Chris Tuttle, Director of Development for Illinois Athletics, leans back in his chair. His office in Bielfeldt Athletics Administration Building features several pieces of Illinois memorabilia. From old letterman’s jackets to plaques to signed balls, each are tokens of not only Illinois athletics history, but his own as well. And when asked about his involvement with the Orange Krush student section and the formation of the Orange Krush Foundation, his eyes light up and a big smile appears.
It started with a love of Illinois athletics and how, as an incoming freshman in 1994, he wanted to take part. Growing up watching basketball games, the Orange Krush was always seen on television. He didn’t know how or what was required, but it didn’t matter. Whatever the requirements, he set his sights on cheering on Illinois. Quickly, he learned about Illini Pride, the student organization overseeing Orange Krush, Block I, and the Spike Squad. The first step was joining.
“I figured out you had to join Illini Pride, which sounded like an easy thing for me to do,” Tuttle said. “Next, I learned how to get into Orange Krush was by earning points. You earned points by going to things like volleyball games and Homecoming float design meetings and so that was easy because it was all stuff I wanted to do anyway. I ended up doing as much as I possibly could. When I had a chance to stand on a street corner and hand out Pride guidebooks, I did it. I did it to get as many points as possible.”
Earning the maximum number of points for a freshman allowed him the ability to pick his seat for basketball games. Unfortunately, at that time the atmosphere in Assembly Hall was quiet and reserved.
Taking the Lead
After a few years, Tuttle decided to take matters into his own hands,
“The one thing I tried to start was something basic you see all the time. When we were on defense, you yell and jump up and down. I’m not sure what gave me the courage to start doing this, and be the only one doing this, because that’s not really me. I was yelling and jumping up and down in an almost dead silent arena while we were on defense. People around me weren’t quite sure what to do.”
In fact, one A section ticket holder came down to where Tuttle was sitting and kindly asked him to stop because it was annoying. He said no.
“This is a college basketball game. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
His not-so-subtle encouragement of the team and fellow Orange Krush members was noticed by an Assistant Athletic Director at the time, Dr. Michael Raycraft. He met with Tuttle and hatched a plan to lead Orange Krush forward, change the game day atmosphere and the organization fundamentally.
Inspired by the nationwide Coaches vs. Cancer program, Raycraft, Tuttle and Andrew Miller, another Orange Krush leader, decided to require Orange Krush members to go out into the community and generate pledges for three-pointers made by the team. More pledges earned free basketball tickets.
“I knew if it really caught on it could be successful, but I honestly didn’t know if it was going to be a good idea or not. I just knew this is how we were going to move Orange Krush forward,” Tuttle said.
Ultimately, it did take off and Orange Krush was able to donate $50,000 to charity in its first year. The Orange Krush Foundation was formed.
“Our goal at that time was to simply be students supporting the campus and community. We gave money to the general scholarship fund, agreed to start a scholarship endowment in the name of Matt Heldman, who had just passed away, and presented checks to a variety of local charities. For the first year, we were really happy with what we had accomplished.”
Driving it Home
During Tuttle’s second year as a Graduate Assistant with Illinois Athletics in 1999-2000, the Orange Krush Foundation presented ESPN announcer Dick Vitale a check for $3,000 to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Vitale was, and continues to be, one of the most vocal advocates for the V Foundation.
“Illinois was playing Duke at the United Center as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. So, we asked ESPN about presenting Vitale with a check on the day of the game. ESPN agreed and four of us hopped into this crappy car and drove up to Chicago that afternoon. We brought one of those big posterboard checks and he filmed a segment with us. He asked why we were doing this, what the Orange Krush was and he thanked us for the donation.”
Feeling good about their presentation, the foursome stayed in the arena watching the Illinois basketball team go through their pre-game walkthrough. At that moment, Vitale came out and asked his producer for a way to get back to his hotel and one of Tuttle’s friends said, “We can take him back to his hotel.”
“I have no idea for the life of me why they allowed four college students to drive Dick Vitale back to his hotel, but they did. He was amazing and exactly like he is on TV in the car. He said, ‘Chipper! You’re my point guard. You gotta get me back to my hotel’.”
During the game, Vitale talked about the Orange Krush and whenever he was at an Illini game announcing or on television talking about student sections, he mentioned Orange Krush.
“Obviously, it helped the brand significantly and with the basketball team doing well it was a frenzy,” Tuttle said. “The numbers hit over a 1,000 in just Orange Krush. The Foundation was reporting a lot of money coming in and they were then able to support several athletic initiatives, several things on campus and so many charities. In fact, people started applying for grants.”
Looking back at his tenure in Orange Krush and laying the groundwork for the creation of the Foundation, Tuttle is most proud of helping the next generation of leaders.
“There were some people after me who did a phenomenal job. I was excited that I knew the program was in great hands and they were going to make it even better than it had ever been. Some really talented people came through Orange Krush and I was proud to have a chance to hand the baton off to them.”
Understanding charity and giving back are essential skills college students joining the Orange Krush work on everyday.
“The more students get a chance to be exposed to a broad world, to be exposed to different organizations and experiences, the better off they’re going to be,” said Tuttle. “It makes people aware there’s more than just sports, more than just their own involvement, and it’s more than just winning this game or that game. When they meet with these charities, who are so appreciative, and they are thanking them for what they are doing, it opens them up to a whole different world.”