Southern Illinois men’s basketball coach Barry Hinson put on his barbecue apron and, like many of his fellow Carbondale residents, welcomed more than 50,000 visitors to the small town that was a hot spot to watch Monday’s solar eclipse — one of the most anticipated sky-watching events in decades.
Carbondale is located in the path of totality, which means it experienced a longer period of darkness than almost anywhere in the country. The school opened up Saluki Stadium, where scientists from NASA gave demonstrations and bands performed for eclipse fans.
Hinson said the crowd kept chanting “move” repeatedly until the eclipse occurred at around 1:20 p.m. It lasted two minutes and 38 seconds; some clouds moved during the totality, but the corona was able to shine through it and emerge for the final 15 seconds of totality.
“The crowd went nuts. You would have thought someone intercepted it and ran it back for 98 yards,” Hinson told USA TODAY Sports by phone shortly afterward Monday. “You could not have scripted (the eclipse) any better. It was like an Academy Award movie and it was the last five minutes of the movie.”
Hinson said he and his basketball staff and colleagues in the athletic department helped in planning an eclipse party at the stadium, with some working security, concessions and emergency response.
Hinson, who has crafted his own barbecue sauce, took the initiative with his own “BBQ Trailer” and put it to good use. Hinson said he had been “cooking BBQ for the last 72 hours” and that, along with members of his staff, sold 400 pounds of pork, 400 pounds of chicken and 100 pounds of bologna.
They also got creative by serving the “Saluki Solar Sandwich” and “Total Eclipse,” which featured chicken or pork and then slices of bologna on top to resemble “totality.” They also showcased “cosmic cookies.”
“It was a hit,” Hinson said. “We didn’t know what to expect. Outside the stadium, it was just non-stop gridlock. Now people will always have something to remember Carbondale, Illinois for.”
Hinson confided that while the eclipse was “electric,” the experience was also a rather “emotional” moment as a result of the massive build-up that led to it.
“It was a great moment for our community to shine. We’re simple people here and we put our best foot forward. We had people from all over the world come visit, and we welcomed them with open arms.” Hinson said. “It was a great time for our area and a huge economic boost, too. In Carbondale, this is one of the poorest parts of the state of Illinois. If you’re not in agriculture, coal mining or with (Southern Illinois) University out here, then you’re probably below the median income. The turnout was really special.”
With spectators leaving the stadium and making the trek back home, Hinson joked: “we’re going from totality to normalcy within 24 hours. That doesn’t happen every day in Carbondale.”