Pride of Wildcat Land: Marching as a family

Hannah Hunsinger | Collegian An empassioned clarinet player shows his Wildcat pride at the pregame pep band before the K-State vs. UMass football game on Saturday, Sept. 14 in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Inside the doors of McCain Auditorium lies a K-State family that has stood the test of time – since 1887 to be exact. It has experienced its ups and downs, created its successes with hours upon hours of work and they’re in no mood to fail. This family is the K-State Marching Band, better known as the Pride of the Wildcat Land.

The evolution of the K-State Marching Band is no ordinary tale. Much similar to the K-State Football team they’re supporting on nine Saturdays this fall, they needed a direction and an identity when it all began.

Dr. Frank Tracz, professor of music and director of bands, took on this challenge in fall 1993 knowing it’d be an uphill climb. Tracz said that at the beginning of his K-State career, the band was in need of some care and attention.

“There was nothing here,” Tracz said. “Nobody wanted to come here. There was no recruiting system and there was nothing to attract students. It was a ripe place. The vineyard was ready and the fields were ready to be picked. It just needed some tender loving care.”

With around 115 band members involved when he first arrived, Tracz wasn’t left empty-handed. K-State was a part of the Big 8 Conference at the time and as an aspiring instructor, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Tracz said that the university sold itself.

“This is a unique place people-wise,” Tracz said. “There is no place like it. I’ve been around the country in different places and visited different parts of the country quite a bit. There is no place like it. People don’t believe when I tell them the support and the things that we get.”

The excitement of the years ahead was quite high for the university in many facets. Only four years prior to Tracz’s arrival at K-State, the university had hired an aspiring head football coach, Bill Snyder, to rejuvenate a program that was on life support. Tracz said that he thinks the university excitement he felt when he was first hired is still growing today.

“Well I think it’s still building,” Tracz said. “I think there was a level of excitement [because] everybody knew about Coach Snyder and what he was about to do. The administration certainly knew that. I think people caught on to that. Everybody loves a winner and it has helped build a great fan base.”

Within a band’s leadership structure comes a special bond between director and student. Beyond that relationship is the drive and the direction given by the marching band’s three drum majors.

Amy Kraus, senior in music education, Brett Eichman, senior in music education and Jordan Parker, junior in pre-medicine biology and gerontology, all grew up with great interest in music. Although they come from different backgrounds, it’s a passion to lead and communicate the marching band’s abilities that tie them together.

As native Kansans, all three participated in K-State’s annual Central States Music Festival while in high school. The festival brings 35-40 bands from Kansas, as well as a few neighboring states each year. From this event they were able to hear the Pride firsthand, as they conclude the event each year.

The workload and schedule for the trio is one that presents its fair share of challenges. Despite the extra effort required, it’s an opportunity Eichman, assistant drum major, said is well worth the responsibility.

“You have to have a passion for it,” Eichman said. “We spend countless hours in a week preparing and if you don’t love it, it would seem not worth it.”

In the fall semester, the band focuses its vision around providing the game day experience that K-State supporters have grown to love. What goes into these days are hours of work that few other then marching band members know about.

“[Practice] starts considerably before that,” Kraus, lead drum major, said of the football season performances. “We do a week long camp of three-a-day practices before school starts. Most often it’s from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. each day.”

Tracz recognizes the challenges that band camp brings to his students, but he also knows it’s a road that’s conquerable.

“It’s more challenging now to motivate them,” Tracz said. “To get students to stand outside in 100 degree temperatures for a number of hours to go through things and use basic human needs like water as a reward, it’s something that you need. But if you can do that and apply yourself to that, you can do anything. Honest to God, you can do anything. I think most of them get that.”

On a gameday, the three drum majors meet with band staff, as well as coordinators from the cheerleading team and graduate students from the band program. Plans and preparations begin roughly six to seven hours prior to the start of the football game.

“Every section has warm-ups that they do on the field just to get them ready for the rehearsal,” Eichman said. “We usually do a one to two hour rehearsal before the game. We usually start with our halftime show, do our basics and warm-ups as well as a few run-throughs of the pregame routine.”

Tracz said the current group of drum majors brings a number of elements to the band musically. But more than anything, it’s the dedication that makes them special.

“They care an awful lot about the band and about the university,” Tracz said. “This is their group and they treat it that way. If you could get any group of people to declare and live ownership of what they do, it couldn’t be better.”

Having to lead nearly 400 marching band members may seem daunting, but Parker, first-year assistant drum major, said it has been one she has enjoyed sharing with Eichman and Kraus.

“One of our main goals was to learn everyone’s names,” Parker said. “Going out there and knowing everyone by name or by face, and being able to relate with them and help them is awesome. Sharing our attitudes with them and getting them pumped up and trying to bring the best out of them, that’s the craziest part about it.”

Being able to put the hours in and present in front of 50,000 plus K-State fans is an experience Eichman said is hard to comprehend, but more than worth it.

“It’s definitely exhilarating,” Eichman said. “Every time you step on the field, you’d think you would get used to it. But right before, you’re standing there waiting to go on, or when you first run on, there’s music playing and everybody is cheering and yelling and waiting for those taps to happen. There is a lot of anticipation. You look around you and there is purple everywhere and everyone’s going crazy.”

Tracz said providing that on field experience for his band and the purple-clad fans is a great feeling.

“What the band and cheerleaders do for students at football and basketball games makes it quite different from professional sports,” Tracz said. “There is a lot of spirit and there is a lot of ownership. This is their band and this is their university.”

Excitement is always high through the band rooms of McCain, and having to step away for 28 days between home games has given the Pride of Wildcat Land time to prepare for the rest of the season. And as they look ahead, they look fondly and cherish the family they practice and prepare with every day.