CHAMPAIGN — Despite the artificial crowd noise and the pre- recorded music that was pumped in via the loudspeakers, Illinois football games were noticeably quiet last year.
This year, Marching Illini Director Barry Houser thinks, will be different.
“I think we’re really optimistic right now as we look at the statistics here in Champaign County and right here on campus,” Houser said. “There are just so many things that we look at being normal this time of year … so all of our plans really include semi-normal activities as we plan for the fall season.
“Of course, everything’s subject to approval from campus, but we’re continuing to get hints of optimism that a lot of these things are going to be a lot more normal, of having a band at games. It’s definitely a feeling of optimism as we move forward.”
The band won’t be going to any road games like they usually do. To meet COVID-19 mitigation standards, they’d have to take so many buses that the trips wouldn’t be feasible.
Houser thinks the trip he’s booked and planned for the spring will make up for it.
The Marching Illini will take their quadrennial trip to Ireland next March to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“The fact that travel that we usually do in the fall is not taking place, this is going to be a big trip for the program and for the students and for the folks of Ireland,” Houser said. “I think some of these things we take for granted, and these are all special occasions for some of our students. I think it’s going to be very special.”
The Marching Illini have gone to Ireland every four years since 1992, when they were the first college marching band to take part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. The band would have made the trip with the Illinois football team for the 2021 season opener against Nebraska, but the game that was billed the Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Dublin has been moved back to Champaign.
Next spring, though, Houser is confident things will be close enough to normal that his group will be able to take an international flight, although he made sure to require trip insurance for each student, who will pay between $3,239 and $3,549. The group will arrive in Ireland on March 13, and tour the country before leaving five days later, a day after the parade.
The parade has been virtual for the last two years, so Houser thinks the Irish will be ready to see a real parade.
“There’s a great deal of excitement,” he said, “certainly, here, with going on this trip, but also in Ireland.”
Before then, though, Houser has a football season to plan for. And with the band taking a step back last year, he’s had a long time to think about this season.
That means Houser has some new things in store, including a new tunnel entrance he’s excited to reveal.
“I’m just finishing my 10th year here, and there were always some things, like we all have in our jobs that, ‘We’ve got to get this (other thing) taken care of first,’” Houser said. “This time period has really allowed me to really look at some of these things I really wanted to do awhile ago, and we put them into action. We’re really excited to share these with Illini nation, that’s for sure.”