Somewhere this summer we became Band Parents.
Back in June, Lauren joined one of the local marching bands – and let me tell you, the fact that in this part of the world there is a selection of such things for people to join is one of the stranger realizations that I have had in a while. I remember marching bands being strictly one per high school and that’s true here too, but in Wisconsin you also have independent marching bands that go to festivals and on tour and demand hours and hours of time and, oddly enough, the kids love them. Lauren has enjoyed her time in the Local Band immensely, and I’ve had a good time in my occasional duty as a chaperone/water-bearer as well.
So, win. Strange win. But win nonetheless.
As the summer began to wind down, the school year naturally began to gear up. Lauren has now joined Tabitha at Local Businessman High School, and of course she is in the marching band. They had Band Camp toward the end of August, and have already been playing at neighborhood events, varsity football games, and the local Labor Day Parade.
Actually the two bands overlap – the Local Band doesn’t wrap up until Sunday – so Lauren ended up marching the Labor Day Parade twice. The LBHS band marched fairly early in the process, and when they reached the end Lauren and several of her colleagues jumped into a waiting truck, changed uniforms on the fly as they headed back to the starting point of the parade, and then marched with the Local Band as one of the last groups in the event. It was fun to watch, and Lauren plays different instruments in each band so that was pretty impressive.
Plus in addition to the candy that is traditionally hurled at kids alongside parade routes here in Wisconsin, there was also a group that was tossing full-sized bags of potato chips at us. Can’t beat that.
Being Band Parents, I have discovered, is kind of like joining a particularly benign cult, one that demands a great deal of time and resources but offers rewards in the here and now that you don’t have to change your diet for, and I’m all for that.
And that, folks, is the backstory of how I ended up at my second-ever college football game today.
Trust me, it makes sense in context.
Before today I had only ever been to one college football game in my life (matching my professional football total, actually). None of the three universities from which I have earned degrees were involved, nor any of the ones I have since earned a paycheck from. When I was in high school I went up to visit a friend at Cornell University, and she took me to what may have been their homecoming game. It was against Colgate, and they got curbstomped by a score of something like 60-7. Welcome home, Big Red.
When I was an undergraduate, they played the games at 1pm on Saturday and really who’s awake on a college campus at that hour? We had a deli just off campus that used to serve breakfast until 4pm! So despite the fact that we were League Champions for three of my four years there (plus the year after, when I lived off campus, worked any number of small jobs, and tried to figure out what to do next), I never managed to go to a game. My favorite part of game day was actually afterward. Penn’s campus is built around the spine of Locust Walk, and after the game vast crowds would flow out of the stadium on 34th Street and up Locust Walk toward the dorms and restaurants that started around 38th Street and spread west from there. The business school building was about where 37th Street would be and it had a nice wide set of steps leading up to the front doors, so after every game all of the various acapella groups would gather on the steps and serenade the passing crowd with a couple of songs each – the whole thing lasting about half an hour. It was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
In graduate school there was never enough time to go to games, and really those things were for the undergrads anyway. Undergrads belong to the campus, but grad students belong to their departments. And since then I’ve never worked for a campus that had a football team.
I didn’t miss it, to be honest. I’d watch games on television, professional and college, as I’d done since my dad taught me the rules in the early 1970s, and that was plenty.
I’ve been slowly losing interest in American football over the last few years, as medical research more and more indicates that it is essentially in the same moral category as cockfighting and bear baiting, as college football becomes more and more of a threadbare front for raw moneymaking and lawless exploitation, and as the New England Patriots choke all the fun and suspense out of the NFL season as they have done for most of this century. This year I find myself watching random soccer games – including Big 10 women’s games – rather than football, even when I am given the opportunity to watch a preseason game between my hometown Eagles and my current state’s Packers, and I can’t imagine this is going to get any better for football once the NHL season starts. I will no doubt watch a few games this season, though, out of habit if nothing else. Nearly half a century of fandom doesn’t evaporate overnight. It takes time.
Today was High School Band Day at UW Madison. Every high school marching band that could get to Camp Randall Stadium was invited to attend, and boy howdy did they ever. There were about 1500 kids there representing nearly two dozen high schools, and LBHS was one of them. And I thought, “Well, when am I ever going to do this again?” So Kim and I sprang for a couple of tickets in the nosebleed section to the left of the press box, seats where the possibility of ducking under low-flying aircraft was distressingly real – I could actually hear the disappointment in the ticket seller’s voice on the phone when I explained why I wanted to buy these tickets and no I didn’t want to be on their mailing list for future games unless my child was playing percussion at those too – and off we went.
It was quite an experience.
The fun started with the fact that, for reasons that would probably make sense to me if I were a band director or if, perchance, I had read the day’s schedule of events more carefully last night, the bus left LBHS at 5:30am for an 11am game. And since Lauren likes to be places early – a trait she gets from her dad, who learned from his own father that showing up on time is just another way to say you’ve waited until the last minute – and since she had to find and load her drum onto the bus, this meant that I was there in the parking lot at LBHS at a few minutes after 5am, watching her walk into the building.
I did manage to get back to sleep for a couple of hours before Kim and I got rolling on over to Madison. So I had that going for me.
Have you ever been to Madison on game day? It’s a sea of, well, several things. Red, for instance. Everyone is wearing red and white, the Badger colors. Kim told me that I would need to find a red shirt to wear for this outing, and since I don’t actually own any UW Madison gear the best I could do was my Phillies shirt from when they won the World Series back in 2008. Fortunately Phillies red and Badger red are sufficiently close that I passed without comment.
Part of the reason for the lack of challenge to my Phillies shirt is no doubt that the second thing that Madison on game day is a sea of is beer and at some point people stop being able to read and just accept that any red item of clothing must be okay. Kim and I found a place to park about half a mile from the stadium (not bad, all things considered) and my guess is that there was no 20-yard stretch of the walk between those points, including major thoroughfares, that did not feature some opportunity for me to reach into someone else’s festivities and procure a beer. Fortunately, I do not like beer, as it tastes of fermented sweatsocks and desperation, and nobody was serving whiskey, so I made it to the stadium unimpaired. But at 10am on game day Madison is in full tailgate mode and the beer is flowing as if Prohibition were scheduled to start up again on Tuesday.
Another sea you will find is traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. And in Madison, pedestrians win. I was glad we parked at a distance and walked over, as I am sure some of the cars that parked next to the stadium will still be there for next week’s game, waiting for a random group of red-clad drunks to get out of their way.
We found our way into the stadium – passing the stringent new tests for what you can bring in with you (clothing, shoes, and the air in your lungs) and what you couldn’t (pretty much anything you’d want to bring to a sporting event) – and sherpa’d our way to our seats.
We had a grand time.
The weather was perfect – sunny, 70F, breezy – though the game itself was a rather pedestrian affair, to be honest. That’s kind of what you’d expect when an overmatched team comes into the house of the 9th-ranked team in the country and is probably wondering if they’ll even have a campus to return home to on Monday once Hurricane Irma hits, but Florida Atlantic kept it close for most of the first half anyway. There were a couple of really good plays on both sides, and if the Badgers don’t get their secondary straightened out fairly quickly and/or teach their receivers how to catch they’re not going to stay 9th-ranked for very long, but the end result was never really in doubt and the Badgers won going away, 31-14.
Mostly, though, the fun part was the other stuff.
For one thing, the student section at Badger games has more fun than is probably legal. They sit in the north end of the stadium – or, rather, they stand in the north end of the stadium, because by tradition they never sit down – and lead the cheers and activities. It was the student section that made sure everyone repeated the announcer’s “First and 10, Wisconsin,” every single time (including the hand gesture). They got the wave going. And if they drifted in throughout the first half, well, really, who’s awake on a college campus at that hour anyway?
They also led the “jump around” segment of the game. At the end of the third quarter the announcers play “Jump Around” over the PA (and, parenthetically, let me just say how amazing the PA system is at Camp Randall – like, really, truly, “you can hear and understand everything they say” amazing. I’ve been at staff meetings that didn’t have that kind of audio clarity) and then everybody, well, jumps around. It registers on the UW’s seismograph as a small earthquake (no, really, it does), and they did have to structurally reinforce the stadium at one point, but hey – tradition.
For another thing, there was the reason we were there in the first place: the bands.
They put the high school bands in the south end of the stadium. That pixel right there is Lauren. No, not that one – that other one, just a bit over. Yeah, that one!
They played four songs at halftime, which was fun. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. How many times are you going to get a chance to play for 80,000 people, really? The bands spent the morning rehearsing, apparently – when there are 22 different bands, each of which has only had about a three days to practice on their own and less than a morning to practice together, you do what you can – and they did a pretty good job of it, I say. Nicely done, Lauren!
There was also the UW Marching Band, which is one of those organizations that anyone in a marching band should aspire to join someday. They’re talented, they work hard, and they are really, really good.
Plus it was Alumni Day for the band as well, and they had about 300 alums on the field with them before the game. They spent most of the game next to the high schoolers (they’re the big red group on the left of that picture of the south end, or one of them anyway) and it was surprising how well they seem to have remembered it all.
After the game there was the Fifth Quarter, a Madison tradition that, surprisingly enough, does not (necessarily) involve beer. Basically the band comes back out, plays “Varsity,” which seems to be as close to an alma mater as Madison gets, and then plays about fifteen minutes of fun stuff. The alums joined them this time, too. The kicker of the whole thing is that they play in scatter formation – basically they run around all over the field, wherever they want to be (paying rather more attention to the remaining students in the student section, naturally). And they do whatever they want as well – I saw many playing on their backs, some while playing leap frog, and (my favorite) at least one bass drummer who used his drum as a brace to play while doing a headstand.
And they do it all in time and on pitch, with no loss of cohesion.
It’s as if they were in formation watching the conductor and not meandering across and entire stadium while the conductor socializes on the sidelines. Do you have any idea how hard that is to do? I was impressed.
Eventually things wound down and we all headed out – Kim and me to our car, Lauren with her bandmates to the bus. It’s been a long day, but a good one.