Sunday Extra: Make Alma Mater part of UI halftime

Sunday Extra: Make Alma Mater part of UI halftime

By Elizabeth Austin

On a fall day last year, my husband and I — both proud University of Illinois alums — went to Champaign to see our first football game in many years. It was a great day, and we were having a wonderful time.

Then came halftime. The Marching Illini took the field — and hundreds of people in the stands began shouting "Chief! Chief! Chief!" and booing at the tops of their lungs.

We were horrified. We couldn't believe that so many alums were showing their "Illini spirit" by booing at the hard-working young band members and cheerleaders down on the field. We understood that they are still upset about losing Chief Illiniwek — but venting their anger on students? Something had to be done.

So we started brainstorming together, trying to come up with a powerful, unique new symbol of Illini pride. A dancing ear of corn? No. Dancing Abraham Lincoln? Heck, no. Nothing seemed right.

Then, as we toured the campus, we saw students and their families lining up to take pictures in front of the beautifully restored Alma Mater statue. And I had a vision:

It's halftime. As we hear the opening strains of "Pride of the Illini," two students — a man and a woman, dressed as Labor and Learning — dance onto the field in an exciting, acrobatic, choreographed performance. Then, as we sing, "Hail to the Orange," we see the Alma Mater — a young woman dressed in long white robes, wearing an orange-and-blue laurel crown with ribbons hanging down her back.

While Learning and Labor dance in her honor, the Alma Mater sits nobly on her throne as it rolls onto the field. As the song ends, her throne is wheeled into place and she slowly steps down to the 50-yard line, with Learning and Labor taking their places behind her. When we sing "Victory, Illinois, Var-si-ty," Alma Mater raises her arms to the cheering crowds.

The Alma Mater is the greatest, most profound symbol of the University of Illinois. We see her image on the UI website, on students' i-cards — even on the UI Twitter. The figures of Learning and Labor represent UI's history of offering a world-class education to young people, like my husband and me, who come from hard-working families with deep roots in this state.

By making the Alma Mater and her attendants part of UI's halftime tradition, we can replace a beloved mascot with an even more revered figure. Bringing the Alma Mater onto the field — in a respectful way — will remind everyone that our proud legacy of learning and honest labor dates back far longer than 1926, when the Chief made his debut.

And no true Illini fan could ever boo the Alma Mater.

Let's tell the university that we don't need some cartoonish, plush figure cavorting on the sidelines of Zuppke Field. We can honor our heritage and create a strong new tradition by making our beloved Alma Mater the emblem for UI athletics.

Elizabeth Austin, who lives in Oak Park, is a member of the University of Illinois Class of 1980.

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rellenberger wrote on August 07, 2016 at 12:08 pm

And Ms. Austin my first question would be, while Learning & Labor position the Alma Mater's throne on the fifty yard line, what appropriate song shall the Marching Illini play?

The "3 in One" is a musical tradition and an elaborate field Drill of great import, which for the past 90 years, has been a Marching Illini hallmark and an athletic event tradition. It, unfortunately for some, is a medley of 3 pieces of historic Illinois music in one musical arrangement:  Pride of the Illini, the Chief's Dance, and the Alma Mater.  Do we just edit the 32 bars of the Chief's Dance out of the "3 in One" (because as some members of the university's administration suggest, "It evokes an undesirable image of the past") and substitute the "Flower Duet" by Delibes' as "more appropriate" ballet music for the mythological Greek figures to pirouette about the mid-field stripe?

While were modernizing, let's just get rid of Oskee Wow-Wow, the Fighting Illini fight song, because it too may have Native American assosication, which evokes the imagery of "You know Who."

When you start tinkering and editing the MUSIC for public performance because of imagery it may evoke, you have the "Anti-Chief" minority sowing the seeds of "political correctness" in the Morrow Plots at a public University.

I must admit, your idea is far better than "The Prairie Fire" or any other such commercial whim$y currently under discussion. In the end, it is the STUDENTs who must decide and vote to change the University's mascot.

Richard S. Ellenberger, M.H.A, M.Sc., FACHE, Marching Illini Band Alumnae, 1975-1979




long livethechief wrote on August 08, 2016 at 11:08 am

Nobody is booing, they are simply yelling "Chief" in low tones.  If you don't go for years, it's pretty rude and arrogant to say untrue things about a fan base that is still going to a horrible programs games.