EFFINGHAM — In the summer of 2020, the Effingham Hearts Red Regiment marching band was into its second week of camp when it got the news that everyone was simultaneously expecting and dreading: the football season was postponed indefinitely.

With no football games and no band competitions due to COVID-19, the Red Regiment had an unexpected year off. That was tough for so many involved with the group to deal with, said Band Director Trent Mason.

“It was rough because this is something that we all absolutely love,” Mason said. “For the seniors last year, they were looking forward to their last year of marching band and they didn’t get to do that.”

The yearlong forced sabbatical meant that the annual Marching Hearts Invitational was canceled for the year. Now, with competition returning and COVID-19 less of a concern thanks to vaccines, the invitational is back for its 18th year. The event kicks off Saturday at Klosterman Field at 11 a.m., with small school awards being presented at 4:30 p.m. and large school awards brought forth at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door. Children under the age of 3 can get in for free.

The event brings together more than 30 schools for a celebration of marching band, something Mason feels was missing without competition last year thanks to the pandemic.

“We’re all getting together and celebrating the marching arts after everybody didn’t get to do it for a year,” Mason said.

The schools are divided into different classifications for small schools and large schools as a way to make events flow and not have to make people sit through nine hours of competition before they receive their awards.

“Schools that get there early in the day don’t have to be there from 9-10 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Mason said.

Mason said events this year have gone smoothly, with very little risk of COVID-19 due to the outdoor nature of most marching events. Of course, before this season began, there was nervousness as to whether or not they could make it through without being waylaid by the virus.

“It was something that I was thinking about early on,” Mason said. “I told myself at the beginning of this year, ‘Be prepared for anything and try not to stress about it,’ because you never know who is going to be in class one day to the next. If they get quarantined, it’s out of your control and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

Mason is ready to get going with this year’s invitational, fully understanding the manpower it takes to put on an event like this. He believes the hardest thing to do is to get going, as the day runs relatively smooth afterward.

“The most stressful part is just getting started,” Mason said. “With the flow of band, it just runs smoothly. If everything stays on time, then it should be fine.”

Everyone is excited and ready to get back to hosting one of the largest marching competitions in the state. Mason said this is a day the kids enjoy, a feeling that may be more acute due to its absence last year.

“It’s a very stressful day, but it’s totally worth it in the end,” Mason said. “I know that our kids love putting this on.”

Zach Roth can be reached at zach.roth@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at (217) 347-7151 ext. 132 or (217) 899-4338.

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Reporter for the Effingham Daily News, covering city government, local business and state representatives.