‘We’re better than this’: The Wabash Cannonball in jeopardy

Willie does the wabash cannonball with fans in the student section. (Archive photo by Madison Riebel | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: In the original published version of this article and in the print edition, this article incorrectly stated the South Dakota game was played on Saturday, Sept. 4, and misspelled Barstool Sports name. Both mistakes have been fixed in the online version, with the date now correctly reading “Saturday, Sept. 3” and “Barstool Sports” correctly spelled.

During the football pre-game performance Saturday, Sept. 3, the Pride of Wildcat Land stopped playing their instruments mid-Wabash Cannonball due to the slew of profanity coming from the student section. 

Josh Diazdeleon, trumpet section leader for the Pride of Wildcat Land and Kansas State student ambassador, said the band was extremely disappointed they were unable to play for the student section.

“The members of the Pride would be devastated to lose this tradition,” Diazdeleon said. “I know we have a lot of members of the band who are really frustrated with this. It doesn’t feel good to not play for the student section. That was a bummer and that wasn’t just an opinion I have of my own, that was the entire band.”

The Wabash Cannonball is a traditional, upbeat ballad played by the Kansas State band during football and basketball games. Students, faculty and alumni participate by cheering and rocking back and forth alternately with those sitting next to them. However, in recent years, derogatory remarks about the University of Kansas have been incorporated into the tradition. 

“I’ll say this — I’m a big fan of rivalries and I wholeheartedly believe that we are the best school in the nation,” Diazdeleon said. “I think that’s been reflected in all the statistics that have been coming out as far as K-State being the number one school regarding student life, but I think we’re better than this. The last thing that I want to hear when I’m in the Bill is some nonsense about a school with a historically subpar football program.”

Not only does the chanting give credit to KU’s football team, but it also takes away from the central meaning of the song, Diazdeleon said.

“The Wabash is not only the number one gameday pregame tradition in the Big 12, but it’s also an integral part to the K-State experience,” Diazdeleon said. “You can’t have the K-State experience without the Wabash. It’s the backbone of being a K-Stater.” 

Students and faculty alike have expressed frustration with the profanity chanted during the song, some even making anonymous Instagram accounts encouraging students to stop, like @savethewabash. President Linton said he is upset with the way the tradition has been treated.

“I’m disappointed that this chant takes our students’ and patrons’ focus off of the field when our student-athletes are doing such incredible things on the field,” Linton wrote in a Sept. 8 email. “I am actively engaged in conversations with administration and student leadership on the best ways we can encourage our students to live their Wildcat values in this venue and restore an atmosphere of respect. That’s the K-State way.”

Scott Sanders, a K-State alumnus who graduated in 1995, said he, along with many other alumni, would be extremely disappointed if the Wabash Cannonball was taken away because of the students yelling profanity.

“I would be very, very sad,” Sanders said. “As a student, I have extremely fond memories of the Wabash Cannonball at football and basketball games, but also as a parent, taking my children to games. I remember having fun teaching them the Wabash and doing it at home and at games with them. To see that tradition go away would be very, very sad.”

Sanders said he believes it is important to honor the history of the Wabash by carrying on the tradition and refraining from yelling expletives.

“Not only do I have a personal attachment to the Wabash, but it’s a very traditional and exciting song,” Sanders said. “When Nichols gymnasium burned down in 1968 and it was the only piece of music the band director had in his briefcase, that’s what the band had to play at the next basketball game.”

The history behind the Wabash Cannonball is not the only reason students love the tradition. Paige Fleming, senior in human resources, said she loves the song because it brings the student body together.

“It’s a big sense of unity amongst students,” Fleming said. “We come from all these different places. We’re all in these different classes and everything, but I feel like when we’re at these games and we get to experience this one song, it’s something that we all take pride in.”

Fleming said she hopes students recognize the harm they are causing by chanting profanities during the song.

“Just because you feel a certain way towards this or you want to take these certain actions and do the things they’re asking us not to do doesn’t give you the right to strip us all of the opportunity to be participating in this long tradition,” Fleming said.

Many students hope to keep the Wabash by encouraging their peers to stop chanting about KU, Fleming being one of them.

“I just hope that we all take the necessary steps to keep it from disappearing,” Fleming said.

Taylor Poitier, a junior in communications and an offensive lineman for K-State, said he couldn’t believe the tradition was actually in jeopardy.

“I heard about it on Twitter,” Poitier said. “I didn’t think it was honestly real just because that’s the school’s main song for every game.”

Poitier said he thinks the administration should speak with the student body and give them a chance to change their behavior to save the song.

“I feel like they should communicate with the students more,” Poitier said. “They’re just going to take it away without even giving a solution to fix the problem.”

Furthermore, Poitier said he thinks the chant can be encouraging for the team.

“I feel like there’s worse things said in people’s chants,” Poitier said. “For us it means that everybody’s into it and everybody’s rocking with us, in my perspective of it.”

Some students, like Alec Schlote, senior in architecture, believe it will be difficult to get the student section to abstain from the derogatory chanting. 

“I mean, it’s something that you can’t really stop,” Schlote said. “The students, they chant other obscenities. It’s just how it is. It’s hard to really regulate anything that goes on and getting rid of one of our most iconic songs for any reason is not something they should consider.”

Media, such as Barstool Sports, has taken sides since controversy arose surrounding the Wabash Cannonball, but Diazdeleon said he knows students will take this in stride and make some changes. 

“I do think that our student section is getting a lot of bad press,” Diazdeleon said. “However, I don’t think that we have a bad student section. I think that we have the best kids in the nation going to our school. That’s why we’re going to come out of this better. That’s why we’re going to be better, we’re going to challenge ourselves to get out of this.” 

Getting rid of the chant during the Wabash Cannonball doesn’t mean students won’t be able to act on their rivalry with KU, Sanders said.

“Reserve the negative remarks for the KU games,” Sanders said.

Poitier echoed.

“Wait till KU,” Poitier said.