By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) College traditions aren’t widgets.
You can’t just manufacture them.
Nevertheless, down at my alma mater in Champaign, a student group is again trying to do just that by attempting to replace banished school symbol Chief Illiniwek – and, this time, another group of students is trying to stop them.
Last month, Campus Spirit Revival (CSR), a registered student organization at the University of Illinois, re-ignited passions among Chief loyalists by announcing an online contest to vote for a new school mascot intended to succeed the Illiniwek – even though very few Illini students, alumni or fans have any interest in that happening.
I don’t personally know a single soul who does.
“We don’t need to have a mascot to have school spirit,” Illinois grad student Josh Good told me this past weekend. “Whether you’re pro-Chief or anti-Chief, it’s preposterous to say that Illinois is lacking school spirit. What lack is there?”
Good and fellow Illini alum Bryce Dirks are of the school of thought that if Illinois can’t have Chief Illiniwek as its symbol, then the school is better off with no symbol at all. “Chief or nothing,” was how Good put it, and to that end, he and Dirks have launched an online petition against the election of a new mascot or symbol, which has more than 3,200 signatures.
I feel the exact same way about trying to replace the Chief that Good and Dirks do, although the members of CSR clearly do not. Way back in the fall of 2011, Campus Spirit Revival initially launched this campaign by asking students to contribute ideas for a new school mascot by April 15, 2012. Three days before that deadline, however, CSR had found the entries that they’d received – which included the likes of “Lean Mean Mr. Soybean,” “Trouble the Tractor” and Abe Lincoln holding a frothy mug of beer – to be so underwhelming that it announced it was extending the contest deadline until Oct. 14, 2012.
At the time of the deadline extension, Campus Spirit Revival president Thomas Ferrarell told the Daily Illini newspaper, “There’s a silent majority of people who are interested this. The students need to prove to the administration that they want a new mascot.”
The students actually seemed to prove the opposite. But, undaunted, CSR still decided to give it the old college try (again) last month when on Jan. 9 it sent out a mass email with the backing of the Illinois Student Senate. The message called for students to again respond with new mascot ideas for a contest. On that same day, Dirks and Good, fed up with the CSR’s efforts, also created a Facebook page called “Stop Campus Spirit Revival” featuring the message, “Campus Spirit Revival refuses to acknowledge the large majority of the student body that does not agree with them. We are the resistance!”
Campus Spirit Revival still held online voting for its contest last week from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. Only students were eligible to vote for the 46 mascot suggestions that CSR has gathered since 2011, a collection so curious that it caught the eye of Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Eisenberg who wrote last week, “A few are pretty good. Many more are pretty bad. And a handful are downright laughable.”
All of them, meanwhile, are completely unnecessary.
As Good and Dirks have stressed with their online efforts, what Campus Spirit Revival still refuses to acknowledge is that the vast majority of Illini fans have absolutely no appetite for some silly new mascot to prance along the sidelines at football and basketball games like an Illinois version of Herky Hawkeye or Sparty the Spartan.
Chief Illiniwek never was that. He was different.
In fact, he still is.
Illinois student Ivan Dozier, who is half-Cherokee, currently portrays Chief Illiniwek, who continues to exist in an unofficial capacity on campus. He explained to the Daily Illini last month that what has always set the Chief apart from other schools’ mascots is that Illiniwek was created to be honorable symbol of the university, not a sideline comedy act.
“When I do the performances, I am not supposed have any facial expressions,” said Dozier, who was selected for the role by the Council of Chiefs, comprised of former Illiniwek portrayers. “No high-fives, no chest bumps, no running around interacting with the fans. All is done to keep the image respectful.”
Dozier added, “This campus doesn’t need a spirit revival. It has tons of spirit. As for the revival movement, I am honestly not worried about it. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen about four different movements to create a new mascot, but none of them ever panned out.”
That’s because Campus Spirit Revival is panning for gold in a river that’s not just empty – it’s also flowing in the opposite direction.
It’s time for CSR’s members to finally recognize that, because the vast majority of Illinois alums and fans simply don’t want Chief Illiniwek to be replaced. Rather, they want him to be remembered.
So just let things be. And embrace that spirit instead.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.