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Sunday, November 22, 2009

From Dixie With Love

Glory, Glory Hallelujah... the South will rise again?

There's been trouble a-brewin' down at Ole Miss, and it all stems around a song, From Dixie with Love, that has been played for two decades by the Pride of the South, the University of Mississippi's marching band. The song may have reached its last refrain, as the Ole Miss chancellor has ordered the song ceased after the student section made a new tradition of chanting, "The South will rise again!" Understandably, there are mixed feelings in Mississippi and nation- and world-wide about this.

Before I go much further, I want to lay all my cards on the table: Things you may or may not know about me, Curtis, the author of this blog, whether you've been reading for a minute or a year. I'm a Black man. I'm a native yankee, but now live in rebel territory. I consider the Confederate States of America to be a terrorist organization. I'm a student affairs professional who works in higher education. I have a passion for tradition and school spirit. I'm a musician and a band dork, and I spent a significant portion of my life in either marching band or pep band. While I wouldn't consider myself a Civil War scholar, I think I do know a little something about the subject. Ditto for race relations in America. And while each of the facts above informs my opinion, I speak for none of the groups above when stating it.

First, let's talk about the song in question, From Dixie with Love. It's a beautiful piece of music with perhaps an even more beautiful symbolism. A staple of Ole Miss' pregame for some time now, From Dixie blends Dixie, the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, with Battle Hymn of the Republic, the anthem of the Union Army (which, despite that, has become quite popular down south--right Georgia? Auburn?) It takes its basis from An American Trilogy, popularized by Elvis Presley, a Mississippi native, which also included both songs. Its intent was harmony between the two once-warring factions. But recently, Ole Miss student have begun chanting, "The South will rise again!" over the last stanza. The controversy embroiled in this new tradition led to the Pride of the South altering the arrangement so as not to leave room for the phrase, Ole Miss' student government to pass a resolution discouraging it, and ultimately, the chancellor asking the band to refrain from playing the song at all. This didn't make some too happy, including Ku Klux Klan themselves, who staged a demonstration on Ole Miss' campus. (Many Ole Miss students, faculty, and alumni wouldn't stand for this, however.)

My thoughts? I think it's much ado about nothing. First of all, the removal of the song with the intent to remove the phrase is but a small gesture when it comes to things that could be construed as offensive vis-a-vis the Confederacy. First of all Ole Miss' mascot is still the Rebels. Their slavemaster "southern gentleman" mascot, Colonel Reb, has been official retired by the University, but can still be readily seen and associated with the school. And perhaps most egregious, Ole Miss is the flagship of Mississippi, the one state in the union to continue to incorporate the Confederate battle flag into its state flag. Given these facts, what's "The South will rise again" in comparison? Besides, what's to say there aren't some who use the phrase simply as a shorter form of "The South shall rise again as a tolerant and progressive region that celebrates differences and seeks through understanding to lead this great nation to an even better place"? OK, that may not be exactly what they mean, but at face value, I don't see a problem with being proud to be a southerner, and I think some are expressing exactly that. To me, the South--a geographical direction and a region of the country since its inception--and the Confederacy--a terrorist nation [sic] that existed for precisely four years for the sole purpose of opposing and attempting to defeat the nation I love and call home--are two different things.

I'm also intrigued by the manner in which the University is seeking to remedy the situation--by eliminating the song to which it was latched to me, that's cutting off your nose to spite your face. This isn't College Park, where Rock and Roll Pt. II was banned to prevent chants of "Hey, You Suck!" (though they Terps among us will vouch for that as a campus tradition as well). From Dixie with Love was an integral part of the Pride of the South's pregame, and while it's only a 20 year tradition, it has clearly been seen through generations of students, including generations of the band members who play it. What will become of their pregame? A campus tradition threatens to go by the wayside because some students saw fit to hijack it.

Now I will admit, I make these statements sitting a comfortable distance from Oxford. Some of the stories have been speaking of strained race relations otherwise at Ole Miss (really? No...) and if this helps in some manner, large or small, it may be the best thing to do. But from where I sit, it seems to me we're making a mountain out of a molehill.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Cincy must win the Big East outright

And no, it's not for conference bragging rights or their potential for upgraded facilities or for Brian Kelly or anything else you might be thinking. In fact, the answer it quite selfish (if by "self" I mean the University of South Florida). Currently, the only alternative to an outright Cincy victory is a co-championship with Cincy and Pitt, which would take place only if Pitt wins out, including beating Cincy, giving Pitt a share of the championship and the BCS bid.

The problem with this? A Pitt championship would mean that since USF joined the Big East in 2005, five of the eight schools in the conference will have won a share of the conference championship. Those without? USF, Rutgers, and Syracuse. Not company I'd like to be in.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You just can't hide that Tiger Pride

I believe you've rarely, if ever, heard me talk high school football in this blog. That is for several good reasons. One is that I haven't lived in my hometown during football season since, well, high school, (and I've got a 10 year reunion coming up this year, for reference) so the one team I'm most inclined to follow hasn't really been on my radar. That said, as with most of the other sports I follow, keeping an eye on a program from a distance is not a problem for me, if I have reason to care.

The top reason? A.I. duPont football, for as long as I've had reason to follow it, has not been good. I don't know the exact numbers, but a friend of mine from my graduating class stated that we won seven games in our four years there, and I'm inclined to believe him.

I feel pretty confident when I state that my high school's social hierarchy was not at all like yours. The biggest reason I'm the band dork I am today (and mind you, I wasn't even fully aware of the concept of "band dork" until I left high school) is because of my high school band experience. Our drum major used to play football and quit the team when he was selected. Young women tried out for the cheerleading squad only after they found out that didn't make band fronts. And it wasn't that varsity athletics weren't important at AI. To the contrary--the majority of the band members were varsity athletes. We held multiple state championships, including winning every year in girl's soccer throughout my high school career. But when it came to the battle for Friday nights, that competition ended with the halftime show.

That's why I've been appalled and pleasantly surprised as I've seen the facebook updates from those who are still close to the football program (mostly my old band director): Still undefeated at midseason. 6-0. 7-0. and on and on until yesterday I see that AI ended the regular season undefeated--a perfect 10-0--and is bound for the state playoffs for the first time since I was an infant. What's more, they've allowed 20 points all season long.

To put it simply, the Tigers are beasting on the football field, and not just during halftime anymore.

As you've no doubt discerned if you've read this for any significant amount of time, I follow my high school band (who, by the way, is headed back to the Fiesta Bowl Parade this year) like I follow my sports teams. Now I've got a reason to keep an eye on my football team as well. I hope to be able to make a game when I'm up home for Thanksgiving, but whether I can or not, Go Tigers!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Disgusted

This is the first time I can recall turning off a Bulls game in utter disgust. I can't watch this. Not on a Thursday night. Not against Rutgers.

I'm turning to Project Runway from LA instead of Project Runaway in NJ.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's the same old song...

One of my favorite podcasts is the ESPNU College Football Podcast. But something struck me this morning that just seemed like not being able to change one's tune. On Mondays (they come out mid-day, so I usually listen to the previous day's podcast during my commute) Ivan Maisel is joined by Gene Wojciechowski to discuss the world of college football. After revealing their own personal top fives, each of which contained Cincinnati this week, and continuing on to inquire if Cincy plays anyone. Granted, what are likely to be their two toughest conference matchups--WVU and Pitt--still lie ahead, but I think at this point in the season we should be beyond the thinly-veiled Big East bashing. Currently, the Big East has 4 teams in the BCS standings: the three named thus far plus South Florida. That's as many as any conference and more than the SEC, Big XII, and ACC. (ht: Brian Bennett of ESPN) What's more? Each of those teams climbed from the unranked ranks, as the Big East had no teams ranked in either the AP or the Coaches as the season began. Not too shabby, eh?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Score one for the little guys!

Honda Battle of the Bands has announced its lineup for the 2010 invitational showcase, and it's a little different than you may have expected.

For the past several years, Honda has been a 10 band showcase, featuring two bands each from the MEAC, the SWAC, the CIAA, the SIAC, and HBCU independents. Earlier this year, Honda changed the format: eight bands, featuring one band from each of the conferences above (plus one independent) and three at-large bands. Think the BCS, except that there's no cap on the number of bands that can participate from one conference.

All the prognosticators figured that the MEAC and SWAC (to continue the BCS analogy, think SEC and Big XII) would snatch up all of the at-large bids. The biggest conference thumpers imagined their conference snatching all three, dominating a full half of the Honda lineup. Realists reasonably expected three bids for one conference and two from another.

The results surprised everyone. The SWAC got two bands in, in Southern and Prairie View. The MEAC? One, with an asterisk. FAMU is clearly the MEAC's representative. Judging from the rest of the field, NC Central, which is in its transition to Division I and the MEAC, was counted as an independent.

The CIAA did as expected and put one band into Honda with Virginia State. But the SIAC made out like bandits, with Clark Atlanta, Tuskegee, and Albany State each heading to Atlanta in January. Not only did Boise State and TCU both make the BCS, but Houston snuck in as well.

Voting for Honda participants is a combination of HBCU presidents, band directors, and fans. This may nor be the entire picture, however; there's no telling if there were other bands who turned down their invitations. It's interesting to see this shift in dynamics and I wonder how it will be received by the HBCU bandhead faithful and the fans in general. On the one hand, while Southern, FAMU, and Prairie View are there, perennial star power from the likes of Bethune Cookman will be missed. On the other hand, there are bands who won't "act like they've been there before"--even though each of the bands there has--and may bring out fans for the experience. And of the SIAC bands in particular, Atlanta is an easy trip from Albany, Tuskegee, and of course Clark Atlanta.

Regardless, I'm sure this has been and will continue to be fodder for the folks over at The 5th Quarter, and in fact they've got a new podcast coming out the evening of Tuesday, 11/10. It'll be great to get the perspective from the serious bandheads.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Drumline Effect?

When the movie Drumline came out nearly seven years ago, it was the first major motion picture where the primary subject was college marching bands. Love it or hate it--and just about anyone who has ever marched does one or the other--it is undeniable that like any other Hollywood depiction of a subculture, what we saw on screen is beginning to leak into what we see in real life.

If I may oversimplify things for a moment: There are primarily two styles of marching band: Traditional/"show" and corps style. Drumline depicted a show style marching band, and more specifically, an HBCU marching band. In general--and again I'm oversimplifying--traditional style bands are more likely to play popular music and HBCU bands in particular are more likely to borrow from rap, R&B, soul and jazz music.

Since Drumline came out, however, there has definitely been a shift of certain bands moving their repertoire and/or style closer to that depicted in the movie. Anecdotally, I've heard tell of corps style bands that switched their entire style after the movie came out. More often, bands interpolate a bit of imagery Hollywood made more popular into their shows or stands performances. For example, USF's Herd of Thunder plays "Shout it Out", straight from the movie, in the stands now.

I've seen other sharing that goes a bit deeper in emulating the style. I did a double take a couple years ago when I first heard LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland play "Neck". Talking Out the Side of your Neck, an album track by Cameo, is an otherwise unremarkable song that garnered its most attention as a popular tune for HBCU marching bands. At first I joked about a contingent from LSU sneaking across town under cover of darkness to Southern University's practice. More recently, I heard the University of Florida's band play Crucial Conflict's "Hay". Hay is also played by FAMU and Bethune Cookman, the two most prominent HBCUs in the state of FL. A friend mentioned to me that the Herd of Thunder plays this one as well.

At first I was inclined to give these bands the side-eye for appropriation, but truly, it's part of the continued evolution of the activity. And if you believe that a marching band's purpose is to thrill an audience, as I do, it's nothing but a win for all parties involved.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pirates of the Carolinas

The ECU Pirates unveiled a new midfield logo today for their matchup with Virginia Tech:



(Picture courtesy of NCAAbbs)
I love this for a couple reasons. For one, it looks extremely badass. Secondly, for those who haven't caught wise, I have an advanced degree and career in higher education. I won't get all thesis on you, but I do believe that colleges--particularly public colleges--exist to serve the greater societal good. As such, it's great when states embrace their institutions of higher education and vice versa. I especially like when schools that aren't the flagship feel empowered to use the state's images or likeness.

I'm also a geography nerd, so the state outline speaks to me. Similarly, the vexillology nerd in me really enjoys College Park's MD flag end zones and Clemson and Carolina's battle over the palmetto and crescent.

In a similar vein, I've thought I'd love to see UMBC incorporate the MD state flag in some way, even if it's just the Calvert banner black and gold as used in the Baltimore flag. The confederates in College Park can have their red and white. Some time ago, I also put together a green and gold mock-up of the Florida flag with the USF seal.

2009: The Year of Chalk

The New York Yankees just won their 27th World Series. My first thought as a fan was that with Lakers and Yankees wins in the same year, perhaps the sporting universe isn't too happy with me right now. But then I looked a little closer at a confluence of this year's championships. So far, in 2009:

  • College Football: Florida Gators
  • NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Men's College Basketball: North Carolina Tar Heels
  • Women's college basketball: Connecticut Huskies
  • Men's College Lacrosse: Syracuse Orange
  • Women's College Lacrosse: Northwestern Wildcats
  • NBA: Los Angeles Lakers
  • DCI: Blue Devils
  • MLB: New York Yankees
What do all of these teams have in common? These are all teams which, either historically or recently, have been the banner carriers in their respective sports. In each case, it would have been entirely reasonable, before a ball was ever kicked, tipped, or pitched, to pick the team above as the champion and had a pretty good shot, or at least not have had everyone look at you like you were crazy.

2009: The Year of Chalk.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Like Christmas in Philly

Normally, I hate to look at the home stadium on TV and see an abundance of another color in the stands. But it pleases me to turn on Giants-Eagles and see an abundance of red in the stands. Right now, the Philly sports faithful serve two masters. They've shown any number of people in the stands in Eagles jerseys and Phillies hats, who no doubt will be just as jacked after this game ends in anticipation for tonight's.

Game 3 of Philly-NY weekend is under way. So far, it's 1-1, with the Sixers beating the Knicks and and the Yankees beating the Phillies. Hopefully we can get out of this weekend 3-1.
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