A traffic nightmare? UI game collides with trick or treat

Here's a scary Halloween story: Tens of thousands of (possibly frustrated) football fans will be driving through Champaign-Urbana just as costumed children hit the streets.

Or even spookier (for the 1-6 Illini): a ghostly Memorial Stadium abandoned at halftime by parents leaving to get home for trick-or-treating.

Saturday's contest between the UI and its hated rival, Michigan, starts at 2:30 p.m., which means the game isn't likely to end until around 6 p.m. – in the middle of the official trick-or-treat window of 5 to 7 p.m.

The overlap poses a dilemma for families planning to attend the game and raises safety concerns among others.

"Anytime there's a football game, you're talking about 40,000 or 60,000-plus people," said Jonas Dees of Champaign. "That's just a lot of cars."

The official trick-or-treat hours are set jointly by the cities of Champaign and Urbana and Champaign County, a schedule adopted years ago to coordinate festivities, said Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. When Halloween falls on a weekend, the time is 5 to 7 p.m.; during the week, it's 6 to 8 p.m., to allow parents to get home from work.

The last time Halloween fell on a UI home game was 1987 (Illinois beat Minnesota, 27-17).

"This is just an odd year," Prussing said. "There's nothing you can schedule that's not going to conflict with something else."

The football start time was set last summer by the folks at ABC, which is televising the game, said Kent Brown, assistant UI athletic director for media relations.

Both Illinois and Michigan have strong television followings, and the network looks for intriguing matchups when it schedules games in advance, he said.

"Our agreements with our TV partners don't allow us to dictate start times," Brown said. "It's unfortunate. Personally, I'm going to miss trick-or-treating with my kids that night."

Dena and Dave Bagger, who have two boys, decided to skip the game altogether in favor of trick-or-treating.

Their church is hosting a concession stand at the game and had trouble rounding up volunteers because of the time conflict.

"It's definitely problematic," Dena Bagger said. "They're going to let the kids leave a little bit earlier so they can go trick-or-treating."

Lynette Dodds of Champaign was excited when her family was invited to sit in a friend's corporate suite – until she realized it was a late game. Her children were invited to a Halloween party at 4:30 p.m.

"Unfortunately we won't be able to stay for the whole game," she said. "As much as we love the Illini, they're probably going to be out of the game by then anyway. Leaving around 4-ish probably won't be a huge issue."

Seventh-grader Hayden Dodds' Halloween costume: an undercover Illini fan. He's wearing a football jersey with a paper bag over his head.

Several parents said pushing back the trick-or-treat hours to 6 to 8 p.m. would help.

"First, more people will be off the road later in the day (inebriated or not)," Dees wrote in an e-mail.

"Two, this will also allow people to get home to GIVE children candy." He's asked a friend to hand out candy until he can get home.

Fans leaving the game often fill major arteries for up to an hour afterward – Kirby, Lincoln and Prospect avenues, and Windsor Road – some of which run through residential neighborhoods.

UI Police Chief Barbara O'Connor said plenty of officers will be on hand to monitor drivers after the game. The UI coordinates with Illinois State Police and Champaign County on game-day patrols.

"We are always out looking for drunk drivers, and we're going to have a lot of officers on patrol Saturday night, including me," she said.

Drinking isn't allowed inside the stadium, and officers patrol tailgate areas, she said. By and large there have been few problems, she said, noting UI police have made just two arrests this football season, neither for a DUI.

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said there are no plans to adjust trick-or-treat hours, and he doesn't see it as a safety issue.

Fans can't drink at the game, he said, and attendance may be down anyway because of the Illini's record.

Prussing said she'd rather have kids out earlier, while there's still daylight. If the game lasts until 6, children will have an hour to trick-or-treat before traffic hits.

Most post-game traffic is on main streets, she added, advising parents to keep their kids away from major routes.

Chris Hanna, assistant UI athletic director for sales and marketing, asked drivers leaving the game to take extra care and parents to remember the "large number of cars on the road after the game."

Schweighart suggested parents take normal safety precautions, give their kids lights or reflectors so they can be seen in the dark, and try to stay with their children.

"If people want to trick-or-treat until 7 or 8 on their own, we're not going to arrest them," Schweighart added.

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