NORMAL — Redbird fans of all ages flocked to Normal on Saturday to celebrate Illinois State University's homecoming.

A week of festivities culminated with a parade through uptown Normal, tailgating crowds and a sea of red at Hancock Stadium for a football game against the University of South Dakota.

Brothers Caelen, 8; Liam, 4; and Quinn, 2, showed their team spirit by whooping and waving at floats during the parade, scoring fistfuls of candy and mini footballs.

“We decided to stay here after graduating (from ISU) because it’s such a good town to raise your kids,” said the boys’ mom, Beth Casper of Bloomington. “We join in the fun every year. It reminds us and our kids that ISU is such an important part of the community and we want to stay connected to it. This is a great way to do that.”

Her husband and fellow ISU alumni, Dave Casper, agreed.

“We love our Redbirds,” he said. “There is no school like ISU; no community like Bloomington-Normal. It’s all a unique blend of intellect, culture, love and fun.”

High above the parade, Janet Murphy of Mackinaw watched the parade with her family and friends from the breezy balcony on the Children’s Discovery Museum.

Murphy had won a raffle package, benefiting the museum, to invite 20 people on the balcony for breakfast and a great view, followed by some play in the museum and entrance to the football game in the afternoon.

Rachel Bond of Bloomington and Ashleigh Feit of El Paso, 2007 graduates from ISU, joined the balcony celebration with their kids.

It’s really exciting to see all the progress of uptown,” said Bond. “It wasn’t always a destination like it is today. When we were students, it was kind of a place you avoided. It’s nice to see so many successful businesses like restaurants, shops and the museum.”

Feit said she enjoys returning to ISU campus, especially as a mom.

"Whenever we drive through campus, the boys get excited. They like to point out buildings and ask questions because they understand that's where we went to school," she said.

This was the first year for the homecoming balcony breakfast, said museum officials, and packages will likely be raffled for future parades.

Back down on the parade route, marching bands got the crowd clapping and dancing. ISU President Larry Dietz and his wife Marlene tossed candy from the back of a vintage red car. Reggie the Redbird preened along the street, giving high-fives to fans.

A cluster of ISU students stood on a corner to watch the parade before heading off to tailgate before kickoff.

“It’s cool to see alumni come back to celebrate ISU. They bring a different kind of pride as we all come together for homecoming,” said Hunter Blake, ISU senior from Belvidere.

ISU senior MacLain Peacock of Rockford said he likes to watch the parade each year to support his peers in student clubs and organizations.

“I like to see everyone coming together as one big community for homecoming. It’s fun for me,” said Peacock. “I love ISU. I will never forget this place.”

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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