Many things have been missing from college sports this year. Stadiums lie barren and mute amid the pandemic, while others sit at a decreased capacity, with groups of fans distant from another. But there is something else missing from collegiate stadiums that make college sports what they are: The bands and cheerleaders.
Especially at college sporting events, fight songs unite the entirety of home crowds simultaneously clapping along. Cheerleaders and dance teams energize the masses with their chants and their eloquent halftime performances.
College sports in Nebraska are just not the same when no fans are clapping to the beat of “Hail Varsity,” “UNO Fight” or “The White and The Blue.”
“We didn’t find out what was going to happen with football to the last minute, and then they changed it twice,” said Tony Falcone, band director of the Cornhusker Marching Band at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “So, we lost our rehearsal venue. We lost our band camp. We lost half of our rehearsing time. Then, we come to find out the Big Ten says, ‘OK, we’re gonna play this schedule.’ And then they said, ‘No, we’re not gonna play at all.’ And then they said, ‘Well, we’re gonna play, but there’s no band or cheer.”
The Cornhusker Marching Band has been pulled in every direction — much like the rest of UNL’s athletic department when it comes to decisions made by the Big Ten Conference.
The Cornhusker Marching Band, Falcone said, had to get creative about how to practice and perform even though they will not be allowed in the football stadium this fall.
The band had to learn four songs, in addition to the pregame music, for a recorded video performance that the athletic department would broadcast during home football games. After editing is complete, Falcone hopes the bands can share the performance on social media, he said.
The Cornhusker Marching Band is not the only band program in the Cornhusker state forced to adapt during the 2020 season.
“We had to go through a lot — like we did look at a lot of research that was done and look at what the concert band at Creighton was doing,” said Katelyn Buetow, president of Creighton University’s pep band. “We had to make special masks that have slits in them to play our instruments, as well as we have to practice outside.”
With winter sports slowly commencing and pandemic cases surging in Nebraska and much of the Midwest, there’s uncertainty regarding safety with sports mostly played indoors. It is a new challenge to make sure the players and staff can be safe and well enough to play, let alone making sure bands and spirit squads are around. Creighton has already decided there will be no fans in the stands for the men’s and women’s basketball season.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t go,” Buetow said. “I think, right now, they’re waiting for the conference to state the rules on whether there will be spirit squads allowed at games. So, we’re hopeful. But right now, it’s looking like we’re not going to be able to.”
The Big Ten released its schedule for men’s basketball on November 18, and the women’s schedule on November 23. The men’s teams will still play the regular 20-game conference schedule, just like a regular season, in addition to no more than seven non-conference games for the upcoming season. The women will also play a 20-game conference schedule.
The Big Ten will use the same safety protocols it has been operating for the football season to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The University of Nebraska Omaha has a schedule for its Summit League play where the Mavericks will play other schools on back-to-back days in the same location. For the rest of the 2020, UNO decided there will not be fans in attendance.
Despite the UNO dance team not being able to perform at any games this year or the rest of the 2020 season, they have been able to practice with the necessary precautions and even perform at the Millard North High School Showcase.
“That whole routine had to be socially distanced, which was an endeavor because it’s like, you’re fighting your artistic vision of what you want to do with what you’re permitted to do,” said Mo Marmesh, University of Nebraska Omaha dance team coach.
Even though the pandemic has changed many of the basic norms of everyday life for the UNO, it has actually made one aspect of the sport much easier: Recruiting.
“They have these different like combines and recruiting clinics from different companies and stuff around the country,” Marmesh said. “And I never go because it’s an expense.”
This year, since everything has been virtual, Marmesh can go to these clinics and cast a wider net with out-of-state recruiting. She saw a pool of 600 dancers and had around 25 list UNO in their top five, she said. But those new recruits and current dancers will have to wait until at least the 2021 season to show off their dance skills.
“It’s super frustrating, especially because this is definitely the strongest team since I have been there,” Marmesh said. “So, it’s like I have this amazing pool of talent. I want to show them off in so many ways, and the world is just like: ‘Pump the brakes.’”