Zion Train Comes to Champaign-Urbana

28 June 2005
(Doily Illini)

The University's Board of Trustees today took decisive action to address the concerns surrounding the school's mascot, Chief Illiniwek. The Chief has been criticized as undermining sacred aspects of Native American culture for the halftime entertainment of non-Natives. In response to this criticism, which recently spread to government funding agencies, the Board has decided to replace the Chief with a white male. The time-honored tradition of the celebratory fancy dance will remain.

Board member Chris Vutbalfour explained, "We wanted to strike a compromise between the pro- and anti-Chief agendas. The Chief was the honored symbol of the University and was our most visible representation of our Native heritage. However, he needed to be tweaked to better represent the Illinois people and their traditions. With our new mascot, we'll be maintaining the honor but focusing on a different part of our heritage. Hopefully this new focus won't also be allergic to halide."

Bearded and mustachioed, the new mascot will wear a canvas toga reminiscent of Greek life, sport a wiry crown suggestive of glory, and fling droplets of thick orange and blue fluid over nearby spectators as he sings and dances about the field in celebration. If the opposing team happens to score, the new mascot will fling back his arms and turn the other cheek as the loyal crowd boos. Overall, it should be an exciting new routine.

Feeling amongst the players was positive. "I've always wanted to have someone like that on my side," explained wide receiver Richard Gennaios. "It's one thing to think that he would be [on my side], but it's another to have him out there on the field rooting for me." Quarterback Charles Gamen was equally enthused: "At first I was against the change, but I've undergone a conversion. You know weather out here. We were playing some practice scrimmages and the sky just cleared as I made a perfect spiral for a touchdown. It was a great feeling to have the new mascot racing alongside and singing."

The Board has also initiated a new plan for concessions, including a logo featuring the new mascot's face to be distributed on bumper stickers, pennants, and handkerchiefs. The Neko company of Japan volunteered to introduce a new line of Illini products for distribution in the stands during play, but the details are still under wraps until the Board gives its blessing.

Other groups were not so sure. Anti-chief demonstrators at a rally outside of the Board's Chicago headquarters took a brief respite to comment. "It's hard to understand, but what I think we have here is a shift from building 'respect' for one group to building 'respect' for another," claimed Don Arbresoumort. "What's wrong with a nice hickory or beech tree?"

Fans of the chief also had mixed feelings about the new mascot. Alumnus Ron Liemel explained: "I always liked the chief. People are just too sensitive. I'm not really Indian, but it never bothered me that some people were offended. Just the other day, in fact, I had a great beer with a picture of a drunken Ganesh toting two mugs and a Picasso-style face on the label. That may offend some people, too, but I get the joke. They're mixing up Ganesh with that Greek guy. It's an easy confusion, since Greece is part of the Iberindian Peninsula, along with Japan and Syria. It didn't phase me at all--plus I liked the beer. This new mascot kind of bugs me though. I hope people will complain."

The Board even came up with a plan to match the Illinois team's recent come-back-from-behind style while at the same time taking into account the level of energy required in the mascot's routine. Vutbalfour volunteered, "At the end of half time, the mascot will collapse on the field and be dragged off behind the opposing team's goalposts. Once the Illini turn the game around and win, the mascot will reappear in the Illini goal zone and rocket into the sky to celebrate the victory."

The new mascot will also move Illinois into the next Millenium of publicity. Long gone will be the days in which the Chief was effectively banned from attending away games. Instead, the new mascot will be riding the train up to Chicago every weekend to lobby the Illinois legislature for additional sports funding. The train may not go any faster, but the riders may be a lot happier when they reach the end of the line.