Northwestern goes peanut-free

Northwestern's Ryan Field is going "peanut-free" for the Wildcats' first three home football games this fall.

The Wildcats will not serve peanuts or any peanut products to allow individuals with severe peanut allergies to have to the opportunity to attend a "peanut-free" sporting event. It also raises awareness to the potentially fatal allergy to peanuts shared by approximately 3 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Northwestern will not serve peanuts at the Wildcats' nonconference football games against Cal (Aug. 30), Northern Illinois (Sept. 6) and Western Illinois (Sept. 20). Northwestern also will not serve peanuts at Welsh-Ryan Arena for 10 men's and six women's basketball contests, all 18 home volleyball matches and three wrestling events.

The idea to hold a "peanut-free" game started last year with a simple request by a concerned parent. A father of a Northwestern freshman with a severe peanut allergy asked school officials if they could have a game without serving peanuts, deputy athletic director Mike Polisky said.

"His son was resigned to the fact he wouldn't get to see a Northwestern game in person because he has these allergy problems and life threatening concerns," Polisky said. "The father asked if there is any way you guys could do something so he could come to at least one game?"

So on Oct. 19, 2003, Northwestern hosted Minnesota in what was the first college football game that was entirely peanut-free. The response was overwhelming, Polisky said.

"We just wanted to do the right thing," Polisky said. "This has nothing to do with PR. It's not a business decision. ... It started out with one father looking out for his son."

After that game, Northwestern was flooded with e-mails and calls, thanking the school for providing the opportunity for individuals with the potentially fatal allergy to attend a sporting event.

"We're glad we're making an impact in their lives," Polisky said. "We've had great support from the entire university when we first looked into doing this last year. We thought why wouldn't we do this?"

In order to create a safe environment Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena will undergo extensive cleaning to ensure that no peanut material remains anywhere in the facility.

"The buildings were never cleaner, including the first day they were opened," Polisky said.

There are 25,000 families in the Chicago area with peanut allergies, Polisky said. Because of the interest in last year's "peanut-free" game, the school is even offering special ticket packages for individuals who can only attend the "peanut-free" games.

According to foodallergy.org, the number of children with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts tripled from 1997-2008.

"It's just a real privilege to be a part of this," Polisky said. "It's great for the kids' families to be able to attend these games that couldn't participate in things others take for granted."