By WILL WILLCOXSON
Last fall, I auditioned to be a member of the University of Arizona pep band. I decided to give it a shot even though just 52 musicians from the 250 members of UA’s full marching band are selected.
My audition didn’t go as well as I hoped, but I ended up making the cut.
Since then, I’ve balanced my dual enrollment at Pima Community College and UA with participation in the pep band.
It’s been a great honor, a fun experience and a tremendous privilege.
As fun as pep band is, however, it’s a very challenging chore. We face agonizing challenges and bitter defeats.
But when we stand to play the “Bear Down” fight song that everyone is so crazy about, we remember why we’re there.
Pep band members are expected to be a positive reflection of the school’s spirit and student life. We must cheer on the team and the crowd, and participate in various fundraisers and events.
Early in the year, we played at women’s volleyball and basketball games. I didn’t have any interest in these sports previously, but ended up respecting them and the athletes for their hard work.
Next came what everyone signs up for – men’s basketball.
Playing at men’s games is a more daunting task than any other sport.
Yes, you get into the games for free, but you are not just a spectator. You are part of the show. You stand, cheer and play your best the entire game. After all, you are heard in households across the nation.
If the team loses, you don’t get to yell and pout. You must show respect to your team and the other school for their efforts.
The music played is incredibly important. For alumni, it is pure nostalgia from their glory days. For the new kids, it starts a tradition.
Just 29 members of the pep band ensemble get to travel on road games. It takes seniority or incredible talent to go on the big trips, such as the Final Four.
If we’re selected for a road trip, we are expected to display the same energy whether it is the Elite Eight or the first game of the women’s PAC-12 tournament.
This year I traveled to places such as Seattle and Las Vegas, and got entire days to hang out with friends.
I got to ride with the men’s basketball team in a private jet and even stayed in the same hotel as them. It was a common occurrence to run into players around the hotel.
On one trip, I rode up an elevator with sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski, who used to be in band and play drums.
Being around your “idols” so much reminds you that they are normal people, just like you and me.
The tournament environment is an unforgettable experience, with hostile fans, crazy games and wins or losses decided by split-second decisions and buzzer-beating shots.
The Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin was the hardest loss of them all. Our season was cut short just one field goal away from the Final Four.
How did we react? While some fans rioted in Tucson, we kept our heads high with pride and appreciated the magical season the team had given us.
Whether the camera is on us or not, we always have one hand in the air to proudly form the number one. When the clock hits zero, win or lose, we put our warm instruments up to our face and play “Bear Down.”