Around the world in sports

CHICAGO (KRT) – The resounding ovation that Chief Illiniwek received from the capacity crowd when he concluded his dance and strode off the Assembly Hall court at halftime of Illinois’ home finale against Iowa on Feb. 28 seems destined to be remembered as his last hurrah.

The NCAA rejected an appeal Friday that would have permitted Illinois to continue having a barefoot student wearing a buckskin costume and a huge feather headdress perform at selected athletic events.

“Our decision is final,” said Walter Harrison, NCAA Executive Committee chairman.

If Illinois decides to perpetuate the Chief Illiniwek tradition, which dates to 1926, the NCAA will bar the school from being a venue for postseason tournament contests in any sport.

“I’m hoping they take a hard line on it and forgo hosting postseason play because typically that’s going to be with non-revenue sports,” said Mike Gonzalez of Burr Ridge, who was Chief Illiniwek from 1974-76. “It doesn’t seem too large a penalty to pay to keep the Chief.”

Athletic director Ron Guenther sees the
situation differently.

“The inability to host NCAA championship competition would have an unbelievably negative effect on our program,” he said. “The university has invested large amounts of resources in facilities, scholarships and coaches in our (non-revenue) sports.”

The unsuccessful Chief Illiniwek appeal was in response to the NCAA’s announcement in August that it was banning “hostile and
abusive” school nicknames and Native
American imagery.

In November the university won an appeal to continue using the nicknames Illini and Fighting Illini. It argued that Illini derived from the nickname of the state, and the original connotation of the adjective Fighting was a drive to excel.

In a 1923 letter soliciting money to build Memorial Stadium, Fighting Illini also was used to describe students and alumni who had lost their lives in World War I.

Gonzalez contended the Chief Illiniwek tradition honors Native Americans rather than demeans them.

“Those of us who were privileged to portray the Chief took the job very seriously,” he said. “We portrayed the Chief in as dignified a manner as we possibly could.

Unlike other mascots, we would go out and do our performance and nobody would see us again.”

Courtney Linehan of La Grange, senior writer for the Daily Illini said, “the student body is generally supportive of the Chief Illiniwek tradition, but there is a significant portion that would like to see the Chief retired.”

Lawrence Eppley, chairman of the Illinois Board of Trustees, said, “the issue now has fallen squarely in the lap of athletics. The board

and the administration will consider the
situation with our lawyers, but we
wouldn’t want to do too much without
the (athletic department).”