CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois University Homecoming Parade covers a lot of ground on its way from campus to the courthouse square and back, and Charleston High School senior Megan Heise walked much of that route while facing backward Saturday morning.
Heise, who is serving as the senior drum major with the Marching Trojans, said she feels confident walking backward because she has developed good teamwork with fellow senior Jacob Reeley, who marches directly in her line of sight as lead snare drummer.
"I make faces if she is going to hit something," Reeley joked as they lined up with their bandmates in Eastern's visitor lot before the parade.
Eastern's homecoming is the biggest parade of the year for the Marching Trojans, and they work hard to give as good of a performance as possible there, Heise said. Both she and Reeley said marching in this parade is tiring, but its long route gives the band many opportunities to perform in front of spectators.
"It's definitely a fun time, but you feel it when it's done," Heise said of marching in the homecoming parade. They followed a route that was also traveled Saturday by Eastern's Panther Marching Band.
The Marching Trojans and the Charleston High School cheer team performed Friday night during the closely contested home football game against Mt. Zion, which Charleston won 30-27. Those two school groups then marched in Eastern's parade the following morning.
Cheer team captain Austin Stephens said she was too energized and excited about the busy weekend to feel tired Saturday morning. She said she could not walk in last year's parade due to a hip surgery, so she was looking forward to this event being part of her senior year.
"It's kind of bittersweet. I'm back, but it's my last one," Stephens said, adding that she always enjoys seeing her neighbors on the square and interacting with young children along the route.
Charleston Middle School cheer team member Jadyn Koester said she grew up watching Eastern's homecoming parade and taking inspiration from the Charleston and Eastern cheerleaders in the procession. Koester said she really appreciates her coach, Kelsey Smitley, arranging for the cheer team to ride on a float in this parade.
The 2022 parade had a "Bring the Beat Back" theme, which many of the more than 100 entrants in the procession used as an opportunity to decorate their floats with pop culture imagery from recent decades.
Bailey Swensen, a manager with First Mid Bank & Trust, said she and her colleagues who walked in the parade went shopping online and at thrift stores for neon outfits to wear for the occasion. She said First Mid staff decorated their float with a giant Rubik's Cube and DJ turntable, as well.
"The group that decorated it had a fun time putting it all together," Swensen said of the float, from which children and a volunteer in a piggy bank costume tossed candy to children along the route.
Families and other spectators lined the route from Lincoln Avenue, where the Charleston Rotary Club held its 2022 pancake and sausage meal, to uptown, where the Charleston Moose Club was open early for its annual breakfast, to Eastern's O'Brien Field, where the university held its traditional tailgate party for the community.
"We could not have had much better weather," said U.S. Rep Mary Miller, R-Oakland, after walking the route in the sunshine. "I loved seeing all the families together enjoying the parade."
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