#ImWithTheBand, are you?
The Lehigh football game experience wouldn’t be complete without some key staples: linemen battling for position on the field, tailgaters jostling for beers off the field and mobs of neon-clad cocktail enthusiasts heading for the exits during the first quarter.
You don’t even need to make it past the parking lot, though, to catch another, as a spirited bunch of part-time fight-song-singers and full-time musicians known as the Lehigh Marching 97 take the streets, the field, the stands and everywhere in between.
Yet with the university set to celebrate its most historic game streak and all of its traditions, another will soon come to an abrupt end.
For 130 years, our school’s football team has faced off against rival Lafayette, and for 107 of them, the Marching 97 has stood alongside them, cheering them on through victory and defeat, singing their hearts out from the stands and giving hope to each and every play.
But at the 150th anniversary game, the band will not be marching at halftime.
Instead, they’ve been relegated to doing a five-minute pregame show and a marching-less joint halftime performance with the Lafayette quasi-band, along with a slew of other groups that have never before shown any interest in performing at Lehigh football games.
The difference may seem trivial to some, but as a former band member, I completely understand the anger and frustration felt by many current (and other past) 97 members.
Halftime marching performances are what marching bands do. It’s their lifeblood, their very reason for being, and taking that away during the biggest game in school history feels like a slap in the face. It feels like punishment – for what, I simply don’t know.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who the main villain in this story is. The Lafayette “park and blow” pep band and its accomplices have repeatedly gone a mile out of their way to strip the 97 of its playing time during rivalry games.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. My freshman year with the Marching 97, the Lafayette pseudo-band went five minutes over its allotted field time, causing us to slash our show in half. As they walked off the field smirking with their striped maroon t-shirts and knitted caps, I kept thinking, “We found Waldo. He stole our show.”
But this time’s even worse.
You’d think that, during such a historic moment for both schools, we’d be able to show one another at least an ounce of sportsmanship and respect, but that went out the window the second they unveiled this year’s performance schedule. So much for staying classy, Lafayette.
But the truly saddest part is how little our own university, our administration, our athletics department and our music department have done to fight for the band. It’s hard to imagine that, out of a two-hour pregame show, they couldn’t have gotten more than five minutes for the band.
The Marching 97 doesn’t ask for much – and they’re no strangers to sharing. They share their minimal meeting and storage space with whatever sports team commandeers the Rauch Fieldhouse loft. They share their cruddy practice space with Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas, as a car parking lot is all they’ve ever been given.
And I’m guessing they would’ve been fine just sharing the halftime show, even if it’s with groups that have no tradition with Lehigh football. But to be knocked down on your most vital performance after a hundred years of dedication just plain stinks. It’s like never missing a day of class only to be kicked out of your graduation.
But in spite of any bitterness or anger, the band’s going to make it – and they’ll make it their own, too.
They’ll put every fiber of their being into those pregame and halftime performances and they will leave their hearts on the field. It may not be the exact performances they wanted, but they’ll do them with the 97’s trademark passion, enthusiasm and psyche.
And it won’t stop there. The Marching 97 will be the ones singing louder and cheering harder then everyone in the stadium, embodying the school spirit we should all strive for.
Marching halftime shows may be what marching bands do, but showing outrageous amounts of Lehigh pride and having a blast while doing it? Well, that’s what the Marching 97 does.
Now it might be too late to change the fate of this year’s performance schedule, but it’s never too late to show support for the band. If you feel like me, then tell everyone: #ImWithTheBand. Let’s give the Marching 97 the respect and recognition they deserve.
– Cristiano Lima, ’13