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What The Heck Is An Illini?


September 11, 2021

Heck, it is almost easier to explain Wahoo! 😁 The University of Illinois official team name is the Fighting Illini. The Illiniwek, Illinois Confederation, or Illini, were made up of 12 to 13 tribes who lived in the Mississippi River Valley. The term 'Illini', in relation to campus activities, appears to be first mentioned in January 1874, when the weekly newspaper changed its name from The Student to The Illini. An editorial in the first edition of the renamed newspaper indicated that Illini was a new term. During the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, it was used to refer to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University, as well as to the campus as a whole. Many NCAA and High School mascots bearing reference to first nation people have changed their names, however, the University of Illinois maintains its position that the Illini nickname does not refer to the first nation inhabitants of the same land.

The term Illini referring to the universities athletic teams seems to come from secondhand accounts of the athletic teams. The earliest reference in the Illio yearbook appears to be one mention in the summary of the 1907 football season. The term was more widely used in the 1910s especially during the 1914, 1915, and 1916 football seasons. The Daily Illini and football programs prior to these dates do not extensively cite the term and also used the terms "Indians," "our men," "Orange and Blue," and the "homecomers".

The Illinois Confederation, also referred to as the Illiniwek or Illini, lived in the Mississippi River Valley and expanded their tribes in an area that stretched from Lake Michigan to Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The term Fighting Illini first appeared in a January 29, 1911 newspaper article describing the basketball team's effort during a game versus Purdue. By March 3, 1911, the athletic teams appeared to have earned the Fighting Illini nickname as a formal appellation evidenced in a newspaper report. In 2005, evidence suggested Fighting Illini was first used in 1921 as part of a fundraising campaign for construction of Memorial Stadium, but articles discovered in 2013 show it was first used in 1911. The Fighting Illini nickname was adopted by general consensus as an unofficial school nickname sometime between 1921–1930. It was then used in newspaper articles, football programs and other publications eventually becoming the official name.

In other relevant news…

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s senate on Monday endorsed the idea of making the belted kingfisher — a blue and orange bird native to the state and known for its high-speed dives [not necessarily a good image for a sports team 🤪] — the school’s new mascot.

The 105-to-2 vote, though merely advisory, was a step forward in the long-standing effort to create a mascot for the university that would take the place of Chief Illiniwek, retired by the university in 2007 after the NCAA determined the American Indian-themed image to be “hostile and abusive” (advocates for the Chief reject the charge of racism and refer to him as a “symbol,” not a mascot).

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