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Saturday, October 28, 2017


Though we may deign to admit it, we, as sports fans, are helpless. No curses or talismans we wield really have an effect on the outcome of the game. Sure, en masse we may have a little power, but the individual can do nothing.

Somehow, it can sometimes feel even less.

Today, as USF took on Houston in mid-day slot, I was en route to Pennsylvania where my wife has a race tomorrow. As I have before, I "watched" the game via score updates, furiously toggling back and forth between ESPN and Google (the latter was more updated, despite the former broadcasting the game). My emotions were on the whim of rudimentary graphics and text. I was verklempt after our high powered offense failed to score in the first quarter, uneasy as we led but remained within one score, and grew a little more at ease as time wore on. But the most maddening swing came late in the 4th:

At this point USF led 24-21. Houston would go on to score a touchdown and ultimately win 28-24, handing USF its first loss in over a year and ruining a perfect season.

I've said before and repeated tonight, there are few sports feelings as helpless as watching your team lose via score update. As jawdropping as it must have been for those watching live, there was no gradient, however slight, for me between the two downs above. The change was immediate from uneasy confidence to impending doom. And unlike in a space where commiserators were in abundance, I suffered this particular sling in near silence while checking into a hotel.

*          *          *

Present agony aside, all is not lost for the Bulls. While the undefeated season has been dashed, we're still in the driver's seat for most of that which has been within reach. Despite a few prospecting articles, we all knew the Playoff was never an option. Winning out the regular season - including a Black Friday victory over C. Florida - still puts us into the conference championship game, and a victory there still makes the Group of Five's bid to the New Year's Six bowls an option: While USF's ranking and stock will drop after this weekend, most of the closest candidates are conferencemates, meaning that a conference victory may still place us at the top of the heap. Much as it may feel like it, all hope is not lost, but if we can't get it together, the game in Orlando - and with it, all hopes listed above - will be.

Go Bulls.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Band is Undefeated

When Joe over at The Marching Podcast posted that The Undefeated was going to be doing HBCU band rankings, my kneejerk reaction was skepticism. I certainly don't doubt Joe's judgment, and this was even necessarily about The Undefeated. These sorts of lists tend to be suspect because with relatively few folks writing intensely about bands, it could very well be sports folks giving an uninformed or incomplete take on the subject. And specifically to The Undefeated, they are an entity of ESPN, and I've been notably critical of the Worldwide Leader's band coverage before.

But then I read their methodology.

The Undefeated's HBCU cred is intact, but their process for this particular competition - to be awarded as "Band of the Year" during the Celebration Bowl - is thorough. Check it out. Both their panel and their methodology leave no stone unturned. They've shown. unequivocally, that the want to get this thing right, with a panel and process that rivals the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Then - as if they knew I was out here questioning their bona fides - they doubled down on their band cred by dropping the oral history of Drumline - a fantastic piece that I dropped just about everything to read over a lunch break and came away with tears in my eyes from.

OK, The Undefeated. You have my attention.

Monday, October 9, 2017

High Notes - 2017 Week 6

So I hear it was a ho-hum schedule in college football this weekend... did I miss anything?

Of course, I've caught up on the news roundup, and know I missed a helluva weekend. This week's high notes once again opens up the playbook to extend beyond just football and marching band.

This weekend, my family, a friend of my daughter's, and I went up to the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Camp Resort in Natural Bridge, VA. The trip was made possible by having won a contest on RV Family Travel Atlas, and we used it for a bit of fall* camping.

Why the asterisk? Because it was in the 80s while we were there. Frankly, while they had shut down for the season, they would have been well within their rights to get the water park going instead of the Halloween-themed goods. But we did get to enjoy trick-or-treating, a haunted trail, and fall crafts, and still hop in the river for good measure. And while up in the area, we checked out Natural Bridge State Park as well - newly minted as such from some previously private sites we had visited before, as well as the caverns, which we had not.

Columbus Day

Columbus (v.) To discover a place, item, or phenomenon that is already occupied.

As philosopher Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter put it, this ain't politically correct; this might offend my political connects.

A few years ago, I made a post about non-HBCUs playing Neck, a subject I've also been tweeting about near as far back as my social media footprint goes. I stand by everything I wrote in the 2013 piece - I may have hedged a bit less in 2017, granted - and decided a new post made more sense than simply revising the earlier piece.

My most recent impetus was College Marching sharing a postgame celebration with Washington's Husky Marching Band and running back Lavon Coleman - my beef is with neither of them, it should be noted. A scant few of the commenters on either the Facebook or Twitter post verbally took exception with the presence of a song long associated with HBCU bands. But since it's Columbus Day, I'm compelled to point out: Neck has been thoroughly Columbused by bands at Predominantly White Institutions. And despite this going on for probably a solid decade, I still internally - and occasionally externally - give a mild to moderate sideeye every time I hear it.

There are a few notes in this that I find particularly egregious. First, On multiple occasions, I've seen the song associated with LSU. True enough, all evidence points to the Golden Band from Tigerland being Patient Zero - the first PWI to bring the song into the "mainstream," likely by having heard it across town at Southern. But there's no shortage of the likes of:

It's the same script as the latest Kardashijenner discovering "boxer braids" (read: cornrows) or GQ declaring Timbs "This [2016] Fall's Must-Have Boot."

Secondly, I've seen PWI bands use Neck as a tableau upon which to paint whatever they deem stereotypically "urban." South Carolina's Mighty Sound of the Southeast does the Bernie (side note: Did anyone ever actually do the Bernie?). The aforementioned Husky Band clip featured hip swivels and body rolls that would make Elvis proud. And LSU, of course, has a consistently tenuous hold on their ability even to play the song at all due to the vulgar lyrics that accompany it. Further, it wasn't so long ago that the folks lauding the "fun" that this band is having were the ones decrying HBCU marching as undisciplined, lacking in talent, or even primitive - all not-so-subtle dog whistles with racist undertones. Even in the Facebook post, some are spitting "show style" with the same vitriol one with which one may say "ghetto." And yet, in the Drumline era, and certainly with the ubiquity of social media, the once mocked becomes desirable.

These facts are not occurring in a vacuum. This leisurely stroll in the HBCU park is happening at universities that struggle to enroll, retain, and graduate Black students in particular, and in a national climate that is often hostile to those same students. While HBCUs struggle for mainstream (loaded term noted) recognition of all of the things they do well, PWIs are going viral playing a piece that's been in the HBCU repertoire for decades.

I'll note I'm an alumnus of two PWIs and work at a third - at least two of which play Neck - but you'll excuse my lack of humility when I assert that I have a decent handle on culture in America and athletic bands' presence within them. I'm not here to say that PWIs can't play Neck, or even that they shouldn't - it's far from my call to make. But I'll ask that you consider the context and don't be surprised if HBCU bandheads take exception.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Band (Nerd) On The Road

First: as I occupy space on the internet in the week of such unspeakable tragedy, I feel compelled to mention the massacre in Las Vegas and wish peace to those personally affected, and all of us, that we may move beyond thoughts and prayers and towards solution. In the world of sports and marching/athletic music, I know many of us find comfort and enjoyment in crowds of thousands to over a hundred thousand, and this sort of attack must weigh heavy on decisions to be in those spaces.

*          *           *

This past weekend, I made the trip out to USF at ECU. One of my excitements about being conferencemates with ECU again had actually not yet been realized, as the only other game in Greenville, two years ago, I was unable to make. Fortune wasn't the kindest to me in scheduling this year either, but after heading west to get east, I made my way along the two lane roads some may associate with landgrant flagships in the middle of nowhere, down to the 252, and into the stadium just before halftime.

Priority one was, of course, to get myself into position to see the band. As I got into the stands, the Marching Pirates were surprisingly playing to the side two end zone - the seats they had vacated, and presumably, the student section. They performed the rest of their show to the backfield (as the logo faces) sideline giving me a rearview of the show from my vantage point.

I then made my way around to my section - or more accurately, the section I ended up squatting in to catch a friend and be among some of the other NC alumni. While USF led by just a touchdown at the half, the momentum grew in the third quarter. ECU would score their final touchdown about halfway through the third, while USF would continue to impose its will, ultimately dropping a 60-burger (61, actually) on the overmatched Pirates.

Having arrived so late, I have an incomplete picture of the ECU gameday atmosphere I've heard so much about. While announced attendance was 35K in a stadium that holds 50, that wasn't my experience upon arrival, and apparently it didn't seem that way earlier in the game either, based on a first quarter text that read, "This place is empty." I missed any pregame tailgating, though at least some were back at their rigs after the game (no telling if they waited the game out or got an early start on the postgame).

After the game, I followed the sound of drums, as I am wont to do, and caught a pleasant surprise in the form of the ECU Drumline's postgame performance. I was the only green clad fan there, but no one seemed to mind. It was a pleasure watching them throw down before ultimately making my way back to the car and treating myself to a postgame beer - Jai Alai from Tampa's own Cigar City Brewing, naturally.

From there, it was out to the town. A friend from high school had just moved to Greenville, but we weren't able to catch up; luckily, another friend, a fellow Bull who used to work at ECU, came with several suggestions. Most establishments along the main strip were packed - perhaps a bit more of how Greenville does postgame. I got myself some eastern NC BBQ (when in Rome...) and turned my beer tastes back local as well. Before heading back west, I checked out Uptown Brewery, recommended by a friend-of-a-friend.

ECU, I look forward to seeing you again in two years. I know this season's been rough so far, which may have led to the atmosphere, but I hope we can make it a fun one in 2019.
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