Area police help with fight at Lincoln's Challenge

Area police help with fight at Lincoln's Challenge

RANTOUL — It took pepper spray to break up a brawl at the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy late Friday night.

And it’s likely that several cadets who were only two weeks from graduating from the 16-week program may be kicked out for fighting.

Several area police departments were called to the main building of the school on Dodge Avenue that is run by the Illinois National Guard for at-risk teen-age boys and girls who have dropped out of high school.

The call came during the height of Friday night’s storms while power was out at the school.

“There were pre-existing hostilities between individual cadets and the power outage gave them the opportunity to take advantage and act on those pre-existing hostilities,” said Major Brad Leighton, public affairs director for the Illinois National Guard in Springfield.

Leighton said there were about 20 cadets involved in a fight that started around 11:15 p.m. Friday. They had been taken from their rooms on the second floor to shelter in the hallways of the first floor of the main residence hall because of the threatening weather. The power went out about 10:30 p.m., he said.

“They were throwing things, upending beds and doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t be doing,” Leighton said.

Leighton said there were probably seven or eight staff members working and the decision was made to call police.

Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said when his officers arrived, they decided they needed even more help. Several officers from Champaign, Urbana, University of Illinois, and Thomasboro police as well as the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office arrived.

While there were about 80 to 100 cadets in the halls, Leighton said there were only about 20 involved in the fighting. Of the 20, about half were boys and half were girls.

“There were different factions fighting. It was very chaotic. They were throwing things,” said Farber, who said officers decided the quickest way to end the fracas was to spray combatants with pepper spray.

Farber said there were no arrests and none of the police or cadets were seriously hurt.

Leighton said two girls and a boy were taken to Carle Hospital and Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana to checked out. All were treated and released for minor injuries.

Farber said the pepper spray “halted things and got things under control.”

“It really prevented any major physical injuries,” Farber said. “I would say it was under control within 15 to 20 minutes of our arrival.”

Leighton said Lincoln’s Challenge staff members do not carry pepper spray.

Now in its 20th year, over 13,000 cadets from at-risk backgrounds have graduated from Lincoln’s Challenge.

“Things like this really are a shame because the program is an excellent program. It’s put a number of people on track for life. We’re very, very proud of these young people and what they are able to accomplish. It’s too bad a few of them decided to lose their discipline in the waning weeks of the program,” he said.

Leighton said those involved would probably be dismissed from the program. There are approximately 315 cadets in the current class.

“There’s no tolerance for this sort of behavior and it put other youth and staff involved in the program at risk. The whole program is based on discipline and learning life skills. Obviously, fighting is not a life skill,” he said.

Police were there about an hour, Farber said.



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Patriot wrote on June 01, 2013 at 8:06 am

Maybe we could save a lot money  by closing  this place. it could be cut from the budget

justmwa wrote on June 01, 2013 at 9:06 am

Close it over an isolated incident and give those kids even fewer opportunities and alternatives for re-direction in their lives? Thinking & speaking like a true politician.

sweet caroline wrote on June 01, 2013 at 11:06 am

Lincoln's Challenge is a WONDERFUL program!  I personally know countless families whose children have graduated from LCA and gone on to make successful careers for themselves.  Had it not been for Lincoln's Challenge, those same kids were headed to a life in prison, or even an early death based on their bad choices in life.  Do some research before you make such a stupid comment as "close the place."

Fights break out in public schools and private schools, too.  Do you want to close THOSE places, as well? There's a high dropout rate at  because if's very hard work.  It's boot camp for 5 months!  Lincoln's Challenge is the best thing that will ever happen to those who stay and stick with the program.  They end up being some of America's finest, most productive citizens.  

rsp wrote on June 01, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Lincoln's Challenge is a good program and well worth the money.

Concernedmber wrote on June 01, 2013 at 3:06 pm

How about we talk about the staff being worked and under paid. Each day staff members walk into this place and work hard to get these kids on the right track. They mentor, couch, train, counsel, deal with unruly youth just to do it all over again every six months. There has not been a pay raise in 7 years and that is including cost of living. Employees at Lincoln's challenge are forces to pay for benefits out of there own pocket and remember most of these individuals are prior military trying to make a difference in society by helping kids. There has been many times staff have talked about going on strike but come to realize that the only ones really hurt will be the kids. If "isolated" events like this happen with personal there imagine the effects of people not coming to work because of a strike. Personal deal with these "at risk youth" on a daily basis they are always breaking up fights and elevating them before they happen. Most staff members even feel like they are unappreciated and efforts are in vain. If you value your people and the work they do, why not take care of your people. Personal here are constantly putting theirselves in harms way and they don't have benefits or get pay raises for what they do. 

sweet caroline wrote on June 01, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Thank you, Concernedmber, for sticking up for Lincoln's Challenge.  I think the staff at Lincoln's Challenge are to be commended because THEY are the ones basically raising other people's out-of-control teenagers for 5 months at a time.  They do this twice a year EVERY year.  I wasn't aware that they've not had raises and that they have to pay out of pocket for their benefits!  (It can't really be called a benefit if they have to pay out of pocket.)  The staff members are 50% the reason why kids go on to successful lives.  The other 50% has to come from the kids themselves.  By the time the kids reach this age, they're at a significant crossroads in their lives.  They can choose to stay on the same path of negative outcomes or they can choose to change direction and go down the road to success.  I could never do the job that LCA staff does.  They truly care about the kids, or else they'd go somewhere else to work.

concerned friend wrote on June 02, 2013 at 4:06 am

The staff are also not listened to when they try to say a kid is not working out well in the program and dismissal is requested.  When the kids see other kids fight or worse assault staff and only get a team change.  Then they will fight and do what they want.  Staff are not at all considered important by the heads of this program then are dismissed for speaking up.  LCA is a great program it just needs new management for it to get back to what it should be and the staff need to be taken care of more and listen to more.  I am sure that the staff on duty that night will be blamed but we forget that one cadet left for assulting a staff spent the night in jail and was brought back so what message did this send to the other kids.  That is what has to be stopped not the program shut down the decissions of one should not be the down fall for all. I have heard for years how great the program is but how the management needs to change it needs to have a firm hand who has an investment in the foundation of the program and not his own personal popularity with the kids and the families.  I believe that the staff and program will continue to be unhappy until a change at the top is made.

Concernedmber wrote on June 02, 2013 at 12:06 pm

While this is true you also have two sides to that coin if the "heads" do listen to the staff about who should go home there will be a lot of kids who are just thrown away just because staff didn't like them or their personalities clash. Yes the profr needs to be more firm and someone needs to start removing the heads, the ones who are not doing their jobs correctly. I also wonder how many people at LCA have spoken up about this? While these post are going up on here it may just be falling on death ears. As I wrote this I also have to wonder about the government, the officials that have put Thier names on this program. Do they really care what goes on here? Do they care about the kids? As more and morepublic  schools are closing down in Illinois ESP. Chicago areas where are these kids going to go? Either the government does not care about these kids (minorities not just talking in race aspects but in low income) or they don't know or have enough heart to care. Very few kids change from the time they get there, it has really became a free pass for kids to get their GED's and LCA has been adjusting to the kids and their needs instead of the youth adjusting themselves to becoming productive members of society. This is what needs to change. Let me be clear of what I mean. There needs to be more firmness, clear cut guidelines, and the "heads" need to trust what their subordinates have to say about individuals. The subordinates know the "youth" better because they deal with them on a daily basis and the "youth" have become more comfortable with them and they show Thier true colors and intent. That's one thing the heads do not see. Once they get into enough trouble in order to see the "heads" they turn there emotions for a second and make it look like they are innocent and the "staff" is picking on them. The heads normally take Thier sides and this is why they stay. Upper management gets played a lot and they don't even notice it. 

radar1226 wrote on June 02, 2013 at 6:06 am

This program is a great program but unfortunately LCA has lost sight of it's intended mission, take an at-risk youth and make them a contributing member of society thru coaching, mentoring and counseling. This main focus for the last few years has been graduate as many cadets as we possibly can. This leads the Director and Deputy Director giving a cadet a team change even when every cadre member, a disciplinary board and LCA's own policies state dismissal. This leads chaos, disgruntled staff and cadets who feel there is no consequences for negative behaviors. There is no support for the Cadre. Even the Cadre Supervisor is not involved in nor supports the Cadre department.

Unfortunately 20+ cadets are going to get dismissed from the Academy because of actions that LCA has been tolerating for the last 5 months have now gone public. This is a true shame.


justmwa wrote on June 02, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Well said Radar. Tis exactly why i no longer work there. The place will never change with the current administration. When cadet numbers and dollar signs began to cloud good judgement, is when i knew it was time to politely leave. The other thing was the whole fantasy story of a new academy. Heard about that since before the lay off picnic. The reality is, they havn't even so much as knocked a tree down to begin that project.

Concernedmber wrote on June 02, 2013 at 12:06 pm

One other thing and I'm done. The staff at LCA are mostly all veterans, they have fought for freedom and democracy around the world. Either they are still in the reserves or they have completed their time. They then get employed at LCA to help out the youth which benefits the world or community even more if just a fraction of these kids turn around to better themselves. They go out and ge jobs or do something more than steal, kill, beat, or even rod "YOU." These are great men and woman that work here they put there lives on the line (again) everyday when they just even come to work. However, there has been no pay raises in 7 years (when asked abou it there is always a run around) they have no dental, medical, or psychological benefit package. So even if one was to get hurt on the job workmanship comp "may" pay for it if you notice it soon after or get your paper work in on time. But, what happens if you don't notice it right away or of you just think it is a little pain that goes away, just to find out later it is serious? Answer, you will pay the whole Bill out of pocket. Filling cost an average of five hundred a cavity, in an economy like this who has money like that? Don't let me get started on if you need a root canal. What about just normal check ups that are suppose to be done yearly? They can be costly also ESP. If something is found wrong with your body. I just say all of this in order to sheed light on how veterans are being treated even after they go to war fight for Thier country and try to do more to help out youth that have lost their way. This program is funded by the military, and it seems to me that they pry on military members and screw them. However, there is not one story written on that bit as soon as a fight breaks out you want to write about that to get the place shut down. Who is speaking for the veterans? Or are they suppose to just sit back keep Thier mouths shut and continue to take orders, endanger Thier lives, and continue to get screwed 

genith09 wrote on December 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

I was personally in that riot while everything was happening. Literally the SCARIEST moment of my life. It was completely pitch black and everyone was yelling and cursing. And then at the end of the hallway where the boys were you could literally hear them throwing punches and yelling. I was not involved in any of the violence that went on.. I graduated and even with a scholarship! Lincoln's challenge was my last chance at doing anything with myself at the time though, and I think our team had some of the best cadre.. we were a little sloppy when it came to marching and being still during formation lol BUT, what I'm saying is that place will only help the cadets/teens who WANT to be helped. My stay there was fun and I learned A LOT.. probably more than i had my 3 and a half years of high school. The good thing though was that I think just two days after the riot we had visitation and i just hugged my mom so hard lol. Best 5 and a half months my life though.

JRT72 wrote on March 19, 2014 at 1:03 pm

It wasnt that scary except for the knives getting throw around the chow hall. but the trays served as good protection. i saved one dude from getting stabbed and grabbed my whole team and took them to team floor. Our team, team 2, did start it but it was only a couple itdiots that were upset over the basketball game before dinner. the lights and power were on during the fight it was later on that night it went off if i remember correctly. mr PETER T gave me the meritorious service award for getting my team upstairs and helpings break up fights but i just looking out for my team. Im from paxton, IL and i know people talk but until you actually go there an see what happens everyday dont judge the school over an individuals faults. LCA is a great program if anything they need to spend more money on it get them some better uniforms and boots and KIWI- Cadet Thomas team 2 wrecking crew 34-10.

PS:  with my ged and diploma I have already graduated A&P aircraft mechanic school and working on my 3rd class pilots liscense and more.and working as a ramp agent for fedex. you can do BIG things in life. trust me.