phillips took to the track again. In his first meet back, he put up a time comparable with any of his races during his senior year. He hadn’t lost a step.

“I came out, trained hard for three weeks and ran a really good time. There was no reason to just keep trying. I proved to myself that I could do it.”

Little did Phillips know at the time, but his decision to start competing again would change his life.

During a competition at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., Phillips raced against Missouri Baptist University (MOBAP) standout and RLC alum Robert Grinder.

All Phillips was hoping for was to compete with Grinder. He ended up leading some of the race and earning the attention of his competitor.

“He ended up beating me by a few hundredths of a second. He won conference at MOBAP. So, he’s a really great sprinter. So, after the race, Robert came back to me and gave me a high five. He told me good race and then introduced me to his coach, Mark Sissom.”

Phillips hit it off with the coaching staff at MOBAP and started communicating with the team.

All the hard work culminated last month when Phillips singed his letter of intent to run for Missouri Baptist starting in the fall, complete with an academic scholarship.

“This scholarship is a big deal,” he said grinning.

“I know I wasn’t born with athletic talent. I’ve had to really work hard to get where I am. I have been extremely lucky to have some fantastic people around me. Without people like Coach Kays or STARS, I wouldn’t have gotten here either. So, I want to win every time I complete. I want to represent this area and the people who put their faith in me,” he expressed.

Originally, Phillips wanted to study Physical Therapy. His obsession with improving athletically led him to put a lot of time and effort into studying what would help make him a better runner. But, during his time at RLC, he switched goals. Now, he’s hoping to become a math teacher.

Phillips enjoys mathematics. While running doesn’t come easy for him, numbers do. Plus, his entire life has been shaped and molded by the teachers who were there for him while he was growing up.

Phillips will graduate with his RLC degree in a few short weeks thanks in no small part to the STARS team and the generosity of Rend Lake College Foundation donors who provided one of the academic scholarships that Phillips was able to earn during his time in Ina.

So here, at the starting line of the next big chapter in his life, Phillips knows what he’s running for. Now, it’s more than just competing. It’s proving the trials and tribulations didn’t slow him down. It’s proving that he believes in himself as much as those around him do. It’s proving that he can be more than fast. It’s about proving he can be the best, both on and off the track.

Free family movie night at Benton Civic Center on March 31st

BENTON The Benton Civic Center and Leffler Funeral Home presents Disney’s COCO- free family movie night, March 31 at 6:00 PM!!!

Kids are welcome to bring a blanket and relax on the carpet. Tables and chairs will be provided for the parents. Pizza, popcorn and soda will be available for purchase. We hope to see you there!!!

This Free event is provided by the Benton Civic Center and Leffler Funeral Home

Local sponsor:Casey’s General Store – Benton Illinois location

Decatur man arrested by Benton PD on meth charges after accident investigation

BENTON – The public is reminded the alleged is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

On March 9th, 2018 Benton Police were dispatched to the 100 block of Joplin Street in reference to a traffic crash.  Upon investigating, police arrested Ryan Cornell, age 20, of Decatur, IL for driving while license suspended. Police also arrested Madison M. Scurlock, age 20, of Decatur, IL for unlawful possession of methamphetamine subsequent to a vehicle search after Benton Police K9 “Ranger” alerted to the odor of illegal narcotics in the car.  Both Cornell and Scurlock were transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

Benton Fire Chief Goes Above and Beyond in cell phone tower rescue

Benton Fire Chief Shane Cockrum makes contact with a person who has climbed to the top of a cell tower. (William McPherson – Benton Gazette Photo)

BENTON – Thursday, Feb. 22, at 2:03 p.m. the Benton Fire Department received notice of an adult male who was climbing atop a cell-tower near a local health clinic.

Benton Fire Chief Shane Cockrum said dispatch received the call from employees at the clinic, noting that an employee noticed someone had climbed up and over the barbwire fence. At the time the Benton Police Department arrived on the scene, the individual had made it halfway up the estimated 140-foot tower and had indicated his intent was to take his own life.

Benton’s 805 ladder truck is 105-feet tall, Cockrum said, which left the Fire Chief approximately 30-35 feet below the man he was attempting to save. Cockrum ascended the ladder and began a nearly three hour life-saving conversation.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Please click on the link below from William McPherson of the Benton Gazette.

Benton man arrested on failure to appear charges

BENTON – On February 27th, 2018 Benton Police arrested Christopher R. Braden, age 34, of Benton on an active Franklin County warrant for failure to appear.  Braden was transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.


Benton Mayor Lobbying for Federal Infrastructure Money

BENTON – During the Public Affairs Report at the Feb. 12 Benton City Council meeting, Mayor Kondritz said that Benton’s water department and infrastructure had been under a lot of stress due to recent weather and the aging of the city’s water and sewer lines.

 “I saw where President Trump introduced a $1.5 trillion (budget) bill, and I don’t care what you think about that situation. What I care about is that as the City of Benton, I want our slice of the federal pie,” Kondritz said.
Please click on the link for the full story from the Benton Gazette.

Benton High School releases statement regarding school security

From Dr. Aaron Mattox – Superintendent image

BENTON – As the Superintendent at Benton High School, I am writing this letter for the purpose of communicating the commitment that the Board of Education, administration, faculty and staff at Benton High School have to continue to make BCHS a safe place to work and learn.

You may have noticed that we have been working with local law enforcement to have an increased police presence in our school on a regular basis. In addition, I want to convey some of the safetyprotocols we have in place as well as those we are currently working to add to our overall plan:

  • Benton High School is actively working with the City of Benton to employ a School Resource Police Officer to be in the building and hallways on a daily basis. I would like to thank Chief Melvin, Mayor Kondritz, and the City Council, for their assistance in helping make this happen.
  • Safety and security glass is currently in place on the building’s primary exterior entrance. We will be installing additional safety film on both interior and exterior glass where students and teachers are routinely housed.
  •  Main entrance doors have security access and require visitors to be identified.
  • BCHS maintains an extensive video security network.
  • BCHS has a comprehensive safety plan. In addition, drills are conducted throughout the school year. We will continue to update and improve the plan as needed.
  • We are in the process of conducting a school safety assessment to identify areas we can improve the overall security of our building.

Finally, I am asking that students be forthcoming with any information they might run across that could potentially create a threat to our school. Students need to learn to utilize strong judgement and understand the importance of being responsible for the content they place on social media and through electronic communication. We no longer live in a society where threatening comments and jokes can be tolerated and overlooked. As a district, we will vigorously pursue and prosecute anyone who makes a threat for the purpose of creating fear and disrupting the educational process at Benton High School.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the school.

Students earn high marks at WYSE Academic Challenge

INA – Over 150 students from 10 area high schools competed in the 2018 Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) Academic Challenge Regional in the last two weeks. Eight of the schools met on Rend Lake College’s campus on Wednesday, Feb. 7 to participate; however, due to weather, two other schools held make-up events on later dates.

During the WYSE Academic Challenge, schools with similar enrollment compete against one another in divisions. Christopher High School, Wayne City High School, Zeigler-Royalton High School, Sesser-Valier High School, Waltonville High School, and Webber Township High School make up Division 300. Division 700 consists of Benton Consolidated High School, Pinckneyville Community High School, and Hamilton County Senior High School. The lone Division 1500 school is Mt. Vernon Township High School.

Each student who competes in the WYSE Academic Challenge completes two exams in pre-selected subjects. They can choose from biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering graphics, English, math, or physics. Below are the regional results, followed by team photos. Students who qualify for the WYSE Sectional will compete at Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Wednesday, March 14. The Illinois State Finals will be held April 16-19 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.


Three Benton residents arrested on drug charges

BENTON – On February 13th, 2018 Benton Police arrested Patrick S. McClerren, age 42, of Benton on active warrants for both Franklin and Williamson counties for failure to appear.  McClerren was also charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

Through further investigation, police also arrested two other individuals identified as Angela Patterson, age 40, and Samantha Thebeau, age 26, both of Benton for unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. McClerren, Patterson, and Thebeau were all charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On February 16th, 2018 Benton Police arrested Roy D. Stinson, age 42, of Benton on an active Franklin County warrant for failure to appear.  Stinson was transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

The public is reminded the alleged are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

‘Security Dawgs’ look to earn collegiate cybersecurity berth

Benton’s Steve Osborn part of the team as an alternate

By Pete Rosenbery – SIU News Service 

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s “Security Dawgs” will host a section of the annual Illinois Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on Saturday, Feb. 17.

EDX Unage

SIU is one of two sites to host the statewide, 11-team competition, which mirrors what students will see in the corporate technology world. The “Security Dawgs” will seek a third state title in six years. Also competing at SIU will be teams from John A. Logan College, Lake Land College Southeastern Illinois College.

Teams work to keep their site secure from hackers and unwanted cyberattacks, and are responsible for system maintenance, upgrades, and completing other requests, such as installing or upgrading a website in the simulated competition. Teams earn points based upon how successful they are at accomplishing the business tasks, in addition to identifying and stopping hacker attacks, and writing incident reports.

Team built on camaraderie, chemistry

The Security Dawgs return four members from last year’s team and have been practicing since the start of the fall 2017 semester. Several of the squad members were on the team that finished fifth out of 179 teams in the National Cyber League last fall.

“A big part of our plan for success is our camaraderie as a team,” Belle Woodward, an associate professor in the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies and faculty adviser for the registered student organization, said. “We’ve gotten really close as a team over the last year. I think that really helps when it comes down to that last rush of constant, daily practice. I couldn’t be more proud of how much work these guys have put in to learning for this competition, and not being afraid to embrace more things to do beyond it.”

Competition enhances students’ academic experience 

Woodward said the event gives SIU students a chance to receive a practical look into many of the skills they learn in class, defend against attackers in the competition, and reminds them that the end goal is making sure a businesses’ network is not interrupted.

“This is also a valuable experience in teamwork and commitment,” she said. “Many students who participate learn enough to be more than ready for even the hardest classes they’ll face at SIU, and have a leg up in real-world experience.” 

Cybersecurity event expects strong field

The Security Dawgs have a strong reputation in collegiate cybersecurity competitions. The team has won three state competitions, most recently in 2014, and finished second in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The team has advanced to the Midwest regional competition in seven of the last 10 years, including a wildcard berth in 2017.

The other state competition site is Moraine Valley Community College, which is hosting six more teams.

The top team in the state will advance to the Midwest regional competition, March 23-24, at Moraine Valley Community College. There they will face the top teams from Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Second-place in the respective state competitions will compete for a wildcard slot on March 10. The Midwest regional winner advances to the 11th annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition April 13-15 in San Antonio, Texas.

The Team

Security Dawg team members are:


  • Benton: Steve Osborn, information systems technologies, junior (alternate)
  • Centralia: Ronald DeBernardi, information systems technologies, senior
  • Hoffman Estates: Christian Scott, information systems technologies, senior
  • Marion: Trenton Taylor, information systems technologies, senior
  • Mattoon: Mark Blume, information systems technologies, senior
  • Northbrook: Ben Fairbanks, information systems technologies, junior
  • Oak Lawn: Jacob Kupres, information systems technologies, senior (alternate)
  • Pittsburg: Curtis McRoy, information systems technologies, senior (alternate)


  • Naples: Thomas Birch, information systems technologies, senior


  • Sauk Centre: Brianna Yagow, information systems technologies, junior


  • Imperial: Jesse Frawley, information systems technologies, junior (alternate)


  • Houston: Vincent Davis, computer science, senior


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