After COVID-19 affected this past year’s season, the Pride of Wildcat Land bounced back this season and traveled to Houston to perform at the TaxAct Texas Bowl.
Frank Tracz, director of bands, directed the performance at the TaxAct Texas Bowl. Tracz has directed around 20 bowl games during his time at K-State.
“This is my 29th year here, and I think we’ve been to probably 21–22 bowls,” Tracz said. “I was director at Syracuse University for a number of years … I’m a graduate of Ohio State and Wisconsin, so I have probably been over 30, 32, 33 bowls in my career.”
Courtney Grecu, the band’s senior administrative assistant, made travel plans for every bowl game K-State was eligible for — from hotels, event spaces and food for the marching band.
“We have a great staff. Courtney Grecu, who is our senior administrative assistant, does the job of two people easily,” Tracz said. “She does a great job of setting it up, and we’ve been there before, so it’s a different flavor bowl — a different location — but it’s the same questions. It’s not my first rodeo, and we’ve been through this before, so we have a system in place here for wherever [the bowls] are announced.”
Because of personal concerns, the marching band was down about 35 students on the trip. With a few missing members, the band loaded nine busses at midnight on Jan. 2 with over 400 people, including marching band members, Classy Cats and cheerleading staff.
Unlike previous years, Tracz wasn’t as worried about how the band performed.
“Houston went really well, it was a challenging trip,” Tracz said. “For the first time in my career taking a band someplace, I didn’t worry about how the band played or marched. I worried about COVID.”
After the 13-hour long road trip to Houston, the band practiced, played at rallies, went to the Kennedy Space Center and cheered on the Wildcats during the TaxAct Texas bowl.
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“We got there in the afternoon and practiced down there one time for two hours, and then did a lot of rallies … we toured the Space Center which was pretty cool and we did the game and beat LSU … then we went back to the hotel, slept for about five or six hours, got up for breakfast then we left,” Tracz said.
Alex Wimmer, assistant director of bands, said he was happy to see the students back at a bowl game in a somewhat normal setting after the past few years.
“It was good to be back at a bowl game and to be in an environment that was typical prior to the pandemic,” Wimmer said.
In addition to directing the band, Tracz spends some of his time focusing on the game in front of him. As he watches plays, he gets ideas of what’s to come and what tune should be performed next.
“I played football in high school, so I know football, I like football, I understand a little bit, so I kind of know what’s going to happen and what’s going on,” Tracz said. “So I try to watch the game, I try to keep an eye on the band, call up the right tunes and all that sort of stuff.”
Tracz decided to perform “Happy Trails” with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter. The tune hyped up the band, the stands, the football players and even fans on Twitter, including D. Scott Fritchen, co-author of “Bill Snyder: My Football Life and the Rest of the Story,” giving a shout-out to Tracz for the call of playing the tune.
The K-State marching band is playing “Happy Trails” with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter. Dr. Frank Tracz is a pure legend.
— D. Scott Fritchen (@DScottFritchen) January 5, 2022
“We had a lot of fun, and you know playing ‘Happy Trails’ with over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter was a big deal … I wanted to play it earlier when we were up 42-7 or whatever,” Tracz said.
Although the game was at the NRG Stadium in Houston, many felt as if they were at home in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“We got out there and we were loud, we were proud and beat Tiger butt,” Wimmer said. “It felt like a home game, even though we weren’t at home,”
The Pride of Wildcat Land had no problems stepping up to the plate after a season of not marching this past season. Chris Hovis, junior in music education and tuba section leader, said the band went above and beyond during its busy season.
“The season was just absolutely crazy,” Hovis said. “It really was a mega season going to Dallas, going to Lawrence, having so many home games and the bowl trip.”
Although there were some hiccups at the beginning, the band continued putting in the work and getting results.
“We put it all out there at Dallas, and then we went back home and we said, ‘OK, let’s really get to work,'” Hovis said. “We had our ups and downs, but you know after mid–season we really started pumping the iron and putting out really positive results that everyone could be proud of.”
The band had a lot to overcome this season, including COVID-19 concerns and the lack of marching in the previous year. However, Wimmer said he feels this season was successful.
“Everyone worked really hard to make sure that we could have as successful of a year as possible in the safest way possible,” Wimmer said.
Hovis explained just how committed the band is and the energy that translates from that passion.
“We had just unmatched energy throughout the season,” Hovis said, “and it’s always a great thing to come out there and just feel the electricity, and you know that everyone’s going to give it 110 percent and just leave it all out there, and I really think that that’s what we did.”
Although the 2021 season just ended, the band is now preparing for the 2022 season, gathering songs and planning performances.
“We’re already starting to pick stuff for next year so we have it arranged for our band musically and can play it our way,” Tracz said.
Band members continue working to do their best with what is in front of them while experiencing things that many students on campus don’t get to experience.
“It’s college kid fun, it’s what it’s supposed to be, it’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Tracz said. “Not everybody gets that opportunity — not everybody gets to do that or see that.”