URBANA, Ill. (WAND) – Backers of a replacement for the former “Chief” mascot at the U of I presented their idea Thursday.
Their plan is to make “Champ”, a World War I soldier, the new mascot. Two U of I students were involved in a presentation to university trustees during a board meeting, with one of them wearing a prototype of the costume. That person was sophomore Benjamin Duban, a nuclear engineering student who is part of the ROTC.
Duban was joined by sophomore Mike Skibski in the presentation. The News-Gazette reports the two students argued “Champ” would be a good fit because he’s a historical figure people can have pride in. They argued he would represent bravery with “quiet dignity” and have with him a “flag of victory” to honor the people who “sacrificed everything to preserve our country’s ideas”. They added that the state of Illinois played a part in contributing food, soldiers, nurses and other help to the U.S. in World War I.
While critics argued a mascot with military ties could carry controversy, Skibski said there are other schools with “fighting” in their names, and even others with names like Knights or Spartans.
One critic at the meeting, Native American Guardians Secretary Breelyn Fay, criticized the board for removing “vestiges of our history” when the Chief was taken out of U of I sporting events. Native American Guardians is a group that is for using native imagery in sports.
Fay called the actions of previous U of I administrations “shameful”, adding that the school needs to compromise and “integrate native culture into our traditions”.
Each side talked during the public comment part of the board meeting. As is their policy, trustees did not respond to comments from anyone at that time.
Chancellor Robert Jones told The News-Gazette that the two sides demonstrated “multiple perspectives” for how to handle replacing the Chief. He said a decision won’t be made until after the school’s Commission on Native Imagery finishes its work.