First quarter run seals SJO's first tournament win

Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
St. Joseph-Ogden's Hayden Brazelton goes up for an offensive rebound with Cissna Park's Tyler Newkomm during their first pool play contest at the Toyota of Danville Classic on Tuesday. Taking advantage of a 13-point first-quarter run and burying 10 three-pointers during the game, the Spartan (2-0) offensive firepower yielded a 78-53 win. Next up, SJO faces Oakwood at 8pm on Tuesday, December 1.

Troop 1956 offering holiday Candy Cane Hunts

It is an Easter Egg hunt except with candy canes. That's how American Heritage Girls Troop 1956 plans to raise funds for the new organization.

"The mission of American Heritage Girls is to build young women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country. Girls in this program have the opportunity to participate in badge programs, service projects, leadership opportunities, and outdoor experiences," says Jessica Stuber organizing the hunt for the new local AHG chapter that started last October.

"We have never done this fundraiser before," Stuber said. "This is our very first fundraiser."

Starting December 12 through the December 18, parents, family members, or spouses can pick a time for the troop to hide candy canes around their yard for a small fee. Candy cane hunts are perfect for keeping little ones excited and adults occupied during the holiday season.

Stuber said the Candy Cane Hunt idea came from one her daughter was treated to one last year.

"My youngest daughter was surprised with a candy cane hunt by a friend who had come across a fundraiser very similar to ours by another organization," she recounted. "While planning for a troop Christmas party, I was reminded of the candy cane hunt and thought it might be a great way for our troop to generate funds."

Stuber hopes through fliers like the one shown, and word of mouth the troop will be plenty busy setting up hunts from Tuscola to Sidney and homes in between. They will even set them up in Champaign and Urbana.

"As of right now, we only have one family signed up to surprise their little one with a candy cane hunt. We just got the word out to our troop and have begun passing out fliers," she said. "We're hopeful that more families would like to participate as the word gets out."

Proceeds from the fundraiser will help the troop pay for field trips, camping trips, and future service projects. One of their financial goals is to be able to offer scholarships to families who would like to join but may be experiencing financial hardship.

To arrange a surprise holiday candy cane hunt for someone, contact Jessic Stuber at (217) 377-4868 or email her at

Prep Sports Notebook: Urbana boys and girls drop games, SJO picks up win

Edwards leads Tigers in non-conference loss

Zineria Edwards scored seven second-half points to lead Urbana's scoring effort in the road game at the Arthur "Buz" Sievers Center at Monticello on Monday. Gabrielle Mboyo-Meta added another five points in the last half of the game in the 57-17 loss.

SJO's Jones scores 14

Junior guard Peyton Jones hit a pair of treys in the second on her way to a game-high 14 points in St. Joseph-Ogden's 55-42 win over visiting Tuscola.

Alyssa Hamilton came off the bench for an 11-point finish in the non-conference contest. The senior shot 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. Ella Armstrong and Payton Jacob each chipped in seven points apiece.

Unity suffers first loss of the season

A second-quarter drought dug a hole too deep for the Rockets to climb back in their 38-20 loss in the Rocket Center to Clinton (4-1).

The Unity (4-1) offensive effort was limited to three players. Taylor Henry led the team with 12 points and sophomore Reagen Stringer finished with six points. Katey Moore's first-quarter field goal rounded out the Rockets' effort.

Clinton was led by Mallory Cyrulik's 23 point performance. The senior was sent to the free-throw line 22 times and converted on 17 attempts.

SJO basketball tournament starts tonight

Boys hoops action starts tonight at the annual The Toyota of Danville Classic at St. Joseph-Ogden High School. Six of the eight teams in the tournament begin pool play for the 2021 title starting this evening.

This evening's lineup includes:

5:00 PM: Danville Schlarman vs. Oakwood
6:30 PM: LaSalette vs. Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond
8:00 PM: Cissna Park vs. SJO

The tournament ends on Saturday with the championship game starting at 8pm.

Other area sports scores:

Arcola 64 - Uni-High 54

Southeast 75 - Urbana 70

Nickle and Dimes Band hosting NYE party in Royal

The Nickel and Dimes Band will be hosting a New Year's Eve party at the Royal Community Building.

Tickets are available online at Guests can save $10 per person by ordering theirs by midnight tonight, November 30th. Starting tomorrow ticket prices will increase to $50 per person and can be purchased online or at the door. Guests and couples are encouraged to buy tickets in advance before they are sold out.

Ticket prices include dinner provided by Last Call Catering. Friday night's menu includes fried chicken, pork loin, mashed potatoes, cheesy scalloped potatoes, green beans, corn, salad, and dinner rolls. The meal is scheduled to be served at 6:30pm.

After dinner, the warm-up show features local singer Kolten Taylor from 7:30-9pm with Nickle and Dimes immediately taking the stage to rock the crowd.

New Year's Eve party favors and champagne will be provided to welcome 2022 in style. There will be a cash bar available for guests.

For more information visit the band's Facebook page.

Rocket girls basketball team suffer first loss of the season

PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
Unity's Katey Moore and Clinton's MaKayla Koeppel fight for ball possession in the second of their non-conference game in the Rocket Center on Monday. Moore and the Rockets (4-1) suffered their first loss of the season, dropping the home opener 38-20 in front of a small, but supportive crowd to the visiting Maroons (4-1). Next, Unity goes on the road to take on Cissna Park this evening.

This week at the Rose Bowl Tavern

The Rose Bowl Tavern is the quintessential and longest-running entertainment hotspot in downtown Urbana. Open since 1946 and under new ownership since 2019, the bar now offers live shows across several genres. While you may catch a country or Bluegrass performance a couple of times a week, the Rose Bowl now offers regular jazz shows, jam sessions and a comedy open mike night. Located at 106 N Race Street, there's plenty of free parking after 5pm in the city lot just outside the side entrance on the north side of the building.

Here's this week's live entertainment line-up:

For more information on upcoming shows, special hours and promotions, visit their website at and on Facebook at @RoseBowlTavern.

2022 fitness trends continue to evolve into new norms

Fitness stretching
Photo: Nicole De Khors/Burst

(Family Features) -- In adjusting to the constraints of the pandemic, many Americans had to improvise where and how they work out. Whether it was making space in an extra bedroom or the family room, clearing out space in the corner of a barn, after months of adapting to a “gym anywhere” mentality and learning to accommodate more flexible workout schedules, this new fitness mindset is inspiring some larger trends for healthier living.

Exercising at home has become a norm for many. Everything from resistance training and free weights to yoga and pilates have been molded into quick, no-fuss training self-directed routines between Zoom sessions for those wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition to solo workouts, sweat sessions with quarantine partners and bubble mates for those who need motivational pushes, are still going strong.

“We’ve learned that wellness is not one-size fits all, and that it’s achieved by small habits like regular hydration that can really impact how you feel throughout the day,” said celebrity fitness trainer Harley Pasternak, MsC. “Collectively, nourishing both body and mind together as one makes holistic health a sustainable lifestyle.”

Pasternak and the experts at Propel Fitness Water are forecasting five fitness and wellness trends to watch for in 2022:

Accountability Buddies

When gym closures ran rampant, folks leaned on others for inspiration to get moving, so it’s no surprise working out in pairs (or more) is a continued way to focus on fitness. Feelings of burnout may be common heading into 2022, so having a partner who gives you a healthy sense of camaraderie and competition can help push you to show up on days when you’d rather rest and stay committed to your goals. It also provides a sounding board when you need suggestions for nutritious recipes or fresh at-home cardio ideas.

Versatility in Gym Spaces and Schedules

When a large segment of the workforce started working from home, the rituals of before- and after-work gym visits fell by the wayside. People grew more accustomed to improvising where they work out, whether it was their neighbor’s garage, their living room or a running path in the city. As exercisers are less beholden to studio or gym schedules, the “gym anywhere” mentality is a level of flexibility many are holding on to, even as they ease back into more normal work routines.

Health in Small, Achievable Doses

This trend is all about recognizing health transformations don’t happen overnight, and even modest steps can make a big difference in how you feel throughout the day. One example is paying more attention to your hydration. If you aren’t properly hydrated, few other things tend to go right either. Small habits like throwing Propel Powder Packs into your gym, work or school bag can make a difference. Filled with enough electrolytes to replace what is lost in sweat, they are handy for on-the-go hydration and are easy to add to a water bottle.

Wellness Goals vs. Fitness

Committing to overall wellness is more about lifestyle changes than numbers like weight loss or muscle mass. People embracing this trend are forgoing numeric goals based on performance in the gym or on the scale and instead emphasizing outcomes that affect life, nourishing both body and mind together as one. Fitness goals are an essential component, but so is supporting your mental health as well as being cognizant of what you’re putting into your body. When each piece is well taken care of, your body is better able to work like a well-oiled machine.

Low-Impact Workouts

This year, walking treadmill challenges gained virality on social media, marking the increasing popularity of workouts that are low impact yet effective. Getting moving is the key, even if it means taking your tempo down. You don’t need to do hours of HIIT every day to see results. In fact, less time- and energy-intensive workouts are easier to sustain and can often yield the same, or better, results.

Find more hydration options and wellness tips at

Photo of the Day - November 29, 2021

Wesley Kibler (left) clears a path for running back Ty Brown during the St. Joseph-Ogden's home football playoff game against Fairfield (5-5). The Spartans beat the Mules 42-16 improving to 10-0 on the season back on October 31, 2015.
PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Photo Gallery: Giving their all, Rockets come up short in 3A title game

(Left to right) Unity football captains Grant Albaugh, Dillon Rutledge, Chance Ingleman, and Blake Kimball hold up the team's runner-up trophy after the Class 3A title game at Huskies Stadium on the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb. In the program's sixth state final appearance since head coach Scott Hamilton took the reigns, the Rockets fell 35-7 to Byron Tigers finishing the season with a 13-1 record on Friday. More photos and recap coming later this week.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Unity's Nick Nosler comforts teammate Oran Varela as the final seconds tick off the game clock in the fourth quarter. Nosler, a junior, led all defenders with a game-high 11 tackles, five of which were solos. Varela finished the game with six tackles for the Rockets.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Lineman Karson Richardson (right) receives a hug from a teammate as time runs out for the Rockets. Byron held the Unity offense was held to just 205 yards of total offense and keep the ball for 32 minutes and five seconds during the combined four quarters.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Unity fans go crazy on a touchdown pass to Dillon Rutledge as time ran out in the first half. The 37-yard pass play would be the Rockets only score of the game.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

The Unity Dance Team performs for Rocket fans during halftime. The Rockets trailed on the scoreboard, 21-7.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Rockets' wide receiver Jay Saunders bobbles a pass from Blake Kimball in the third quarter. Saunders caught three passes for 39 yards in the state final game.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Unity offensive linemen line up infront of a propane heater to stay warm. Temperatures at game time was in the upper 20s.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Liam Alt and the Rocket offensive line move after the ball is snapped. The Class 3A game lasted just 2 hours and three minutes.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Wide open in the end zone, senior receiver Dillon Ruthledge hauls in a 37-yard pass in the second half for a Unity touchdown. Rutledge caught another pass, a 12-yard one, to finish the final game of his prep career with 49 yards.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Blake Kimball hands the ball off to teammate Matt Brown. The Byron Tigers effectively bottled up the Unity offense with Brown good for just 77 yards on 17 carries.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Unity fans root for their team during the first half.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Austin McDaniel pulls down a Byron ball carrier during the first half. McDaniel finished the game with seven tackles, one for a loss.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

Will Cowan stretches out to push Byron ball carrier Chandler Binkley out of bounds in the first quarter.
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

To the Editor:
I couldn't be more proud of these kids

Dear Editor,

My name is Amber Gumm and I'm the mom of #54 sophomore Tyler Gumm on Unity football. Unity played Byron in the state game and we took home second.

On our way home we stopped at Culver's in Rochelle. While in the ladies' room I got to talking to two ladies who were (from) Byron. When I told them I was (from) Unity....the oldest lady gave me the biggest hug and both said how impressed they were with how respectful our team was and how you could tell they were really great kids. They said their entire stands were impressed with the sportsmanship our boys showed. They praised them so high and said that we were the best team they have played. "It was an HONOR to play them"

Y'all, when I tell you I ugly cried, I'm not kidding.

Our kids may not have walked away with the trophy but they walked away with so much more.

The complete respect of not only the other team but the fans as well. Coach Hamilton and all the football coaches, please know we cannot thank you enough for what you instill in our kiddos. Football isn't just a sport, it's a family, it's a community.

I couldn't be more proud of these kids. Please let your players know that they didn't lose tonight, they won EXACTLY where it counts. On to next year!!!!!

Amber Gumm

Class 3A runner-up, Rockets finish the season 13-1 after title game against Byron

Blake Kimball runs the ball through Byron defense
Unity's Blake Kimball carries the ball during the IHSA Football State Finals Class 3A title game against Byron on Friday, November 27. The quarterback carried the ball nine times for a net gain of just 26 yards and threw for 102 on eight completions out of 15 attempts. Kimball and the Rockets finished the season with a record of 13-1 after falling 35-7 to the Tigers in high school championship game on Friday. View more photos from the game at here.
Chris Johns/PhotoNews Media

Photo-of-the-Day: November 23, 2021

Cole Berry
Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
St. Joseph-Ogden forward Cole Berry guards a Monticello player slashing his way into the paint during their game back on February 3, 2015. Berry and the Spartans won the home game, 70-50.

Spartans win season opener at tournament of champions, Pence drains 36

Washington -- The St. Joseph-Ogden boys basketball team claimed their first win of the season with a 63-52 win over the Denmark Vikings at the Kevin Brown Memorial Tournament of Champions Tournament.

Ty Pence, who went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line, scored 36 points. The D1 recruit has offers from Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, Bradley and Illinois State also had eight rebounds.

Logan Smith, who was the leading scorer after the first quarter, contributed 10 points to the team effort. Meanwhile, Evan Ingram hit a pair of treys in the first quarter to finish with six points.

The Spartans led at 37-28 at the half and outscored the Vikings 26-24 after the break.

SJO returns to action next week at the Toyota of Danville Classic with tournament games against Cissna Park Park on Tuesday and then tipping off with Oakwood on Wednesday evening. After a day of rest, St. Joseph-Ogden will play Schlarman for its last pool-play contest. All eight teams will play on Saturday for their various places in the final standings.

Cobb leads Urbana scoring effort in loss

Washington -- Kevin Cobb led the Tigers with a team-high 15 points at the Kevin Brown Memorial Tournament of Champions game against St. Rita. His effort wasn't enough to lift Urbana over St. Rita in the team's 76-47 loss on Tuesday.

St. Joseph-Ogden girls suffer first loss of the season

St Joseph -- The SJO girls' basketball team dropped their first game of the season 50-41 to visiting Paris.

The Spartans (3-1) trailed 17-4 at the end of the opening quarter in their first non-tournament home game on Tuesday. Behind Paris' Madyson Rigdon's 13 points in the first half, the Tigers widened the scoring gap by 22 points in the second quarter.

St. Joseph-Ogden started digging their way out of the huge deficit on the scoreboard much too late. Peyton Jones (5 points) got the team within striking distance in the third quarter closing the gap to seven points. A plethora of missed shots combined with the Tigers' effort to stall and run down the clock didn't limit the Spartans' scoring opportunities.

Starter Ella Armstrong finished the game with 16 points. Payton Jacob delivered eight points in the fourth quarter to collect 13 total in the loss. Peyton Jones rounded out the top three SJO scorers with five points.

Rigdon finished with 18 points and the Lady Tigers got another huge 15-point push from Katelyn Littleton.

Uni-High suffers tough loss

The Illineks fall on the road to Decatur Lutheran, 73-46.

Spartans cruise past Chargers at Turkey Tournament

Ella Armstrong takes the ball to the hole
St. Joseph-Ogden's Ella Armstrong dribbles between Centennial's Aleah Emers and Kennedy Ramshaw on her way to the basket. Armstrong scored a game-high 18 points in the Spartans' third game of the season. See more photos from this game here.

St. Joseph -- St. Joseph-Ogden had 17 points on the scoreboard before the Centennial Chargers lit up digits on their side in the last 18 seconds of the first quarter with a couple of free throws during the third game of the Toyota of Danville Turkey Tournament last Thursday. Building up a comfortable 25-6 first-half lead, the Spartans went on to a convincing 54-26 victory.

Senior Ella Armstrong scored eight points in the first half and ten in the second, finishing with a game-high 18 points.

Ashlyn Lannert had 11 points, Payton Jacob finished with eight, and Peyton Jones added another seven to round out the top three scorers for the Spartans (3-0).

"It's amazing. I'm so proud of our girls," said first-year SJO girls coach Drew Arteaga, who now coaches on the very same hardwood he played on himself as a Spartan. He was proud that his team won their inaugural girls' holiday tournament. "It happened because of all of their hard work."

The Chargers scoring effort was led by Mia Dejesus and Avery Loschen, both with nine points apiece. Centennial finished the tournament with a 1-2 record.

Box Score

St. Joseph-Ogden 54 - Centennial 26

St. Joseph-Ogden -
Lannert 11-0-11, Frick 2-0-2, Jacob 8-0-8, Wells 2-1-3, Jones 5-2-7, Martinie 0-1-1, Kearney 2-0-2, Armstrong 17-1-18.
Totals: 49-5-54

Centennial -
Ramshaw 4-0-4, Loschen 7-2-9, Dejesus 6-3-9, Yahnke 0-2-2, Emers 2-0-2
Totals: 19-7-26

Stringer scores 13 in Rockets' win over LeRoy

Raegan Stringer delivered a 13-point performance in Unity's road game at LeRoy on Monday. Jumping out to a 20-point lead in the first half, the Rockets improved to 5-0 on the season after a 48-32 non-conference win over the Panthers.

Stringer, a sophomore, also had three rebounds and a pair of steals.

Maddie Reed, Lauren Miller, Taylor Henry, and Katey Moore combined effort netted 33 points for the Rockets.

Reed contributed 10 points, three assists, and like Stringer, two steals. Miller also grabbed the ball twice for steals and was the second leading rebounder for Unity with five boards. She was also credited with six assists to go along with her nine-point finish.

Scoring just eight points, Henry led the team with team-highs in rebounds (6), steals (4), and assists (6). Moore added another six points in the victory and had three rebounds. Like four of her teammates, she was credited with two steals, too.

The undefeated Rockets host their first home game on Monday when the Clinton Maroons invade the Rocket Center. A junior varsity game will start the evening with the varsity game to follow.

4th-quarter comeback propels Unity to Class 3A football championship game

The last time the Rockets played a semifinal football game at home there was three inches of slush on the grassy turf of Hicks Field. Brutally cold with a sustained 15 mile an hour crosswind gusting to 30 at times, last Saturday's weather conditions were in stark contrast to that of the Blizzard Bowl of 2015.

Under a cloudless blue sky and gentle rays of sunlight heating the barely two-year-old artificial turf, the outcome, played by seniors who were still in junior high during the Blizzard Bowl, was identical. Three quarters of solid defensive play yielded yet another shot at a football state title, the sixth since 1994 when head coach Scott Hamilton took the reigns, after defeating visiting Mt. Carmel, 28-21.

Head coach Scott Hamilton is congratulated by fans after Unity's 28-21 win over Mt. Carmel. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
"What a crazy game," Hamilton said while Unity players and fans celebrated the team's fourth 2021 playoff victory. The number one seed in the southern playoff bracket, the Rockets played all four postseason games at Hicks Field. "We'll enjoy this one and wake up tomorrow morning and give her hell."

The Rockets jumped out in front on their first possession on an 87-yard drive capped off with quarterback Blake Kimball sprinting three yards toward the southeast court of the end zone, and to the dismay of dozens of Golden Aces fans along the barrier behind the end zone, diving just inside the orange pylon for the first TD of the game.

PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
With a little help from teammate Camden Mette, Unity's Boden Franklin strips the ball from Mt. Carmel's Blayne Sisson during first quarter action. The Rockets recovered the fumble to set up their next scoring drive. See more game photos from

Three minutes later, thanks to a fumble forced by junior Boden Franklin, Kimball was back in the end zone after a two-yard run to put his team up 13-0. With another easy PAT and looking at 14-point first-quarter deficit, Mt. Carmel was shell-shocked. Or, so it seemed.

Shaking it off, the Golden Aces started pulling them out of their sleeve. The first, with less than a minute on the scoreboard, Zeke Hadra scored on an 11-yard run. Then, a second barely two minutes into the second quarter to tie the ballgame up at 14-all courtesy of Mt. Carmel quarterback Blayne Sisson's 70-yard gallop through the Rocket defense.

Mt. Carmel wasn't finished. Hadra threw down another ace in the form of a 10-yards touchdown sending both teams into the locker room with MTC looking golden at 21-14.

"Everything looked so bad the whole second quarter, the whole third quarter, and we couldn't do anything," Hamilton said.

Though it has been a rare occurrence for the Rockets to be behind on the scoreboard, teams don't win 17-straight football games by giving up.

"For whatever reason, whether it was the Monticello game, or if you look back to some of the other games last year, they just hung in there," Hamilton said. He also highlighted his team's struggle against Paxton-Buckley-Loda, whose football program loudly announced their entrance into the mighty Illini Prairie Conference this year. He was proud of how they responded with their 'it ain't over until its over' attitude. "They just don't ever give up on each other."

In the first series of the fourth quarter, Rockets' Will Cowan snags a interception in the Unity end zone. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Kimball and Matt Brown, who broke out for a 56-yard run on the drive, move the ball down the field. Pushed out of bounds at the 15-yard line, the Rockets had to wait until Kimball barreled into the east end zone for a third time to tie up the score.

"These guys just don't quit," Hamilton said, holding back tears of joy. "Their character is unbelievable."

Re-energized the Unity defense squad created another scoring opportunity with another interception. Camden Mette comes up big with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter. Not long after that, Brown finds his way into the end zone and the Rockets get the PAT to go up 28-21. The Rockets are just 5 minutes, ten seconds away from going to state.

"As he does all the time, Coach (Tony) Reetz got it figured out upfront," Hamilton said. A couple of defensive stops, a little game-clock finesse, and Unity would be preparing to play their 14th game this season. "Coach (Dave) Fink and our defensive guys took care of it on that end, and it's off to DeKalb we go."

Refusing to give up ground, the Unity defense stood tall stalling Mt. Carmel's desperate efforts to get a first down. The Rockets take control of the ball on their own 40 and meticulously wind down the clock down for the win.

Next up, the final test. Unity, who will play its first postseason road game at Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University, will square off against Byron.

The Tigers, who will make their third consecutive state final appearance, lost both previous contests by four points. In 2018, Monticello prevailed at Memorial Stadium, 24-20, and Williamsville held on to beat Byron 46-42 in DeKalb for the 2019 title.

Game time is at 4pm.

With more workers struggling with the pandemic’s aftermath, employers begin to expand mental health benefits

Photo: Farah/Burst
by Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News

As the covid-19 pandemic burns through its second year, the path forward for American workers remains unsettled, with many continuing to work from home while policies for maintaining a safe workplace evolve. In its 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey, released Wednesday, KFF found that many employers have ramped up mental health and other benefits to provide support for their workers during uncertain times.

Meanwhile, the proportion of employers offering health insurance to their workers remained steady, and increases for health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health expenses were moderate, in line with the rise in pay. Deductibles were largely unchanged from the previous two years.

“With the pandemic, I’m not sure that employers wanted to make big changes in their plans, because so many other things were disrupted,” said Gary Claxton, a senior vice president at KFF and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Reaching out to a dispersed workforce is also a challenge, with on-site activities like employee benefits fairs curtailed or eliminated.

“It’s hard to even communicate changes right now,” Claxton said.

Many employers reported that since the pandemic started they’ve made changes to their mental health and substance use benefits. Nearly 1,700 nonfederal public and private companies completed the full survey.

At companies with at least 50 workers, 39% have made such changes, including:

  • 31% that increased the ways employees can tap into mental health services, such as telemedicine.
  • 16% that offered employee assistance programs or other new resources for mental health.
  • 6% that expanded access to in-network mental health providers.
  • 4% that reduced cost sharing for such visits.
  • 3% that increased coverage for out-of-network services.

Workers are taking advantage of the services. Thirty-eight percent of the largest companies with 1,000 or more workers reported that their workers used more mental health services in 2021 than the year before, while 12% of companies with at least 50 workers said their workers upped their use of mental health services.

Thundermist Health Center is a federally qualified health center that serves three communities in Rhode Island. The center’s health plan offers employees an HMO and a preferred provider organization, and 227 workers are enrolled.

When the pandemic hit, the health plan reduced the copayments for behavioral health visits to zero from $30.

“We wanted to encourage people to get help who were feeling any stress or concerns,” said Cynthia Farrell, associate vice president for human resources at Thundermist.

Once the pandemic ends, if the health center adds a copayment again, it won’t be more than $15, she said.

The pandemic also changed the way many companies handled their wellness programs. More than half of those with at least 50 workers expanded these programs during the pandemic. The most common change? Expanding online counseling services, reported by 38% of companies with 50 to 199 workers and 58% of companies with 200 or more workers. Another popular change was expanding or changing existing wellness programs to meet the needs of people who are working from home, reported by 17% of the smaller companies and 34% of the larger companies that made changes.

Beefing up telemedicine services was a popular way for employers to make services easier to access for workers, who may have been working remotely or whose clinicians, including mental health professionals, may not have been seeing patients in person.

In 2021, 95% of employers offered at least some health care services through telemedicine, compared with 85% last year. These were often video appointments, but a growing number of companies allowed telemedicine visits by telephone or other communication modes, as well as expanded the number of services offered this way and the types of providers that can use them.

About 155 million people in the U.S. have employer-sponsored health care. The pandemic didn’t change the proportion of employers that offered coverage to their workers: It has remained mostly steady at 59% for the past decade. Size matters, however, and while 99% of companies with at least 200 workers offers health benefits, only 56% of those with fewer than 50 workers do so.

In 2021, average premiums for both family and single coverage rose 4%, to $22,221 for families and $7,739 for single coverage. Workers with family coverage contribute $5,969 toward their coverage, on average, while those with single coverage pay an average of $1,299.

The annual premium change was in line with workers’ wage growth of 5% and inflation of 1.9%. But during the past 10 years, average premium increases have substantially exceeded increases in wages and inflation.

Workers pay 17% of the premium for single coverage and 28% of that for family coverage, on average. The employer pays the rest.

Deductibles have remained steady in 2021. The average deductible for single coverage was $1,669, up 68% over the decade but not much different from the previous two years, when the deductible was $1,644 in 2020 and $1,655 in 2019.

Eighty-five percent of workers have a deductible now; 10 years ago, the figure was 74%.

Health care spending has slowed during the pandemic, as people delay or avoid care that isn’t essential. Half of large employers with at least 200 workers reported that health care use by workers was about what they expected in the most recent quarter. But nearly a third said that utilization has been below expectations, and 18% said it was above it, the survey found.

At Thundermist Health Center, fewer people sought out health care last year, so the self-funded health plan, which pays employee claims directly rather than using insurance for that purpose, fell below its expected spending, Farrell said.

That turned out to be good news for employees, whose contribution to their plan didn’t change.

“This year was the first year in a very long time that we didn’t have to change our rates,” Farrell said.

The survey was conducted between January and July 2021. It was published in the journal Health Affairs and KFF also released additional details in its full report.

Subscribe to KHN's free Morning Briefing.

Photo Gallery: Faces in the crowd & on the field

It was a gorgeous late-fall Saturday at Hicks Field. Filled hundreds of fans and entertained by a couple of unintentional flyovers by commercial flights taking off from nearby Willard Airport, two of the four best Class 3A teams in the state squared off to advance to the state championship game at Northern Illinois University.

After two momentum shifts and a quiet third quarter, the Rockets exploded on both offense and defense for a come-from-behind 28-21 victory. Here's a look at the fans who fueled both teams and the players who gave their all.

Check out more faces and game photos here.

View more photos from this game in the PhotoNews Media archives. Follow this link to IHSA State semifinal Mt. Carmel at Unity.

Be grateful and express it in abundance

by Glenn Mollette, Guest Commentator

America has been through a tough time. A national election separated friends and family, divided churches and took over our media. We’ve been intoxicated with poisonous rhetoric and toxic street gatherings that led to more division, injuries and even death.

Americans horrifically viewed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and said we aren’t going to take that anymore.

Over 762,000 people have died from Covid-19 in America. Over 47 million of us have been sick. Families who have buried loved ones don’t need convincing about the realities of Covid-19. Americans who have spent weeks in hospital intensive care units know they are fortunate to be alive. However, in the midst of America’s pandemic nightmare, Americans have debated with each other over vaccinations, masks, school and business closures. We have watched our businesses suffer. Our government’s finances have been further strained to supply money to hurting unemployed people.

Americans watched our departure from Afghanistan in horror. We argued among ourselves about how we should have left, the timing of our departure, and whether we should have left at all.

We continue to struggle with racism in America. People who have experienced it know the reality. At all levels of society we must rise above any and all words or actions that denigrate others.

We continue to have other crises impacting our nation. People pouring over our border illegally, an ongoing drug epidemic, homelessness, rising costs of medical treatment and insurance, unaffordable college tuition, unaffordable housing and unaffordable and sometimes unavailable groceries. Americans are now facing the fire of growing inflation. Groceries are becoming even more unaffordable for poor Americans. The cost of living adjustment coming for America’s retirees in January, which is reported to be 5.9 percent, might buy a small bag of groceries, maybe.

America has gone through a tough time, maybe better said, we are going through a tough time. This is why we desperately need Thanksgiving.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s "first Thanksgiving" — although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time — the festival lasted for three days.

That first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the Mayflower ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from a member of the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English.

Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans according to

The early settlers who came to America suffered hardships that few Americans can comprehend. In the midst of so much death, sickness and starvation they found a way to stop and express gratitude. The friendship and humanitarian aid given to them by native Americans stand out as to what really makes America great.

We all need to learn from the first Thanksgiving. This year maybe we all could take time to be grateful, and do something to help each other.


Dr. Glenn Mollette is a syndicated American columnist and author of American Issues, Every American Has An Opinion and ten other books. He is read in all 50 states. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of any other group or organization.


This article is the sole opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Sentinel. We welcome comments and views from our readers. Submit your letters to the editor or commentary on a current event 24/7 to


Avoid a dull kitchen performance, sharpen your cutlery

Photo: cottonbro/Pexels

StatePoint -- If you’ve ever desired to become a better home chef, you’ve probably spent time reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows or even taking a culinary skills course. The truth is that when it comes to improving your cooking and becoming more efficient in the kitchen, you may be overlooking a much simpler step: sharpening your knives.

Before your holiday guests arrive and you find yourself in the kitchen churning out big seasonal feasts, consider the following:

Why it Matters

Dull knives can damage and bruise ingredients, slow your slicing and dicing down considerably, and ironically, be more likely to cause you injury. (Whereas a sharp knife will easily slice into foods, a dull knife works less efficiently, making you more likely to apply pressure and lose control of the handle.) What’s more, uneven chopping can lend itself to uneven cooking.

How to Sharpen Knives

So what’s the best method for maintaining knives? Many home chefs use a whetstone to sharpen knives periodically, as well as a honing steel on a more regular basis. However, this can be a time-consuming prospect and doing it properly is an acquired skill in and of itself.

This is where new innovations can save you time and effort, and deliver better results. For example, Resharp, a knife-sharpening kiosk found in ACE Hardware stores, offers a new, patented, automated system that scans each knife’s profile and then restores a factory, burr-free edge to the knife in 90 seconds or less. Sharpening most American and European style knives, as well as Japanese knives with a V-shaped bevel, you can bring almost any chef, pairing, slicing, chopping, santoku, pocket, hunting or specialty knife to an ACE Hardware store to have it sharpened while you watch. To learn more and find locations, visit

Proper Storage

Once your knives are sharpened, be sure to store them properly to maintain their edges and protect their longevity. Wash and dry your knives, then store them carefully in a wooden block, on a magnetic strip or in a drawer dock.

From julienned carrots to minced garlic, seek out those complicated recipes involving chopping-intensive steps. By giving yourself the gift of well-maintained knives this holiday season, you’ll have a safer kitchen and be a more proficient cook.

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