Illini, Hoosiers go pint-to-pint in Red Cross blood donation contest

The University of Illinois and Indiana University have long been competitors in athletics and academics, but the two are participating in a different kind of competition this winter.

The 2012 Border Challenge, hosted by the American Red Cross, is a contest splitting Big Ten universities by region as they face off to reach their goal numbers of blood donations. It will go on until Feb. 29.

At the end of the competition, both schools will be evaluated to see how close they were to their goals; the closest school will win. Illinois’ goal is 525 pints of blood and Indiana’s is 686.

“We’re looking to have both schools to compete but come together to save lives,” said Karen Stecher, Red Cross manager of communications. “One kind of blood can save up to three lives, and giving it only takes about an hour. When you look at an entire campus giving blood, you could not only save hundreds but thousands of lives.”

Illinois had its first blood drive to promote the challenge on Jan. 26, while Indiana started two weeks ago, Stecher said. So far, 122 pints of blood or 23 percent of Illinois’ goal, has been donated, said Sarah Johnson, Red Cross donor recruitment representative. Indiana is also approaching about 30 percent of its goal with a total of 202 pints of donated blood.

“No matter if it’s an official (sponsored) blood drive or not … we’ve always gone beyond the goal,” said Janet Kroencke, Activities and Recreation Center blood drive facilitator and assistant director of wellness services. “We see a great number daily from just our regular blood drives … and we’ve been planning this since October.”

This competition is nothing too new, as the American Red Cross has been doing something similar to this within the Big Ten for the last two years. Stecher said the Big Ten Challenge was very successful and managed to gather amounts exceeding 10,000 pints of blood.

The American Red Cross receives around 15 to 20 percent of their overall blood donations from students nationwide. But with winter break, students leave, and numbers drop for the Red Cross.

“The primary reason for the challenge is the season. By students going on vacation, we lose valuable blood donors,” Johnson said. “So we’ve set this challenge strategically to make up for that loss, and yearly amounts keep improving. This year’s goal is higher than in the past. Each year we try to improve.”

Stecher and Johnson said they are hoping that the newfound blood drive duels will lift donations number. Along with the Indiana and Illinois rivalry, Wisconsin will face Purdue, and Nebraska is up against Iowa.

“We want to raise awareness across college campuses about the need for blood, and I think that once you bring that competitive edge anything will work,” Stecher said. “Whether it be in football or blood, we see that Illini fans want to win.”