I spent my Saturday morning before the TCU game like never before, waking up early to meet up with Dr. Frank Tracz, Professor of Music and Bands at K-State, and see what being a part of the K-State Marching band is all about.
From 7 a.m. meetings to warm ups to run-throughs and making sure the halftime show is, as usual, spot on, the K-State band takes 'game day' to a whole new level.
7:45 a.m. - Staff meeting at Aggieville's Bluestem Bistro
This is where the magic begins. During breakfast and coffee, Tracz meets with his band staff of about 10 people, Classy Cat Coordinator Kathleen Henao and Twirling Coordinator Shannon Meis for about a half-hour of collaborating on the upcoming day.
"The weather is going to be fantastic so today is going to be awesome," Tracz said excitedly during the meeting. Talk about someone who loves his job.
The group goes over the logistics of the upcoming day - who goes where and when, what uniforms will be worn, the halftime show, gloves or no gloves - and then once it's all said and done, they head to Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"The uniforms for today, as usual, will be K-State Purple for the band, Cat Heads for the tubas and percussion and Willies for the drum majors. Check on the field for the right socks, the right shoes, check for clean gloves," Tracz said as he closed the meeting. "There should be no problems, it's going to be a good day for the good guys. Happy trails!"
8:30 a.m. - Meet in stadium
While the rehearsal doesn't being until 9:30, band members and their instruments began filing into the stadium, meeting up with their respective units and warming up for the rehearsal six hours before kickoff of each home game.
That's right, six hours, so for 11 a.m. games (like this upcoming weekend against Oklahoma) the band will show up ready to perform at 5 a.m. to prepare for its day.
I talked to one tuba player that said his section meets for breakfast and preparation as early as 3 a.m. before an 11 a.m. game.
9:00 a.m. - Rain or shine
Despite what turned out to be an incredible November afternoon - 72 and sunny by kickoff - for about a half hour during the morning preparation rain showers came and went.
The rain didn't stop the band, the twirlers, the Classy Cats and the cheer squad, though.
"My favorite part (of being band director) is just dealing with kids, dealing with students," Tracz said as we waited for a rain shower to pass. "What's special about K-State is the way athletics and football are run. It's about the college student, which is not the case in most places. So the best part about it is working with these students, they work so hard, they care and they're good people."
Tracz also had time to tell me a little bit about the band.
Did you know the Pride of Wildcat Land is made up of 404 people including the staff? Eighty percent of the band has a 3.0 GPA or higher and 60 percent have a 3.5 or higher. Only 20 percent of band members are majoring in music at K-State while 19 percent are majoring in engineering and the rest are a mix of many different majors.
By the time the rain clouds passed a double rainbow shined over Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a good omen, Tracz laughed, for a K-State game day.
9:30 a.m. - Pregame rehearsal
This was my favorite part of the morning. Everyone lined up on the field and practiced all those songs you hear on game day - the National Anthem, the Wabash Cannonball, Wildcat Victory and the Alma Mater - and it sounded fantastic echoing through the empty Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"Wake up boys and girls!" Tracz shouted over the loud speaker, his voice booming thorough the stadium, "It's game day!"
10:00 a.m. - Halftime rehearsal
At halftime of K-State's 33-31 win over TCU on Saturday, the band performed a rendition of the Broadway Musical Jersey Boys. That morning, I was able to enjoy a sneak preview of it and meet a special member of the Wildcat family.
"By mistake, one thing led to another and we found out that the lead singer that plays Frankie Valley in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys and one of the Vegas productions is a 1994 K-State graduate from the theater department," Tracz said as he told me about K-Stater Travis Cloer. "He's here and he's going to sing with us at halftime. He is outstanding."
Cloer, who currently lives and preforms in Las Vegas, Nev., was back at his Alma Mater for the first time since he graduated in 1994. He said he contacted Tracz earlier this year about potentially singing the National Anthem before the TCU game. Well, one thing led to another and when Tracz told him the halftime show for the TCU game was Jersey Boys - the musical Cloer knew and performed so well - it couldn't have been a more perfect weekend for him to visit and sing for his K-State family.
"It's crazy being back," Cloer said as he looked around Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a lot had changed since he was a student. "I'm so excited, it's really a dream come true to be back here."
Cloer sang along and rehearsed with the band, and it sounded excellent, just as it did at halftime.
I still can't get the song Sherry out of my head!
11:00 a.m. - Group meeting
After the rehearsal Tracz called everyone into the center of the field for a quick meeting. The entire band listened to his instruction and encouragement before heading to lunch.
"Everyone know what's going on? You got it? It's a beautiful day, we've got a great show coming up and this could be an event-making performance for the football team and the band," Tracz said knowing a football win would lead to a bowl game trip for not just the K-State football team, but also his entire band. "Good job this morning! Good job to Travis! We want to thank him for being here. We know everyone wanted a piece of you this weekend being a famous graduate of K-State, but this is going to be awesome, so thank you very, very much for being here."
11:15 a.m. - Stadium preparation
During this time the band staff prepares Section 26 with water, flip folders and podiums so, come gametime, everything will be good to go.
"There is great tradition here at K-State," Don Linn, assistant director of Bands at K-State said. Linn is going on his fourth year with the K-State band and came to Manhattan after working as associate director of bands with Youngstown State. "I love being here, it's really something special."
11:30 a.m. - Lunch
"Cold pizza and subs," Tracz laughed when I asked him what was for lunch, "but we love it."
Lunch is served at the football program's indoor facility. The band has about a half hour to eat lunch before their performances for the day take off.
12:15 p.m. - Pep Bands
Have you ever been blessed with the sound of the K-State marching band visiting your tailgate? Well, this is when two to four pep bands meet outside of Bramlage coliseum and make their way through the east and west parking lots playing loud and proud for all to hear.
1:30 p.m. - Enter stadium
From this point on the rest of the day is a display of just how hard the K-State band works during the week to make the game atmosphere inside Bill Snyder Family Stadium unlike any other university in the nation.
2:15 p.m. - Show time
You know what they do now. If you've seen a K-State football game, you've seen this. The Pride of Wildcat land is gathered at the Northeast corner of Bill Snyder Family Stadium dancing and swaying as it prepares to march on the field, create the K-S-U display and play 'Wildcat Victory.'
"It's their university and they really take what they do to heart," Tracz said. "It's their band, their school, and that's the way it should be. They love this."
The Pledge of Allegiance is stated, the National Anthem is sung and now, it's time for kickoff.
6:15 p.m. - Celebrate K-State win!
"The whole day is my favorite part," Tracz said. "It's college football, I love college football and I love what I do. I'm 18 again for a day. Once it's over, I'm not 18 again, my body's telling me, 'you're not 18 anymore,' but it's still fun. It's just great fun."
While game days contain a full schedule for Tracz, his staff and the band, it's a day they prepare for all week during their numerous practices and preparation. Friday evenings before game the band splits into groups and marches up and down Poyntz Avenue and through Aggieville making stops in and out restaurants performing for their K-State family.
The Pride of Wildcat Land is a group dear to the hearts of so many people not only in Manhattan, but also to K-Staters worldwide. It is a part of making game days in Bill Snyder Family Stadium unique, and having the opportunity to spend the day along side these K-State greats was simply fantastic.