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Don’t confuse Block with gameday spirit

Greek life has taken over meaning of UI spirit

Illini+fans+hold+up+a+sign+during+the+Big+Ten+Tailgate+before+the+game+against+Minnesota+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Saturday+October+29.
Illini fans hold up a sign during the Big Ten Tailgate before the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday October 29.

Illini fans hold up a sign during the Big Ten Tailgate before the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday October 29.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illini fans hold up a sign during the Big Ten Tailgate before the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday October 29.

By Joseph Longo, Managing editor for reporting

Jerseys, Snapbacks and socks with sneakers. That’s the go-to look for Saturdays on Campustown. Members of the Greek community wake up early on Saturdays, head to the Red Lion and drink the day away all in the name of school spirit as the Illini play on big screens above the bar.

It hasn’t always been this way—at least that’s what my mom, a 1983 alumna, tells me. And it’s also something we’ve reported on before.

Greeks and Saturday mornings have a long history, one rooted in a singular word. Block. Fraternities pair-up with sororities to pregames and party at a specific bar, the most popular being the Red Lion. Block is a figurehead term, with a very loose definition in the block of wristbands used to get out of cover.

Now, flash back to the 1980s. Head football coach Mike White lead a successful, beloved program. Saturdays didn’t look too different. Sorority women and fraternity men still gathered for a day of drinking in honor of the Illini. However, their pregames didn’t end up at The Red Lion. Instead, they ended up at the football games, where an allocated section of seats were reserved.

Block: not wristbands, but sections at Memorial Stadium.

The 1980s showcased a block with a purpose and a name. It’s not something the current undergraduates know too much about. And there are a number of reasons why. Our sports programs are not what we often hear they are. But there’s a culture around football games that our Greek community lost quite some time ago: the tailgate.

Illinois doesn’t do anything not on massive scale. We pride ourselves as a university with about 40,000 students, Big Ten sports and bearers of the former title of No 1. Party school. We keep things exuberant. It’s part of our charm. Yet among our counterparts of similar scope, a different term describes the iconic Saturday mornings.

Gameday. No, no the store on Green Street. The retailer’s name can tell us a little bit about what’s missing from our campus. Block and Gameday are not synonymous, though they once were.

Today’s block has lost its meaningful importance. The games screened on flat screens above the bar wholly serve as background noise if they’re even playing and not silenced by a DJ.

Gameday is about school pride, tailgating alongside other students, fans and alums in the fields adjacent to Memorial Stadium. Block is too often about status. What bar you Block at determines your rank.

Fortunately, the Greek community is taking steps to revive a once lost icon of Saturdays in Champaign. The Interfraternity Council is pushing for fraternities to Block at Grange Grove. There is even a Sept. 29 free kick-off with live musical acts.

IFC isn’t the solution, neither is Grange Grove. Even if Block moves to a grassy, well-manicured field, it’s still a Greek event. To return to the illustrious pride of Illini Gameday, we need to find the pride. That takes commitment from the entire school and campus community.

Joseph is a junior Media. 
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6 Comments

  • Stephen Guardino

    Things aren’t like the 80s because we had a football powerhouse back then you dingus. Don’t write stupid articles just to look like you’re out here grinding.

    • Sara Lemenager

      Part of how you become a football powerhouse is having an exciting game day atmosphere. It’s hard to expect recruits to have fun and get excited about the possibility of choosing Illinois if the bleachers are half-full and many people would rather be at a bar than the football stadium/basketball arena. Fans have to commit to believing in a program before the players make it a powerhouse.

      • Stephen Guardino

        Recruits have no idea that we would rather be at a bar, even though it’s true, so don’t use that as reasoning. Also, find me one example in the history of sports where it was on the fans to make a team good by packing the stadium. It’s on the team to give fans something to get excited about. Also it’s stupid to put it all on greek life. Think about how many other students simply don’t care about football.

        • Mark Garofalo

          I really don’t think Sara is putting this all on Greek life. It takes everyone to make this happen. But she’s definitely right that a great atmosphere and big team support is more appealing to recruits than not. You can’t honestly think a recruit isn’t thinking about playing in front of 100,000 people in Columbus vs a half packed Memorial Stadium. Recruits with NFL aspirations want to be on that huge stage. As for one example, just look at what Avery said yesterday. When the Illini fans came out and shocked him with support it was another big reason he choose Illinois.

        • Sara Lemenager

          Home vs Nebraska, 2015, a win on a (literal) last second touchdown. If you think we would have won that game without thousands of screaming fans jazzed by a late-fourth quarter interception you’re kidding yourself. The defense became flustered and it created multiple pass interference penalties for the Illini to ultimately score. I never once said it was on Greek life that we’re not a powerhouse. Although it is 20% of campus, and would bring a lot of life to the stadium, the athletic department is trying to bring students who normally aren’t involved in game day. It’s up to those students to decide to take pride in their school.

  • Matt Finnegan

    You could bring a “hidden” bota of your preferred beverage to the game though 87. Teams got worse. In 88 or 89 they got rid of kegs at the fraternities which killed some fo the pre game enjoyment which cut down on the alumni attendance was a change I saw from student to alumni. I haven’t been back in a long time but and I’m surprised it’s changed what sounds like even more.