CHAMPAIGN – Let’s be clear: nothing is better than attending a sporting event in person.
The noise. The action. The smell of brats and popcorn. The energy.
You can feel it in your heart and soul. Euphoria comes when your team takes the lead and despair when they fall behind.
If I hear someone say, “I’d rather watch my home,” it is not calculated.
Consider all of the golden sports moments Illinois fans have experienced over the years.
Deron Williams’ climatic three-pointer against Arizona. James McCourt’s game winner against Wisconsin. Eddie Johnson beats Michigan State. Rocky Harvey stunning Michigan. Tyler Griffey upset # 1 Indiana. And on and on and on. You were better off being there.
But that is not possible now. COVID-19 has forced the stands to remain empty.
The timing couldn’t be worse for the Legion of Illinois basketball fans. Brad Underwood has the best team in the school since he made the national title game in 2004/05.
Another long NCAA tournament run is a clear possibility.
Had fans been allowed this season, the State Farm Center would have been packed to the gills. Standing room only. Scalpers enjoy.
But that can’t happen this season.
Finding Another Way On Tuesday night, Illinois hosted Northwestern at the State Farm Center. It was the first home game since the nation’s fifth team to coach Wisconsin 75-60 on February 6.
On a ridiculously cold night (not all of them) it seemed like the perfect time to curl up at home and look at the screen of your choice.
Thanks to the school’s COVID Wellness Ambassadors, students from Illinois were able to do so while attending a “party”.
No spilled drinks or double dips (so rude). Only one chance to virtually hang out during Illinois’ 73-66 win over the Wildcats, which was closer than Underwood.
While Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, and friends kept the team at the top of the Big Ten, about 130 attended the Illinois Men’s Basketball Watch Party.
The COVID Wellness Ambassadors had the vision for the event. They worked with the Illinois Union Board, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Gies College of Business, and International Students and Scholars Services to make this happen.
The team of staff and students started work on the event in mid-January.
The two main organizers of the on-screen event were students Evan Neilson and Sarah Bittle. You did a good job setting the tone and encouraging the partiers.
The top segment was an interview with former Illinois Aaron Jordan. He shared his favorite moment as an Illinois, a 79-74 win in 2019 against what was then No. 9 Michigan State.
“Everyone stormed the court,” said Jordan. “I hadn’t been involved in many games like this before. Just experiencing this with these guys was amazing and something I will tell my children and grandchildren. “
Jordan remains a fan of the program and calls himself an Illinois for life.
“I’m so proud of where the boys are now, of the progress of all my team-mates, my coaches,” he said. “You’re doing a really, really good job. I will support and scream. I am just so happy to be part of the Illinois family. “
Fun and games
Nothing draws people to events like the chance to win free stuff. There were constant giveaways during the guard party.
A quiz with five questions gave me the opportunity to learn more about the school.
For example, what movie didn’t mention the University of Illinois? Options included “The Breakfast Club”, “Risky Business”, “With Honors” or “Blues Brothers 2000”.
The correct answer is “The Breakfast Club”. Years of binge watching have finally paid off.
And did you know that Illinois tuition fees were $ 15 in 1858? The prices have risen a bit since then.
The reactions to the watch party were positive. One observer commented that it was best to be with the SFC.
Will there be another watch party in the future? The Big Ten and NCAA tournaments are coming up next month so these might be of interest.
No decision was made, said Jodi Silotto of Campus Public Affairs who co-directs the Wellness Ambassador program with PhD student Molly McQuaid.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Silotto, “we’ll be cheering on the Illinois.”