The coronavirus has claimed another Quad-Cities staple.
Citing health and safety of its show-team participants and its legion of fans, the nationally recognized Backwater Gamblers Ski Team has postponed its 35-show season for 2020.
"Where the state of Illinois stands and the guidelines set in place, we cannot guarantee the safety of our performers and of the fans for this season,'' said Elisabeth Cross, show director for the 100-member squad that annually opens its local season Memorial Day weekend.
"It's hard. It was a decision made at last Sunday's board meeting, and having to tell so many people who dedicate themselves to being a part of this hasn't been easy,'' added Cross, 23, who began her Backwater Gamblers career at age 8. "You feel for everyone.''
Established in 1980, the Backwater Gamblers have been a Rock Island-based staple at the foot 44th Street and the Rock River for four decades. Their high-energy, multi-faceted shows, recognized nationwide, draw thousands to the river every summer.
The team began indoor training in January, practicing its complex pyramids, swivel-ski turns, ballet moves and the comedic timing that makes every hour-long family-friendly show an enjoyable night out.
Cross says the group is like a large family that gathers several times a week. Spending a ski season without that family will be difficult for all involved.
"We are a family,'' she said. "Everyone looks after each other. It's always been that way, and I think that's the reason we all keep coming back. Even when we aren't doing a show or competing, people are on their boats together. It's so much fun. By November, we are tired of each other, then we take a break and then get back at it in January. It really is unique.''
On a personal note, Cross saw great hope for this year's season.
"As show director, you always want what's best for the team,'' she said. "It's the personal development for our skiers. You also know the work everyone does to make one show work. There's nothing like it.''
Though the state of Iowa has eased some of its virus-based restrictions, Illinois has not. Cross said the Backwater Gamblers would stay in Rock Island no matter what happened.
"The city of Rock Island has been great to us through the years," Cross said. "What loyalty. It's amazing how loyal. Plus, there is nothing like a show on the Rock River and all that comes with it — current, logs — and all that. It is strange for us to perform on a lake. No, this is home. There were some options in Phase Three of the governor's plan with single skiers, but they wouldn't work for us."
Cross said if and when a return happened, the Backwater Gamblers would make it known.
"As fast as we can," she said. "We want nothing more than to get back out and perform for our great fans, but we want everything about what we do to be safe for all involved."
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