More than three thousand people packed Redbird Arena on Saturday night for one of the biggest fundraising events of the year.
No, it’s not a basketball tournament, not even in March.
The event is a dance competition that features different routines put on by All Greek Life at Illinois State University.
Corey Schieler, a local volunteer wish granter, explains why March Madness is so important for families.
“It’s really about seeing the community come together to support families going through tough times, and the money helps grant wishes,” Schieler said. “It was so cool to see ISU students come together for a cause and have a great time giving back to their community.”
For full-time employment, Schieler works at State Farm as a venture capitalist and helps the company invest in start-ups.
Twelve years ago, he was inspired to join Make-A-Wish when one of his neighbors was diagnosed with brittle bone disease and needed a mobility dog. Seeing what the family was going through, he and his wife started their own fundraiser to raise $13,000 for their neighbor to receive the dog.
“Seeing the kind of joy it brought to this little girl, I just wanted to be able to repeat that over and over again. That’s when I found Make-A-Wish,” Schieler said.
Almost every event over the past two years has been impacted by COVID-19, forcing them to be canceled, go virtual, or have some sort of capacity restriction. But, Chi Omega was finally able to hold their event this year without any worries.
One of the problems with the last two canceled or virtual years is that the last group to experience what March Madness looks like as a full-scale production are the seniors.
“It’s really hard to get the girls in the right mindset and realize what it’s really like,” said junior Chi Omega coach Juliana Morales. “The only way to show the girls what real March Madness looks like is to show them performances from previous years and have the seniors tell them about what it was like.”
The show each year has different themes. Some of the most memorable are “Dance Dance Evolution”, “Heroes vs. Villains”, “Battle of the Bands”, and this year’s “Chi Omega’s Halftime Show”.
This year’s theme featured different artists who have performed Super Bowl halftime shows over the decades. Some include Michael Jackson, Prince, Lady GaGa, Black Eyed Peas and several others.
March Madness is not a modest production and requires a lot of planning and several hours of practice. Bands start rehearsing at the start of the second semester until show day April 9, which is about 56 hours of practice, if not more.
“I would refer to my Mondays as ‘March Madness Mondays,'” March Madness President Bella Jamiolkowski said.
“I would write in my planner everything that needed to be done, including contacting the arena, local businesses, audio producers and making sure my assistant has everything she needs to make sure the event is as perfect as it gets,” Jamiolkowski continued.
And he did.
“My experience with March Madness has been great,” said Chi Omega second-year dancer Carley Vitarello.
“But last year it was so different because it was online and it was a much smaller group. This year was a lot more fun and exciting because we got to play on the big stage in front of a large audience and seeing me and the girls grow over the past two months was really fun to watch,” Vitarello continued.
The top three fraternities and sororities receive monetary rewards for placing in the top three. The money then goes towards their philanthropy. This year’s winners were Zeta Tau Alpha and Sigma Pi.
Chi Omega’s goal is to raise $60,000 through its fundraisers this year, with March Madness being the biggest contributor. The organization is on track to surpass that goal with Saturday’s success, but won’t know until May.
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