A Look Inside the K-State Pep Rally
Smoller, K-State Athletics senior director of fan experience and sales, was the production manager for the event. She was in charge of making sure things went smoothly, making sure videos played on queue and that the music played at the right times.
She directed the band when to play, she told Wyatt Thompson, Voice of the Wildcats, when to go on stage and she called out the cheer team when it was their turn to perform.
"I always equate us (in fan experience) to referees or officials," said Smoller. "I hope people don't notice us because when they do it means things aren't going the right way. Hopefully people aren't realizing what a timed out event it is, but instead that it all just flows together."
And, because of Smoller, flow together was exactly how the event went. Despite any hiccups that may have occurred along the way, when the K-State fans showed up, they were given a show.
However, preparing for an event in a city 750 miles away from Manhattan, Kansas, in such short notice after K-State's bowl selection was announced on Dec. 7, is no easy task.
The pep rally is sponsored by K-State Athletics, the K-State Alumni Association, the KSU Foundation and the President's Office. Staff members from each group began meeting the week before the bowl announcement. Only two days after K-State was selected to play UCLA in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Smoller, a group of K-State athletics staff and a group from the K-State Alumni Association took a trip to San Antonio to scout out different venues for the pep rally.
"I think it's hard for people to realize the planning that goes in because you can't do a lot of pre-planning before you know exactly what bowl you're going to," explained Smoller. "With this bowl, it was especially difficult because the pep rally was on a holiday, Jan. 1, and there are only a handful of places that can fit our large crowds. I think, overall, we just appreciate people's patience as it all comes together until we're able to announce it."
Smoller has been working full-time in K-State's fan experience and sales office since 2006. She has worked with the Wildcats for six bowl games and has played a key role in orchestrating each of K-State's past five-consecutive pep rallies in cities from New York to Dallas to Phoenix to, just this past week, San Antonio.
"Whenever I tell people about all the minute details that go into an event like the pep rally, they always seem surprised," said Gavin Hargrave, associate director of alumni programs for the K-State Alumni Association, who played a major role in all of the operations and logistics and working directly with the coliseum staff for this year's event. "It takes a lot of organization and teamwork from several people. Fortunately we have staff at K-State who can make it happen. Also, working with Joni is always fun. She's been doing this for a while and is one of the best."
When all the running around, the setting up and the planning was said and done, more than 10,000 passionate purple fans showed up on New Year's Day for the free event prior to this year's Valero Alamo Bowl, a number that put a smile on Smoller's face.
"What I enjoy the most is seeing the crowd because it's not a ticketed event," she said with a smile. "It's a free event, so you never really know how many people are going to show up. There's always that doubt the morning of the pep rally, but then when you open the doors and fans rush in, and it's packed, that's my favorite part. The fans coming and getting to enjoy it.
"I thought it went really well. The crowd seemed to like it and the football team, seeing them come in the tunnel with their cameras out and everything, it was really cool to watch them when they first saw the crowd."