Nebraska’s football team isn’t the only one preparing to take the field at Memorial Stadium this fall.
The Cornhusker Marching Band and the Scarlets dance team are a big part of Husker football Saturdays. The COVID-19 pandemic has everybody in a world of uncertainty.
“It’s hard for us to plan since we have to react to any news that comes our way,” said Tony Falcone, the director of the Cornhusker Marching Band. “We’ve planned as much as we can, but we don’t know. There’s rumors, but it’s irresponsible to respond to those and spread them. We’re left waiting on something concrete before we can form a plan of action.”
The pandemic has already caused major changes in preparation. Normally, tryouts and leadership auditions would be conducted in person, but the stay-at-home order interrupted them. They were done strictly on video. The auditions were completed, but not without challenges.
“Access to equipment has been a big issue. Say, if you play tuba you’ll normally use a university sousaphone. With campus closing we couldn’t use those instruments anymore,” Falcone said. “Some students did have equipment at home, whereas others had to get creative and scramble to make things work.”
Virtual auditions don’t tend to bring out the same sense of community and competition as those done in-person.
“The auditions is where you meet all of the people you’re potentially gonna be with, and it’s also where I learned the concepts of how to play my instruments,” said junior percussionist Martin Nguyen. “I worry about the first-timers and if they’re going to be able to connect with the whole drum line in the same way.”
This has caused student leadership to be innovative. They are trying whatever possible to bring that same chemistry going into this season.
“The biggest focus of the leadership team and the directors has been how do we still deliver that family life, and that experience that the Cornhusker Marching Band is known for virtually,” said senior cymbal line leader Luke Bogus. “Normally, this happens during the ten hours a day for five days (at) band camp, but we don’t know if we’re going to have that in-person this year so we’ve started a lot of the team-building exercises much earlier than normal over Zoom because of this uncertainty.”
Mary Haller, senior student leader for the Scarlets, said that Zoom has been a major positive force for the dance team.
“This summer we’ve actually been meeting more than we have in the past,” she said. “We’re learning new material and going over things every Monday and Wednesday for an hour, and that’s been going on for about a month now. This year we have a lot of girls from out of state, and this has been a really helpful tool to connect with them that we’ll probably use in the future as well.”
While this added team-building has been a plus, neither the band nor the Scarlets know when they’ll be able to practice again in person or what those practices will look like.
“When the Chancellor added the asynchronous remote week as the first week of classes, that’s normally the first week of band camp,” Falcone said. “We’re now working on a cut-down version of band camp with much fewer hours and conforming to whatever guidelines we’ve been told for distancing and safe procedures. Our hope is to meet with students again in mid-August.”
The Scarlets hope to get back to practice in late July, but the limited availability of the practice spaces with other sports coming back presents another unprecedented challenge.
“Usually we work around the football schedule on the field or at the Hawks facility. We’ve used the Rec Center in years past, but that’s not open right now,” Haller said. “With 22 girls on the team, that’s more than are allowed to be gathering right now so that’s another challenge.”
Another big part of the preparation for the season has been preparing for several possible contingencies in Memorial Stadium. That could mean lower fan capacity, no fans at all, or even no season.
It’s never too early to start brainstorming.
“We’ve thought about performing with HuskerVision on the big screen if we’re not allowed on the field during games,” said junior Scarlet Caroline Unger. “We also do a lot of nursing home appearances, so we’re trying to find ways to potentially do a Zoom appearance so we can keep those interactions.”
Regardless of the uncertainty, the Scarlets and the band members say they are committed to doing their best.
“No matter what happens this fall, nothing’s going to be 100% normal. We have to focus on what we have control over. We have no control over if we’re allowed to be in the stands or play,” Bogus said.
“What we do have control over is building that culture,” he said. “It’s disheartening that this is happening my senior year, since I’ve been in band since 5th grade and this is the last year I’ll be able to do it, but then I think of the freshmen and I want to make their experience and their atmosphere just as good as mine was.”