Salukis soar to state capitol for award

By Austin Miller, @AMiller_DE

The Flying Salukis landed in Springfield on Thursday to be honored at the Illinois State Capitol.

The Illinois House of Representatives recognized members of the 2014 National Intercollegiate Flying Association champions with an official resolution, as well as a standing ovation on the House floor. Last year’s title was the second in four years, and ninth since 1975.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, the resolution’s chief sponsor, said he wanted to make sure the hard work did not go unnoticed.


“Any time we can show the nation and the world that good things are happening at Southern Illinois University, we should do so,” Phelps said.

Many students grow up with the idea of becoming a pilot, and SIU has one the best aviation programs in the country, Phelps said.

Even though competitive flying is not viewed as a sport, Phelps said their accomplishment is just as important.

He compared the Flying Salukis to UCLA’s basketball team, which won 10 national championships from 1964 to 1975. SIU won seven national titles in a 10-year span during the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.

“Here, you got someone from home, where I represent, that’s doing great things, that’s why I think it was important for us to honor them and luckily we got to do it today,” he said.

James Libuszowski was an assistant coach for last year’s squad, but has since taken over as head coach. He said he never expected to be contacted by the Legislature for their achievement, but feels this validates the work they have done. 

The Flying Salukis have 18 members this year. Libuszowski said SIU’s aviation department is nearly three times smaller than many of the schools they compete against, including Purdue, Ohio State and the University of North Dakota.


“A lot of those schools have big name recognition, so they are able to develop the program to a larger extent,” he said. “We’re winning championships with an even smaller pool of competitors to choose from.”

As important as it is for the team to be recognized nationally, they really stand out among other schools in Illinois.

Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said SIU is the only Illinois university with an aviation team.

Bryant said she did not know much about the group until the discussion about honoring them first came up two weeks ago.

“They’re building a great reputation for SIU in a field that is all by itself,” Bryant said. “Any time you can stand out above another university in any given area it is going to be a positive for recruiting.”

After growing up playing softball, basketball, volleyball and track, Bryant said she understands the struggle of competing for attention. This honor shows people can excel in areas not considered in the norm.

Other sponsors of the resolution include Reps. John Bradley, D-Marion, and Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville.

SIU earned its 45th spot in the national tournament in 46 years, which takes place May 11 through the 16th at Ohio State.