When Good Marching Bands Go Bad

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Editor's Note: The deadline for our $50,000 Tuition Giveaway is January 31. Rather than nag you every day with a post that starts and ends with "TIME IS RUNNING OUT," we've decided to keep the scholarship top of mind by re-running some of our favorite college-centric stories and quizzes. Today's selection comes from our former marching band correspondent Steven Clontz.

In my first full-band rehearsal for my university's marching band, our director emphasized one thing: Class. Wherever we go, we are representatives of our state and university. Therefore, we must always be vigilant in portraying the best image possible. This dedication to class is, tragically, not universally shared. If you would, I'd like you to join me on a journey, examining the seedy underbelly of the marching band world. Maybe you'll find out what happens"¦ when MARCHING BANDS GO BAD!

1. University of Miami

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First stop on our tour of terror: Miami, Florida. The University of Miami banned its own band from performing during halftime for at least one football game in 1999, after band members on one bus were caught drinking, watching pornographic videos, and mooning passers-by on an away game road trip.

2. University of Wisconsin

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The Hurricanes could have learned from The University of Wisconsin, as far as avoiding the long arm of the law is concerned. UW's band was placed on probation just this past year, when accusations of hazing surfaced. The claims were of a relatively innocuous nature, at first, with one band member being pressured into shaving his head before a September 2006 game. Upon further investigation, it appeared that band members were also disrobing and dancing seminude on one of their buses returning home after the game. Crazy thing is, this type of behavior had been going on for years.

UW-Madison's Chancellor John Wiley: "It has become increasing clear that certain types of sexualized and hazing behavior are an ingrained part of the band's culture." I prefer my section's tradition of singing the word "trombones" to the tune of Amazing Grace, personally.

3. Prairie View A&M

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Let's move on to Prairie View A&M, facing off against Southern University. Shortly before the September 19, 1998 game, Prairie View was voted the nation's top historically black band. This slighted many members of the penultimate selection, Southern University's "Human Jukebox". What should have remained a distant flame war spilled over into a game, billed by many as simply The Battle of the Bands. (Prairie View's football team had a losing streak which had lasted for nearly a decade.)

What followed is open to interpretation. Southern's band had taken the field first, and was trying to exit via the sidelines, when they were blocked by Prairie View's band. Prairie View claimed that Southern's band was "charging" them, while Southern claimed that Prairie View was actively trying to stop them. Whatever the case, the result was Southern's drum major Terrell Jackson being smacked in the face by a couple trumpets. This, in turn, spurred on an all-out brawl, with members of both bands bludgeoning each other with drumsticks and trombones, sending many to the hospital. Perhaps Prairie View would have been better served sending their marching band out on the field to play football instead; once order was restored and play could continue, their losing streak was extended to eighty games. Instead, both bands were suspended for the next two games.

4. Stanford University

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But not all marching band aggression is taken out in fisticuffs (Tubacuffs?) The kids in the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band know that more damage can be dealt by attacking the heart and mind of your opponent. Strictly speaking, the LSJUMB isn't a marching band at all; rather, it is an example of a scatter band. Rather than using precise drill to move the band between formations, scatter bands, well, scatter between sets. In addition, a scatter band's show tends to be of a more satirical nature than your average marching ensemble. And of course, sometimes the jokes can get out of hand.

For example, consider Stanford's 1991 show at Notre Dame. Preceding halftime, the LSJUMB drum major was dressed like an Orthodox Jew. Kindly, he changed attire before their halftime show"¦and took the field dressed in a nun's habit. Apparently the Fighting Irish took offense to the use of a wooden cross as a conductor's baton; Stanford's band has been banned from Notre Dame's campus ever since. LSJUMB apologized in 1997 by dedicating another show to Notre Dame, "These Irish, Why Must They Fight?" The Catholic Church isn't the only group to be targeted by LSJUMB - their show during a game against Brigham Young University featured their drum major being betrothed to a member of their dance team, followed soon by the other four members. LSJUMB was suspended for unrelated hijinks off the field in 2006, helping them to embody the title of their 2004 album, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things.

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January 8, 2009 - 12:10pm
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