Marching Illini get permanent practice space

After years without a permanent place to play, the Marching Illini will have an artificial turf field to practice on by fall 2014.

Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini and Athletic Bands, said the Marching Illini, which has been on this campus since 1868, has never before had an official practicing space.

The project is a collaboration among Campus Recreation, University Housing and the College of Fine and Applied Arts, said Director of Campus Recreation Robyn Deterding. The field will be at the intersection of Gregory Drive and First Street, where there is currently a grass field that is used for intramural sports practice. Because of the new buildings in the Ikenberry Commons, University Housing needs a retention pond and was considering building it under the fields, Deterding said.

“If they’re (going to) tear up the fields and put them back in place, (I thought) we’d put more turf fields down because we can get so much more use out of them,” she said.

Campus Recreation has set aside about $3 million to pay for the field. Deterding said this money comes largely from student fees, as well as the revenue Campus Recreation generates from factors such as extra membership and rentals of facilities.

She added that the field is expected to last about eight years, and Campus Recreation is working with the College of Fine and Applied Arts to come up with a plan in which they help pay for maintaining and replacing the turf.

The Marching Illini will hold classes and practice on the turf. Campus Recreation will organize renting out the field for any other organizations that wish to use the field.

“It’s good for housing, it’s good for Campus Rec members, and it’s good for the campus,” Deterding said.

For the Marching Illini, having a permanent playing field means having peace of mind, Houser said.

In previous years, the Marching Illini has rotated between fields for practice, including the fields behind the Business Instructional Facility and Huff Hall. Marching on gravel fields has caused health problems in the past, Houser said, as many students have rolled their ankles while playing on gravel.

“The health and well-being of our students, that’s ultimately going to be fantastic,” Houser said.

Houser said another positive feature of the new field is that there are permanent lights. Houser and Deterding said they are also hoping to build a band tower on the field.

Ben Wooley, junior in Engineering, has played the cymbals in the Marching Illini for two years. Wooley said the fields the Marching Illini uses for practice now are hard to march on, especially with heavy instruments.

“(The new practicing space) makes me kind of grateful that a lot of the different entities on campus are appreciative of what we do,” Wooley said.