Mark your calendars: The forecast for '14
A look at the dates you should circle in next year's planners, courtesy staff writers Bob Asmussen and Julie Wurth:
4 — Lou Henson and his Flyin' Illini will reunite on a court that looks familiar but sounds a lot different than it did in 1989. Before, during and after Saturday's game against Penn State at State Farm Center, one of the most popular teams in school history will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
20 — Speaking of celebrations, few are better than Martin Luther King Day, which marks the life of a great civil-rights leader. The weekend includes a community-wide celebration Sunday at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and a unity breakfast Monday.
2 — It's Groundhog Day — again — and we're hoping the varmint doesn't see his shadow, which supposedly means an early spring. But Punxatawny Phil is on thin ice after last year's March 24 blizzard (not exactly an early spring).
7-23 — The winter Olympics mean three things: TV ratings, events you've never heard of, and a speedskater from Champaign-Urbana. This time it's Jonathan Kuck, the pride of Uni High, who won silver in Vancouver in 2010. Let's hope he gets interviewed by Bob Costas after winning gold.
7 — The drinkfest the University of Illinois wishes would dry up — Unofficial St. Patrick's Day — returns for an 18th year. Expect Green Street to be overrun by revelers, as 12,445 people had RSVP'd on the event's Facebook page as of Tuesday.
25 — Don't hold us to this, but former Illini Mike Hopkins is scheduled to splash down after six months at the International Space Station. That gives us almost three more months of cool photos tweeted from space. Wonder if he'll post a 'selfie' celebrating Unofficial with green Tang.
26 — The sixth Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon plays out on the streets of C-U, but now's the time to start training. Kick off your New Year's resolution by getting 5 miles in before today's Rose Bowl. If you wait until spring break, you won't make it past Memorial Stadium on race day.
23-27 — While the statue of the late great Roger Ebert probably won't be ready for his pride and joy, the 16th annual Ebertfest, his wife, Chaz, will guarantee that his legacy lives on. Cross your fingers that the Virginia Theatre will be ready.
3 — The Market at the Square kicks off what promises to be a big year for Lincoln Square. We recommend the Morning Bender egg sandwich, English toffee and locally raised T-bone steaks. Lincoln Square's 50th anniversary is Sept. 17.
18 — Word is the Alma Mater will be back in time for UI Commencement. We just hope it's 70 and sunny, as graduates will gather at Memorial Stadium for the first time since the 1960s (blame the construction at State Farm Center). Sorry, kids: If it rains, the ceremony is off.
3 — One of our favorite places to spend a summer evening is at historic Danville Stadium. Especially on Two-Buck Tuesday (the Dans are playing the rival Quincy Gems this day), when beer is cheap and the kids can run the bases for free afterward.
27-29 — For the second-straight year, the wildly popular Bloomington Gold Corvette show rolls into town. Which means lots of loud cars cruising the streets, long lines at the gas station and maybe a Guinness world record for most Corvettes in one road tour (they tried to set it last year).
4 — After a successful return to the UI campus in 2013, the annual Independence Day bash will stay in the vicinity for the next four years. Better access, more parking, fewer traffic jams, and it could be your best chance to see fireworks at Memorial Stadium in 2014.
10-13 — Channel your inner John Deere and head to the Historic Farm Days in Penfield. Get up close and personal with machines your grandfather used. Lines should be longer with the Farm Progress Show out of state this year.
28 — What's not to like about the National Sweetcorn Festival in Hoopeston? It's in "the most unique city in America," you get to meet Miss National Sweetheart, and there's no better ear of corn this side of Nebraska. And you never know: Hometown hero Thad Matta might make an appearance.
30 — It's the season opener for Illinois football and make-or-break time for Tim Beckman's reign as head coach. Coming off a 4-8 season, he might need a bowl game to keep his job. Beating the Penguins of Youngstown State is essential.
1 — Want to check out the fancy new digs at the Hyatt Place in downtown Champaign? It's the first day — as of now — the hotel is taking online reservations. The nine-story hotel just a block away from the News-Gazette spruces up a downtown already bustling with bars, bands and baristas.
11 — Happy birthday to C-U's favorite rapper, Ludacris, who turns 37 today. Christopher Brian Bridges was born in Champaign, but was long gone by the time he won his Grammys. Our favorite hits: "Act a Fool" and "What Them Girls Like."
24-25 — The country's longest-running homecoming celebration features a pep rally, parade (with candy), alumni tailgate parties and a football game against Minnesota. Too bad Indiana wasn't available. The last three times the Gophers visited for homecoming, the Illini took a thumping.
31 — After years of waiting, the kids finally get a Friday night to chow down on Halloween candy without that school-morning sugar hangover. Trick-or-treating hours traditionally end at 8 p.m., but perhaps city officials could relax the rules this year.
4 — It's Election Day. We bring this up as a reminder to register to vote and do your homework. Will Gov. Pat Quinn serve another four years? Will Erika Harold or Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, be on the ballot? And will state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, move on to bigger and better things?
28-29 — After a year in DeKalb, the IHSA football championship returns to Memorial Stadium. That's good news for tent-makers, innkeepers and burger-flippers. Don't be surprised to see a local team like Unity or St. Joseph-Ogden playing.
4-7 — The Champaign Ballet Academy's production of "The Nutcracker," an annual holiday tradition, rivals the best big-city productions. Non-ballet lovers should check out the awesome cupcakes in the Krannert lobby at intermission.
31 — Something old: For the 24th consecutive year, the Chorale will delight audiences with a traditional New Year's Eve shindig at the Virginia Theatre. Something new: With college football going to a four- team playoff, the Orange Bowl will be played in December for only the second time in its storied history.