UI panel: Is it time for a mascot?

UI panel: Is it time for a mascot?

Tell Tom Kacich your mascot suggestions here

New athletic director, new football coach — time for a mascot?

Nine years after Chief Illiniwek was officially retired, an Illinois Student Senate committee is studying whether it's time for the University of Illinois to move on.

The two co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Exploration of a University Mascot, juniors Alex Villanueva and Mark Schaer, stress that the effort is not to actually choose one — or rehash the Chief debate. It's strictly to investigate whether students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community feel the campus is ready for one.

"We recognize that Chief Illiniwek was the symbol and he has been retired," Schaer said.

"This isn't necessarily about trying to replace the Chief but getting something that our sports teams and our fans can get behind."

The students are careful to draw a distinction between the Chief, which the UI and supporters refer to as a symbol of the university, and a sports mascot like Wisconsin's Bucky Badger or Herky the Hawk at Iowa.

In that spirit, interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson has signaled her support.

"The chancellor is very supportive of the effort by the Student Senate to create a first-ever mascot for the university. She's made clear to the group that any such effort should involve a broad coalition of stakeholders and that any concepts created must not contain Native imagery," spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Tuesday.

The effort started last fall, when Villanueva approached Schaer and other students about the idea.

Villanueva, who grew up in Florida and New York, said he didn't even know how to pronounce "Illini" when he was accepted by the university three years ago, and he was puzzled that the school had no mascot.

"I saw that they got rid of an awesome-looking Native American symbol, and I didn't understand the point," he said.

A few months before he arrived on campus in 2013, a student group called Campus Spirit Revival had held an online contest for new mascot ideas, but Chief supporters tried to block the effort. In the end, the category called "no change" got the most votes (1,767), followed by "other options" (1,369). (Among other entries: 191 votes were for a fictional sea monster called the kraken, 138 votes were cast for "corn guy," and a werewolf received 100 votes.)

When Villanueva got involved in the senate last year, he talked to students who supported the Chief but agreed that it probably wasn't coming back. They agreed that they'd like to see something besides the orange "Block I" as a symbol for athletics.

"There are people who miss the Chief but recognize that he's never going to be able to come back. I want to give students, future generations of Illini, something to rally behind," Villanueva said.

Not to mention the marketing possibilities, he said.

Schaer said his father, uncle and cousin all attended the UI, and he grew up as a fan of the Illini and the Chief.

"I didn't really see a problem with it. As I've come here and seen how divisive this issue is ... I've realized that it's important for us to move on," he said. "The NCAA has made it very clear that should we bring the Chief back, the sanctions would be crippling for our athletic program."

The ad hoc committee is holding public meetings at 5 p.m. each Friday at the Illini Union with different groups of stakeholders. Last week, on Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, about 40 students showed up. This week, faculty, staff and administrators were invited to give input.

Future sessions are planned for alumni and community members, and the final session on April 8 will be devoted to student input. But all sessions are open to the public, Villanueva said.

The panel will report back to the student senate in mid-April, after the last meeting, he said. If the consensus is that it's time to consider a mascot, the committee would resume that discussion next academic year, Schaer said.

"We want to see whether or not people believe we're ready to have a mascot. We're not necessarily saying, 'What should our mascot be?' Depending on the outcome of this committee, that's much further down the road," Schaer said.

The 13-member committee includes students with diverse views, said student senate President Mitch Dickey. Members in- clude Ivan Dozier, who until recently was the unofficial "Chief" portrayer who sometimes appears in the crowd at Illinois football and basketball games. Also on the panel are sorority and fraternity members, multicultural advocates and a representative from the Native American House, Schaer said.

Some student senators voted against creating the committee, arguing that "nothing could replace the Chief," Schaer said.

Students who attended the first public session were fairly evenly split on the issue, he said, with speakers from Native American and indigenous groups, the Marching Illini and other groups.

"It's a hot-button issue," Villanueva said. "Our job is to ask the different shareholders on this issue — students, alumni, faculty and staff, the local community — are we ready? If it's going to happen, I want it to be something the vast majority of people can get behind."


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Tomas_J_Nally wrote on March 09, 2016 at 9:03 am

"The Illinois Fighting Caucasians!"


---Tom Nally, LAS Class of '75

spangwurfelt wrote on March 09, 2016 at 5:03 pm

The Fightie Whiteys!

Although I'd prefer "The Fighting Twenty-One Million Frickin' Dollars."

loopillini wrote on March 09, 2016 at 10:03 am

We will never be ready for a mascot at Illinois. Our symbol has been retired. It should not be replaced with some cartoon character. Leave it at that.

spangwurfelt wrote on March 09, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Chief Illiniwek was a cartoon character. Why shouldn't he be replaced by one?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 09, 2016 at 10:03 am

The theme of animals that are native to Illinois is short due to other teams already having taken some as mascots.  The Panthers, Wildcats, Badgers, and others have been taken.  That leaves few choices.   The remaining native animals are foxes, weasels, and beavers.

How about the Fighting Foxes, Wiley Weasels, or Battling Beavers?  The Illinois Native American tribe of Sauk-Fox could be honored also with the Fighting Foxes.

wayward wrote on March 09, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Well, if you didn't care about the "native to Illinois" part, the honey badger could be an interesting choice.  Though I don't think you'd want to bring in a real one.


If you did care about animals that were native to Illinois, I've seen coyotes and red-tailed hawks on campus (but Iowa already has the hawk theme).  There have been news stories about gray wolves returning to Illinois -- those are impressive animals.

rsp wrote on March 09, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Yeah, that video reminded me of campus on a busy weekend. Entertaining. Not sure how that would play out. Might have to watch it again.

Turkey vultures are native here and seem to be taking over the skies.

Maybe we should look at historical names, native american names for things like the wolf or something else that's defining to here. I know! It's the Land of Lincoln! We can have someone dressed as Abe! No?

wayward wrote on March 09, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Or heck, we could have "Drunky the intoxicated undergrad."  That's definitely a native species here.

stingray1970 wrote on March 09, 2016 at 10:03 am
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Here is wisdom:  new mascot needs to be gender fluid, non-threatening, and all-inclusive.

IlliniwekMerica wrote on March 10, 2016 at 8:03 am

The Fightin' Safe Spaces

ACES09 wrote on March 09, 2016 at 11:03 am

They're not talking about the nickname.  "Fighting Illini" is not actually a Native American nickname; it goes back to the founding of what is now the Daily Illini in the 1870s, and to the campaign to build Memorial Stadium in the 1920s.  Nobody's going to change it.

The discussion is about an actual mascot that would be on the sidelines at games.  Think of Big Al the elephant for the Alabama Crimson Tide - it would be something to represent a team name that isn't a person or animal.  I'm not going to say "Chief or nothing", because I realize the Chief isn't coming back, as sad as that though is, but I always took it as a point of pride that Illinois didn't have a foam-headed buffoon prancing up and down the field.  Plus, I haven't seen any suggestions so far in any of these surveys or discussions that haven't made me roll my eyes (orange-and-blue Abraham Lincoln!  An ear of corn!  Give me a break.).  If U of I came up with a decent mascot and introduced and marketed it correctly (not forcing it down everybody's throats because they incorrectly think it would be the death blow to the memory of Chief Illiniwek), I could get behind it.

rsp wrote on March 09, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Fighting Illini referred to the students who left school to fight in the war. The columns at the stadium, Memorial Stadium, list the soldiers who died.

Hartree wrote on March 09, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Let's rename the team "The 7th Cavalry" with mascot George Armstrong Custer. That way it offends everybody and accurately reflects our recent won/lost stats.

Rocky7 wrote on March 09, 2016 at 3:03 pm

How about :

The "Fighting Pixels" 

It's gender and "ism" neutral and highlights UIUC's stength in science and engineering.


rsp wrote on March 09, 2016 at 6:03 pm

HAL! And it could shoot lasers at the crowd!

mgd wrote on March 09, 2016 at 8:03 pm


What for? I really think that this is ridiculous. I think mascots are creepy, especially when there is a costumed creepy thing.

If it is so important and absolutely necessary I vote for the drunken undergrad. But hey, grad students drink, too

Hey, how about Harry, the Heroin User?  To be equiped with vials of Narcan. Very current eventsish.

Mary Gates DeRosier

PSL wrote on March 09, 2016 at 8:03 pm

It's interesting to see how many white people are angry about the old racist mascot being gone, even nearly a decade after the fact

annabellissimo wrote on March 10, 2016 at 2:03 am

How about the Superb Supercomputer? It could be some kind of thing that could light up. The University of Illinois has more Nobel Prize winners associated with it than any other public university, or so I've read. How about The Noble Nobels! The play on words could confuse our sports team rivals and while they were scratching their heads, saying "Whaaaaa?" our teams could score some baskets or touchdowns or whatever. When a score was made, fans could ring bells, and then abruptly stop ringing them in coordinated fashion while yelling in unison, "No Bells!" Seriously, no mascot. "Retiring" the Chief, as it is euphemistically called, was a weak-minded and floppy-spined act, kind of similar to the recent reports of Bowdoin College going berserk over an off-campus party given by a student from Columbia, a tequila party to which people wore small sombreros. All involved are entering re-education camps and when the cultural revolution, a la the terrifying Chinese Cultural Revolution, ends they may come out again. No mascot. No big-headed creepy thing. No vacuous attempt to redirect the vacating of an actual school symbol. No, wait, on third thought: how about a tall white man in a dark beard wearing a stovepipe hat hawking mattresses? That's respectful and dignified and befitting a great leader. He also does duty selling insurance and used cars and refrigerators. We know how to show respect and reverence for our forefathers, don't we? I wonder why no one has shown that kind of love and respect for the "Chief." We must not respect him since we haven't had him mugging for cameras and yelling about mattress deals. That tall white man with the dark beard and stovepipe hat and dark suit used to ride a horse around the state practicing law on "the circuit." Maybe a "circuit-breaker" mascot? No, too electrifying. The "rail-splitters", but really, what does it mean, what does it have to do with "fightin'," and it's a mouth full: "Go Rail-Splitters!" would be shortened to "Go Splitters" and when the crowd noise makes it sound like "Ghost Pitters" and such, it becomes even more obscure. Yes, our greatest President hawking mattresses - that's a fine surrogate for that awful, undignified, disrespectful "Chief." (tongue in cheek, sarcasm run rampant, no seriousness at all; no mascot.)

Mamba wrote on March 10, 2016 at 9:03 am

Why not just have Alma be the 'mascot'? An already well known, beloved symbol...already incorporated into the traditions and music....


annabellissimo wrote on March 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Yes, we could be the "Alma Maters" or just "the maters" and our slogan could be, "Whatsa Mater U.?" (a nod to the great and wonderful "Rocky and Bullwinkle")

BLMDH wrote on March 12, 2016 at 10:03 am

Memorial Stadium is dedicated to those Illini ("Fighting Illini") who sacrificed in the first World War.  Why not further "honor" them by having as a mascot a "Fighting Illini", a person attired in a WW1 uniform.  May not be as hostile and abusive or as politically incorrect as FSU's mascot, but not alot different than uniformed ROTC members carrying rifles (and the flag) to support the playing of our national anthem.  Honor the armed forces and the "Fighting llini" with a doughboy as a mascot -- the SYMBOL should always be THE CHIEF!

Tom Luker wrote on April 03, 2016 at 3:04 pm
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I am a 1957 graduate ans was president of the Tribe of Illini in 1956-57. I earned 6 varsity letters in Track and Cross Country.

I've been very passionate about The Chief and still lament his passing as the symbol for the University of Illinois. I still think we were short-changed by the decision of the NCAA [which is located in INDIANapolis, INDIANa. The Florida Seminoles get to keep their mascot because of the support they had from a currently existing Seminole Nation. The Illini Tribe was obliterated by the Ho-Chunk Nation, I believe, at Starved Rock, hence the name of the state park. The Ho-Chunk Nation up here in Wisconsin is happy to romp with Bucky Badger at UW-Madison, and we all have fun with Bucky! My youngest son was a Bucky in 1988 & 1989 so I know the fun of having a "mascot" rather than a "symbol" or just a "Block I" at athletic and university events.

It's sort of sad to see no fun-type image on the floor or field when watching the Fighting Illini. This was even true back in the day. Afterall, The Chief only danced at halftime as a "symbol" which was always thrilling. I was fortunate to return to the newly renovated State Farm Center on March 31st to attend the Illinois-Wisconsin basketball game thanks to my daughter, and had the privelege of sitting with my daughter Karyn & Head Track Coach Mike Turk & Varsity "I" Association Director Chris Tuttle. Besides their companionship, the best part of the game was the singing of The Chief song without the dancing with the Illini football team filling the floor at halftime. As it was my first time at an Illini home basketball game in more that 60 years, I was overcome with emotion by presentation.

Here's what I would propose:

  • A representation of the University of Illinois-Urbana be established that could be used at both athletic events and other gatherings. Up here in Madison where I've lived for 60 plus years, Bucky shows up everywhere including hospital visits to children & fund-raising events.
  • One of the comments to this article mentioned Alma Mater. Not quite someone or some idea that you can get your arms around, but she comes close!
  • The flatlands, plains, rivers, hills and valleys of Illinois are always affected by WEATHER. Sometimes that weather can be CHARGED. By LIGHTING. Lightning denotes POWER.
  • What if we were to adopt a powerful flash of lightning as our mascot [& even a "public" symbol]? The PRIDE of ILLINI or POWER of ILLINI could be an orange LIGHTNING BOLT across a blue sky or BLUE BLOCK "I". Or displayed as a BLUE BOLT across the front of an ORANGE BLOCK "I"? Can a shirt designer step up to help me?

 I've gone on too long in this comment, but maybe someone could step up to further develop the idea. I've never seen the idea of a LIGHTNING BOLT be put forth and it would possibly be unique for university images in the U.S. I can see EAGLES coming out of the sky with a FIGHTING ILLINI BOLT in their claws [see the emblem of the United States of America] charging down to power the Fighting Illini on the field of athletic achievement -- or academic acclaim! Go Illini! Tom Luker, '57 -- Madison, WI