Illini, United Way decide to join forces

Illini, United Way decide to join forces

CHAMPAIGN — Sue Grey wanted to meet with Brad Underwood after he was hired as Illinois basketball coach in March, so the United Way of Champaign President and CEO reached out to her friend and Illinois basketball office administrator Julie Pioletti.

Turns out the first-year Illini coach wanted to meet Grey too. Underwood had previously participated in the INFINITI Coaches Charity Challenge during his time at Stephen F. Austin and wanted to gauge Grey's interest in joining forces this season to try for the $100,000 grand prize.

For Grey, teaming up with the men's basketball program was a no-brainer. Voting is currently underway in the first round and will continue for the next 10 days. Underwood stood seventh of 48 coaches on Wednesday afternoon.

The top 24 coaches move on to the second round, and their charity of choice will receive $1,000. The totals increase per round — from $7,500 to $10,000 to $15,000 — before the charity for the last coach standing is awarded the $100,000 prize.

That type of donation, Grey said, would do tremendous good for the Champaign-Urbana community.

"If we think about what's been on everybody's mind lately, it's been the cold and the weather," Grey said. "United Way funds the staffing for the C-U Men's Emergency Winter Shelter. That roughly costs about $50,000 a year. If we win that prize, we would be able to provide shelter for homeless men in our community for two years — from November through the end of March like a basketball season."

The regular below freezing and even subzero temperatures of the last two weeks emphasized the need for services like the emergency shelter.

"That shelter gets used every single night," Grey said. "The last couple of weeks have been really hard on the shelter. They've maxed out on their capacity, and we've had to come up with overflow spaces. This would be huge for our community to be able to do this for men who don't have an address right now."