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Big Ten pride crawls through Chicago

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Big Ten pride crawls through Chicago

The WISCH LIST

Aug. 14, 2010

When I was a freshman in college way back in the spring of 1995, I celebrated the end of the semester – four A’s and one B, if I remember correctly – by strolling up to Green Street on the campus of the University of Illinois and buying myself a new T-shirt.

On the front it read in big yellow letters: “JUST SAY NO.”

And, on the back: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go To Michigan.”

Fifteen years later, I still have the thing. Granted, it now has a big rip down one side, I cut the sleeves off long ago and I really can’t recall the last time I wore the shirt, even to the gym.

But, in a couple of weeks, I might slip it back on.

As an undershirt.

I’m not going out in just that threadbare thing.

Besides, it’s white. And come Saturday, Aug. 28, I’ll need to be wearing orange.

Although, that day in Chicago I’ll also need to be giving Michigan fans a hard time. Indiana fans, too. And Iowa, and Wisconsin, and so on …

I’m quite certain that they’ll be giving it right back to me, as hundreds of Big Ten alums spend the day bonding over what we have in common while also ribbing each other over what we do not.

Welcome to a brand new era of Big Ten fandom with the launch of ChicagoBIGTEN, a non-profit organization that’s aimed at bringing the Chicago area’s 300,000 Big Ten alumni closer together to develop a collective conference identity, while also strengthening ties to their own universities.

On Aug. 28, ChicagoBIGTEN holds its coming-out party with a charity bar crawl through Chicago’s trendy River North neighborhood. The event is billed as “11 schools. 11 bars. 1 mission.” – and I’ll let my friend and ChicagoBIGTEN founder Cameron Croft explain.

“The goal for the bar crawl is to raise $25,000 to benefit Chicago Public Schools,” said Croft, a 2002 U of I alum and former president of the Chicago Illini Club. “And the ultimate goal for ChicagoBIGTEN is to increase membership for the different schools’ alumni clubs and give them all big events to be part of.”

The bar crawl, which kicks off at 10 a.m. at the corner of North LaSalle and West Hubbard and lasts until 8 p.m., is open to all Big Ten alums and fans, 21 years and older (“This isn’t just a young alumni event,” Croft said).

Tickets can be purchased at www.chicagobigten.org and cost $15, or $20 on the day of the event, with all proceeds going to the non-profit Alumni for Public Schools.

As for its details, the crawl will wind through River North hotspots such as Rockit, English, Bull and Bear, Social 25, and District, with each bar being decked out in one Big Ten school’s colors as its official “campus” for the day.

Alums will get the opportunity to square off in mental and physical competitions based around the conference’s rivalry trophies, such as the Illibuck (Illinois-Ohio State), Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue) and Little Brown Jug (Minnesota-Wisconsin).

“It’s going to be like taking a tour of all the Big Ten campuses in one day,” Croft said. “And we’ll have little games throughout the day, pitting major rivals against each other …

“What I hope to see is, by the middle or end of the crawl, Ohio State and Michigan fans talking and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been at each other’s throats for years, but you know, you’re actually pretty cool.’ ”

Who knows, maybe I’ll even tell a friend to go to Michigan.

Then again, maybe not.