"This is an investment not only in the Orange Krush and the State Farm Center but in the future of the Orange Krush."
Student group will get own hospitality room in return
Orange Krush leaders say the group's $1 million pledge to the State Farm Center renovation isn't just a brick-and-mortar investment.
The University of Illinois' charitable student cheering group sees it as a way to expand its impact — both on the court and in the community.
"This is an investment not only in the Orange Krush and the State Farm Center but in the future of the Orange Krush," said UI junior Ryan Gant, president of the Krush Foundation board.
"With the renovation, we'll be able to almost double our seating from about 600 seats on the floor to about 1,200.
"The more people we can involve, the more people we'll have to donate to the more than 50 organizations and local charities that we support."
For their donation, announced Friday, the Krush will get a hospitality room of their own — the Orange Krush Club — to congregate in before, during and after Illini basketball games.
"A place to wait inside" for games, Gant said. No more shivering in the cold hours before tipoff while studying stats.
Friday's marked the sixth seven-figure gift for State Farm Center naming rights that the UI has announced in the past two months — and the fundraising for the $160 million overhaul is far from over. With just one more men's home game left (Tuesday versus Michigan) and construction set to ramp up (Thursday marks the "official start date" for renovations), the UI still lists online 11 other "naming opportunities" for prospective donors.
A branch of the Illini Pride student organization, the Krush has raised more than $2.7 million for the university and local and national charities since 1998. During the 2013-14 season alone, donations have gone to Cunningham Children's Home, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the Center for Women in Transition, Girls on the Run, Camp New Hope and Warm a Kid.
"I think the charitable aspect of the Orange Krush is what makes it unique," said UI senior McKennon Biers, a former Krush chairman and foundation board president. "We're up there with the best (student sections) in the country on the court. But what we do in the community puts us over the top. Our members really get behind it."
Biers said the seven-member foundation board decided to make the State Farm Center donation last year, but held off on the announcement as they'd previously committed to raising $500,000 for the Lou Henson Coaching Endowment Fund.
"With this project coming along, it made sense that we support it," Biers said. "It reflects students, campus and community, which is kind of like our motto. So reinvesting in the State Farm Center serves all three of those pillars."