C-U community rallies behind home team

Nick Kohout

By Derek Barichello

Illini fever is just as abundant in Champaign as it is on campus.

Since the Illini defeated Arizona last week to advance to the Final Four, just about everyone has caught on.

Many business windows in downtown Champaign have displays supporting the Illini, an orange Illini flag is flying high at Champaign City Hall and much of the community is clad in orange.

“With the team going to the Final Four, it seems like everyone is watching,” said Beth Foran of Monticello, Ill., who is employed at National City Bank, 30 Main St. “Everyone is into it now.”

Sharon Harvey, of Champaign, made sure to get to Esquire Lounge, 106 N. Walnut St., at 2:30 p.m. Monday so that she could get her lucky seat. Esquire, The Brass Rail, 15 E. University Ave., and Huber’s, 1312 W. Church St., expected capacity crowds for the game.

Harvey said she was superstitious about her seat.

“We’ve sat in the same seat for every game,” Harvey said. “During the Ohio State game, the cable went out and we had to watch the game in the other room. So that’s why they lost.”

Matt Fu, who is a bartender at Huber’s, said the bar was filled to capacity during Saturday’s game.

“It’s a fun atmosphere in here,” Fu said. “It’s mostly an older, after-work business crowd that comes in. It’s not too rowdy, but there is a lot of cheering.”

Almost everyone in the community seemed to be watching Monday’s game. One exception, though, was Linda Ravenh of Urbana, who said she cannot watch the game because she must work.

“I’m stuck here,” Ravenh said, an employee of Mel’s Diner on Church Street. “I have been trying to get someone to take my place.”

Ravenh said she does not expect much business during the game.

“You can go out during the game and the streets are completely bare,” she said. “That shows just how much pride this town has for the team.”

The enthusiasm had the community scrambling for orange and blue Illini attire.

“Everyone has an interest in it,” said Dan Fuelling of Champaign, who works for Joseph Kahn & Co., 33 Main St. “There has been so much enthusiasm with everyone that comes in here. It’s been excellent for business; we’ve sold plenty of orange shirts and ties.”

Harvey said after last Sunday’s victory over Arizona, townspeople lined outside of Gameday Sports, 519 E Green St., to buy a Final Four shirt.

To Jeff Brandt, who has lived in Champaign his entire life, the enthusiasm comes as no surprise.

“The town has always been supportive of the teams,” Brandt said. “I grew up an Illini fan; my dad was a huge fan.”

Brandt said it is exciting to see the community receive so much attention.

“It’s big for the reputation of Champaign itself,” Brandt said. “Champaign-Urbana has been talked about a lot. It goes to show that there is a lot more in Illinois than Chicago.”

To some townspeople, the team has been an inspiration.

“It’s great for everybody,” said Amanda Roy, a Champaign resident. “Even people who don’t enjoy sports have learned a lesson from this team. They have reminded us in our everyday lives to go out and do our best.”

Roy said the Arizona game was a good example.

“In that game, I know mostly everybody gave up on them,” Roy said. “They proved us wrong. I know I’ve thought about it and how it taught me not to give up.”

Roy is not the only one who feels the team is more than just winning basketball games.

“They play together as a team,” said Gerald Van Petten of Danville, Ill. “They are very unselfish. It is beautiful within itself.”

Paul Berg, assistant city manager of Champaign, said the basketball team has provided many positives for the community.

“The town stands to benefit from two things,” Berg said. “The revenue from the food and beverage tax and sales tax from the apparel.”

With Champaign being under the national microscope, Berg said the city has done its best to make sure the town does not embarrass itself.

“It is always important,” Berg said. “With the publicity we have gotten nationwide and having a world-class university, it helps to have positive recognition around the world. It’s best for the students and the faculty to remain classy and it is a great benefit to the community.”