CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (STMW) – Could Illini fans cheer for the Fighting Abe Lincolns? How about the Farmbots, Fire Chiefs or Doughboys?
More than three years after the University of Illinois board voted to retire the divisive Chief Illiniwek as the Urbana-Champaign campus symbol, students and faculty at the school are organizing in greater numbers to find a replacement.
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The Illinois Faculty Senate and the Illinois Student Senate both called for the creation of a new mascot. Twenty student groups organized as Students for a United Illinois picketed outside a recent non-university sponsored Chief event. And the university formed a committee to study the school’s values and find a new symbol representing it.
“I think the students and members of the university community believe having a new mascot will help our campus move forward,” said David Olsen, the student body president and a senior in the college of business.
While the Chief no longer participates in university events, Chief paraphernalia is still alive on campus. So is the “three in one” music that the Chief danced to.
The music, which plays at sports events, is part of the problem, anti-Chief students say.
“Students get up and re-enact everything the Chief has done,” said Teresa Ramos, a doctoral student in anthropology with Students for a United Illinois. “No one can move on.”
But as the faction pushing for a new mascot gets more organized, those who believe there is only one school symbol — the Chief — are digging in their heels.
The Next Dance, an event organized by Chief supporters, attracted 10,000 fans in 2008, 1,500 last year and 5,000 on the Oct. 23, 2010, homecoming weekend.
As talk continues about moving on from the Chief, Chief loyalists are urging fans to show their support.
“Our ultimate goal is to somehow bring it back on campus and reinstate it as NCAA-approved and one that is embraced by the university,” said Steve Raquel, who was the Chief in 1992 and 1993.
“At the end of the day the alumni finally realized we’re sick and tired of this,” said Raquel, now a 39-year-old Naperville resident who runs the website thechieflives.com.
“We have sat back and had been the silent majority and we asked them [Chief supporters] if you support us, come out.”
While Ramos is vocally anti-Chief, she believes many students are ambivalent on the issue.
While there are a lot of ideas floating around, both sides agree on one point — finding a new mascot everyone can embrace is going to take years.
Olsen said even if a new mascot isn’t immediately found he thinks the process of formally identifying common values on the Urbana-Champaign campus has merit.
“What’s really important in this whole issue is ensuring the campus is unified,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
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