Student proposes historical UI mascot


Mike Skibski plans to present his idea of a new school mascot, Champ, pictured above, to the University Board of Trustees on March 14.

By Ethan Simmons, Contributing Writer

University student Mike Skibski, sophomore in Business, is presenting his design for a new school mascot to the University Board of Trustees as a public comment.

The proposed mascot is named Champ, and it represents University students who died in World War I. Champ resembles a WWI doughboy with an Illini twist, wearing a helmet with a Block I and carrying a billowing Illini flag.

Skibski posted his first full artwork onto the UIUC subreddit on Feb. 11, along with a petition to monitor support. His post garnered over 350 upvotes and 90 comments, while the petition hit 100 signatures in less than three days. Skibski credits the design’s historical continuity for its warm reception.

“A lot of people like the fact that it’s historical. We’re the Fighting Illini, and that’s based off of Memorial Stadium. So it makes a lot of sense to have a mascot that’s based around the Fighting Illini,” Skibski said.

Skibski’s interpretation of “Fighting Illini” fits an early use of the term, dating back to the fundraising period for Memorial Stadium.

Per the University Archives, the term “Fighting Illini” first appeared in early 20th century coverage of the University’s athletic teams, commenting on the competitive nature of the games. The University officially used “Fighting Illini” in promotional materials for the 1921 Memorial Stadium fundraising stretch, referring to the 183 fallen student soldiers from WWI.

University archivist Bill Maher believes the connection to “Fighting Illini” is an important element for the University’s adoption of a new mascot.  

“Don’t try to change the name Fighting Illini,” Maher said. “You’re taking on way too large of a battle. The team’s name is kind of set. The NCAA said it could be that way, and who is going to argue with the NCAA?”

In November 2005, the NCAA banned the University from using Chief Illiniwek as its mascot, but it allowed the use of both “Illini” and “Fighting Illini” to refer to Illinois athletic teams. With Illini terminology so embedded in University sports discourse, Champ represents a smooth transition, Skibski said.

However, Skibski wants to sharpen his design and address concerns prior to presenting the idea.

“The No. 1 issue right now is that many people don’t want to have a mascot that’s too militarized,” Skibski said.

He replaced Champ’s rifle with a flag in his latest draft. Skibski is working with a costume designer to bring his concept to life.

The Board of Trustees determines which public comment requests will attend their meeting in early March, said Executive Director of University Relations Thomas Hardy in an email.

Until then, Skibski hopes to condense his presentation into the five-minute time requirement and gather as much online support as possible.

“I especially want to showcase all the support that it has,” he said.

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