Chief Illiniwek to reclaim court spotlight during ‘Next Dance’

By Megan Graham

Supporters and opponents alike are anticipating the Saturday afternoon reappearance of the controversial Chief Illiniwek.

Although not endorsed by the University, the retired symbol will dance once again at Assembly Hall following the football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at nearby Memorial Stadium.

Students for Chief Illiniwek, a registered student organization, will present the event, called “The Next Dance.”

Roberto Martell, president of Student for Chief Illiniwek, said the event in addition to the dance will feature speakers and a documentary film, which he said he hopes will give the audience a background on the Illiniwek tradition that began more than 80 years ago.

“This is something that is worthwhile and something people can feel good about,” Martell said. “It’s a positive tradition that has inspired people to do great things both on the athletic field and off, and it’s something we really hope that we can continue.”

An e-mail circulated to some University addresses Thursday invited opponents of the event to rally against the “racist mascot” during the event.

According to the e-mail, protestors in white T-shirts will gather near the intersection of First Street and Kirby Avenue before marching to the main entrance of the Assembly Hall, where they will rally outside.

The e-mail also invited Chief opponents to get a ticket to attend the event.

Tickets are free for students with an i-card and are $5 for the general public. Martell said he is unsure of the exact number of tickets purchased so far.

“The number is in the thousands. … We’re expecting a pretty strong turnout,” Martell said.

Event organizers are encouraging students to attend the rally directly following the football game.

“Everyone is just flocking over after the game, that’s what I’ve heard,” said Katie White, freshman in LAS.

Since the event is not affiliated with the University, all of the materials used to promote “The Next Dance” were required to make that clear.

“We’ve asked them to put a disclaimer on their Web site and their materials to make clear that they are not University-sanctioned and that the University has nothing to do with the event,” said Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman.

The event was also not allowed to use the name “Illiniwek” or sell any products with that name because the University continues to retain legal rights to the trademarked symbol.

“That would be a violation of the copyright and trademark laws,” Kaler said. “The University has ownership of those terms and the group is not allowed to use our trademarks especially with selling the name.”

Martell chose not to comment on the subject.

On Monday, The Daily Illini published a letter to the editor written by University Chancellor Richard Herman, in which he wrote that the campus does not support Chief Illiniwek, and it will not be reinstated as the symbol of the University.

“As long as the group does not exclude any fellow students from participating, the organization is free to express within the law the beliefs and perspectives of its members,” Herman wrote in the letter.

Ashley Rivera, freshman in Business, said she believes the Chief won’t make a return as the school’s official mascot, but still looks forward to attending the event and celebrating the history of Illiniwek.

“The debate’s over but we can still celebrate the tradition,” she said.