Philanthropic aspects of IU's Little 500 take on more meaning in new economy
The organizers of Indiana University's annual Little 500 bicycle races say they're seeing rising interest in this year's events -- both on and off the track -- due in part to the current economic downturn.
While both the men's and women's Little 500 races on April 24-25 are expected to be competitive, IU Student Foundation leaders say the event's true mission -- to raise money for student scholarships -- has become particularly relevant.
"We have seen an increase in scholarship applicants this year compared to the past couple of years," said Jenny Bruffey, director of the IU Student Foundation. "The more spectators we can get to the race this year, the more tickets we will sell, leading to more funding for scholarships next year. It is absolutely our goal to pack Bill Armstrong Stadium this year."
The women's Little 500 will begin at 4 p.m. Friday, April 24, and the men's race will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 25. Both races will take place in Bill Armstrong Stadium, located off Fee Lane, just north of its intersection with 17th Street.
To date, the race has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships and provides countless leadership opportunities for IU students.
"The IU Student Foundation has definitely felt the impact of the economic downturn this year," Bruffey said. "We have made certain budget cuts, but we are trying to keep our students' experience and the riders' experiences as incredible as possible and minimize the impact on those groups.
"The cuts that we have made ensure that if, for any reason, we do see a decline in race attendance, we still will have ample income and funding to provide scholarships next school year," she said.
Despite the economy, IUSF has had an outpouring of support from returning sponsors and has welcomed many new sponsors on board.
"Sponsorship this year has been wonderful and has really exceeded our expectations. We couldn't be more thankful for the continuing and unwavering support that we receive for our event. I think that companies realize that sponsoring the Student Foundation and the Little 500 is a great return on their investment," Bruffey said.
"If qualifications from this past weekend are any indicator of what will happen race weekend, people are in for a very competitive and extremely entertaining Little 500. The fields for both the men and women are strong. The track is fast, and the riders are really excited for the 2009 races."
The races are patterned after the Indianapolis 500, with up to 33 teams lining up for the start in 11 rows of three. Starting positions are determined by qualifying times, with the fastest team nabbing the pole. As many as four riders can compete on a team. When one rider on a team is tired, he or she exchanges the bicycle with a teammate. The women's race is 25 miles -- 100 laps on a quarter-mile cinder track. The men's race is 50 miles -- 200 laps on the same track.
The competitors are amateurs and are full-time undergraduate students at IU Bloomington. Many riders have never competed in any other cycling race.
Both bicycle races will be preceded by a running relay event, the Little Fifty, beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. Twenty-five teams of four runners each, in both men's and women's races, compete in a 50-lap relay. Any IU Bloomington undergraduate student who is a non-varsity runner may compete. The race sprang from a desire to involve more students and increase participation in overall Little 500 activities.
Little 500 has been the subject of numerous news reports and sports broadcasts and an Academy Award-winning film, Breaking Away. A free screening of the movie will begin at 8 p.m. April 22 in Dunn Meadow, located along Seventh Street near the Indiana Memorial Union.
Both Little 500 races will be presented live nationally in high-definition television by HDNet.
Since 1988, IU women have competed in the same two-wheeled Little 500 bike race as the men and have thoroughly established themselves as part of the larger Little 500 tradition. Teter beat Wing It, an independent team, for the pole during qualifications on March 28. Teter also set a new track record with its qualification time.
Pam Loebig, Little 500 race director and IUSF assistant director, said the women's Little 500 appears a little more up in the air compared with last year.
"It seems to be a rebuilding year for several teams, with lots of rookies having a chance to prove their hard work and dedication," Loebig said. "This should lead to an exciting race to watch with new up-and-coming racers making a name for themselves and their teams. I don't see a clear favorite yet but would guess that there will be four or more teams battling it out on the last lap."
In the 59th running of the men's race, Phi Delta Theta has the pole. The Cutters, a nine-time winning team, will defend their victory last year.
"There isn't one specific team that is head and shoulders above the rest of the field," Loebig said. "There are several teams returning that you would expect to be strong like the Cutters, Alpha Tau Omega and Black Key Bulls. But there are also a few teams that might surprise people this year. Gray Goat Cycling was a new team last year of all rookies and they really look strong this year. Also, Wright Cycling has been getting better and better over the past three years and it looks like that trend will continue."
All-event tickets, which provide access to all Little 500 races, are $25 for adults and $10 for children aged 12 and under. They are available at all Ticketmaster locations -- including the IU Auditorium Box Office and TIS Bookstore and online at www.ticketmaster.com. Single-event adult tickets are $5 for Little Fifty, $15 for the women's race and $20 for the men's race. Single-event tickets will be sold only at the gate of each event. Go to www.iusf.indiana.edu for more information.
Other entertainment options will be available in addition to the official Little 500 events:
- The Indiana Memorial Union Board will present the annual Little 5 Step Down at 8 p.m., April 24, which exhibits the talents and traditions of historically black fraternities and sororities. Ten teams will compete for the opportunity to win cash prizes.
- On April 25, Union Board will present the Grammy Award-winning comedic folk duo Flight of the Conchords as the 2009 Little 500 concert. The offbeat, New Zealand-bred musical duo, composed of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album of the Year and is the subject of a popular TV series on HBO. Tickets for the concert at the IU Auditorium are sold out.
- The Jacobs School of Music also on April 25 will present its annual Big Band Extravaganza at 8 p.m. at the Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave. Tickets range from $10 to $25 for adults and are $8 for students.