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Students gather around Red Grange statue

Day One of Sapora Symposium About Grange, and Career Goals

The first day of the 16th annual Sapora Symposium was intended to be a tribute to Red Grange, the former Illini football star who put college football and the NFL on the map in the 1920s.

And while Grange was a main subject of the afternoon panel, so was the message from other speakers from the College of Applied Health Sciences and the Recreation, Sport and Tourism Department about the futures of most of the student attendees.

AHS Dean Cheryl Hanley-Maxwell, RST department head Carla Santos and Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood all implored RST students to embrace the opportunities that Sapora afforded them, while bracing for the careers that await them.

“This is your first opportunity for professional development,” Dean Hanley-Maxwell said to the 350 students and other guests at the Colonnade Club within Memorial Stadium. “RST has given students like you an extraordinary opportunity to learn from and network with people you might work with. You are tomorrow’s leaders. How will you learn from what you hear? Will it spark a passion in you?”

Coach Underwood, whose son Tyler is an RST student with a concentration in sport management, spoke about the rewards in industries that come with an RST degree, but also warned of the sacrifices and struggles.

“I was 26 years in the profession before I became a head Division I basketball coach. I’ve gone backward in salary several times,” the third-year Illinois coach said. “But I have never worked a day in my life. This is a passion. What you’re getting ready to take on in life, is very, very special.

“It’s an extremely competitive field. Don’t be bashful, don’t be shy. You don’t make it in this field that way. (But) don’t let it be work, let it be a passion.”

The Grange panelists then took center stage, moderated by former Illinois sports information director Mike Pearson. Former Sports Illustrated writer Lars Anderson, who wrote “The First Star: Red Grange and the Barnstorming Tour That Launched the NFL,” in 2009, was the first to speak and talked about how the man nicknamed the Galloping Ghost transcended sports in the 1920s because ‘What they were seeing from Grange was unlike anything else.”

Chris Willis, the head of research for NFL Films and author of the new book, “Red Grange: The Life and Legacy of the NFL’s First Superstar,” said some people claimed Grange saved the NFL.

“He was the first superstar athlete who joined the NFL. His legacy was almost a blueprint of what the modern player does today. He left school early, signed with an agent, got a huge contract, got endorsements, appeared in Hollywood movies, and won NFL championships. He has a huge legacy.”

Day Two of the Sapora Symposium -- named for Dr. Allen Sapora, a pioneer in recreation education and research at Illinois -- was termed a "Career Diversity and Global Readiness Summit, and speakers include former Illini basketball star Deon Thomas, Midwest Living Magazine publisher Melissa Luebbe, and Illinois physics emeritus professor and renowned physics-of-baseball researcher Alan Nathan.

The Sapora Symposium was created and developed by the alumni advisory board of the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism in honor of Dr. Sapora. Dr. Sapora was a cornerstone to the education and careers of many of our alumni. He believed in mentoring younger generations and in providing them with critical connections to professionals in the field.

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