Cadets from 12 Challenge Academies from across the country will converge on Rantoul this summer to take part in an Olympics-style competition.
More than 528 male and female cadets and 120 staff members will participate in a weeklong event, to be called the Challenge Invitational.
While the annual event has been held at various locales around the nation, this will mark the first time the Challenge Invitational has been held in Rantoul, according to Lincoln's Challenge Director Peter Thomas.
The young people are expected to arrive in Champaign County on June 1 and then take part in formal opening ceremonies the following day.
?We're going to have all the cadets march in formation into the hangar at the Rantoul airport and have a torch-lighting ceremony just like at the Olympics,? said Lincoln's Challenge spokesman Dick Steigmann. ?Then the lit torch will be on display all week long at the academy.?
Thomas said participants will compete in at least six events: men's basketball, women's basketball, drill team competitions, softball, GED Jeopardy (an academic competition based on skills needed to pass a high-school diploma equivalency exam) and volleyball.
All of the competitors are former high school dropouts who enrolled in military-styled academies in their states to get a new start in life.
The Rantoul-based Lincoln's Challenge Academy is the largest such academy in the United States. Thomas said Lincoln's Challenge has produced more than 6,600 graduates since the program began in 1993.
Thomas said the Challenge Invitational will make use of village facilities, including the hangar, softball fields and basketball courts for the competition. The event will conclude June 7 following closing ceremonies.
According to Thomas, most of the participating academies will be flying into the Rantoul airport on C-130 aircraft and will rent buses locally to move from venue to venue.
Thomas said all of the academies have been told to house many of their participants and their families at Rantoul motels and to make their purchases at Rantoul stores and restaurants.
Steigmann said some of the cadets will also be housed at the Florida Avenue residence halls on the University of Illinois campus.
?I told them to bring nothing but money,? Thomas said. ?I expect the Rantoul IGA will be piling up the sales, and all the restaurants in the area should flourish that week.?
To show support for the competition, Rantoul Village Board voted 6-0 last week to donate $5,000 from its hotel-motel tax revenue to Lincoln's Challenge to help cover the expenses related to putting on the event.
?The cadets of Lincoln's Challenge do things for the community all the time, and they never ask for any help,? said Rantoul Village Administrator Gary Adams. ?They are going to bring lots of people to our town. I am confident this will have an effect on Rantoul's food industry and hotel industry.?
Tim Mitchell can be reached at 893-1423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.