Fox Valley Huskie fans make Orange Bowl Jan. 1 priority
By Jane Donahue For Sun-Times Media December 27, 2012 3:44PM
Noah Strandberg of Warrenville gets a high-five from Northern Illinois University mascot Victor E. Huskie in downtown Naperville on Friday, December 14, 2012. Victor and students from NIU traveled around the suburbs offering oranges and passing out other goodies to celebrate the university football team's Orange Bowl berth. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
At a glance
What: The 2013 Discover
Who: The Northern Illinois University Huskies take on the Florida State Seminoles
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1
Where to watch: Check local listings for coverage in your area
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:06AM
When thousands of Northern Illinois University fans arrive in South Florida this week, Larry and Lois Leadley will be among them.
The Aurora residents — who never miss a home Huskie game — jumped at the chance to attend the university’s inaugural Orange Bowl appearance Jan. 1.
“We are the first Mid-American Conference team to ever break into the Bowl Championship Series,” said Larry Leadley, a 1958 NIU graduate. “This is big. We weren’t going to miss out on this.”
Leadley met his wife, Lois, while they were both students at Northern Illinois University. The former football player married his cheerleader girlfriend in 1958, and they’ve been cheering for the school ever since.
“As soon as we realized we made it to the Orange Bowl, I started making some calls to get tickets,” he said. “We are proud as the dickens. I can’t say enough about those kids, what they have done and what they continue to do. It is wonderful to see that.”
His wife shared the sentiment.
“We are excited for Northern and the whole football team,” said Lois, a 1957 grad. “It’s exciting for everyone who is affiliated with the university. There are a lot of proud alums out there.”
Ryan Paradise is one of them. While many will make the trek to Miami, the 2007 NIU grad will be glued to the television as the Huskies make their first Orange Bowl appearance.
“I will be watching the game and rooting on the Huskies,” said Paradise of Naperville. “For NIU to make the Orange Bowl — a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl — it’s huge.”
Paradise, a former NIU basketball standout, said participating in the Orange Bowl is a great opportunity for his alma mater.
“Everyone is talking about NIU,” he said. “Good or bad, it’s great for the university and those who have ties to the Huskies. I feel like there will be a lot more Huskie fans around the country when they play Florida State.”
And there are plenty close to home. According to a school representative, NIU has about 185,000 Chicago-area alumni, and more than 6,600 students enrolled who hail from DuPage, Kane and Will counties.
To celebrate the Orange Bowl berth, a group of students participated in a school-sponsored road rally Dec. 14. The Chicagoland tour included a stop in downtown Naperville, among other communities, where students passed out oranges to area fans.
“We just wanted to rally support behind our team,” said Constance Ervins, 22, who helped organize the student volunteers for the tour. “There are a lot of good things going on inside and outside of athletics. We wanted to promote that and get the community excited about the participation in the Orange Bowl.”
Ervins, a graduate student at NIU, said that, since the bowl announcement, there has been a “heightened sense of school spirit” at the DeKalb campus.
“I have definitely noticed a lot more excitement in the students around campus,” Ervins said. “There is an increased sense of community, even more than I anticipated.”