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Block I card stunts dazzle audience for 90th year

The+Block+I+student+section+holds+up+cards+spelling+Lovie+while+the+band+performs+at+halftime+of+the+football+game+against+Murrary+State+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+3.+
The Block I student section holds up cards spelling Lovie while the band performs at halftime of the football game against Murrary State on Saturday, Sept. 3.

The Block I student section holds up cards spelling Lovie while the band performs at halftime of the football game against Murrary State on Saturday, Sept. 3.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

The Block I student section holds up cards spelling Lovie while the band performs at halftime of the football game against Murrary State on Saturday, Sept. 3.

By Jacqueline Betthauser, Staff writer

During Homecoming, old traditions are celebrated with as much fervor as the first year that they began. For card stunts in Block I, its installment was exactly 90 years ago. Card stunts are fan favorites done in Block I, the Illini Pride student section at home football games, in which each fan holds up a different color card at certain times to contribute to the images formed by the whole section.

Card stunts have come a long way since its creation and have solidified as a University of Illinois football tradition. Alex Erwin, junior in LAS, is a Blockhead, one of the student leaders of the Block I section. He said that looking back to the earlier days, it is amazing how the skill involved in creating the card stunts have increased.

“It’s really crazy how much more advanced it’s gotten. If you compare the designs that we’re doing now to the ones that they did then, it’s pretty remarkable how much it has improved,” he said.

The designs have become increasingly creative over the past 90 years, and desire to create new, elaborate designs is what makes doing card stunts so fun.

There are many elements that differentiate the card stunts of today from those of the past. One such evolution is the creation of the transition stunt. A transition stunt is a stunt in which two rope runners run down the sides of the crowd, and as the rope passes over the students in Block I, some switch cards to alter the image.

Erwin, who has ran the rope in previous games, says these stunts are very interactive and look great in execution. One of the transition stunts, a crowd pleaser which has been repeated at multiple games, consists of two mugs that start out full and empty as the rope moves down the section, as students chant, “Chug, chug, chug!”  

The increased complexity of these card stunts has occurred thanks to a select group of volunteers who have taken on the responsibility of planning the stunts. Sam LeRoy, junior in Business, is this year’s card stunt chair of Block I and is responsible for designing the card stunts present at the game.

He creates the lineup of stunts for the game by drawing upon classic fan favorites and designing new stunts specific to the theme of the day’s Marching Illini show or the opposing team. After designing the stunts in a computer program, he is able to see which colors every seat in the middle two sections of Block I will need.

The next step in the process is card sorting, which happens on the Tuesday night before the game. The other Blockheads sort the cards into piles based on the numbered rows to make doing the stunts on game day as easy as possible.

“I am responsible for leading the card sorting, making sure that that goes well, and then on game day making sure that the Blockheads are in position and making sure that everything runs smoothly,” LeRoy said.

Luckily, the students who have volunteered to be Blockheads for the semester are willing and able to make sure card stunts are successful every week.

“We have such a great crew of Blockheads … We are a close-knit group and people like doing it,” LeRoy said. “For me, it’s the easiest job in the world, because everyone knows what they’re doing.”

Erwin agreed, noting that the process goes very smoothly as old Blockheads, who were in the position in previous years, teach the first-timers what they need to know. During halftime of the game, the hard work by everyone involved leads to an enjoyable experience for the students sitting in Block I.

In addition to creating more complex designs with additional colors, card stunts can also include a positive message behind the design. While many stunts poke good-natured fun at the other team, or are made for the sake of looking impressive, others are made for certain causes and reasons.

“We’ve also done some stunts to call attention to stuff. So when the It’s on Us campaign was first starting, we did an “It’s on Us” stunt. We did two breast cancer stunts this past week using the words ‘hope’ and ‘cure’. We’ve done stunts for the Special Olympics.” said Ross Drucker, senior in Engineering and one of the senior advisers of Illini Pride.

Ducker said he enjoys the variety present in the card stunt routines.

“There are all of these different kinds of stunts that we do, and I think that is one of the great things about Block I,” Drucker said. “You are able to go and cheer on your football team, you are able to have fun with the other team, you can call more attention to certain causes and campaigns that students care about, or you can just make a really cool picture of Kams.”

The complexity of current card stunts has allowed the images to possess meaning like never before. For example, LeRoy’s favorite card stunt was when he honored one of his personal idols, Jeremy Leman. Leman played football at Illinois before being drafted into the NFL. He now is an announcer with the Big 10 Network.

LeRoy began attending University of Illinois football games at a young age, while Leman still played for the University. LeRoy designed a stunt with a J on the left side of Block I and Leman’s jersey, with his number 47, on the right side. It was part of the routine in the game against North Carolina, which Leman was announcing.

“What made that special for me was that for me it was a chance to let him know on behalf of myself and students in Illini nation that we appreciate what he did for our program,” Leroy said. “We appreciate him being a positive role model by being successful after U of I, by having an NFL career (and) by now being with the Big 10 Network.”

The stunt received a positive response, both by fans at the game and by Leman himself.

“The next Monday … he reached out to me personally,” LeRoy said. “He said that it was one of the most touching honors that he had had as a football player. So to let someone who gave so much to this program know that they are still appreciated, for me that was really rewarding.”

Another draw to card stunts is being a part of something bigger than just the image itself — a 90-year history of the stunts is being created at some point in the season. For the last nine years, the stunts have been done at every game.

Homecoming is always one of the most important games for the Block I leaders. Attendance is high, and many of the current members of Block I have family or friends who remember being at the football games or participating in card stunts. This year, LeRoy organized a special competition where alumni were encouraged to submit a card stunt design for Homecoming.

Once the options were narrowed down to four, people voted online for their favorite design. The winner will be revealed at the Homecoming game.

“My favorite part of Homecoming is the game day atmosphere. I love how much school spirit there is. I love seeing all of the alumni who come back and interacting with them,” Drucker said. “Just seeing them, hearing about their experiences, seeing how much pride everyone has to be an Illini — I really love that.”

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