Updated at 8:35 p.m. on Sunday
URBANA — A Guinness World Record fell on one end of the University of Illinois main Quad on Sunday while fighters battled with foam swords toward the other end. In between, free T-shirts, pens, Jello cups — even a chance to meet Johnny Depp — were aplenty while student organizations introduced themselves to new and returning students.
Just another Quad Day scene and a launch to the new school year as UI students packed the center of campus to a point where even the wide paths between the Illini Union and Foellinger Auditorium could barely handle the foot traffic.
A new feature of this year’s Quad Day was the Gift of Hope booth on the north end of the grounds, where organizers were trying to break the Guinness record for the most number of organ donor signups in a single day.
The previous record was 766. By the end of the day, 2,262 had signed up to be organ donors, said Gift of Hope spokesman Tony Sullivan.
“It’s great. We’re absolutely overwhelmed,” Sullivan said. “We knew we had a strong show of support in the U of I community.”
Gift of Hope is a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
Sullivan said more than 115,000 people — including 5,000 Illinois residents — are waiting for life-saving organ and tissue transplants.
And UI students could help close that gap, Sullivan said. Some were registering as organ donors while some were volunteering to help others sign up.
“We’re trying to get the youth involved in this because the young people can go on and do amazing things,” Sullivan said.
Sophomore Emily Wickenkamp was one of the 2,262 to sign up on Sunday.
“I was thinking about it before, so it’s nice that it was right here,” she said.
Wickenkamp transferred to Illinois, making her a new student and making Sunday her first Quad Day. She also signed up for club volleyball, and is impressed with the campus, she said.
She noticed another staple of Quad Day: “Lots of free stuff,” Wickenkamp said.
Booths lined the Quad’s walking paths, advertising a diverse array of student organizations: cooking club, pre-pharmacy club, a cappella groups and a large spectrum of cultural groups, just to name a few.
Dressed in bear claws, a bear pelt and a broad leather belt that he says can stop a bullet, Bill Mundo was overseeing the Belegarth club. Its members engage each other in a “full-contact sport based around the idea of medieval combat (much like paintball with swords),” as it’s described in a pamphlet Mundo passed out to passers-by.
Well, foam swords designed to minimize injury.
Mundo said someone who might be interested in the group is likely from the “jock crowd with a little twinge of geek.”
Maybe on the other end of the violence spectrum, the University of Illinois police also set up a booth to educate new students about the dangers of campus. UI police Detective Gene Moore was encouraging students to sign up for the department’s self-defense courses for men and women.
He was also alerting them to the dangers of leaving valuables like laptops and cellphones unattended on campus and encouraging them to register their bicycles with the department in case of the not-so-unlikely event that they are stolen.
A good piece of advice for new students: “Be safe, be aware,” Moore said. “Do the simple things.”