Marching together to the Sudler Trophy

Senior Rachel Gastmann tells the bass drum section to get louder during the halftime performance of the Kansas State versus South Dakota football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Sep. 5, 2015. (File Photo by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

The K-State Marching Band, The Pride of Wildcat Land, will accept the Sudler Trophy on Saturday. According to The John Philip Sousa Foundation website, this award recognizes longtime excellence and achievement among collegiate marching bands.

The Sudler Trophy is only awarded to a new program every two years. The Pride will join an elite group of just 30 other marching bands that have performed to the highest musical standard, spurred innovative marching sequences and contributed to the overall history of collegiate marching bands over a period of decades, according to the foundation.

Frank Tracz, professor of music and director of bands, began building the marching band program in 1993, the same year football head coach Bill Snyder, then in his fifth season as head football coach, guided the Wildcats to their first Top 25 ranking in school history. The football team was ascending and would begin competing for championships and going to bowl games. The administration wanted a marching band that would perform on a similar level.

“They said, ‘We want a band to match (the team),'” Tracz said. “So I came in, and it was a good band program, but it was pretty low in numbers, not a lot of budget, not a lot of support, not a lot of anything.”

This season, for the first time since Tracz arrived, the marching band was forced to cut potential members. Across the marching band, auxiliary bands and drumline around 575 people auditioned for just 411 current spots.

“Our numbers are growing, but work ethic has also grown,” Allegra Fisher, head drum major and senior in music, said. “(Band members) are excited to be a part of something good, so they’re willing to work harder.”

However, as the program grows, funding lags behind. According to Tracz, The Pride of Wildcat Land is the least-funded marching band in the Big 12, receiving just over $220,000, which is shared with other bands within the program. Each one of the over 400 band members is required to pay a $200 activities fee, or complete $200 worth of fundraising.

According to 2013-2014 reports submitted to the NCAA in January, the Kansas State athletic department posted a profit of over $10 million, the second highest among the six Big 12 schools in the black. The football and men’s basketball programs, both of which feature student bands, posted profits among the top three in the Big 12.

Tracz said he finds motivation in his funding frustrations.

“It’s getting an awful lot of bang out of a little buck,” he said. “We’re doing a lot with very little.”

Students have said they agree. The marching band contributes to the game-day atmosphere that boosts the energy of the Wildcat fan base.

“The marching band is a huge part of any gameday,” J.P. Derksen, junior in accounting, said. “It gets the crowd pumped up and it really feels like a college football game”.

According to Tracz, Conn-Selmer, the last American-made instrument manufacturer, took notice of the marching band’s recent success and initiated a partnership. The band will use primarily Conn-Selmer instruments, and Conn-Selmer will offer discounts on instruments, sponsor guest clinicians and fund marching band festivals and events.

This Saturday, the Sudler Trophy will be presented during a halftime show that will involve over 1,000 high school band students and 250 band alumni, in addition to the regular 400-person marching band. The attendance of these groups at the presentation of the Sudler Trophy synchronizes with its origins, as it is an award marking a tradition of excellence accepted by alumni who started the tradition, current members who uphold it and potential future members who will foster its continued growth.

Fisher said she believes this growth is certain and will continue.

“This band will never allow themselves, and Dr. Tracz will never allow us, to revert back towards anything in the past,” Fisher said. “I can’t wait to come back in ten years and see how the band has progressed.”