On Saturday, UConn Football will return to Rentschler Field at Pratt and Whitney Stadium for the first time since November 23, 2019. This will mark a return after a year and a half defined by COVID-19 and its effect on large gatherings.
After the beginning of the pandemic, all UConn football games during the 2020 season were canceled. This decision left ripples throughout the UConn community as the UConn Marching Band and UConn Cheerleading Team were also moved away from Rentschler Field and towards laptop screens and spaced-out gatherings.
Both organizations experienced a host of challenges during the 2020 season, primarily of which was trying to connect and practice under the circumstances.
Samantha Breault, the Spirit Coordinator and Head Cheerleading Coach at UConn, said that the UConn Cheerleading team faced a plethora of challenges in trying to cultivate a Cheerleading team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started outside at the beginning of the semester, we actually practiced on the depot campus for a while, we maintained social distance for a good amount of time, we kept our masks on at all times, we increased hand washing policies, the whole 9 yards,” Breault said.
“It was definitely a solemn experience to not have game day and to not be surrounded by fans”Dr. David Mills, UConn Marching Band Director
Dr. David Mills, the Director of the UConn Marching Band said that following a year of band on zoom, it would be hard to attract new and returning members alike.
“Bringing people into the band was the hardest part because we didn’t know what to tell them. We didn’t have the information and things were still changing. The unknowns were tremendous,” Mills said.
According to internal estimates, Mills expected the band membership to drop by about 20 to 25 percent. This thankfully did not happen, and the band only ended up shedding about 10 percent from the 2020 season. Mills credited the band’s success in recruiting to the enthusiasm of his returning members and their will to bring the band back after COVID-19.
“Our returning members that were so dedicated to the band put everything into doing that and they wanted to make it back,” Mills said.
Mills then spoke about the difficulties of this upcoming season especially with the unusual circumstances of the moment.
“The other thing that has made it so difficult this year was having so little time, with basically two new classes and two years off, we had over twice as much to do in half the time,” Mills said.Dr. David Mills, UConn Marching Band Director
Breault stated that UConn Cheerleading had faced similar challenges as well as a new sense of excitement for the new experience.
“There were definitely some nerves coming into the season, I think those practices we had kind of eased some of the nerves so they got to figure out what was going on before all the fans were there. But, I think there is a whole new sense of excitement too,” Breault noted. “I’ve always found as a coach that freshmen are so excited for that first game because it’s an experience you’ll remember your whole life and so to get to see half of the team have that excitement again is something that is really cool.”
Breault said that despite the challenges, she expects the UConn Cheerleading Team to make a triumphant return to Rentschler Field on Saturday.
“They are extremely ready to go. They have had a drive in them that, and I’m not saying teams before haven’t had that drive, but they’ve had something taken away from them and so now to have that back I think they’re excited, driven, and have a whole new passion behind them,” Breault said.
Dr. Mills likewise reflected on the enthusiasm that he saw in this new crop of students and his new mission as the director of the UConn Marching Band.
“For me, this is my 47th year as band director, that’s a lot of years. In my dreams I always said let’s just get everything up to the end and then we’ll have the best band ever and then I’ll retire. But when this happened, I realized the much more important ambition than having the best and biggest possible band, is perpetuation, and bringing this band back into existence,” Mills said. “So going through this was probably my greatest mission, more than a couple more clicks on the dial of achievement level.”
He also added that fans should not expect any less from the UCMB this Saturday despite the restrictions still brought on by the pandemic.
“The good thing is, because we need to be spaced and getting the three sections there, it’s going to be a lot more comfortable for the band, it looks super and will sound stronger, so even though in the stands we are going to have 30 people less, were going to sound bigger and look bigger than ever,” Mills emphasized.