And there's a mayoral proclamation to prove it
Nick Anderson Night drew a packed house two months ago in Orlando.
The Kenny Battle Inspirational Award goes to the top hustler every season at Illinois.
And countless teens around Champaign-Urbana can tell you all about how their stays at the Kendall Gill Group Home changed their lives for the better.
But after a quarter-century of standing ovations and building dedications, the most highly decorated Illinois team this side of the '85 Bears is about to be honored like never before.
Saturday is Flying Illini Day in Champaign, as so declared by proclamation by the mayor himself.
"Wow," said Marcus Liberty, who planned to make it in from Sarasota, Fla., for this weekend's 25th reunion of the 1989 Illini. "I can still remember going to the local car wash and hanging out with guys from the town, from Champaign and Urbana, who just loved that team. The older everyone gets, the more you appreciate being embraced like that."
Don Gerard goes by Mayor Gerard these days, but 25 years ago, he was one of those diehard locals who can still tell you where they were when Lou Henson cut down the net in Minneapolis after beating Syracuse for a spot in the Final Four. So it only seemed natural for the son of a former UI ticket-office worker to use his clout to salute his dream team.
"It tickles me to no end," Gerard said. "I grew up here, so those guys were like my heroes."
It isn't every day the mayor breaks out the fancy pen, attaches the gold seal and signs a proclamation. It's among three high honors Champaign's mayor has at his disposal, along with the key to the city ("pretty high standard for those," Gerard said) and honorary streets (a la REO Speedwagon Way).
Every mayor has the power to dedicate a day to someone. Some, like Gerard, do it a few times a month. Others, like Danville's Scott Eisenhauer, "about one a week," often for golden anniversaries and 100th birthdays. "The look on people's faces when the mayor shows up at their birthday party ..." Eisenhauer said, laughing.
"It's kinda one of those best part of the job things," Gerard said. "We get to honor people and it doesn't cost taxpayers much other than a couple minutes of someone's time."
Flyin' high again
Players, coaches, managers and support staff who helped bring home a Final Four trophy in 1989 (left) will be recognized during Saturday's game at State Farm Center. The guest list is scheduled to include:
Lou and Mary Henson.
Stars Stephen Bardo, Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, Lowell Hamilton and Marcus Liberty.