Dads Weekend festivities return to campus


Photo Courtesy of Toole Family

Matt Toole, recipient of King Dad 2020 by the Illinois Dads Association, poses for a photo with his family after his daughter Regan Toole, Sophomore in the College of Applied Health Sciences, nominated him. This is the first year since Covid-19 began that Dads Weekend will be in-person.

By Fizza Hassan, Staff Writer

The 99-year-long tradition of Dads Weekend continues from Oct. 29-31 as zealous students and their dads prepare to dive into three fun-filled days of activities ranging from football, basketball and hockey matches to an a cappella group performance at Foellinger Auditorium.

After a year of absence due to the pandemic, many students say this will be a special weekend since it’s the first time both freshmen and sophomores will experience an in-person Dads Weekend.

Lauren Carter, sophomore in Business, whose dad is a University alum, was part of the virtual Illini Dad meetups during freshman year and is excited for her first in-person event with her dad.

“My dad (is) a really big fan of coming down for the games, and it’s just kind of a family school, so it’s always really exciting anytime I can spend some time with him, like go to the games because we’re both pretty big alumni sports fans,” Carter said. “It’s going to be pretty fun for my dad to meet other proud dads of students here.”

Steve Raquel, clinical assistant professor in Business and head of communications for the Illini Dads, shed light on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the planning stages of this event.

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“The pandemic really changed the way that we envisioned the Dads Weekend because it couldn’t be done in person,” Raquel said. “Now coming back, we are back to the physicality of events, including very popular football and basketball games, the pre-game barbecue and the 5k runs’.”

Mark Sohn, University of Illinois dad and executive board member for the Illini Dads association, shared his insights on the recent changes.

“Due to the pandemic, we are having box lunches, where you grab stuff and you can either stay, eat and talk or go meet mingle with others,” Sohn said. “We’re also having a tailgate outside Grange Grove, which is the first time we’re doing that, as in past years we had our barbecue inside (the) ARC.”

Raquel said about 2,500 dads will be on campus — much less than previous years because of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a surge of ticket purchasing in the month of October, but numbers are still down because I think people are being affected by the pandemic and some are just staying home,” Raquel said. “But we’re starting to see now that as people know that it’s going to happen, they’re buying more.”

Sohn said the Illini Dads hosted a memorial service on Oct. 21 to honor those that passed away.

“In collaboration with the University, the Illini Dads hosted a memorial service for the UIUC students who passed away due to COVID-19 and other incidents between 2019 and 2021, and families of the deceased were given memorial boxes with student names and keepsakes to remind them of the U of I legacy,” Sohn said.

Raquel said many of the attendees would be meeting for the first time in two years, and everyone is even more enthusiastic for this Dads Weekend.

“What we’ve seen is that people really relish being, not only in person, but also celebrating with their child the week of the Dads weekend,” Raquel said. “It’s really the only parent type weekend during the fall and especially during the football season.”

Carter said she feels confident about COVID-19 safety.

“We all are pretty assured that we’re going to be able to enjoy the weekend and still feel safe with (COVID-19) happening,” Carter said. “I feel like our school is doing a really good job at making sure that we’re safe, so I think that makes it even easier for families who want to come visit their kids to feel comfortable coming and doing so without being worried about getting sick.”

As many prepare to arrive on campus, Sohn said he’s optimistic for the incoming dads.

“We use our website, Facebook, anything we could do to get the dads out there and just say we’re still here, we’re still doing what we’ve done in the past, but this change, it’s just that we couldn’t be together before. Fortunately we will be soon,” Sohn said.

The Illini Dads will host a a big celebration for its 100th anniversary next year.

“We have worked with the University to come up with a long-lasting design, with brick display, located near Alice Campbell Alumni Center and fountain in the Hallene Gateway,” Raquel said. “To help raise funds, we are selling bricks to families who wants to celebrate a parental generational connection, father son/daughter kind of experience, where they can buy a brick to memorialize their connection to the University.”

“Illini Dads has been a volunteer organization for almost 100 years, and our sole purpose to be in existence is to raise money specifically for grants and scholarships for deserving organizations and students and hope that people will come, not only to support us but to support their children because I know for a fact, having my own kid here, is that it’s a special weekend.”

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