The bleachers at Bearcat Arena have had a little less pep in their steps this basketball season. The Northwest Pep Band has been unable to perform at any games thus far due to scheduling conflicts.
But it will make its “triumphant return” Feb. 6 at Northwest’s game against Central Missouri, Director of Athletic Bands Kathryn Strickland said.
The game is a revenge match, as UCM broke the Bearcats’ 46-game win streak back in December, and the game remains Northwest men’s basketball’s only loss this season. So the Pep Band’s debut will be just in the nick of time, freshman Foster Huggins, leader of “The Hype Squad,” formerly known as Shirtless Bearcats, said.
“For the games like against UCM on Thursday, those games got to be crazy, and the best way to do that is have the band there,” Huggins said.
Though the men’s undefeated record at home shows no sign of being bothered by the band’s absence, the additional silence was definitely noticed by the team, as sophomore guard Trevor Hudgins mentioned following their victory Jan. 25.
"Last year (the crowd) would be into it the whole game. They just, like, going down,” Hudgins said. “I could literally hear everything on the court. I could hear everyone's shoes stepping, I could hear everyone talking. Normally, like, I would have a little bit of trouble hearing stuff. But it was just silent in the gym. I just wanted someone to say something, someone to clap — something. ... It's a home game for a reason."
Huggins said the crowd has been feeling the impact as well, echoing Hudgins’ comments.
“(The energy has) been good, but it could be better. We definitely need the band there,” Huggins said, continuing on to make a plea for higher student turnout as well. “We definitely need a student section. And the team’s amazing; we should really have a lot of supporters there going crazy for them. Trevor Hudgins is always saying, ‘Come on, get loud,’ so obviously he wants us to get loud, so it’d be nice if we did.”
The band has been equally disappointed. It’s unusual to be this far into the season without performing.
“It’s been a bummer,” Strickland said. “We’re not happy about it.”
Freshman trumpet player Mariah Cain defined Pep Band as “a group of band kids that get together to cheer on the basketball team and try to help them win.” But obviously it’s difficult to cheer on the team when not at the games.
The band’s leave was the result of simply unfortunate timing. The band traditionally plays at all MIAA Conference home games, but the conference matchups happened to land on the same days as multiple annual music events, like the Four-State Honor Music Festival and the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference, which most music education majors, who make up a large percentage of the band, attend.
The Pep Band can accommodate a certain number of substitutes, but too much of the band would have been unavailable during those dates. It will be absent from another game Feb. 20 due to a band concert. Over 20 people would have had conflicts, leaving a meager 15 of its 35 people. At that point, “It’s impossible. You don’t have a band anymore,” Strickland said.
“If there are multiple people (missing), it kind of impacts how we sound,” Cain said. “Which we’d rather just not be there than be there and not perform at our best.”
People often tell Strickland how much the band impacts the game. So, she’s had a lot of people also comment on how much they’ve missed it at the basketball games, Strickland said. But the band is equally eager to perform.
“They’re kind of itching. They love basketball. They love the team. They love to play, but they also love to be fans and holler and act like crazy people and have an influence on the game in some way,” Strickland said. “So, yeah, they’re chomping at the bit.”
The Pep Band will play crowd-pleasers from football season, like “Hey Baby,” and songs that have become traditions exclusively during basketball season, like “The Time Warp,” “Africa” and “Vehicle.” A few new songs will also accompany the classics.