URBANA – As a freshman member of the University of Illinois’ marching band, Matthew Kostbade was looking forward to performing on the field.
“I can see Memorial Stadium from this window right now and it pains me to look at it especially on Saturday’s when I know we could be out there with my drum doing the thing,” freshman Matt Kostbade says.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and more than 300 members of the Marching Illini won’t be a part of the delayed football season. Big Ten football rules states fans and cheerleaders will also be missing when the Fighting Illini take on Wisconsin on Oct. 24.
“Our administration at the University of Illinois truly wanted us to be at each of these games,” says Marching Illini Band director Barry Houser.
Instead, cut outs of the band members will be placed in the stadium stands. To make the cut outs, the band had to meet in person one time to get their pictures taken.
“It was fantastic to see our students face-to-face for the first time this year,” says Houser. “This was the first time I was able to see our new students as well.”
But this was only a special occasion. The reality is that like other campus organizations, the marching band is using Zoom to conduct their practices. Breakout rooms are used for each section to practice their instruments together, while the main room, featuring over 300 band members, is used to teach the history of the Marching Illini and practice marches. Occasionally, the Zoom sessions feature guest speakers.
Senior band member Lydia Latham was looking forward to playing on the field one more football season.
“There was no senior football game for me, there was no last time for me to do run-on,” says Latham. “So, I think that’s what I’m missing the most is just the opportunity to make the last times of things more memorable then they were last year.”
Until the recent picture day, practicing over Zoom meant that some band mates had yet to meet in person, especially freshman.
“[The freshmen] didn’t get to meet their teammates until August, they didn’t get to come to campus until August,” says Illinettes member Johnna Jones. “And some of them, we still haven’t met face to face because it’s all been virtual.”
Jones says she is a bit jealous that other college football leagues are letting their bands and cheerleaders be a part of the games but understands the safety concerns.
Latham is grateful that the Marching Illini gets to do a little of what its loves to do.
“It’s nice that we still have the chance to do something band related, as opposed to no band whatsoever.”