If Eastern Mennonite University’s Yoder Arena seems a bit peppier this winter, look no further than the northeast corner of the basketball court floor. EMU’s new pep band is loud, they’re proud and they’re here to stay.
“The support has been growing since our very first game,” says sophomore Josh Calderon, the band’s student director. “We want it to get to the point where we change the atmosphere.”
That “first game” was on Dec. 19, when the band played for Alumni Appreciation Day games against Messiah College. Although students had already left for Christmas break, alumni seemed to embrace the band. There was toe-tapping and head-bobbing in the stands, and a few of the more courageous followed the pep band’s lead, holding up their hands and wiggling their fingers during foul shots in D-1-crowd-type fashion.
The band has played at several more games in January and plans to be at all the remaining games on the schedule this winter: Feb. 6, Feb. 16, and Feb. 20.
Calderon, from Grottoes, Virginia, says he got the idea for an EMU pep band while taking a marching band course at nearby James Madison University last year. He played tuba for the Marching Dukes and in JMU’s pep band and thought, “Why couldn’t we have something like this at EMU?”
He contacted John Dull, adjunct faculty in the music department and director of the EMU Wind Ensemble, and Dull said, “Why not?”
“Josh just has such a handle on it,” Dull says. “He’s so gifted. That’s what we’re here for—to enable students to do what they do best and let it grow. It’s his thing.”
Calderon recruited members, Dull became the band’s faculty advisor, conversations took place with the athletics department and the idea’s tempo cranked up to prestissimo.
“The response has been huge,” Dull says. “The athletes love it, the coaches love it, we’re hearing great comments from fans, especially older fans, and the band loves doing it. It fills a niche. Maybe it wasn’t an obvious hole until we started, but now we hear, ‘Wow, what did we do before?’ We’re already talking about next year. We’re looking forward to where this could go.”
Athletics director Dave King is looking that way, too.
“Having a pep band at EMU sporting events has been a dream of mine since I arrived here 10 years ago, so I’m grateful for their vision,” King says. “Live music adds to the game environment and often encourages more student involvement. I’m excited about what they’re doing for basketball and will be looking for other athletic events where their presence can enhance the atmosphere.”
The band may expand to attendance at volleyball games and soccer matches, Dull said. The band has been spreading the word off the court, too, aided by the communications skills of James Madison University student and band member Chase Dunn. They have hammed it up with a huge poster advertising social media contact information (Twitter/Instagram: @emupepband; Facebook: www.facebook.com/EMUPepBand), did a T-shirt giveaway over the holidays and have received hundreds of “likes” and supporters.
“That tells me we’re getting there,” Dull said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
Don’t expect just music from the band, either. When they’re not playing, they’re leading cheers and chants, holding up signs, counting down with the shot clock and, of course, giving the opponents some good-natured heckling. They want to spread spirit any way they can.
Brooke Bevington, a freshman flute player who went to high school with Calderon, jumped at the chance to join the band.
“It’s been great,” Bevington says. “The crowd seems to be responding to us well, and we have an amazing time—even when we lose. We have a bunch of fun. We might be exhausted from a full day of school, but we still come out and support our team. It’s what we do.”