By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There are certain things that go with football, crisp autumn air, the roar of the crowd, the relationships among the fans in the stadium and the sounds of the band.
I remember as a youngster seeing the Gary High School Band march from the school through town to the football stadium and the excitement it generated as people lined the route and cheered the group.
A few years later I remember marching and feeling that same excitement wearing the red and black colors of the Coaldiggers.
Next Friday the Marshall University Marching Band will pull into Bluefield and perform during halftime of the Bluefield Beavers game against Gate City. It will be a treat for everyone — football fans, high school band members and those in the Marching Thunder.
I know so because I have experienced it as a fan, as a high school musician and a college band member.
In the fall of 1980 the WVU Marching Band came to Welch on its way to Virginia Tech, just as Marshall is doing. It was the first time I had seen the band in person and I was blown away.
From that day, until I received a letter in our post office box indicating my acceptance in that group, my goal was to practice hard so that I could wear the uniform and play with that group.
My dream came true. My first performance with the Pride of West Virginia was in Oak Hill, during a fall festival. I remember it was terribly hot, but I was excited as we participated in a parade and later did a field show at Red Devil Stadium before a jam-packed crowd.
Two weeks later we would take the field for WVU’s first home game of the year, against a ranked Maryland team with Boomer Esiason, before 50,000 fans. The adrenaline rush was unbelievable and it would be the same rush for the next three years.
Whether we were performing before 90,000 at Penn State, or 500 at a small school in Ohio, there was an esprit-de-corps that made me and all my fellow bandsmen to give it our best. Sometimes it was hard after riding countless hours on buses, but we knew we represented our school and our state and people were coming out to see us.
Life in college band is different from high school band. In high school some kids are there because they were forced to be in an activity by their parents.
At the collegiate level, you are there because you WANT to be there and to stay there you have to live up to the standards.
Band camp were days that lasted from 8 a.m. untll midnght, no joke. Saturdays began with 7 a.m. practice for a noon game, earlier for the drumline. I was a trumpet player so I got to sleep in a little longer.
Road games were two- or three-day trips where you would perform on the route to and from the game. Even going to Pittsburgh was an adventure. I am sure many of my friends remember Orrville, Ohio in 1982.
I had friends who were on the football team and they understood the level of work and pride the band put in to support them and the school.
From 1982-85 I had the opportunity to have a field-level seat to many historic moments in WVU football and travel to many venues I had only previously seen on television described by legendary sports broadcaster Keith Jackson.
I also got to experience the small-town kindness of people who opened their homes to us during our travels in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
One time in a host home here in southern West Virginia, the father of the family threw me the keys to his Cadillac. His son had gotten in trouble and was grounded and knowing I was from the area, he told me to take the other guys who were staying in that house and meet up with the crowd at a local pizza establishment.
My last performance in the Mountaineer Marching Band came in the Astrodome in the Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year’s Eve 1984. Three weeks later we made a trip to Washington, D.C. for a parade, but cold weather postponed Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
When I attend a football game, as a writer, a broadcaster, a spectator, I always watch the band. At WVU and Marshall, when I’m working, I go to the camera deck for the pregame shows. At high schools I love to see the energy and enthusiasm of those involved.
We need to support our bands at all levels and recognize the importance they provide to communities, schools and most importantly the development and discipline they instill in their members.
Next Friday show your support for the Bluefield High School and Marshall University Marching Bands at Mitchell Stadium. And mark down Southern Thunder V on Oct. 5, the high school marching band invitational hosted by Princeton Senior High School.
They all put in a lot of hard work.
Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter who was a member of the WVU Marching Band.