Illinoisans ranked SIUC in four categories in statewide “Best of Illinois” survey

By Gus Bode

The University is in the finals for mascot, artist, rising stars and beautiful people

SIUC may have the best artist and mascot. It may also be deemed the best place to watch beautiful people and best place to catch a rising star – if it gets enough votes in Illinois Magazine’s “Best of Illinois” survey.

The staff at Illinois Magazine, a publication out of Springfield, realized people tend to think of Chicago when they rank the best in Illinois.

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But Illinois Magazine staff decided a survey, including all regions of the state, was the best way to allow people to express their ideas on the “best of Illinois.”

“Every region has something they are proud of,” said Penny Zimmerman-Wills, editor of Illinois Magazine. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to have bragging rights and tell what makes their part of the state great.”

In March, Illinois Magazine asked readers to submit their opinions on “the best of Illinois.” Readers were asked to split their choices into three areas:central, northern and Southern Illinois.

Breaking the state into three sections allowed readers an opportunity to recognize the strengths of different areas of Illinois in fairly ordinary categories such as “best mall” and “best actress or actor” as well as not so common areas such as “best place to blow your diet” and “best mascot.”

The nominees, which will be narrowed down to one from each category, will be announced in October and include the unusual nomination of the Saluki as “best mascot.”

Although the Egyptian hunting dog received some press during the successful 2002 basketball season, there are still those who are not fully aware of what exactly a Saluki is. Of course, everyone on the SIUC campus can easily paint a visual picture of the dog known for its speed and hunting skills, but many are not aware of the history of the dog.

More specifically, the fact that the quick, slender canine has represented SIUC for almost 50 years, defeating such perspective mascots as the Rebels, Knights and Flyers.

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“We’re unique in that we’re the only university that has the Saluki as a mascot,” said Tom Weber, director of Media Services. “It helps make the school distinctive and identifiable to others.”

While there was not a long line of students wishing to contribute their input on why SIUC has the best mascot, theater majors gathered in the Communication Building were eager to express their thoughts on McLeod Theater’s nomination in the category of “best place to catch a rising star.”

“I auditioned at school all over and all of them had heard of the theater department at SIU,” said Kaeti Schiedes, a junior in theater from Louisville, Ky. “There are so many opportunities here, even for the kids who don’t get cast in plays.

“Even though these two guys didn’t get cast in this play, they let them use the theater to put on a play they wrote; they let us use the theater when my friends and I got together and created this play called ‘Monsters.'”

Students such as Erin Callahan, a senior in theater from McLeansboro, credit strong student and teacher relationships as part of the success of the theater.

In addition to the intimate relationship teachers and students share, theater majors such as Damon S. Jacob, a senior in theater from Springfield, also credit the opportunities allotted to undergraduates, as well as the experience they receive while working with the theater.

“It doesn’t matter what your emphasis is in the theater,” said Jacob. “They make sure that during plays, you work backstage and with the costumes, so you get experience in different parts of theater and your not just molded to do one thing.”

With such commitment from faculty, it is no wonder that the spotlights of McLeod Theater have focused on such actors as Dennis Franz of “NYPD Blue” and Peter Michael Goetz.

Though members of the department take pride in the accomplishments of famous alumni, they are always thankful for any recognition the theater receives.

“We’re absolutely thrilled [about the recognition],” said Lori Merrill-Fink, acting chair of the Theater Department. “The students have been working hard, and its great that the quality of their work is being recognized.”

Though beauty is often equated with the theater, individuals who submitted their votes to Illinois Magazine see it as a part of the SIUC campus as a whole, and, as a result, nominated the campus as the best place in the region to “watch beautiful people.”

“[There’s] definitely a lot of attractive people here,” said Les Reed, a junior in theater from Zion. “There’s so many different people here and such a diverse population.”

The nomination for “best place to watch beautiful people” and “best artist” bring the total for SIUC to four, in addition to an additional four for the city of Carbondale.

In the end, will the “best of” Southern Illinois be able to hold its own against the best of Chicago in the competition?

Only the results in the October issue of Illinois Magazine will tell. But even if the best of Southern Illinois is defeated by “Goliath” Chicago, as the teary-eyed stars say on their journey back down the red carpet, “it was nice just to be nominated.”

Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached [email protected]

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