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I Love Camp Rantoul

An annual Illini tradition warms my heart each year.

How I spent (part of) my summer vacation.
How I spent (part of) my summer vacation.

This is the last summer break of my young life. I know that is something unlikely to elicit much, if any, sympathy from the older readers of the site, but try to remember being young. I've been in school the last 20 years. It's an odd feeling realizing that June-August is no longer just time to work or relax or do whatever. Most sane people would want a vacation or land an internship in their field over that final summer. I'm not most sane people.

My family was never big on vacations. When I went to Calgary last summer, it was the first actual vacation I'd been on in a decade. I'm okay with not really visiting anywhere this year. As for an internship? I will be spending the rest of my life palpating peoples' animals and putting my finger up places I'd rather not. Why start that a year early? So instead I spent half the summer in the southwest suburbs and returned to Manhattan. Where I discovered a temp agency.

I learned that I could live the hobo lifestyle I always dreamed of.

Don't want a steady job?

Don't like the idea of letting people down if you don't show up?

Sprint to the nearest temp agency. It's heaven. You don't get paid much but you get paid daily. And most importantly, at least for me, you get to have new experiences.

I spent two nights working the night janitor shift at a local jam factory with a guy from Joliet. Today I'll be one of 57 servers at what should be the fanciest wedding reception I'll ever attend. But my personal favorite was being assigned to work construction on the renovation of Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

At our post morning tai chi meeting (that is actually a thing that happens at 7 A.M. sharp in the parking lot daily) the site boss informed everyone that football practice would be starting Monday, so we needed to be careful about where we parked in the parking lot. I found this odd. I thought all college teams went away to a camp and practiced in August. I was apparently wrong.

Which made me realize how happy the concept of Camp Rantoul makes me, even though I've never attended or participated in it. If not for Camp Rantoul, the small town would best be known for its former Air Force base and being the hometown of the inventor of the Jheri Curl.

Instead, to Illini fans at least, it's known as the small hamlet just outside of Champaign that hosts our beloved football team for one week each summer. Only an incredibly small minority of this team will go on to play in the NFL. But for one week, they will experience something incredibly similar to NFL training camps. The players leave everything comfortable behind and essentially move back into dorm rooms and have an insanely regimented schedule in a place that provides no distractions.

And I love it.

I remember an episode of The Journey from the 2007 season, when the Big Ten Network decided following around the post-Rose Bowl Illini for a year would make great television. The Camp Rantoul episode will always stick with me. From the coaches sending a little girl down the hallways to noisily wake the players up since who could get mad at a little girl to Brit Miller declaring one of the final days Beard Day and reading homemade poetry, the whole thing felt so damn perfect I couldn't help but smile and laugh the entire episode.

Most of us peaked in high school when it came to our athletic careers. Most of these fine young gentlemen are hitting their acme right now. But when they get older, nothing will be able to take away the memories they made in Champaign.

And that includes the uncomfortable and muggy week spent in Rantoul.

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