Council of Chiefs opens tryouts

By Eric Anderson

The Council of Chiefs, composed of former Chief Illiniwek portrayers, is collaborating with the Honor the Chief Society to crown a Chief XXXVII.

“We came to a point where we traditionally would have conducted tryouts and asked, well, what are we waiting for?” said Paul Schmitt, president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, which numbers about 600 students. Schmitt said he predicts a very successful tryout period full of qualified candidates.

In the past year, Schmitt, a former Illini Media Company employee, has been busy facilitating communication with the Council of Chiefs and testing student support for a Chief XXXVII.

True to the traditional selection process, candidates will complete a monthlong seminar in which they learn both the dance as well as the history. In March, the seminar will culminate in the selection of Chief XXXVII by a panel of former Chiefs and others from the Honor the Chief Society, composed of University alumni and fan supporters.

“(Candidates) will be completely versed in the dance, the knowledge and tradition of the history,” Schmitt said.

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Dan Maloney, whom Schmitt and the society consider the current chief, will teach the dance. Although dates of the actual seminars are not set in stone, Schmitt said he hopes to have things going by February or March.

“The importance of tryouts is to ensure that there is always a student on this campus that, on instant, can perform the dance with pride and honor,” he said.

But students shouldn’t expect to see the Chief dancing at Memorial Stadium very soon.

Rather, Schmitt said he foresees a successful new Chief by banking on the belief shared by students that Chief Illiniwek was not retired legitimately.

“There’s been a surge of unified support for the Chief,” he said. “I was very shocked to see how many freshmen and sophomores are really fired up about this.”

The Chief will be separate from the Board of Trustees and the NCAA. Both University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chair Larry Eppley and University President B. Joseph White said they could not comment on the issue.

However, Chancellor Richard Herman emphasized that the movement is through a Registered Student Organization, not officially through the University.

“The board has acted and made its decision,” he said. “The Chief Illiniwek tradition has ended honorably. Anything else they do is free speech.”

Trustee David Dorris echoed similar sentiments as Herman.

“As long as it is a private organization, they can do what they want, as long as it is nothing that goes against the University’s rules,” Herman said. “If they have some plan, that’s their decision.”

Schmitt said his plan is setting the stage for a Chief revitalization that might be years down the road.

“We don’t want to do this in an official capacity right now,” Schmitt said.

In the meantime, Schmitt said Students for Chief Illiniwek is content to humbly channel the enthusiastic spirit of student, alumni and fan support.

“Whoever the new Chief is might not dance on the floor of Assembly Hall,” Schmitt added. “But students still realize that this is a huge honor not only to the community but to Fighting Illini legacy.”