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Once-secretive Holy Boulders Competition brings hundreds of climbers to Southern Illinois each November

POMONA — A boulder-climbing competition brought more than 300 climbers to Pomona in early November. They call themselves "boulderers," and their bouldering temple they call “Holy Boulders.”

They gather annually at the boulders for a fundraising competition. This year, the fog and mist cleared just enough for the region to host The Fifth Testament. For $55 to compete and $15 to spectate, the climbers come for a weekend of camping, climbing and community. They arrive late Friday night and early Saturday morning, get an early camp start, and gather for coffee and breakfast before hiking at 9 a.m. to climb as many routes as they can before scorecards are due at 3:30 pm.

The competition has grown exponentially ever since it began in 2013. In its first year, 110 climbers showed up and they raised about 6 percent of their current fundraising total, almost $55,000.

“In 2012, everybody knew everybody competing. Now, it’s a huge hangout,” said Dave Hug, a board member of the Illinois Climbers’ Association. “The Holy Boulders used to be a big secret. Now we’re just trying to share the secret with everybody.”

Three hundred people on a small private campground and bouldering area might sound a bit crowded. But with more than 200 bouldering routes open for climbing, it’s a functional system of rotating attempts on the punishing sandstone slab in a noncompetitive atmosphere.

“What people really should know is that we do call it the Holy Boulders competition, but it is not a competitive environment. People are pushing themselves, but it is more about bringing the community together to celebrate the Holy Boulders being in climbers’ hands,” said Kristi Sierzega, an ICA board member since 2013 who’s been climbing in the region since 2006.

For years, local climbers had a secret agreement with the Tripps family, the previous private owners of the property on which the boulders sit, to climb, as long as they respected the land. A climber named Aaron Brouwer and a friend “were hiking around Southern Illinois and looking for some boulders to climb and found these. So, they asked the Tripps if they could climb on them and they said yes. They just started calling it the Holy Boulders because … it is. And word of mouth spread,” Sierzega said.

“Climbers had a nonwritten, handshake agreement with the owners. And then one time, a climber noticed a for-sale sign and contacted the ICA, which contacted the Access Fund,” Hug said.

The competition, hosted by the Illinois Climbers’ Association, is a fundraiser to repay a revolving loan given with the Access Fund, a national nonprofit that purchases privately-owned lands in order to secure them for climbers’ use. The Access Fund took out a more-than $300,000 loan from the Climbing Conservation Loan Program with the long-term plan in mind to transfer ownership to a local organization such as the ICA or the Beta Fund.

"The Holies are going to be protected forever," Hug said. In 2016, the Access Fund transferred ownership to the ICA.

“I feel like the last three years we’ve hit a kind of stride,” said ICA Board President Phillip Carrier. “On our end, every year we try to do it a little bit better. Every year we knock a couple things off the list of things we want to add — infrastructure of the comp, more things that we can offer. The last two years we’ve been able to open up new areas for the competition.”

Despite having raised a lot of funds, the ICA still owes about $70,000 toward paying back the Access Fund.

“Each year has increased the number of competitors, spectators, and funds raised,” Sierzega said. “Our numbers keep going up.”

This story has been corrected to clarify current ownership of the Holy Boulders site. A previous version incorrectly said the Access Fund still owned the site. A correction was also made to the amount owned by ICA to the Access Fund. An earlier version stated an incorrect amount.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

The sun shines through mums on a sunny afternoon on Monday near Carbondale. More sun and seasonable temperatures are forecast today, but rain returns to the forecast on Wednesday.

Union County
Four people face prison time in separate incidents in Union County

JONESBORO — Four people were sentenced to prison in separate cases, according to a news release from Union County State’s Attorney Tyler R. Edmonds.

Kyle Andrew Wills, 29, of Wolf Lake, was sentenced to four years in state prison with an impact incarceration recommendation after pleading guilty to one count of residential burglary and one count of aggravated possession of a stolen firearm. Wills was arrested in February after an investigation by the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Melissa Kay Smith-Shadowens, 33, of Cobden, was sentenced to 30 months in state prison after pleading guilty to one count of forgery and one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine. Smith-Shadowens was arrested in June on the methamphetamine charge and in July on the forgery charge after an investigation by the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the Union County Drug Task Force.

Edward Robert Vincent III, 27, of Carlinville, was sentenced to 18 months in state prison after pleading guilty to one count of driving while license revoked. Vincent was arrested in September 2016 after a traffic stop conducted by a Union County Sheriff’s deputy.

Jordan Lynn Johnson, 23, of Jonesboro, was sentenced to 18 months in state prison after pleading guilty to one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Johnson was arrested in July after a traffic stop conducted by the Illinois State Police.

Illinois educators report shortage of teachers, applicants

SPRINGFIELD — School officials across Illinois are reporting more difficulty in finding qualified teachers and applicants to fill teaching jobs, with some districts canceling classes because of the problem.

An Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools survey showed 75 percent of school districts had fewer qualified candidates than in previous years, according to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. The survey covers the 2015 to 2016 school year.

It also showed 16 percent of schools canceled classes or programs because of a teacher shortage in areas including special education, language arts and math.

Illinois has more than 2,000 unfilled educator positions, including teachers, administrative staff and support staff, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

"The licensed teachers are just not out there or in the pipeline," said Superintendent Tim Page in central Illinois. "It's not just a small school issue. It's across the board and across all subjects."

He said when it came time to hire a physical education teacher this year in A-C Central School District, the district only received a few applications for a job that's typically among the easier ones to fill. Page said school officials had to persuade a retiree to work a few days a week while other staff took on the rest.

Illinois educators cited several reasons for the shortage, including a state budget impasse that ended earlier this year and unfunded mandates.

Sangamon County has more than 20 vacancies. Superintendent Jennifer Gill in Springfield said it's the first year the district doesn't have many candidates left over from the beginning of the year to hire during the second semester.

"It's a good time to go into teaching because there are going to be a lot of openings," she said.

Williamson County
Carterville Police seek suspect in connection to stolen vehicle

The Carterville Police Department is seeking a suspect, who is possibly a juvenile, in connection to a stolen vehicle.

According to a news release from the department, officers responded at 6:30 a.m. Sunday to the 400 block of Prosperity Street in reference to a report of a stolen Ford truck. The truck was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition, and it was stolen from outside a residence between 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

Police said the victim spotted the suspect in the truck at about 9:20 a.m. Sunday on Division Street, and after the victim followed, the suspect parked the truck on Pennsylvania Avenue and fled on foot. Police have possession of the vehicle and are processing it for evidence.

The suspect is described as a white male juvenile wearing blue jeans and a light gray hooded sweatshirt.

The investigation is ongoing, and police are asking anyone with information to contact the Carterville Police Department or Williamson County Crime Stoppers.

— The Southern