Learning the value of perseverance and teamwork at Illinois

Senior LAS student Alex Bryk poses for a photo at Memorial Stadium.
Photo provided via Block I.

Alex Bryk is a senior in LAS studying Spanish Teacher Education. Originally from Naperville, IL, Alex grew up a die-hard Fighting Illini fan. For the past two years, he has served as the Game Day chair for Block I, the university’s football student section.

The College of LAS recently had a chance to ask Bryk about his time on campus and what it's been like to be a part of a historic football season for the Illini.

Question: I’m sure being a Fighting Illini football fan these past four years has been full of ups and downs. What has this season meant to you specifically? Favorite moment from this season?

For myself and for Block I, this year has served as validation for years of hard work and dedication. I don’t think that people realize how much work goes into running a student section, so it can be discouraging at times when students lose interest in our team and Block I struggles with attendance as a result. This season, it was incredible to see so many students support our team’s success, starting with a sold-out student section against Nebraska early in the year all the way through the Dad’s Day game against Rutgers. Normally, attendance dwindles late in the year, but the team’s success on the field drew a consistent crowd this year and that is tremendously helpful for Block I in terms of creating a fun atmosphere for our students. For Block I leadership, it’s rewarding to finally see so many students who share our passion for Fighting Illini football.

My favorite part of this year, of course, was storming the field after the Wisconsin game. Seeing so many alumni and students celebrating together is something that I’ll never forget. Our fans got a much-needed morale boost and hopefully that victory is the turning point for our program moving forward.

Q: You have a unique role within Block I. Tell us a little bit about what you do week-to-week for home football games.

My job is to design our card stunts, which Block I has performed at every home game since 1928. We have a template for the North Endzone’s seating chart that includes 1,560 seats for our stunts. Each week, I design a series of twelve stunts, which encompasses three themes: the band’s halftime show, designs relating to the University, such as our Oskee Wow Wow and Alma Mater stunts, or jokes directed at our opponent. Every game week, a group of students called Blockheads, which is the group that runs Block I events, meets to sort all of our cards in preparation for the game. At halftime, the Blockheads distribute the cards to our students, and I lead the stunt show over the microphone. This is Block I’s most famous tradition and Illinois’ card stunts are by far the most elaborate out of all the student sections that perform them, so it’s been a blast to have this role over the last two years.

Q: What are your career goals and aspirations? How do you think your experience in Block I will help you as you enter the working world full-time next year?

After graduating, I hope to teach high school Spanish before potentially moving into education administration. Through Block I, I’ve learned how to be a strong team member. None of Block I’s work could be done by one individual, so communicating between team members and holding oneself and each other accountable is hugely important to our success. Additionally, working proactively is key since the majority of our events take place at the beginning of the semester. Block I definitely helped me to strengthen those skills, which are transferable to any occupation.

Q: You were instrumental in helping LAS pull off a card stunt at freshmen orientation this year. What has being a part of the College of LAS meant to you these past few years?

Nearly 1000 students hold up cards at freshmen orientation to spell LAS.
Bryk coordinates a card stunt with nearly 1,000 students at this year's freshman LAS Liftoff event.

My major is unique in that I’m studying to be a teacher, but I’m not in the College of Education, so LAS is the college that has primarily prepared me for my career, specifically through study abroad opportunities. I spent a semester in Barcelona two years ago, which helped me achieve a high level of Spanish fluency, which, of course, is necessary for a teacher to provide valuable instruction to their students. Additionally, the classes I took through LAS when I returned to campus helped me to maintain and sharpen my skills.

Q: What advice would you give to seniors in high school that are considering the University of Illinois?

The quality of education here speaks for itself. In terms of preparing students for a career, the University of Illinois will provide endless opportunities for students who are ambitious enough to seek them out. There’s a reason that U of I is regarded as one of the best schools in the country.

In terms of atmosphere and student life, this school and campus are large and that can be intimidating for prospective students, but it’s easy to make a big school feel small and charming, especially with Champaign-Urbana being a classic college town.

Finally, in terms of school spirit and pride in our University, our students are finally starting to renew their interest in our athletic teams. With our football and basketball teams on the rise and our volleyball team making a run to the Final Four last year, we have plenty to be excited about. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many people proud to be a Fighting Illini, and that sentiment will only grow in the coming years.

Blog Source

Paul Elliott and Alex Bryk