How do you get fans in the stands?

This past year, Illinois football had it’s lowest average home attendance in the past 5 years. Illinois basketball had its second-lowest attendance in the past 5. There’s a serious issue with Illinois Athletics right now, and it’s not just the disappointing play.

Cassie Arner, associate athletic director in charge of marketing, fan development, and strategic communication, has spent plenty of time around Illinois sports. Serving as the Football sports information director from 1997-2010, she spent six years at Auburn before returning back to Illinois in January 2018.

“We’ve got to get people interested,” Arner said in an interview. “If you look across at the most successful student fan bases, they’re ones that are participating early. They’re coming to the stadium early, they’ve got events that are coinciding with whats happening at the football stadium. They’re not doing things that are separate.”

The “things that are separate” that Arner is referencing, is what’s known on campus as “block”: Fraternities and sororities pairing up to spend their Saturday mornings, sometimes as early as 6 A.M., going to campus bars rather than the football games.

“If you look at our largest individual group, which is our greeks”, Arner said, “they’ve been participating far away from the stadium. That’s a big challenge.”

Sabrina Thiel has the Director of Marketing and Fan Development at Illinois since 2014. When asked what the athletic department was doing to attract students, she saw opportunity in Grange Grove.

“Before there wasn’t an area for a student to tailgate,” Thiel said, “that’s why they would go to the bars. Block used to be: go to the bar and pregame but you bought a “block” of tickets and you sit in your block of seats.”

Bobby Ernsting, a sophomore in Sigma Chi, doesn’t want to go to the football games until the level of play improves.

“Why would I spend my Saturday mornings watching us get destroyed every single time?” Ernsting said. “I would go to the games if we were somewhat competitive.”

But according to Cassie Arner, the level of play will only improve if the fans start coming, and soon.

“The fans have to come first,” Arner said, “because we will not be able to recruit the highest level of student-athlete if they come to a place and there’s no passion, no dedication from the fanbase.”

Some places may not want to see a dedicated fan base such as the campus bars. If more students start tailgating and going to the games instead of heading to the bars, the culture change would hurt revenue.

Matt Baran, a manager at the Red Lion, located on the corner of Third St. and Green St., said, “As bad as it sounds, its been good for business that our football team has sucked the past few years.”

Baran, a senior studying Mechanical Engineering, has been a manager for two years. In his time at the Red Lion, he said there’s often been Saturdays that they don’t even have the Illinois football game on TV at block.

“I remember the Ohio State game this past year, we changed the channel after the first quarter we looked so bad,” Baran said. “People would just rather watch good football.”

Anthony Ryan, a manager at a rival bar, Kam’s, feels differently about if the football team improved.

“Of course I want to see our football team make a bowl game or our basketball team make it to the NCAA tournament,” Ryan said, “even if that means losing block.”

“We’re building our relationship with greek life,” Sabrina Thiel said. “We’re trying to get them to not do block at the bars, but do block at Grange Grove.”

This past fall, the athletic department pitched the idea of tailgating in Grange Grove to a small number of fraternities and sororities, but the idea fell through after just one week.

“We had a few fraternities that were on board with it, but they were just supposed to create their own thing, but they still signed a contract with a bar,” Thiel revealed.

After the university realized that the bar the greek houses chose to pair with, Joe’s Brewery, failed to obtain the necessary licenses to distribute food and liquor within Grange Grove, the tailgates were shut down for the rest of the year.

Another way the athletic department tried getting students to come last year was by bringing in Chicago-based artist Louis the Child to perform in Grange Grove before the Nebraska game on September 29. Even then, with high student attendance, students left afterward and didn’t watch Illinois fall 28-6, failing to score a touchdown

With a new offensive coordinator and a recruiting class highlighted by four-star defensive tackle Calvin Avery, the football team hopes to give students and local fans alike a reason to fill Memorial Stadium next fall.

“I hate to say winning helps, but it does,” Thiel said, “but also the atmosphere helps.”

Investigative Story Update

  • Reached out to Professor Houston, head of investigative journalism at Illinois, to help me with how to go about the data collection for this story
  • Reached out to Randy Ewoldt, a Mechanical Engineering academic advisor, to ask him more in-depth questions about the data we have
  • Reached out to Meher Ivatury, a Freshmen studying engineering, to ask him about what being in the college of engineering is like and what the expectations are like
  • Meeting with my own academic advisor, Amy Wolf, after class on Tuesday to ask about what she, as an academic advisor, can make of these numbers. Does it say something about the quality of the school, quality of the students, or quality of academic advisors?

Rock Thrown from Overpass Kills Local Mother

Emily Sawyer has died after a rock was thrown from an overpass broke through her windshield and struck her in the head. It is speculated that the rock was thrown by a group of young men.

Sawyer, 43, was driving her mother Celine Taylor, 86, to church services in Danville when the football-sized piece of granite hit her car. The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer then swerved into the protective railing on the side of Interstate 74. Sawyer was pronounced Dead on Arrival at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

This incident is eerily similar to that of Samuel Howe, who was killed last year when a gas can was dropped off the Windsor Road overpass above I-57.

Sawyer’s two sisters, Donna Taylor and Felicity Shrove, called for action to be taken to prevent similar killings in the future.

“This was a senseless tragedy,” the sisters said in a joint statement. “It could have been any one of us or any of our kids. We hope that steps can be taken to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”

Police are still actively searching for the young men responsible. If you or anyone you know has any information about the accident, the Champaign County Crimestoppers are asking for people to call them at (217) 373-8477.


For the second time this year, debris thrown from an interstate overpass has killed a motorist.

Emily Sawyer, 43, has been pronounced Dead on Arrival at the Carle Foundation Hospital after a granite rock was thrown through her windshield on I-74. Champaign Police are actively searching for who is responsible. Those with information are urged to contact the Champaign County Crimestoppers at (217) 373-8477

Potential New Students, it’s Not What it Looks Like

The quad has always been a place of action on campus, but the recent Graduate Employees’ Organization strike has given these familiar early-springtime temperatures a different feel. With the GEO asking for protection of tuition waivers, an increase in graduate student minimum wage, and more, if not full, healthcare, it could be a while until we see another peaceful morning on the quad.

For some, the strike comes as no surprise. Olivia Welshans of the Daily Illini, reported on November 1 of last year that “Graduate Student workers could go on strike”, pointing out that the long process of agreeing on a contract “raised tensions across campus.” The Chicago Tribune, who’s office is 140 miles north of the quad, even reported on February 8th that the strike date had been set for February 26th.

For others, however, the picketers come as a very shocking and unpleasant sight. Around this time every year, students and faculty can regularly spot students clad in orange t-shirts, walking backward while giving campus tours to potential incoming students. For those high-school seniors, every detail of a campus visit is taken into account when decided where to enroll in the fall.

Ashley Ball, a senior at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois, is concerned about what the strikes mean about the future stability of the university and its staff.

“I’m just worried about issues such as this that could drive good teachers away from the U of I,” Ball said in an interview. “I’ve wanted to go here for a long time, but the strike just has me concerned.”

On-campus, current students are much less worried about what the strike means going forward; they’re just ready to get back to class.

Nathan Bannon, 19, is an undeclared freshman who is trying to transfer into the college of engineering. For him, the strike was a little more personal.

“My sister is a graduate student so I think they should be paid accordingly to the effort they put in,” Bannon said.

Classes have not yet been canceled, with the possibility of professors moving their classes to non-picketed buildings.

A Summer Internship to Remember

Kathryn Storey is a senior at Illinois studying Reproductive Biology. She is in a sorority, a member of Love Your Melon, the treasurer for Illini Wildlife and Conservation Club, and she does research on male infertility at Vet Med on campus. But Kat is not just another student with a list of RSOs, this summer she got the chance to do what very few students in the country get to do.

This past summer, Storey was one of 14 students nationwide selected to participate in the San Diego Zoo Institue for Conservation Research Fellowship. She was one of only two to be selected to participate in the reproductive sciences sector of the fellowship.

“All these fellowships were under the Institue,” Storey revealed. “There was a total of seven of us… but they were all in different sectors and the second girl that came to reproductive sciences came in June, but she was working under a different mentor.”

Days off in Chicago or St. Louis differ quite a bit from those in San Diego, California; especially when you work for one the most renowned zoo’s in the world. Kathryn’s on-days work featured transplanting avian reproductive organs and her off-days were spent leisurely enjoying the San Diego summer weather in the park.

When asked why she chose Illinois four short years ago, Storey answered, “Definitely the people and the connections, because U of I provides a ton of resources for its students to get out in the world and do things, which is really cool.”

And Kathryn Storey has a reason to be grateful for connections, her involvement with the SDZI wouldn’t have been possible without her hearing it talked about at one of her Wildlife and Conservation club’s meetings.

“My first plan of action was to go to Dr. Barr on campus, she’s really well known for reproductive biology within animal sciences and she honestly knows everyone,” Storey explained, “so she wrote my letter of recommendation.”

The Illini Wildlife and Conservation club gives students on campus the opportunity to travel to developing countries and experience wildlife and other economic factors in a different cultural setting. They also do multiple trips throughout the year to local zoos and conservation areas.

Storey hopes to attend graduate school after graduation in May, although she doesn’t know where.

Chancellor Jones’ decisions questioned at recent academic senate meeting

The decision by Chancellor Robert Jones to place professor Jay Rosenstein on administrative leave was at the forefront of discussion at the academic senate meeting on Monday Feb. 5. Rosenstein was placed on leave after he was arrested for filming a group of pro-chief Illiniwek students changing into traditional chief gear at a men’s basketball game on January 22. His charges have since been dropped.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion Bruce Rosenstock voiced his strong concern for how professor Rosenstein came to be put on administrative leave.

“You’re not following the Illinois Administrative Code” Rosenstock argued.

With a conversation about the universities’ controversial mascot history at the precipice of the senate meeting, more conversation was to be had about what the faculty should do about the university’s representation. Chancellor Jones called it a “murky situation”, but also stated that the school doesn’t have to authority to stop individuals from displaying the chief in offices or on clothing, adding that he doesn’t want the university to infringe on people’s freedom of speech.

 

 

Ferguson’s novel a remedy for perfectionists

The Urbana Free Library will be hosting a book signing on  Thursday, February 14th at 7 p.m. “Grace’s Mirror: Healing for Perfectionists” by Dan E. Ferguson shares guidance to help perfectionists be happy.

Ferguson has been the pastor of the Douglass United Methodist church in Kansas since 2015 and received his doctoral degree in pastoral counseling from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

The book signing and program will be in the conference room. Everyone is welcome.

For more information, call the Urbana Free Library at (217) 367-4057

Four teenagers hospitalized after a game of “Car Tag”

An accident at the corner of Grand Ave. and Date St. resulted in four teenagers being sent to local hospitals. Only moderate injuries were sustained. Hillsboro police chief, Dan Kinning, confirms that the cause of the accident was a game of “car tag”. Both drivers were cited for reckless driving.

“One went wide and one went short” Kinning said in an interview.

Kassidy Trapani, 18, was turning left in her Volkswagon Beetle when a Dodge Dakota, driven by 17 year old Kolton Harms, took a sharp left turn spinning Trapani into a tree on the corner.

Trapani and passenger, 13 year old Ryliegh Petersen, sustained moderate injuries and were taken to Hillsboro Community Hospital. Harms and passengers, Jasmine Copenhaver, 15, and Anna Baugh, 16, were taken to St. Luke Hospital in Marion.

“It’s dangerous”, Kinning said afterwards. “Not only should the consider their own welfare and the welfare of those who are with them, but the welfare of people who share the street with them.”

 

 

Arts Center fulfills financial promise, achieves fundraising goal

The Shari Flaming Center for the Arts will be completed debt free, after Tabor College announces the final $150,000 has been collected. The center, which was opened in early last December, relied mainly on donor commitments to pay.

The success of the last effort of the campaign, appropriately titled “The Grand Finale”, thrilled Jules Glanzer, president of Tabor College.

“We asked 1,000 people to give $1,000 to raise the final million dollars needed to be debt free,” Glanzer said. “We were overwhelmed with the response. The Grand Finale included 1,128 people for a total of $1,194,000 in contributions.”

Aside from just financially supporting the Center for the Arts, 800 attended the dedication ceremony on December 9 and another 1,1000 were there for the Tabor College Oratorio and Alumni Chorus and Community Orchestra performance the next day.

Right now the Shari Flaming Center for the Arts is only hosting arts events for the public, but students and the community alike can expect weekly chapel once the spring semester kicks off.

11 years later, why the chief still matters

Many students and faculty on-campus still miss the representation the University of Illinois had when they were growing up. Chief Illiniwek, the mascot for the Universities athletic teams from 1926-2007, last performed on February 21, 2007, but people on campus remember him fondly. With the topic of a potential new mascot in the news, many want nothing other than for the University to welcome the chief back with… you guess it, open arms.