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It was announced on Aug. 11 by the Big Ten that fall sports would not have competition in 2020-21.

Fifty years ago, during the 1970-71 athletics season, all 11 of the University of Illinois men’s varsity teams were in action. And while there were no conference team titles, a number of athletes had admirable performances.

The unofficial Illini Athlete of the Year —chosen by the Daily Illini in that era — was distance runner Lee LaBadie. His overwhelmingly spectacular accomplishment came on May 11, 1971, when in a dual meet against Southern Illini he became the first Big Ten undergraduate to break the four-minute barrier in the mile run. That day, LaBadie ran his first 440 yards in 60 seconds, but his pace slowed to 2:03 after the first half mile.

Then he began to pour on the coals, touring the next quarter mile in 57.5 seconds. LaBadie ran the final 440 yards in 58.3 seconds, finishing his record mile in an unprecedented time of 3:58.8. At the 1970 Big Ten cross country championship, he placed 10th, then won the mile run at the conference’s 19771 outdoor meet.

Here are seven other Illini star athletes from 50 years ago:


This Illini junior outfielder was a solid choice as coach Lee Eilbracht’s Most Valuable Player in 1971. In 18 Big Ten games, Dixon had the conference’s third-best average (.410), trailing Purdue’s Terry Wedgewood (.467) and Michigan State’s Rob Ellis (.413) in the batting race. His performance earned him second-team All-Big Ten honors.


Illini football’s MVP in 1970 was this senior tight end from Streator, repeating the honor he’d won in 1969. For a third straight season, UI’s No. 82 led the team in receiving, this particular season with 39 receptions for 537 yards. Only John Wright ended his career with more grabs (159) than Dieken’s 89. The following spring, Dieken was a sixth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, spending 14 seasons in the stadium beside Lake Erie.


The MVP of coach Harv Schmidt’s 1970-71 Illini basketball team averaged 20.6 points per game in 23 games and 18.7 in 14 league appearances. A second-team selection on the court, the former Downers Grove North High School guard totaled just shy of 900 career points as an Illini. Howat sparkled in the classroom as an Academic All-American.


Just a sophomore, Hunt won the Big Ten floor exercise title in 1971 for coach Charlie Pond. He completed the season by winning All-America laurels. The following season, Hunt won the NCAA title. He now owns a gymnastics academy in Midvale, Utah, and is widely known for his comic parodies as a women’s gymnast.


Hunt’s Illini teammate was a standout on the side horse (aka pommel horse), capturing the Big Ten title in that event in both 1971 as a junior and again in 1972. Barr, a product of Mt. Prospect High, became a three-time All-American at Illinois.


Burden was a sophomore member of the All-Big Ten golf team in 1971, advancing from the team’s No. 6 player to No. 1 that spring. A few weeks later, he began an improbable run to playing in the U.S. Open, qualifying at the Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago, then playing with the likes of Lee Trevino (the eventual champ) and Jack Nicklaus at Pennsylvania’s Merion Golf Club.


Koster was one of three Illini titlists at the 1971 Big Ten outdoor track and field meet, capturing first place and setting a UI varsity record in the 440-yard intermediate hurdles with a time of 50.9 seconds. At the conference’s indoor championship, the Champaign High grad narrowly lost by three-tenths of a second in the 600-yard run finals.

Illini Birthdays

Sunday: Lynn Devers, gymnastics

Monday: Mickey Chaudhuri, tennis (48)

Tuesday: Donny Navarro, football (21)

Wednesday: Clarence “Bud” DeMoss, football (88)

Thursday: Ethan Tabel, football (23)

Friday: Maverick Morgan, basketball (26)

Saturday: Aleks Kovacevic, tennis (22)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @B1GLLL. His website is Also, if you’ve got an Illini SuperFan in your family who will soon be celebrating a ‘milestone’ birthday, we’d love to try and include them in our weekly birthday list that always runs with our ‘Legends, Lists and Lore,’ entries. Email their name, age and hometown to Mike Pearson at

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