Guenther, Grabowski Among Honorees on Varsity 'I' Weekend

Ron Guenther has been awarded the Varsity 'I' Achievement Award.
Ron Guenther has been awarded the Varsity 'I' Achievement Award.

Sept. 25, 2013

Varsity "I" Website

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In line with tradition, the Varsity "I" Association will present its Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a past letterwinner for post-graduate accomplishments, to Ron Guenther. Ron was a three-year member of the Fighting Illini football team as an offensive lineman from 1964-66 being named Team MVP as a senior. He graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education.

Ron began his career as a coach, teacher and administrator at various schools before returning to his alma mater in 1983 to become an assistant athletic director for Chicago operations. While in Chicago, Guenther created the annual statewide caravan for promotion and public relations that led to tripling the number of donors to Illinois athletics. In 1992, Ron began his 19-year tenure as the school's athletic director.

During his highly successful era, the Fighting Illini captured 24 Big Ten championships, made a men's basketball Final Four appearance and six bowl appearances. He also was instrumental in securing commitments of over $300 million for capital improvements and $80 million for endowments all while restoring financial responsibility and institutional health.

Jim Grabowski is the recipient of this year's Varsity 'I' Merit Award

Varsity "I" also will present the Merit Award to Jim Grabowski for his loyalty and service to Fighting Illini athletics as a former letterwinner who also served as a staff member for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. Grabowski was a four-year letterwinner for the Fighting Illini football team from 1962-65. In 1965, he garnered All-American fullback honors and also finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. That season, he finished second in the nation with 1,258 rushing yards. Grabowski earned multiple awards during his career as a Fighting Illini, including the Big Ten Medal of Honor, the Silver Football Award and two Academic All-America honors. As a member of the 1964 Rose Bowl team, he was named MVP for his 125-yard effort after Illinois' 17-7 win over Washington. He concluded his career as the all-time Big Ten rushing leader with 2,878 yards.

In 1993, Grabowski was inducted into the GTE Academic All-America Hall of Fame as well as the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. In 1995, he earned the honor of being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. After his Illini career, he went on to play professionally for six years in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Grabowski played in two Super Bowls for coach Vince Lombardi during this time. Following his successful football career, Grabowski served as the color analyst for football games on the Illini Sports Network for 27 years, retiring after the 2006 season.

Along with the Achievement and Merit Awards, the Varsity "I" Association also inducts honorary members for their long-standing loyalty, service and contributions to Illinois athletics. The 2013 Honorary "I" recipients are John Giuliani, Rex and Alice Martin, and Henry Dale and Betty Smith.

The Varsity "I" Weekend events begin on Friday, Sept. 27 at the Stone Creek Golf Club with tee times beginning at 10 a.m. A celebration for the award winners will be held on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Colonnades Club at Memorial Stadium. The festivities continue Saturday, Sept. 28 with the Varsity "I" Tailgate Tent Party at 9 a.m., followed by the kickoff of the Illinois vs. Miami (Ohio) football game at 11 a.m. A special presentation for the 2013 Varsity "I" honorees during the game will wrap up the weekend.