“Go Beacons!”: Pep band pays it forward

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  • The UNI pep band traded their purple polos for white Missouri Valley Conference t-shirts as they played for Valparaiso’s Thursday night game against Murray State. They found out just three days beforehand that they would be filling in, but were able to learn their school song and pick up chants from Valparaiso’s cheerleaders.

  • The UNI pep band was notified at the beginning of Febraury that an anonymous donor had provided the funding for them to travel to the tournament. Given their own circumstances, the band didn’t hesitate to fill in for Valparaiso.

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UNI pep band supports band-less Valparaiso at Arch Madness tournament

When the UNI pep band received word that Valparaiso University was not bringing a band to the Arch Madness tournament, the story felt all too familiar.

Mary O’Connell, a graduate assistant for the band, leads one of UNI’s pep bands and accompanied the group to St. Louis for the men’s conference basketball tournament.

“Originally, we weren’t slated to go to the conference tournament at all,” O’Connell said. “Then we got really lucky.”

That luck O’Connell referred to came in the form of an anonymous donor. While the pep band was originally not going to attend the conference basketball tournaments due to budget cuts within UNI Athletics, the Northern Iowan reported on Feb. 8 that a donor had stepped in, allowing the band to support the Panthers on the road.

However, the Panthers ended up not being the only team the band supported during the tournament.

On the evening of Monday, Feb. 27, just three days before the Panthers’ first Arch Madness game, O’Connell received a call from the head of UNI bands, Justin Mertz. Mertz told her that a representative from Valparaiso had reached out to say that they were not bringing a band to the tournament, and they were wondering if UNI’s band would be willing to fill in.

“Considering the circumstances around our travel and how close it was for us to not have a band, we said absolutely, pay it forward,” she said.

O’Connell spent the next few days communicating with Valparaiso’s band director and was able to get the music for their school song. However, given the sudden change of plans, the band would be going in cold.

“One thing about pep band is that we only rehearse twice at the very beginning of the season,” she said. “After that it’s just all games. We don’t rehearse again, so we didn’t have a rehearsal to put this together.”

Rehearsal or not, the band committed to showing up for Valparaiso anyway. After supporting the Panthers in their win against Illinois State on Thursday, the UNI pep band traded their purple polos for white Missouri Valley Conference t-shirts and headed back into the Enterprise Center that evening for Valparaiso’s game against Murray State.

Jacob Butler is a senior digital media production major and plays the trumpet in the pep band. As he said, the band made an effort to support Valpo as if their own university’s band were there.

“We had their cheerleaders and dance team right there, and so we asked them, what are some normal chants that you do during games? And we kind of picked up on that, and we led their fight song. We did our best to pretend to be Valpo students,” he said.

Arch Madness fans were soon to notice, many taking to Twitter.

“I definitely saw the Twitter stuff about Valpo fans commending us for stepping in,” Butler said. “I saw a couple tweets about how they couldn’t tell the difference, so that was cool.”

While few could have predicted UNI’s sudden substitution for Valpo’s band, O’Connell wasn’t surprised by the attitudes of the band members.

“The students in pep band act as an extension of the Panther Marching Band, or as we call it, ‘the finest organization on this or any campus,’ so it’s very easy for us to say absolutely, we will help out anyone any time we can, and the students really showed that decorum this week at the conference tournament,” she said.

While the pep band’s stay in St. Louis ended after the Panthers lost in the quarter-finals to Bradley, they set out again for Moline, Ill. to support the women’s basketball team in the Hoops in the Heartland conference tournament on March 10.